Art For All People®    Real Talk About Contemporary Art   

Ian Holtedahl-Finlay is a British artist whose work is so lovely and natural. You can easily get lost in his drawings and paintings of sailboats, marine life and leisure. They’re fun. I asked him about his inspiration and process …

“… I have a number of paintings I have completed on my walls at home. Some I look at and think, ‘I need to work on you a bit more,’ while others are pretty much there and I can enjoy looking at them like someone who has bought one might … It's also nice when I visit the home of someone who has previously bought a painting of mine; it's a bit like re-meeting an old friend sometimes ...”

 MICHAEL: Hello Ian, when I look at your work, three things come to mind: Leisure, Naturalism and Pleasure. Of course, I'm viewing it as a fan of contemporary art and not necessarily in technical terms ... although your work is technically great. But how do you see your work. Do you feel pleasure while you're creating it?

IAN: You've asked a couple of great questions there, Michael. Do I feel pleasure creating my art? Yes and no. Quite honestly, there are times when I have a real fight, a battle on my hands. I don't think that some of my best paintings have just ‘flowed,’ although a few have.

MICHAEL: I understand. I experience the same thing with writing.

IAN: I constantly want to better my results. I have very high expectations on what I hope to produce, especially if the work is a commission. I put a lot of pressure on myself to create something I want to have hanging on my own wall. That way, perhaps clients will more than like it.

When I'm drawing my #SketchBeforeBedtime series of drawings, I feel less pressure. Pencil drawing is really where it all started for me as a child. Actually it was probably a crayon, but you get my drift, I hope. As a result, I have made more mistakes over the past 40-odd years to now, being in a position where I feel more than confident with the medium.

Also, I generally work quite small with these so they can be completed in a relatively short time, ideally in one or two hours in the evening or, as I had the opportunity to do the other day, on a short flight from Southampton to Bordeaux in France.

MICHAEL: Wow. Nice. Your drawings are very cool.

IAN: When I started these drawings, the idea was to do something quick and uncorrected, something that was an exercise in freedom of expression. Then I got a bit associated with the results, I wanted to make sure they were a bit more refined - going away from the goal of freeing up and becoming looser, but the narrative in the drawings often meant that the result ought to be of a higher, finished product.

With painting, it's a different story. I taught myself to paint in 2000 and we are always learning, aren't we? So I'm not as proficient with paint as I am with pencil. There are more variables and so, I get frustrated with myself.

MICHAEL: I understand that too.

IAN: My wife is a great sounding board for me. She brings me back to earth when I get upset with my work or pushes me if I am not getting the painting to be the best it can be. She's not an artist, but she is someone I trust above nearly all others because of her honesty. Between us, we get the right result as we can debate what's going on quite maturely - well, she can!


IAN: There is relief and a certain pleasure in seeing something created from pigment and hair and solvent and fabric. I can sometimes create illusions that connect with people’s emotions, memories or experiences. I try hard to ensure everything is geometrically accurate, especially when painting a yacht or a horse, and it has to be alive.

I have sailed all my life, so I owe it to my own knowledge of the sport to accurately reflect the way elements - the sails, hull, spars, etc. - react with the natural elements of waves, wind, sunlight, etc.

MICHAEL: I can clearly see that in your work.

IAN: I have a number of paintings I have completed on my walls at home. Some I look at and think, ‘I need to work on you a bit more,’ while others are pretty much there and I can enjoy looking at them like someone who has bought one might. Yet I also have the added benefit of sometimes thinking, ‘How did I manage that?’

It's also nice when I visit the home of someone who has previously bought a painting of mine; it's a bit like re-meeting an old friend sometimes. Yep, there's often great satisfaction taken from that experience and of course, pride and pleasure, but it also spurs me on to maybe do another version.

MICHAEL: But let me guess. You don’t have time?

IAN: Time is the killer. When I painted full-time, each painting had to go some way to pay the bills. Now I'm working full-time, a painting is something that takes up time so I guess I have less time to experiment with styles than I would want.

Most of the paintings I'm working on are commissions, so there are the deadlines and expectations of others to manage. It's not as freely creative as I might always like. I'm of course hoping that somehow I can find a more widespread outlet for my work to be recognised and so lead me back to being able to do what I once did, paint full-time and sail of course, too.

MICHAEL: How do you feel now about your artistic process?

IAN: I am more confident in my work than I was ten years ago because I have less riding on it other than my own wishes. Before it focused on this but also the financial pressure … and I was with a partner who wasn't able to support me in the right way, the way my wife does.

MICHAEL: Given all of that, how do you see your work?

IAN: I can only answer ‘with a critical eye’ because I see the areas I struggled with, the areas I'd approach differently if I tried it again. As I said before, I do have pictures that I really admire that I've done before.

MICHAEL: And so, do you enjoy the process of painting?

IAN: My wife often asks why I paint since she doesn't see that I enjoy it that much. I'm not a perfectionist, but I do want to do the best I can and I don't think that comes easily. It takes effort.

All of the top sportspeople and actors, etc, put in loads of effort for their end result. In many ways, I'm similar to that and I have a clock ticking.

MICHAEL: We all hear the clock ticking.

IAN: I get to paint on weekends and sometimes in the evening after work. I can sketch and draw every evening. I don't need natural light for that so there's less pressure. Yet I know that galleries want colour, they want paintings, so I have to work on that side of things so that it becomes a bit less of a fight.

Drawing brings me back to a sense that I CAN do it, that I DO have a talent and it’s more relaxing. No pressure experienced and that is mainly because I'm first and foremost doing them for me, whereas the painting is often for clients or to hopefully to help promote me and my work to find a gallery to represent me. They are my link to my desired future and that of my family.

MICHAEL: Very cool. Thanks for chatting Ian.

Check out Ian Holtedahl-Finlay at

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