Fiona Calder Painter - York, UK

Discuss how you have combined your Art studies and a Design degree with your training in Graphic Design?

I have studied Art in various courses through both school and beyond and have enjoyed learning different techniques and trying different subjects such as life drawing and still life. My design degree involved an element of art, but also taught me many different facets of design, including, wood, metal, art, product design, and jewellery design. It was whilst doing my degree that I first learnt some basic skills in graphic design and I loved it. I actually specialised in jewellery design and silversmithing in my final year, upon graduating I applied for trainee graphic design positions and was lucky enough to find one in Harrogate where I learnt the skills that I now employ in my flower art designs. I had the idea to combine the elements of painting and drawing with graphic design when I saw a beautiful photograph of the cliff top flower ‘Sea Pink’ which was in focus in the foreground, and slightly soft and blurry in the background, and it occurred to me that I could create a similar effect in a piece of artwork by creating the background with digital art. I experimented and came up with my design ‘Pink Magnolia’ and I loved the effect so much that I have used this technique as my signature style, and have manipulated the background of all my images using graphic design in various ways. I love the contrast and the rich depth of colour it provides.

Magnolia Blossoms

 ‘Magnolia Blossoms’

 You have been surrounded with flowers since your childhood, expand on the influence of your grandparents in instilling this love?

Every summer my brother, sister and I used to spend a wonderful week with my Grandparents at their home near Leeds. Their garden seemed to go on for miles and was always filled with flowers. My favorite were the fragrant lavender on the steps that overlooked the sheep fields, with all the bees buzzing away in amongst the stems.



 My Grandad used to make these fabulous dens for us which I would set about decorating with daisy chain curtains and floral touches. Even the house inspired my love of painting flowers as my Grandad was a skilled artist and had three of his beautiful paintings of daffodils on the wall of the lounge. We used to go on long walks with my Grandma through meadows filled with wild flowers and hedgerows filled with berries. My grandparents would always give me arty things for presents, my favourites being pattern books that I could fill with colour and a brilliant spirograph set. I also have them to thank for my love of colour and pattern.

 Please take two or three places outside the UK where you have had a great floral inspirations and discuss?

One of the most amazing flower displays I’ve ever seen was in Singapore at the botanical gardens. There was an Orchid garden there that was just spectacular. It had hundreds of different types, all in resplendent colour. I spent hours there photographing and drawing as many as I could.

Singapore Orchids

All of my travels around Asia provided a wealth of floral finds. I particularly enjoyed the ornamental ponds in Hanoi, Vietnam which had lovely lotus lilies in them. The main flowers which have influenced my recent work are the blue Eryngium flowers which could been seen in Kefalonia and other Greek islands, as a beautiful blue, hazy, wild carpet on the hilly terrain. I was constantly hopping on and off my moped to photograph and draw them. I love their spiky quality, and the sumptuous, jewel like blue colour. Since discovering this flower in Greece I have always been particularly drawn to them, and have featured several in my designs.

Techniques and Mediums used

I like to try different techniques and mediums in my work, for example in the ‘Wisteria’ print I used watercolours in a much looser brush style than I usually employ, but I often prefer to create the flowers or leaves in a more controlled medium such as pastels or watercolour pencils (like the Magnolia Blossoms, or the Irises). I find that some flowers seem to suit a more rough looking finish, such as the ‘Lavender’ stems which I drew in watercolour pencils, but I like to mix it up and use different mediums, often within the same image. (The ‘Silver Eryngium’ flowers were created using three different mediums). Once I have drawn or painted the flowers I scan the images into the computer, try out different arrangements, and I design the background to best show off the gorgeous flowers. I like to use a range of graphic design techniques with each print and it involves a lot of experimentation and trial and error before I’m happy with a design.



