Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Mind Body Spirit Artist Series: Alison Fennell

Chances are, you will find yourself with a very wide smile while viewing the delightful watercolor illustrations by Welsh Artist Alison Fennell.  We are quite happy that this internationally known, very accomplished, magical illustrator agreed to spend some time discussing her work with the Mind Body Spirit Odyssey.  Thank you Alison!
                                                                      ~ diane fergurson

MBS:  Can you tell us a little bit about how you got started in art?

Alison:  I come from a family of miners and shopkeepers in the Welsh Valleys and I was born in Merthyr Tydfil in 1966.

My grandfather began to paint when he retired and I can remember the smell of oils in his sunny front room where he painted. I did art at school but didn't re-kindle my interest in it until after I left University with a French degree and worked in tourism in France and then in administration for a local builder. I saw an art exhibition locally in 1994 and the artist was there. I asked if he did classes and he did so I signed up. That was the start and his name was Arnold Lowrey.

MBS:  What kind of an artist was Arnold Lowrey? What was it about his work that touched and inspired you to want to explore being an artist?

Royal Lion
Arnold Lowrey is a Welsh painter predominantly known for his spontaneous and emotive watercolours, although he also paints in pastel, acrylics and oils. What appealed to me about his work was the explosive and fluid way in which he painted. He worked wet into wet which is superbly suited to watercolor and produces very daring and expressive effects. This is what attracted me to it. I didn't want to be painting fussy, stilted paintings with a slower medium as I considered oils to be. Arnold lit the fire for me and from the first weekend watercolor for beginners workshop I took with him in 1994 I was hooked!

MBS:  It sounds like he was a very important influence on you.  Looking back, what are some of  the things you learned from him that have carried over in your work and philosophy today? 

Alison:  To use tube as opposed to pan paint. Tube paint is moist and easy to get onto your brush making stronger impressions than pan paint which is hard to load onto your brushes. Use the best quality materials you can - ie use Artist's quality as opposed to students quality otherwise you are working against your tools and materials. He also showed me how to lift paint out with a damp brush. This is super useful for creating the illusion of soft water ripples in waterscapes and seascapes. He also used the flat end of a brushes handle to scraped away paint in sharp lines to create realistic branches and twigs with verve!
Arnold was very emotive and you can feel that in his work - if you aren't passionate about what you paint there is no real point to painting is there?

MBS: Fast did your career unfold from the time you were studying with Lowrey until present day, as a professional illustrator?  How did that develop?

Alison:  I got lucky by being published by a major UK greeting card and poster publisher called Beechwood Publications Ltd. I had spent a year sending off my artwork designs to UK greeting card publishers and had bagged 13 rejection letters before receiving a phone call one November 1997 morning. It was Beechwood and they invited me to bring my portfolio up to London to show them. From that my work was then available in major card shops in the UK. It boosted my confidence no end. Then in 2001 the Royal Cambrian Academy in Wales selected 2 of my originals for their annual show and the selection panel was headed by the late Sir Kyffin Williams (R.A. (Royal Academy member) so this was a major achievement for me.

Last year I collaborated with an American poet Marnie Jones - to have our very first children's illustrated poetry book published. Marnie wrote and I painted and the book is called "In the Morning". It is now available in several Public Library systems in South Wales and has sold internationally in small numbers so far. At present we are searching for a publisher to take it for us and we plan a sequel called "In the Evening" in 2011.

MBS: So you went right from learning to paint to submitting them directly to card companies?  Did
you do any shows, sell or have exhibits before then?

Alison:  I painted for about a year before doing that and I did exhibit at the South Wales Art Society and the Makers Gallery in Cardiff where I had a tiny show - which was fun:)

MBS:  Animals feature so predominantly in your work (that I have seen).  Did you always paint animals from the beginning?

Alison:  I only started painting animals in May 2010. Before that I was mad on flowers for years and landscapes too. I loved the intensity of florals - the opportunities for drama in the colors of petals and leaves was intoxicating for me. For many years I had lots of people and colleagues ask me for floral paintings and as I enjoyed doing them.  I built up quite a body of work and then had another exhibition in Cardiff which sold very well.

