Instow, 46x61cm, oil on Ampersand Primed Smooth
At first glance, Hester Berry’s oil landscapes on Ampersand Primed Smooth seem abstract. Yet, the more you take in her paintings, the more detailed they become. Her distinct style shows her ability to capture light and use tools for adding detail.
Heanton Court, 46×61 cm, oil on Ampersand Primed Smooth
Q: When did you first discover Ampersand Primed Smooth?
I was searching for some reliable, good-quality boards, and I really wanted to find some that were already primed so that I didn’t always have the massive task of sizing and priming with nasty chemicals in my studio. I tried a few and just found these so nice to use and have stuck with them for years now!
Low Tide Low Sun Westward Ho, 30×30 cm, oil on Ampersand Primed Smooth
Q: You have taught and are also a published author (Sketch Club: Life Drawing) in figure drawing. How does your process for figure drawing differ from your landscapes?
The processes used to be very different, in the way I looked, but also the mark-making. Over the years the processes converged, and I like to think that I see both subjects very objectively and could apply the same techniques to both or indeed any other subject. Whatever I’m drawing or painting, it’s all about detaching myself and looking as honest as possible and without prejudice or presumption.
My Garden, 22×30 cm, oil on Ampersand Primed Smooth
Q: Has the pandemic restricted your landscape work in any way?
Only geographically! During the worst part of the pandemic, I was painting VERY local landscapes, and even now, the locations haven’t been particularly varied. But as I said, I try to be very objective, and I’ve treated each familiar view as if I have never seen it before. In some ways, this is true, as the light and weather, the seasonal flora/fauna, and my own mood and practice bring an infinite combination of possibilities. I’ve also discovered paintable subjects in places I thought were boring, perhaps this comes from a new appreciation of the outside world.
Portford Water, 20×20 cm, oil on Ampersand Primed Smooth
Q: You prefer to finish your paintings in one day. Tell us more about this.
I don’t like to let a painting remain unfinished overnight in case my mood changes, or I lose momentum or forget where I was. I think that the speed of execution of a work can convey something of the sense of being in a moment that won’t be repeated. Quick, unrefined brush marks also hopefully recall the dynamism of lived experience, rather than a static photo – perhaps suggesting wind, the trees rustling, water flowing, or even transit through a landscape. A concise and speedy approach is essential for painting en plein air, and so I use it when I’m outside, but I stick to the same method in the studio. It was also an essential approach for a breastfeeding mother who desperately wanted to find time to paint! I think this life event changed my modus operandi and opened new doors for me. Previously I WANTED to paint economically but wasn’t forced to. Now I have seen the benefits of this economy, it’s been integral to my development as an artist.
Sea Buckthorn and Storm Clouds Instow, 46×61 cm, oil on Ampersand Primed Smooth
Q: When studio painting, do you listen to music, or do you prefer quiet? If so, what kind of music inspires your work?
Oh no, I hate quiet, I can’t paint like that. I used to listen to the radio (especially alternative and intriguing shows, such as Stuart Maconie’s Freak Zone). But my family are all musicians, and my house is always filled with music – what I lack is time to read. So, when I paint, I listen to audiobooks or podcasts. I love science books or shows, they keep me grounded. I alternate between these and magical realism novels. I look back on each painting and remember a book or an article!
Mevagissey Harbour, 20×20 cm, oil on Ampersand Primed Smooth
Q: Tell us about your process of adding the scratched-in details to your work.
I’m not sure, it just sort of happens organically. Finding good smooth boards allowed me to remove paint in beautiful and interesting ways, either wiping or scratching. I realised that this added colour, but also energy to a piece. It has also started to become intuitive and allows me to respond in a more abstract way to what the painting needs in order to resolve.
Storm over Instow, 46×61 cm, oil on Ampersand Primed Smooth
Q: Is your color palette largely determined by the scenery in the UK? Do you think it would be drastically different if you were painting somewhere tropical?
Yes absolutely. My palette has become very constant this past year or so! A recent trip just down the coast to the Scilly Isles even yielded new colours. So I would love to paint somewhere totally different. I look at the bright stark colours of the Italian Macchiaoili and compare these with the soft blues of the 19th Century Skagen Colony in Denmark, or the damp, lush greens, and browns of the Worpswede paintings, or the blinding brightness of the Australian Impressionists, or the explosion of colours Howard Hodgkin used for his India paintings… I know I could have a lot of fun with other parts of the world.
Norwich Old and New Walls, 46×61 cm, oil on Ampersand Primed Smooth
Q: What do love most about Primed Smooth for your oil work?
I paint quickly, so it suits me to have boards ready to work on, without having to prepare them first. I love that I can trust the quality and longevity of them, rather than trusting my questionable ability to make and prime my own boards! From a practical point of view, the absorbency is just what I want, and the smoothness allows me to add and remove paint in various ways that suit my style. These points are all really important and so when various political and pandemic-related issues pop up to compromise stocks of materials in the UK. I always have a nail-biting few hours/days until I can find my boards somewhere!
My practice is rooted in traditional representation and methods, but I constantly challenge my understanding of “painting” and explore ways paint can represent effects such as light, time, movement, and climate. I use the marks available to me as economically as possible, distilling the image/feeling/moment into what is necessary so that through objective representation there is enough room for subjective interpretation.
Having grown up in rural Devon, I have always been interested in landscape and the environment. My traditional university training in Aberystwyth nurtured this interest and also led me to explore life drawing and portraiture. After continuing my studies to complete an MA in Fine Art in Wimbledon, I taught life drawing and painting in Brighton and London. In 2016, I returned to Devon, where I now live and work. To see more of Hester’s work, visit her website, Instagram, and Facebook.