Leeds Artist Carl Whitfield Gives Us An Insight Into The Profession

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This month the Yorkshire Reporter is looking at Carl Whitfield, an artist from Leeds. We asked him about his work, his inspirations and how it really is to be a professional artist.

Carl is 56 and has always painted – selling his first picture aged just 12 years old. After leaving school he went to work on farms, and in supermarkets not to Art College as you might imagine. He feels this is a positive thing as it gave him time to perfect his own style rather than working on techniques dictated by the tutors – saying “It’s good to pass on knowledge and I do that freely.  It irritates me when so called ‘experts’ say you should do this or do that, I say listen to them but do what you are comfortable with.”

[private] He also did a stint at customising motorcycles and cars with airbrush work, then went self-employed 30 years ago as a full time professional artist. Since this time he has never been without work and has sold every painting he’s ever done. Being a full time artist involves much more than painting. You have to deal with galleries, customers, commissions, royalties, copyrights and much more and there are always people around who want to make money from you. About the day to day job Carl says “I am a poor business man and too honest for my own good. Truth be known, when painting by yourself for 12 hours a day, 7 days a week in my case, it can become tedious, the radio is my only colleague. You educate yourself a lot in politics, music and world news etc., but it is still a very lonely way of making a living, probably because I also find nothing difficult to paint, I don’t make mistakes.”

He also has advice for amateur painters who want to go professional “don’t give up, but be warned, unless you get a very lucky break it’s very hard to get established, and when you are you can become a victim of your own success, so stay amateur, as painting for a hobby earns a bit as a side-line and one thing is for sure, you will enjoy painting more and produce better pictures.”

Carl does enjoy painting when he has the luxury of doing something challenging and complex for himself. He tells us “I might paint for example a barn owl with its kill, but the galleries won’t buy it as the public seem to think they live on fresh air and don’t want a picture that depicts true nature.” These paintings are quickly bought by private buyers who he obviously can’t refuse so despite nearly a lifetime of painting he still has no paintings on his own walls, but as he says, “I have to put bread on the table.”

Art takes many forms and we all have our own opinion as to what is good and bad – art is in the eye of the beholder and each artist has their own style and preferences for media and subjects.

This artist’s preference is for painting fine detail and with accuracy. People who know what he can do know that he can paint anything and in any style. Carl chooses to paint realistic pictures and says “if a spade has some muck on it then it gets painted in unless it will spoil the picture (artistic license).”

When painting something like an owl with distinct markings, they have to be correct, he is not into making up new species. With wildlife as his present choice of subject, he has to rely on good quality references, good taxidermy, visual observations in the field when possible and of course photographs. He has met some very talented photographers and framers over the years. The art side comes in the composition, mood, atmosphere and balance, both in colour and proportions. The lion Carl is currently painting is from a photo by Sam Oakes, a professional photographer who captured the image whilst teaching in Africa. His plan is, if it ever gets finished, to sell it as a print and put a percentage towards one of Sam’s chosen wildlife charities. He says “I will keep the original, I have promised my patient wife Kathleen this one will adorn our own wall.”

Working from just 8 colours in oil and mixing every colour he needs instantly is where 56yrs of experience comes in. So if asked how long it takes to do a picture, the reply is the same as a lot of artists – his age!

His final piece of advice for everyone who would like to paint his subject style and to some who already do is this “if you can’t open your eyes and look, and criticise what you have done you will never achieve your goal. 56yrs and I still criticise every painting and know I can always do it better.  Believe in yourself, standards are everything.”

Carl Whitfield is happy to offer further advice and can be contacted on: 0113 2813810[/private]

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