MBS:  Do you work in a particular format? A specific size...large, small...or does it depend on the project?  Also, any favorite materials..paints, paper etc?

Alison:  Yes - right now I only work in 8x10inch format as frames for this size are readily and cheaply available from popular shops - so framing is easy for people.
My favourite paper is Fabriano Artictico 100% cotton rag paper in 90lbs weight. It is hot pressed and super smooth showing up all my brush strokes and allowing expressive granulations and runs to show which I love.
I use tube paint, always have and always will I guess. My fave makers are Winsor Newton, Sennelier, Rembrandt and Schminke.

MBS:  In addition to your work as an artist I also see that you also have a background in Reiki and Reflexology.  What is the connection between spirituality, your artwork, and the natural world?

Alison: Since learning to practice Reiki and gaining my 1st and 2nd degrees in it I have treated myself, friends, family, animals and plants. I see that every living thing is driven by the universal life force or ki/Chi. In animals eyes I see that they are sentient beings and should be considered as such. I hope for faster progression in the changing of the human mindset to respect and care for animals at a higher level.  This is why I gain great joy from painting animals and more specifically using my art sales to fund animal charities and rescues and their work. They increase awareness of their needs and rights as well as save animals.

MBS:  Can you tell us a little more about your artwork and connected charity work?

Alison:  Essentially I feel an excited urge to capture the essence of what I see in a subject - be it an animal, flower, cityscape or a face. It is that thrill of creating how I feel about the subject on papaer that is what art is for me. I suppose it is all about how much love I feel for a subject - yes - even buildings can be loveable!

In my charity work I could paint for every animal that is currently suffering at the hands of humans. I have lots of energy for this and feel empowered that through my eye and brush I can help put funds into the coffers of charities all over the world. I also hope that through seeing my painting of say a bee or a fox that people may see more and more how beautiful and integral all animals are in our world and not just things apart that live out there somewhere.

Moon Bear Prince
Question 8:  Is there any charity in particular that you are affiliate with?

Allison:  Yes - I am currently working in collaboration with Animals Asia Moon Bear Rescue . I have chosen them because I don't think I have ever seen such cruelty in the way these bears are kept in cages and in tortuous conditions for up to 30 years. It is an unimaginabley horrible industry.

MBS:  I know many artists who are very hesitant about selling their work online. You sell very actively on Etsy.  Are you on other selling sites are well?  How has selling online worked out for you as an artist? Any advice you can give to other artists who are thinking about selling their work this way?

Alison:  I am also on Folksy, Misi and Dawanda. It has been the best thing for me as an artist. You have a shop that has global exposure open 24/7. No need to go knocking gallery doors and asking them to show your work and them have a 33% plus cute worof it too. I would strongly recommend internet selling. I place a copyright symbol across my work too as this prevents the riskrof anyone taking your work and claiming it is their own.  As I sell my work unmatted and unframed shipping is very reasonable and easy to do.

MBS: What is a typical work day for you? Do you keep "hours" and go to work painting like a 9-5 job or are you less scheduled about it?

Alison:  My typical day starts at around 7:30 am when I get up, have breakfast, get showered and dressed and the check all emails and Etsy. I respond immediately to thank any one who has bought from me. That is the first thing I do and never delay it.

Then I paint until about 10:30 am and have a break for tea and toast. I check emails and social networks and sales again and either paint or blog or make my handmade cards etc until 12:30ish. After lunch I usually I have a little hour sleep as painting is mentally demanding as is all the social networking that I do as part of my business. Then I prepare packages that need to get to the post office before 3:30 pm and take them down the road to my local branch. Packing everything takes such a long time because I like to do it very well with lots of fuss and prettiness. I create the best parcel I can with extra things in as I imagine how the person is going to feel when they get it. I want them to have fun unwrapping and enjoy the contents !

After that I take the dog out for a walk. Dotty is my Jack Russel and I love her. We walk around the village for about 40 minutes and when I come back it's time for tea and biscuits again. Then I paint until 6:00 pm. Usually working on new images or commissions. Also I pre-cut watercolor paper and printer paper down to my sizes. I buy them large in bulk to save money and so cut them all myself. After I have had my evening meal I do some errands around the house and watch the news then its back to work for a while - doing paperwork like tax /accounts and records etc.

