Five Questions with Mary Jane Ansell

I felt instantly drawn to Mary Jane’s Giclée prints, I liked the pastel colour palette and I became even more curious after learning they were in fact reproductions of her oil paintings. Mary Jane has regularly featured as a finalist in the BP Portraits awards, the Royal Society of Portrait Painters and the Threadneedle Prize. She initially studied Illustration at Brighton University, so I was intrigued to find out more about her practice as painter.


Tell us about your first painting.

I’m not sure I can remember my first painting, but I do remember spending entire washed out childhood holidays in a caravan in Wales, refusing to go outside and drawing the whole time. Pretty similar to how I like it still,  come to think of it!

Can you describe your creative process & painting technique?

The starting points into new work vary hugely. Often the narrative comes first, but sometimes it’s a more technical issue that sparks off an idea. It can be as simple as a single object, a colour scheme or a particular way of lighting my sitters, and the scenes that I’m imagining. Right now as I’m working towards a new solo show (Arcadia Contemporary, New York, June 2015) I feel like I’m drawing threads together from the last decade, symbols and themes that emerged for one painting re-appear and gather greater meaning when used in another context and with a new sitter. I use an indirect method, using oils on either wooden or aluminium panels, building up many layers of increasing detail, firstly with a light charcoal sketch then building up a monochrome grisaille underpainting over which I gradually add colour with both transparent glazes and full bodied colour.


A thread throughout your work features female models, what draws you to paint these particular models?

The perennial occupational hazard of the portrait painter is seeing faces everywhere that you just have to paint, and I’m drawn to all sorts of people, young and old, male and female, and happily my commissioned covers all kinds of people which is both satisfying and challenging. But over the last few years I’ve tended to work with a small group of regular models most of whom happen to be female, over time my sitter’s characters also become an intrinsic part of works and give me more ideas to explore with them, and as paintings can take a long time to produce and themes evolve slowly, for me it’s just a part of the cycle of ideas. At the moment I’m realising that I’m being drawn to male sitters again for a series I currently have in mind.


Do you feel your painting style has changed over time? If so, how and why?

Absolutely, I’ve solved some problems, defined others to work on next… it’s a constantly evolving process, refining a way of working that most closely resembles the picture I start out wanting to achieve – which is never possible of course. I’m always looking for ways to get better results more efficiently and I’m really interested in working in the most conversationally sound way possible so I’ve adapted my method and materials with that in mind too.

Name the best thing about being an artist.

Simply to make a living doing what you love is a rare and precious thing.



Beyond the Reckoning, Oil on Panel, 28 x 40 inches


Mercury’s Muse, Oil on Panel, 23.6 x 19.6 inches


Girl in a Cocked Hat, Oil on Panel, 8 1/2 x 12 inches


Dan, Oil on wooden panel,14 x 10.5 inches

Interviewer: Kayung Lai

More information on Mary Jane Ansell