Lily Rigby’s paintings give the impression of mystery. Her work sits uneasily on the cusp between traditional landscape and abstract art, and this is undoubtedly part of their appeal. For a split-second there is the glimmer of a wave or landscape that dissolves into the canvas like mist only to surge back through the paint on a second viewing. The beautiful fluidity of her art is just one of the reasons we’re so excited to feature Lily as the latest creative in our #NotSoGlossyGirls project.
Now a full-time artist in Brighton, we caught Lily between paintings to talk about her freshly found freedom, both in her art and new work-life balance.
27 year-old Lily moved to Brighton with her boyfriend four years ago and is proud to call the sea-side home. Her art is centered around capturing the feeling of a place, rather than just painting it. As well as exhibiting at a number of galleries, Lily regularly shares her work on her Instagram page which you can view here.
When did your love affair with art begin?
It’s hard to pinpoint the beginning, but I’ve been told I was always creative. I remember really enjoying art at school. My first few visits to London’s big art galleries left me a bit awe-struck; I didn’t know where to look first. I knew it meant a lot to me from the feeling I would get when painting. I get that same feeling as when you go for a run – when something has been bubbling up in your body and you feel so much better after you’ve let it out.
I feel really lucky to have a family that always encouraged me to pursue what I love and keep nourishing it.
After nearly four years of working in marketing you recently made the jump to full time artist during the first lockdown… What was the scariest part of turning your dream into a reality?
It’s a jump I’d wanted to make for a few years. I got my marketing job when I moved to Brighton but when I worked in marketing, I never really wanted to be there – it was never my dream. I knew I had to follow my passion and keep painting. In the evenings and weekends in my art studio I would dream and look forward to the day I no longer had to be in an office and could be my own boss, be in control of my own time and dedicate that time to doing something I really LOVED.
When I was made redundant last August, I took it as a positive sign that this was my opportunity to embrace what I had been dreaming of – dedicating all of my energy to art. The scariest part for me was the financial uncertainty, like not knowing what I was going to earn each month. But in the end I just thought that if I don’t try and give it my all I will never know. I can always get another job if I need to but there’s something really exciting about the unknown and being open to the unexpected.
You studied illustration at university but now work as a self-taught painter. What drew you to this specific medium? Do you think paint allows more freedom of expression?
Painting was something I did before uni, it came naturally to me and I always really loved it.
However when I did my art foundation year, I really loved the illustration department. That’s how I ended up doing a degree in illustration, but after uni I had such an urge to paint again. I wanted to be more expressive and work outside the boundaries of a specific brief and I definitely found this freedom in painting.
The first time I used oil paint was after uni. I ordered some paints and just started experimenting with them. I love the way you can manipulate the paint and it can be strong and thick or you can water it down with mediums and varnish. The rich colour of oil paint is so evocative too. This last year I have been working with new materials like spray paint varnishes and glazes.
Do you think there’s a lot of pressure on artists to have had professional or technical training in their chosen medium?
I think artists should be proud of their training and the time they have spent on it, but I don’t think it should be limited to this as not everyone has the same opportunities.
Artists who have attended established art unis can sometimes be seen as more important, but I think you can learn so much just by practicing something yourself. The more you do it, the more skilled you become. You discover things about your medium on the way and that is a never-ending journey, whether you have professional training or not. I love using oil paint but I have never been trained in how to use it and I don’t use it in the traditional way, so it always feels like an experiment, which I really enjoy.
A brief scroll through your Instagram gives an insight into your beautiful blue-grey colour palette… how would you describe the role of colour in your work and how it has changed?
Thank you! I am really drawn to blue. Colour can invoke so many emotions in us, it’s really powerful like that and I hope colour plays this role in my work too.
My ‘blue phase’ has been going on for a few years now, but I want my work to keep changing and progressing, so I have set myself a challenge for this year to be more experimental with different colour palettes.
Can you describe your artistic process for us? You’ve previously said that your pieces are inspired by the natural landscapes but later morph into something more abstract and atmospheric… What landscapes are you most drawn to and how do you go about capturing the atmosphere on canvas?
When I start a painting I never know it will turn out. I don’t like to pre-meditate what I’m going to create. I love the idea that each painting will reveal itself. Colour, light and shade are all absorbed from the landscape and I often find myself drawn to more moody scenery.
It takes me a while but I get into the flow and this is when my subconscious takes over. I think that makes my work become more authentic. I like the physicality of painting, especially when I am working on large canvases.
