Every picture tells a story
7th October 2019
Elaine Gill is a talented artist who has illustrated the new map for Tunbridge Wells and is in the Kent Painters exhibition at the end of this month
I am an artist and illustrator, born and bred in Kent. I live in Tunbridge Wells and have a wonderfully supportive family, a very patient husband, three not-so-little children and a Border Collie called Bowline, who usually finds her way into my Christmas cards and maps!
From the earliest age I have always loved drawing, painting and generally just creating. By far my most favourite style is pen and watercolour, although I am always looking at and trying different ways to compose an illustration or a piece of artwork. I really love drawing buildings, especially those that have a story behind them.
My childhood helped inspire me to paint as I loved watching programmes such as Take Hart with Tony Hart and making ragdolls out of scraps of my grandma’s materials. As a non-reader, images have always been very important to me, from the beautiful Paddington Bear line-drawn animation to the illustrations of classic books such as the Water Babies. The images told me the story, not the words. I’m dyslexic but I don’t see it as a hindrance, more as the gift of seeing the world from a very different perspective.
At the age of 12 I was given my first set of oil paints, an easel and canvas. I would paint for family and friends and so decided to take O level art. I went on to study childcare at college and after graduating I worked in a private day nursery. While there I painted murals, drew publicity leaflets and provided general art and crafts for the children.
We moved to Tunbridge Wells in 2008, and soon after that I became a Learning Support Assistant supporting a wonderful boy with Downs Syndrome at St Augustine’s Primary School. Using illustration alongside Makaton to help with communication has definitely defined my drawing.
'Everyone has a unique story and it’s wonderful to be able to translate into a treasured and personal piece of art'
For my grandma’s 90th birthday we visited all the places she had lived and for a special gift I drew the buildings and little details that made her story special. From that moment via word of mouth I began drawing other people’s stories and it began to snowball. I then had to make the tough decision whether to stay in education or to follow my dream. With amazing support from family and friends I decided to pursue my passion for art. My grandma is now 97 and still loves her painting!
I love line, architecture and beautiful buildings that tell a story. I’m fascinated by cities and their history and eclectic mix of buildings! Time permitting it is important to explore other disciplines of art, and I do love to paint landscapes. It’s good to step out of your comfort zone and try something new. I attend life drawing and portrait classes with Andrew James. He’s an amazing teacher and life drawing is an excellent way of brushing up your observation skills.
Despite being super busy I still take on private commissions. It’s a great way to meet new people and avoid artist’s block. Everyone has a unique story and it’s wonderful to be able to translate it into a treasured and personal piece of art.
The best thing about my job is you just don’t know what’s next on the drawing board, there’s never a dull day! The Illustrated stories take up a lot of my time but I do work with authors, charities and magazines and collaborate with designers and artists.
One project people might know is the one I did with local cartoonist Chris Burke and the Platform 2 Project at Tunbridge Wells Station which depicts a historical timeline of the town’s most famous characters. In June this year one of my pieces was selected to be shown at the Mall Galleries in London as part of the Royal Institute of Painters in Watercolours.
I’m currently working with the National Trust at Scotney Castle and have a few exciting and interesting opportunities happening such as an exhibition at Adrian Hill Fine Art in Holt, Norfolk which asked for a piece of my work after seeing it in the Mall. The exhibition is running until the end of November.
Art for art’s sake
Which other artists are you inspired by and why?
Definitely Michelangelo and Canaletto for their line, attention to detail, dedication to art and storytelling. To stand in the Sistine Chapel or close up to an original painting is just awesome. I’ve recently discovered the work by the late Jamil Naqsh, which is stunning, moving and heartfelt.
What do you think of the local art scene?
There is definitely something in the water! Both Tonbridge and Tunbridge Wells have a diverse and exciting community of artists and makers, often supported by local businesses who exhibit or commission local artists. It is always lovely to recommend an artist friend to someone and to share the love of art.
How would you sum up your work?
‘Your story Illustrated’ is a very special style of my work, illustrating important, memorable and special places to create a treasured, unique and original commissioned piece of personalised art.
Mapping out a future
Whilst I was working at St Augustine’s Primary School, we were invited to become part of Royal Victoria Place’s (RVP) Victoria 21 project and celebrations, which is where I first met the manager of RVP, Nicky Blanchard, and her team.
We spoke about the possibility of me doing an illustrated map and soon after Royal Tunbridge Wells Together was formed the map was commissioned. I saw it as a fantastic opportunity to illustrate and celebrate beautiful Tunbridge Wells.
And now when I see a visitor with one, it just makes me smile.
Why I love Tunbridge Wells
Where’s your favourite place to shop?
Saltmarsh in Monson Road. Sue and her team are so welcoming and have excellent knowledge of artist materials, techniques and will gladly research and recommend products. I can definitely say their mount cutting and framing service is excellent and all the team have a great eye and understanding to help make the perfect match of frame to painting.
And to eat out?
There are lots of places to choose from here in Tunbridge Wells, all in walking distance, so we are spoilt. I much prefer to be creating at the drawing board rather than in the kitchen so at times it’s very convenient!
And for coffee?
We are fortunate to have many coffee shops here in Tunbridge Wells. I tend to meet clients in Basil, Woods in The Pantiles and for the best breakfast bacon sandwich and coffee it has to be Hatton’s. They’re always very friendly, offer great service, fab coffee and of course cake!
Finally, where’s the best place to go locally in order to get away from it all?
It’s great to walk out of the door and find a number of beautifully looked after green spaces in and around Tunbridge Wells. A few minutes in the car and you’re in Ashdown Forest, or a short drive to the coast. I just love where we live.