Oils, Energy, and Light: We Chat with Artist Jim Hanlon about his Passion for Painting

Jim graduated from Kingston University's School of Fine art in the mid eighties, from which time he has pursued his personal vision in painting. Showing at venues such as the Mall Galleries, Selfridges and the William Blake Bicentenary,  Jim has also worked as a sculptor, illustrator and art director,  but always returned to his passion for painting.

When did you realise you wanted to be an artist?

When I was about 10 I was in hospital having my appendix out and there was nothing to do but draw. I had lots of felt tip pens and sketch pads and I spent the whole time drawing. I remember saying to one of the nurses there that I wanted to be an artist, and I followed through with that.

You predominantly paint in oils, why is that?

You can manipulate oils in a way you can’t do with acrylics, of course, you can get different mediums with acrylics, but there is a lustre about oils that you can never get with acrylic paint. It’s to do with its malleable quality; I like that, however I do use acrylics too, sometimes I start a painting in acrylics and then go on with oils.


Acrylics without any medium dries really fast, so it makes you make decisions fast and forces you into spontaneity.

Do you paint from life, photography, or both?

A bit of both. It’s great to have the time and the weather to be outdoors painting, and in that case I would probably take acrylics, but you don’t always have your paints with you when you see stuff which inspires you. You can photograph it and start an editing process, as you have so much information you have to whittle it down by picking and choosing what is going to be relevant. I think: how am I going to take this down to the essence of what attracted me in the first place?

That editing process is very important.

From which artist’s work do you take the most inspiration and why?

Over the years it has been John Singer Sargent, because of the images in his paint; you could look at any part of his paintings and marvel at the gorgeousness of the creamy paint, it almost doesn’t matter what his subject matter is. I really enjoy his landscape painting and townscapes, where he seems to focuses in on some odd detail. The way he composes things he kind of zooms in and there is a sort of, “couldn’t care what my audience thinks; this is what I want.” quality about it. Which contrasts with his very deliberate swagger portraits of Edwardian society where he is definitely doing the job to please the client.

How do you go about planning the subject matter in your art?

A lot of subject matter comes from travel, which I find inspiring, but more by experiences of light quality, rhythm, and energy, which can be found anywhere. I’m drawn to the subject of London, where there is have a tremendous amount of energy. It has been fascinating for me since I was a student and first moved here. It’s probably only over the past five to ten years that I’ve had the tools to be able to express what I felt about it.

What has been the most pivotal moment in your creative career thus far?

There isn’t one, I think it’s just a process; you’ve just got to keep going and keep getting yourself out there. Every time you do that you get validation through peoples feedback. Though if I had to say, probably my first art fair. I got to read the public because I was there on the stand all day and I got that feedback and affirmation. It really proved to me that it’s important not to be in a bubble by yourself, you’ve just got to share it. Art should be about enjoyment, of course you should struggle with the technical side of things, but you should always be enjoying it. Enjoy the challenge!

What advice would you give to any budding artists?

I would say the same thing. Make sure you are enjoying what you are doing. In the end you are the one who is the final judge of if it’s good or bad, but it always has to be something that makes you hungry and want to do the next picture.

Jim will be exhibiting his fantastic paintings in The Londoner's Compass. This October 19th-23rd at the Strand Gallery.