How to Populate a Painting: In Conversation with Mark Pearson

Low Light in the City, 2017 | Oil on canvas | 90 x 120 cm

In the build up to our Winter Exhibition we drop by the studio of Peckham based artist Mark Pearson to talk about his approach to painting. 


What motivates you to create art?

I think one of my biggest desires to create art is story telling; I love the inspiration that a story can give. Sometimes I just get inspired by being out there, noticing something and thinking I have got to tell this story. It’s normally about that.

Take us through your creative process.

What I do is I’ll find a scene then come back and spend a bit of time sketching, that will be for a couple of hours; drawing the people, the buildings, sometimes just sitting there and taking it all in. I’ll then do a small detailed study. I do a time sheet now and have worked out that it takes me ten hours to get to painting on canvas. That is when things start to work; the environment starts to click. Sometimes it is the other way round, you think actually this isn’t what I want to paint, I want to paint the bigger stuff somewhere else.

Your paintings are famous for the characters within the scenes, how do you go about populating them?

What I tend to do is I layer them, I have sketch books full of people that I draw anyway. Thousands of heads and bodies, so I have a big selection process going on, I have people that I want to use in my paintings and I am always aware and always on the lookout for people. Whether I capture them on my phone or in my sketch book, it is documented. Quite often when I paint people, I’m not always happy with the way that I put them in, so I change them.

Pages from Mark's sketch

Pages from Mark's sketch

sketch 2.JPG

Lunchtime Royal Exchange, 2017 | Oil on canvas | 83 x 109 cm

So you paint people that caught your eye whilst walking down the street and you selectively place them in certain scenes because they had character.

Yes, I see them and think I need to make a note as to when to use them in a painting.

How do you think light plays in your work?

It’s really important, without the light it doesn’t work. Whether there is a dull light and one light source, there has to be a vital light. That makes a good 75% of the drama; it is directed by the light.

Do you think you are painting your life?

I am painting my surroundings, the people that are in it. And that constant change that we all live in. 

Mark Pearson will be exhibiting his latest paintings in our Winter Exhibition this December 12-16th at the Menier Gallery. For tickets click here.