Continuing our series exploring the creative lives of people who live and work in the country.
Jennifer Thomson is a successful artist who trained in both Fine Art and Illustration at Edinburgh College of Art. She lives and works between Edinburgh and the East Neuk of Fife. Her work is held in many prominent collections including The City Arts Centre, Edinburgh, The Royal Bank of Scotland and the BBC. Her work is included in an archive of the nations art collections.
Despite her success Jennifer claims not to have shown any special interest in art during her early childhood, though she does have vague memories of winning a Milk Marketing Board competition. She says it wasn’t until senior school art class that she became truly inspired by her friend Kate. She says:
“She was just brilliant at art and I realised I wanted to be just like her, just as good. I was delighted to discover that I was talented too and worked really hard. I wanted to be in the art department as much as possible and I knew this was what I wanted to do with my life.”
True to her ambition Jennifer went on to Art College. Once there she says she swam against the tide, for no other reason than that was where her interest flowed. Every day she found time to slope off to the library where she devoured books on Naïve Art. She fell for Henri Rousseau’s bold, stylized work and the fact she seemed alone in her devotion didn’t bother her one bit.
Here was a style devoid of rules. No adherence to the principles of perspective that required the background to recede and detail to be lost. No diffusion of colour and tone according to the movement of light. The world was vividly rendered in a joyful, celebration of colour and simple form.
The atmosphere of happiness and joy in Naïve Art was exactly what Jennifer hoped to capture in her work. She says everyone needs a reason to pick up their brushes and the quest to convey delight in the everyday world became Jennifer’s reason for painting.
The pleasure and detail of life is an important theme for her. Jennifer’s paintings chronicle the way we all live, we walk the dog, travel to work, take holidays, go to the rugby, visit the zoo and for Jennifer each of these activities is a source of endless inspiration.
She sets up her canvas in an idyllic weatherboard studio at the bottom of her garden but in every other sense Jennifer is an outdoor artist. She locates her paintings within the world at large, on beaches, in parks and gardens, at train stations. Places that offer rich pickings for someone out to celebrate our every move.
She loves to tell stories and has a keen eye for whimsical detail. Within each work there are multiple narratives being played out, a pigeon eating from a plate of picnic food unseen by the picnickers, children chasing bubbles, dogs sniffing flowers or digging holes, ladies tottering in their high heels under brollies in the rain. Or – a favourite subject – life at the seaside.
Since 2002 Jennifer has had a base in the East Neuk village of Elie and she records our particularly British relationship with the seaside with a wry and gentle humour. Anyone who’s ever visited the Ship Inn or 19th Hole in Elie will recognise Jennifer’s work from the extensive menu that also holds the cricket fixture list and other Ship Inn socials. Her work is deeply entwined with local life and she has painted many scenes familiar to locals and visitors: The Ship Inn Cricket Team who famously play on the beach, the colourful beach huts that fringe the sand dunes in Earlsferry and the sea spangled with sail boats, children splashing in the shallows.
Each year Jennifer holds a solo exhibition in the village, or at the Pittenweem Arts Festival and this year she has published a book that records her working relationship with the East Neuk over the years. The book, ‘Happy Days in the East Neuk & St Andrews,’ contains reproductions of many of her well-known East Neuk works plus “a little story about each painting.” It offers a fascinating insight into the creative process and a charming account of an area that has a fond place in many hearts.
Given Jennifer’s attraction to all human life it’s unsurprising to learn that she is often asked to work to commission painting families, or scenes of particular importance to individuals. She is often commissioned to produce paintings as a gift for birthdays or to mark anniversaries, weddings or births. Christmas is a particularly busy time.
“It’s a process I really enjoy, getting to know the characters involved and making them come alive on canvas – who’s the naughty little brother? How short should I paint Mum’s skirt?”
She laughs readily but will not be pushed on the diplomatic pitfalls of working to commission. Probably wise – it serves an artist well to be discrete about their patrons.
Looking to the future Jennifer says she’s keen to hold an exhibition in Edinburgh during the Festival Fringe in Summer 2015. She’s had solo shows in the Capital and Glasgow in the past and feels it’s high time for another. If you can’t wait until then to catch a glimpse of her work, prints and original works available on the Jennifer Thomson website. You’ll also doubtless find Jennifer Thomson’s work in a shop nearby. Whilst not quite as ubiquitous as fellow Scot Jack Vetriano, Jennifer’s work has been reproduced as prints, cards, table mats and calendars and is available in a number of shops throughout Scotland as well as her website.
To buy and more information:
Jennifer Thomson – to commission or buy originals and prints, cards etc. Originals from £700-2,000.
Cards, Prints, Calendars and Placemats
Paper Tiger, Bonkers, Everyone’s Designs – Edinburgh.
Gifted, Liquorice Tree, Milngavie Bookshop – Glasgow.
Seabird Centre and Tippecanoe – North Berwick and Dunbar.
Bonkers – St Andrews.
Three Sisters Bake – Killearn and Quarriers Village.
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