A post I wrote about the Jane Austen Exhibition in Winchester Cathedral recently has been very popular, and I thought you all might like to know a little more about the artist who created the watercolours for it. So I asked Laura Haines, if she would mind giving us an interview about them and her attitude/thought processes regarding the work. Laura very kindly agreed to be inexpertly interviewed by me, and so here it is. (Her responses are italicised).

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When I spotted the light boxes containing your wonderful illustrations in Winchester Cathedral recently I was very impressed. Can you let us know some more about the process of creating them?  Can you let us know what was the brief from the Cathedral?

The overall brief was to create four illustrations highlighting different points in Jane Austen’s life – starting with the Steventon church of St Nicholas, moving on to Bath, Chawton and later College Street, Winchester.  I completed preparatory sketches to give myself an idea of the composition of the images.  The text and pictures would then be laid out by a designer and placed inside the light boxes, and set out as 3D displays, hopefully having more of an impact than flat display boards.

2) Do you know why you were chosen?

I had done previous heritage themed illustration work for the Cathedral in a display about pests in the Cathedral library (hungry things like clothes moths, carpet beetle and silverfish!).  Part of the display involved an interactive element where visitors could design their own bugs, and there was a competition for the children to do this – which was very hard to judge as they were all good!  I have a real love for old buildings (especially from the 18th and 19th century) and local history and have previously done paintings for Kingston Museum in London, recording old buildings of historical note before they were demolished or renovated.  I also have a love of writing and reading and I was really keen to get to know Jane Austen’s work better and to do some research about her life and the places where she lived.

3) Can you describe the process you underwent when creating these pictures?

I generally create preparatory sketches where I can work out the composition before completing the final image.  I created the separate parts of the image on watercolour paper (painted using acrylics, pencil, conté crayon and watercolours) which were then scanned in and placed together on Photoshop – this meant that changes could be made easily and components taken away or added.  This is also better as it means I am quicker with my work, and I find that painting quickly makes the images more successful than when I take too long on them.

4) The illustrations are 3-D. How did this make the creative process different from creating two-dimensional pictures?

The images were designed almost a little like a pop-up theatre as it makes them stand out more to the viewer (literally!).  The various paintings were created separately and then parts were cut out on Photoshop (for example the people), rather than creating images that were all on one page and then put onto a flat display.  It is harder to create a 3D display as it is tricky to picture it until it has all been completed.  I didn’t use miniature pop up models in this case, but they can be useful sometimes to work out the composition.

5) How did you research the four places- Steventon, Bath, Chawton, Winchester- used in the exhibition?

I was fortunate enough to be able to visit Steventon, Chawton and Winchester with Elizabeth Proudman, (a Winchester City Guide specialising in Jane Austen tours-jfw), who gave me some fascinating background information and Charlotte Barnaville of Winchester Cathedral  who drove us to the various sites. Elizabeth wrote the text for my illustrations.  I used to live near Bath and so I had been to the city many times and had some old photos I could use as inspiration.  I took new photographs from different angles of the various buildings (all except Bath) such as Steventon Church and then used my imagination to create the rest and to compose the scenes of different elements.  It was great to be able to see the site where Jane Austen first lived at Steventon and quite poignant that the house was no longer there.

6) What research into Jane Austen’s life did you undertake before and during the commission? Did you read (or re-read) any of her works? If so, which ones?

 

I became very interested in Jane Austen’s work and read ‘Sense and Sensibility’ and ‘Northanger Abbey’, which I both thoroughly enjoyed.  I haven’t read ‘Pride and Prejudice’ but am very familiar with the story from television adaptations and films, though of course these sometimes stray from the original story!  I hope to read more Jane Austen in the future!

7) Were you a fan of Jane Austen before the commission? If not, are you now?

I was a fan of Jane Austen beforehand, but I was not very familiar with her work.  My sister studied her at school for her English GCSE, but we mostly looked at Shakespeare!  I am definitely now a fan having read some of her work.  I found it very witty and uplifting and I looked forward to reading it in the evenings.

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Thank you so much, Laura for taking such trouble with your replies. I found reading them fascinating for the detailed  insights into your working process. Laura’s work is very fine,and I confess to be hankering after her painting of Silbury Hill. Do go and look at her paintings on her website as I’m sure you will enjoy them. And it is lovely to know she is a convert to Jane too ;)