 Limitation of colour in the work

I love the rich depth of colour that digital art provides, and the way in which I can experiment with colour after the painting of the original image. It’s almost like creating a piece of art backwards! Usually the colours and composition of a painting would be part of the process from the beginning, but the way I work is to draw the main elements of the print first, and then play with background colours and layout as the next step. I obviously use colour in the original drawings or paintings too though, and I like to use a rich array of shades. I occasionally employ a bit of ‘artistic licence’ with the colours, and like to build and impression of an overall colour from small strokes of myriad hues. The only slight limitation I’ve found is down to the printing of my work. I use a fine art printing company to produce my canvas and giclée prints, and the richness of the colour in the inks they use is brilliant. However, because the final stage of my designs are created on a computer, the screen colours can vary slightly to the ink colours, so I’m always interested to see how they will turn out. I’ve never been disappointed yet!



Explain how you see your work as ‘contemporary floral’?

The painting of flowers has been a favourite in so many works of art from the old masters to the impressionists, and is still today as popular as ever. I feel that I add a more unusual and modern twist to the subject by adding the contemporary element of computer generated art to my designs. The use of digital technology in art has only recently started to gain recognition and I feel that the interesting visual effects I can create and the fabulous colours I use definitely give my flowers a contemporary appeal.

Discuss composition in your work?

The creation of composition in my prints is the secondary stage. Once I have entered my painted flowers or leaves into the computer I can use my graphics programme to move the images about. I can alter the size of a flower, or I can skew the angle, I can change the paper size or shape from portrait to landscape, or square to rectangle. I can sit one image in front of another or I can bring in more flowers or details. I can employ many different techniques to arrange my flowers or leaves to their best effect. I feel it is important to get the composition right and I can spend a long time playing around with this element of my designs before I am completely happy.

Pink Magnolia

‘Pink Magnolia’

Explain the difference between canvas and giclee prints that you use and why and when?

Personally I prefer to use canvases for my designs as I think these look more contemporary which suits my style of work. These are printed onto canvas and stretched over wooden frames. However, I also offer the option of having my designs printed as giclée prints as I want my customers to be able to have them framed if this is their preference. Giclée’s are printed on high quality German etching paper, and can be framed and mounted as desired. Both my canvas and giclée prints are produced by a fine art printers who use materials accredited by the fine art guild.

Can you discuss your work ‘Sea Holly’ from inspiration through to the print?

Sea Holly

‘Sea Holly’

Sea Holly is a type of Eryngium, and as I mentioned before, I have loved these types of spiky flowers ever since finding them on the Greek Islands. I also wanted to do a print that was less soft and ‘pretty’ looking. A flower print for those who might not usually be drawn to flowers. It was my sister who inspired me to do this, as her preference is usually for more stark looking trees rather than flowers, but despite this she really loved my ‘Silver Eryngiums’ print, so I created another more pared-down print of the Sea Holly with her in mind. And happily she loves this one too!

‘Silver Eryngiums’ discuss firstly this plant then the substantially of the colour in relationship to your work?

 Silver Eryngiums

‘Silver Eryngiums’

I first came across this plant in a most unlikely place; it was growing out of a drain on a village pavement! It really does have the most remarkable silvery quality to it which I think I have managed to capture in my print by setting it against such a dark, contrasting background. I told my Mum about this interesting flower I had come across and she went and bought seeds to plant in her garden. (My Mum is also passionate about flowers and we often indulge our love of them together by visiting gardens or flower shows and she has created her own floral haven). It was the Eryngiums that grew in her garden which I drew for my print. Colour is very important in my work. There is such an abundance of colour in nature and I believe that flowers are nature’s artwork. I just want to showcase them in all their resplendent glory and bring the outside in!

You also use watercolour pencils explain the pretences you have for both the product and the application?

I re-discovered watercolour pencils a few years ago. I had used them as a child, but throughout A-level I used mainly acrylic paints or pastels. I initially used them again to sketch flowers while travelling as they are less messy than paint, and I liked the fact that I could wash over them in water to create paint if I wanted to. I have used this technique in some of my drawings to create a base colour that I have added detail to once dry. Recently however, I usually like to use them dry as this creates a coarseness which I have found works really well alongside my digital art backgrounds because of the contrast it provides.

Recently you have been working on adding gold leaf to your work discuss how this is going?

