Studio Interview with artist Alena Carvalho
In March, to celebrate International Women's Day and female artists in our portfolio, we interviewed Alena Carvalho.
Alena captures the essence of European cities in all weathers. The traffic & life within the city is portrayed by painting black cabs & people on the streets. Each piece has a story to tell - the warm glow from shops contrasting to the darker conditions outside.
Welcome Alena, how long have you lived and worked in the UK?
I was born and raised in Prague, but I have been living in Buckinghamshire for over 20 years.
Did you have a strong feeling from an early age that you were going to be an artist and how did you develop those skills?
As a child, I was always making things or drawing, but wasn’t very keen on painting. I wanted to be an animator, back in the pre-digital age when everything was made by hand! I got a chance to visit the department of animated film in the film studios in Prague and I was totally enchanted by the world of puppets, miniature sets and tiny props!
But, being a pragmatic, I studied business instead as making living as an animator back then wasn’t a viable career choice. It never even crossed my mind that I could become a painter. For years, I worked in recruitment and then in housing department at the local Council. It wasn’t until I my two daughters started school that I had a bit more time on my hands and started to paint.
I was very lucky to get signed up by an art publisher very early on and it meant I could paint every day and make a modest living out of it. It took me a while to call myself an artist/painter when people asked me what I did for living as it just sounded too good to be true! 10 years down the line, I am still not taking it for granted that I could do this for the rest of my life, although I can’t imagine wanting to do anything else!
How would you describe your style of painting and has it changed over time?
That’s a tricky question... Impressionistic realism if there is such a style? I like to portrait my objects/subjects fairly realistically, but my main objective is to capture the atmosphere, the light, the mood. I like to put down the structure of the image first and then let loose. I use acrylic paint, ink and ink pencils as they are so versatile and they dry fast so that you can finish a painting in one sitting (well, not that it happens very often!). I started off with watercolour and ink, but as my paintings grew larger in scale, I swapped paper for canvas and acrylic became my favourite medium.
Your cityscapes are stunning, what drew you to focusing on cities and architecture? Do you love to travel? Do you have a favourite city or inspirational place?
Ahh, thank you! I love travelling, I love city breaks and city walks. I grew up in Prague, so I was surrounded by beautiful architecture whichever way I looked. But what I love about painting cityscapes is not just the buildings – they provide a backdrop for the life that goes on and all the changeable elements - people, buses, trams, bikes, weather, light. I could happily paint the same corner of London dozens of times as the scene would offer something different each time.
My favourite city to paint has to be London, the city on my doorstep, with its black cabs, double-deckers and stunning building. Venice, Prague, Lisbon are also an absolute joy to paint! I would love to paint New York streets so it’s at the top of my city break destination list to visit.
Do you paint from memory, imagination, sketches or photographs?
I always paint from photographs. I love my “hunting” trips for inspiration with my camera. I can walk around London for hours, especially on a sunny or a rainy day, seeking interesting compositions and changing light!
Do you have a favourite artwork by any another artist?
I couldn’t pick just one favourite artwork or even just one favourite artist as there are just so many amazing artists out there! But Mark Lague, Lindsey Kustusch, Tom Butler and Jeremy Mann, to name just a few, never cease to amaze me with their talent.
We noticed from your Instagram that you’ve been enjoying working on animal portraits too! Did anything in particular inspire you to do that and have you experimented with other themes?
Well spotted! I have been painting animals for the last couple of months. There are a few reasons really. I was working on a particularly detailed cityscape painting which took me almost two weeks to finish. I felt I needed to paint something quick and loose after that, so I had a go at painting a few animals. I really enjoyed being able to work so freely and fast, having to focus on one subject only, compare to juggling so many elements in my cityscapes scenes!
I have been having so much fun painting animals since then that my spare room is turning into a bit of a zoo! I look forward to being able to travel again to be able to get some fresh inspiration for my cityscape paintings, but I will be dipping into other themes too so watch the space!
What does a typical working day look like for you?
Alarm goes off 6am on school days, but I don’t usually start painting until about 10am as, 1. I am not a morning person and 2. I like to get all the chores out of the way first thing so that I can fully immerse myself into painting without any distraction for the rest of the day. I like listening to audiobooks whilst I paint as it helps me work more spontaneously and not overthink my paintings.
I usually finish at dinner time when the whole family is back home and the daylight is gone, but quite often I pop back into the living room/studio “just for 5 minutes to finish this and that” and before I know it, it’s 11pm!
Some days I spend hours going through photos, choosing what to paint next, other days I am prepping boards, framing or taking pictures of my finished paintings and doing admin, so no two days are ever the same, but I enjoy all the aspects of being an artist!
What is the best thing about being an artist? Any advice for young budding artists?
Being creative every day, learning or trying something new every day and the unpredictability of what the result at the end of each day might be! My advice to any young budding artist is don’t be afraid to experiment and to put your work out there – you never know where it might lead!
Alena's Original paintings and limited edition prints are available from the Rose Gallery. Visit the collection here or call us on 01604 713743.