Changing the canvas position offers new perspectives when I’m painting – I like to move it between flat on the floor or have it against the wall. I’m never precious about my work; if a painting isn’t working I lay it flat on the floor and pour white spirit all over it. This often leaves unusual marks behind on the canvas, which are all part of the painting’s journey.
You’ve previously exhibited your work publicly and continue to share snaps of your pieces on your Instagram. How does the digital experience compare with the real, and what do you love most about exhibiting your work in real life?
I don’t think any digital experience can compare to seeing artwork up close. I have a lot of new paintings that have come to life over the last year and I won’t share them on Instagram until I have exhibited them first. I am so excited to finally share these paintings – hopefully sometime this year!
The thing about exhibiting artwork in reality is that people can really experience the paintings; you see or feel things that you don’t get by looking at a screen. I love how you can stand in front of a piece that was painted hundreds of years ago and thousands of other people have stood and looked at it too.
Saying that, as much as I have a love-hate relationship with Instagram, I do think it is a great business tool for artists and I am grateful for it as a platform to share my work. It’s also a good place to connect with and support other artists. We have been really lucky to have technology during the last year of lockdown; it has definitely been a great space for me to share my work whilst galleries have been shut.
The times I have exhibited it has felt amazing to have a room full of the people who have supported and encouraged me, surrounded by my paintings. I create the work on my own, which makes it such a personal experience. Sharing it with the public adds a new dimension to the creative process.
Your work flickers between landscape and abstract so effortlessly… What do you want the people who see it to remember or take away from your pieces?
Thank you, that’s so nice to hear! I hope they ignite something in people and that people can connect with them. I love it when I see a piece of art or watch a film and then I know it meant something to me because I am still thinking about it the next day – I hope this happens to people with my work.
Congratulations on your beautiful new studio! How important is it for you to have a designated workspace and what are your tips for making a calm but stimulating creative environment?
Thank you so much! It’s all thanks to Liam Russell Architects My studio is so important to me. I think having a creative space where there aren’t any other distractions is so important, you know you’re there for one reason only. If my studio was at home, I know I would end up finding soo many other things to do!
One of my tips for creating the right environment would be to always play music, I can’t paint without it. I also keep a pen and paper close when I am creating; I’ve noticed lyrics to songs are starting to have an impact on my work and I am using them to name some of my new paintings. Cups of tea are a must, too! Plus, I try to leave my phone on airplane mode as much as possible, so I can really switch off and get immersed in what I’m doing.
What’s the next step for you in your artistic career?
For me this year is all about experimenting with my process and letting my paintings evolve, and to cherish every moment of finally doing what I love day in day out!! I have been to an art Retreat at Hungerford Park the last couple of weeks and I am going back there this month with lots more canvases and paints. My studio there is in a 1960s railway carriage that looks over fields and orchards, it’s very beautiful.
Later this year I am exhibiting with Kevis House Gallery, Petworth and Cameron Contemporary, Hove in their group exhibitions. I am currently looking for a venue for a solo exhibition too! I am also collaborating with Wood Society of the Arts on some exciting new projects…
This September my boyfriend and I are spending a month in southern Italy and then on to Sicily. We’re travelling by train and I’m looking forward to seeing how the landscape changes. I think it’s so important to have time to recharge your creativity and get inspired so I really can’t wait for this (as well as endless pasta, gelato and aperol spritz!)
I love to dream about what my future could hold and the places I would love to go to inspire new work… Iceland, the Northern Lights and Mexico are on this list. To have artwork exhibited in New York, Europe and London one day would be a big dream come true. I would love to have enough money one day to fund an art space for young people to create work.
As lockdown restrictions are slowly being lifted over the next few months, what are you most looking forward to as we go ‘back to normal’?
Time with the people I love! It has probably been said thousands of times by so many people, but I definitely took the small things for granted, which I won’t do again! There are so many people I have missed this past year and I can’t wait to be reunited with them.
What advice do you have for other young artists looking to make their passion a full-time profession?
If you can, try and save up so you have a few months covered. This will take the financial pressure off at the beginning and will help you find your stride. Remind yourself, the more time and energy you give something, the more it will grow and give back to you. I’m learning to deal with downs as well as the ups; you need to have a thick skin and to keep trying at things year after year. You have to be able to pick yourself up and keep creating even if things feel tough.
I think it’s important to be patient and to give it time… I’m only at the beginning and I plan to do this for the rest of my life and so there isn’t a rush and I don’t have to have achieve everything right now, the important thing is to enjoy the journey and to let the work evolve. The more you believe in yourself the more other people will too!
Publisher & Date: Not So Glossy – April 16 2021
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