I have often toyed with the idea of adding embellishment to my artwork. I think this idea stems from my background in jewellery design. I have always loved beads and the pretty metals in jewellery and I felt that adding these as embellishments would bring another unusual element to my designs. So far I have only tried adding gold embellishment to my ‘Purple Acers’ print.

Purple Acers with gold leaf

‘Purple Acers’ with gold leaf

I think this works really well as using the shiny gold highlight against the deep purple background makes the purple look almost velvety, and it brings the print to life. I am also thinking about possibly adding semi-precious beads to some of my designs in the future.

You also use leaves (foliage) explain the different shapes and colours that attract you.

I always used to be far more attracted to flowers than leaves, but then I went to see The Eden Project. I was expecting an abundance of flowers and was disappointed at first that there just seemed to be greenery everywhere. I think this is because The Eden Project focuses on conservation rather than flowers. It turned out to be a blessing though as it made me look closer at the leaves and see the beautiful shapes and lines and subtlety of colour and I grew an appreciation of foliage as well. I tend to prefer spiky leaves with lots of fronds, and I particularly like leaves that have a silvery tinge to them. The colour green is a favourite of mine, but I also love the autumn for the spectacular reds and pinks it produces. I had a wonderful trip to Chatsworth Gardens in the Peak District last year, when all the trees were fiery colours. I would highly recommend a trip there in the fall if trees are your thing!

Eden Project Leaves

Your work ‘Sweet Peas’ is very different. Discuss the softness you have achieved and how?

Sweet Peas are such a delicate bloom that I felt a softness was required to best show them off. I used watercolour pencils to draw these, both with subtle washes and with the dry pencils used in a light feathery way. I set them against a crisp white background as I felt the pastel colours would work well in this instance to not be overwhelmed by a stronger colour. I wanted the print to look pretty so I arranged the flowers in a layered way with the ones towards the top getting slightly softer in shade.

Sweet Peas

‘Sweet Peas’

You set your drawings against digital art, how did this technique come about?

I love using the computer to create art and design, it gives me so much scope for interesting effects and unusual details. I wanted to find an individual style to use in my artwork, and I also wanted to find a way to incorporate all of my talents and passions together. I love painting, drawing, graphic design and flowers, so it all just fit together. When I saw the ‘Sea Pink’ photograph which inspired me it was like a revelation in where to take my art, and I feel that my style has really come into its own since settling on this idea.

Discuss the importance of working with a large group as you are doing in the York Open Studios?

York Open Studios has been a wonderful experience. Having the public come to visit me for an exhibition of my work in an informal setting was lovely. Often working as an artist can be quite isolating, so it was great to connect with people and have such positive feedback. On the weekends of the event the artists have their own little exhibitions and people have maps to guide them around the artists trail, so in that sense it wasn’t working as a group. However, in the run up to the event there was a support network between artists via Facebook, email, and the occasional meeting with help and advice when needed. This was great to be a part of and I found it very helpful to meet like minded creative people. Next week we are all meeting up again to exchange stories and experiences which I am looking forward to.

For those who cannot meet you in your studio can you take us inside? The studio space and the time you spend in the studio

I’m very lucky to have the desk where I paint and draw my flowers set in front of huge Georgian sash windows which let in so much light. I even have a view of the impressive ‘Micklegate Bar’ in the ancient city walls of York. My desk is covered in pots of brushes and tins of pencils and pastels which are more often than not strewn around in a haphazard fashion. At the other side of my studio there is a sofa where I do all of my digital art. I work there for hours on my computer whilst listening to the radio and drinking a huge pot of tea!

Artist Studio

One aspect that makes it so special to you…

I hand painted the desk myself and the room is so light and airy, and I love the ultra cool chrome lamp I’ve got, and the mini terracotta urn that I picked up in Crete to keep my brushes in. But to pick one aspect…..hmmm! That’s hard, I’m just so happy to have found a space to do the work that I love. Contact details.

Fiona Calder, York, UK,

Interview by Deborah Blakeley, May, 2015