Then another walk for the dog for 30 minutes. Then I paint all evening until about 9pm. I like the evening painting session as I know I don't have to go out again and the household is usually quieter! I live with my parents at present and my sister plus her 3 sons live opposite so in amongst my working day all sorts of things happen and phone calls come and a variety of interruptions occur. Sometimes I get fed up with the phone going but over all I love working at home as I can rest when I want or go out the back garden and look at my mother's flowers or chat to her etc. It is a great set -up.

The only thing that is a problem is space. I have a tiny room in which my whole life is based. My studio space is less than 3feet square!  I have recently fixed up a makeshift shelf and bought lots of translucent letter trays in which to stash work and reference images as it gets very messy and I lose things in the piles.

MBS:  Has there been any major crisis point(s) in your life and how have they impacted on how your life is heading today?

Alison:  As I mentioned above, I am currently living at home with my parents.  That's because in 2008 I was diagnosed with a life-threatening inner ear tumor. I lost my house, my job and my partner (we split up) all in 3 months. It was a complete closing down of my life as I had known it but didn't know then that it was the biggest break in disguise. I took 2 years to recover from the 12 hours of neurosurgery I had. The tumor was benign and so far no signs of it ever coming back. I was partially paralyzed but with time everything has come back.  My parents looked after me. During my convalescence and obvious free time ( I had to quit my job due to my ill health) I began painting again and little by little I started to sell in 2010 on Etsy. That was the start of me finally realizing my dream of making a living from my art, which as of 4th March 2011 I am!

MBS:  What is the significance of March 4, 2011?

Alison:  I picked that date to sign off as unemployed and to start my own business as I had enough confidence that I was selling enough to keep me afloat and because it was a new moon and auspiscious to start a new endeavour on!

MBS:  Looking back over your career is there any advice you have for those who wish to (seriously) pursue an artistic path?

Alison:  Keep painting things that really stir you. Do not use the word "should" as this kills creativity.  If you only like painting telegraph poles - paint them. Don't feel that you "should" be painting still lifes. I would recommend having a sketchbook in which to doodle and just let yourself play around with things. I have enjoyed reading load s of art technique books, watching demos on DVD and Youtube and also attending classes. Get a scanner and keep a high res copy of all artwork. I wish I had done that in the early days (I have been painting for 17 years) as some of my best works have now been sold.

Also, think about doing a painting blog. People LOVE to look over your shoulder and see how you put that paint on the paper. It also makes you feel more productive when you then have a blog post that you can Tweet about.

Don't be an art diva and feel that your art is too precious to sell or ask ridiculous prices for your work. I have decided that though I love my paintings - I want to live by my art and so price them so that they are reasonable and within people's reach.

Thank you Alison!

You can find Alison's work online at:

Follow our daily updates at the Mind Body Spirit Marketplace on Facebook

Additional interviews from our Artist Series:
Emily Balivet
Laura Milnor Iverson
Joanne Miller Rafferty
Jude McConkey
Atmara Rebecca Cloe


  1. Diane - I am overwhelmed by this post! Thank you - It is really well written and laid out and colourful plus I am so pleased to be able to talk about the Moon Bears and how they are being rescued! I appreciate all of your efforts and will tell my friends! Thanks so much - Alison

  2. Alison's art is truly beautiful, and she is a real inspiration. Lovely article, thanks for posting it!

  3. Thank you for taking the time to say how you feel about this feature Angela - made my day! Alison

  4. Great interview. Good questions and excellent artistic as well as practical answers. Beautiful art. Now off to check the shops.

  5. Thank you Indira

    And for you and all future comments I have a little offer for you - if you type in the code MINDBODY in the checkout box on my shop then you will receive and automatic 10% discount. There will be no time limit on this for the readres of this fab blog so enjoy and come and see whcih animal you connect with most:) Alison



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Artist,Writer, Jewelry Design