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"It doesn't feel like work most of the time" Painter Jane Skingley followed her heart and built a career around her love of art. Trish Lee talks to her in our new online gallery feature.

West Berkshire-based artist Jane Skingley’s story is truly inspiring to anyone wishing to follow their heart and build a career out of their love of art.

Jane Skingley

She started painting in 2005 after the birth of her two boys and realised that she had found the thing that she really wanted to do. Almost entirely self-taught and without even art GCSE, Jane started painting in her garden shed.

“I sold my first painting to my window cleaner, who was watching me paint as he cleaned away and fell in love with one of the paintings.

"I sold it for less than the cost of cleaning the windows, but that sale was invaluable to me and got me thinking. I put on an exhibition of my work in a local venue and invited everyone I knew and a few gallery owners. Everything sold and I managed to get a gallery deal out of it.”

Hard work and discipline has played a huge part in her success. But according to Jane it doesn’t feel like work most of the time.

“I can’t say it has all been plain sailing,” she says, “but overall I have loved every minute of it.”

Bumps along the way have included her house and studio flooding in July 2007, the credit crunch of 2008, just as she was getting going, and a gallery selling eight of her paintings and not paying for them.

Highlights have included being featured artist at the prestigious Glyndebourne Opera House in West Sussex for four years in a row, being commissioned to create a series of paintings about climate change for the WWF which were exhibited at the Houses of Parliament and sending her work out to galleries and collectors around the world.

Jane is best known for her atmospheric seascapes and landscapes, but she also paints flowers and birds. The common thread in her subject matter is a love of the outdoors and nature.

Inspiration is gained from her daily walks in the countryside and along the coast. “I am particularly fascinated by clouds,” she says. This fascination is underpinned by her degree in geography from Durham University and she can name all the cloud types.

“My particular favourites are cirrus clouds, the fine wispy ones that you get during windy weather. I have studied these and developed techniques for creating energy and movement in the paintings.”

The Berkshire Downs and Watership Down in particular are some of Jane’s favourite places. “If you study the landscape, as an artist has to do, you will see so many interesting lines and shapes created by light and shadows on topographical features, such as ancient earth works and animal tracks. My geographical background has fed my love of reading the landscape and interpreting its shapes and forms,” she says.

Jane’s technique involves flicking wet paint at the canvas and smoothing it in to create cloud formations. “It is very messy, but I love the random marks created by the paint landing on the canvas at speed.” Layers of paint, always oil, create depth and energy in the paintings. Some of the random marks are left as, in Skingley’s view, they are just perfect in their own right.

“It sounds very uncontrolled,” she says “but I’ve obviously got fairly accurate over the years. Having said that, plenty of marks go awry and I am forever scraping them off until I get exactly the right mark, precisely where I want it. I think these marks have a real beauty and life of their own, which you cannot create by meticulously painting with a brush. As you can imagine, my studio is covered in paint.”

Another trademark is her very fine white lines, which have the effect of drawing your eye into the painting and contrasting with the softly smoothed in marks of the clouds, sea or landscape. “Successful painting is all about differences,” says Jane. “The lines create a point of contrast to the rest of the painting. They are created with a very fine tube and a strong sweep of the arm.”

It is the messiness of her painting method that led Jane to seek out larger studio space than her garden shed. She is now one of the resident artists at The Base arts centre at Greenham Business Park. Her studio is upstairs, and she can generally be seen working there on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays.

Her wildflower and bird paintings are a more recent addition to her portfolio, but are equally beautiful. She picks wildflowers on her morning walks and likes to compose them casually in jam jars and glasses. “I don’t want them to appear at all twee and so they are painted with many of the same techniques as seascapes and landscapes,” says Jane. She flicks and drips paint and uses more brutal techniques, including an electric sander, to give an almost driftwood feel to the paintings. Garden and seabirds are charmingly painted on muted backgrounds, always with the signature fine lines to add contrast.

Asked how she would describe her style, she says: “I don’t like to give it a name. I paint what I see and then after a certain point I paint what the painting needs. I do not aim to faithfully paint a location, but rather be inspired by it and driven by the paint and the needs of the painting. It’s very instinctive. You just know when a painting is right.

So, what’s next for Jane Skingley? “Obviously these are uncertain times” she says. “I’ve sent work out to an exhibition in New York, which has been cancelled, so I guess the paintings will be coming back. London art fairs are also being postponed and Open Studios isn’t going ahead in May. I hope to see if I can use technology to create virtual exhibitions on-line so that people can still see my work from their homes. I believe strongly in the power of art to lift the spirit and make us feel better. We may well need quite a bit of that in the coming weeks.”

You can find out more about Jane and purchase her paintings on her website www.janeskingley.com or follow her on Instagram @jane.skingley where she posts new work, news and inspirations.

Tidal Flow, oil on canvas. 80x100cm. £1,800
Thanks a Bunch, oil on board. 30x30cm. £850
Morning Walk, oil on canvas. 100x100cm. £2,000
Hidden Gems, oil on board. 30x30cm. £850
Harvest Field, Watership Down, oil on board. 30x60cm. £950
Flow, oil on canvas. 40x80cm. £950
Avocet, oil on board. 30x30cm. £850