Without her paint brushes to hand whilst visiting her parents one weekend almost a decade ago, Clare Brownlow picked up a feather, dipped it in ink and started painting. The scratchy dynamism of that finished piece inspired her to keep trying, and Clare has gradually turned that fortuitously messy moment into her very own unique art form and a growing interiors business that she can manage from home, while spending plenty of time with her husband and two boys, Harry and Alfie. A little while ago, I had the pleasure of styling her home for an interiors shoot with Robert Sanderson, so keep reading to see some of our photos, and, of course, to find out more about Clare’s incredible work and how she manages the working-mum juggling act…
Name Clare Brownlow
Studio location At home in the Scottish Borders
Medium Pheasant feathers and inks
Purchase from www.clarebrownlow.co.uk
To discuss a commission, email email@example.com
What inspires you? We live in the most incredible countryside and I get out in the midst of the wild as much as possible; I’m planning work trips abroad for next year, too, which should be really exciting.
How do you balance family time with work? I have two beautiful, wonderfully manic boys, and I run my own business, which is my third child, and the most spoilt child ever – she takes most of my time and is incredibly demanding! But my husband works from home, too, so the boys are lucky that they always have at least one of us around; we work hard to help each other out, and the balance is good. And I love working from home: I have a very short commute, and get to see the boys play in matches, and go for walks and explorations with the dogs and don’t have to answer to anyone; the downside is that I can become easily distracted by huge piles of washing and dull housework! I have to discipline myself with time management to get the balance right.
Do the distractions ever cause a bit of creative block? There are days when I lose my ‘mojo’ and it’s so hard to get it back as there is so much pressure – I always have commissions to fulfil and I want to do the best possible picture for those lovely people that have asked me to paint something. I have not been in the mood recently and so I changed direction MASSIVELY. I’m known for my game birds and so I did a pot of mustard and kitchen sauces… people reacted really well to them, so that gave me a huge buzz.
You must get through a fair amount of feathers… Yes, they certainly don’t last as long as brushes, so I have a few sources and keep plenty to hand; but I’ve also started receiving ‘feather mail’ from people helping me out, which is so kind of them.
Apart from clients and customers, who has played an important role in your artistic life? There are so many incredible artists out there, and so many people that have nurtured my creative side. My prep school art teachers were wonderful: Mr and Mrs Taylor. Also, the art department at Uppingham – I tried everything from welding, plaster work, painting humungous paintings that filled whole walls, and they kept encouraging me; there were no limits! My father is very creative, too – he carves and paints immaculately, and has always been there (when not off with the Army) with paints and sketchbooks; he’s also my biggest critic: he doesn’t hold back, but that pushes me and makes it better in the long run; when it comes to anatomical correctness of wildlife, there is no one better to tell me if I have done it right or not. And he is honest… sometimes a little too honest!
Which creation are you most proud of? I did a charging elephant for the Born Free Foundation (above) and it went for nearly £9,000; to think that my picture alone raised so much money for such an incredible cause gave me goose bumps! Also, my fighting pheasants (see pic below), which really launched my name and is what really started my business off.
Clare’s elegant and cosy sitting room. Fighting pheasants, £3,500, Clare Brownlow. Walls painted Dove Tale, Farrow & Ball. Bumble Bee cushion on sofa, £50, Clare Brownlow. Avian Curiosities lightshade, Anthropologie.
What is your studio like? Covered in paint and sketches, with lots of pictures from my two boys pinned up all around it. In the middle, I have one massive table, which is basically like a huge palette, as I mix all my inks directly onto it… I love it. When the paint gets too thick and I can no longer work on it, I want to get a large piece of glass to cover it and make it into a kitchen table – that’s when I build my own house to suit it. I’m desperate to build my own home, but I need to sell a few more paintings first!
What advice would you give others who want to be more creative? Be unique. Look at artists, but don’t copy them. Find a USP and don’t hold back. Get messy. The way I started was just messing around at the kitchen table, and when the paint splattered I thought I had ruined the picture at first, but that’s what I’m known for now. There are no mistakes in art, just creativity and expression. I would love to run some courses if people wanted to host me at venues in the future… to get together and be creative – and messy!!!
Mismatched chairs painted pastel shades create an informal breakfast area in Clare’s kitchen. On table: Pheasant mug, £12.50; Flamingo teapot, £25, both Clare Brownlow. Cushions on settle: Hare square, £50; Feathers rectangle, £40; Pheasant square, £50, all Clare Brownlow. Painting on top of wall cupboard: Kestral, £990, Clare Brownlow. Units painted Blue Gray; walls painted James White, both Farrow & Ball. On right-hand wall: Bea round mirror, Exclusive Mirrors.
Clare combines colour and pattern in subtle yet surprising ways in the master bedroom. ‘The swans in the painting are the ones we see flying outside our bedroom window and it just makes me smile when I see them. On the river earlier this summer we had over 40 on one stretch!’ Swans in flight painting, £3,500, Clare Brownlow. Sumi wallpaper in blue/gold by Zoffany, Wallpaper Direct.
Clare has turned the family bathroom into a light-filled gallery space with her own art as well as pieces by her father, and some picked up at car boot sales and antiques shops. ‘The parrots were done by my father so are very special to me, he and my mother have always encouraged my art and although my mother says she is not artistic, I disagree as I get my love for interiors from her. The small round wooden relief was my father’s when he was a child.’ Walls painted similar to Blue Ground, Farrow & Ball.
Bumble Bee wallpaper, £20 a roll, Clare Brownlow. Similar feather lamp base, India Jane.
Chair covered in Bumble Bee fabric, £65 per m; matching wallpaper, £20 a roll; greeting cards, £2.75 each; postcards, £8.50 for 10, all Clare Brownlow.
If you’re an artist or maker and would like to be featured on my blog, or you would like to discuss an interiors magazine shoot to help your business reach an even wider audience, please do get in touch via the About Me page.