Interview with Gwen Roberts

“I use realism to enhance specific areas of importance and draw the viewer toward a more intimate proximity to the work”

Gwen Roberts is a Photorealism artist who uses her pencils to create fascinating drawings. This British artist describes herself as “curator of emotions” and has a special talent to transform photo references into unique, delicate and sophisticated pieces of art.

She develops her drawings with extreme detail and care, and uses different social media channels to promote her work. In her Youtube channel, she explains her drawing process and teaches how to draw realistic skin textures, pores and lips. Gwen is also currently working on a book—a step-by-step guide where she reveals her drawing secrets—and sells her drawings as prints on Saatchi Art.

“Eclipsed” by Gwen Roberts. Shared on Artworks, inspired by a PoseSpace.com model

A few years ago, she decided to change her life and follow her artistic instinct. In this Q&A interview, Gwen explains how she uses PoseSpace.com, why she chose graphite as her medium and shares wonderful advice for art students interested in Photorealism:

You started working in the financial industry and after 20 years without picking up a pencil you decided to start drawing. What happened? Do you remember how you felt at that moment?

I was working in a very stressful job and when the contract ended I decided to take some time out. I have never lost my passion for art so it seemed a good opportunity to do some drawing. It was like taking a breath of fresh air. Following my instincts to put pencil to paper came rushing back. It felt so natural.

Why did you choose graphite as your medium?

As a child, I was always drawing. I wanted to sketch with sophistication; I was never interested in drawing cartoons like most other children of my age. I used to practice drawing perfect circles, because in my mind if I could draw a perfectly round circle I could draw anything. I think it paid off.

By the time I had gotten proficient in sketching, graphite was a medium I felt very comfortable with. However, when I returned to my beloved fascination with graphite later in life, I started to realise how versatile the medium was. To this day I strive to push the medium as far as I can with layers and textures to creature as much realism as possible.

I would like to turn my attention to paint at some point but I’m not done with graphite yet. I am currently working on new ideas for larger scale pieces on canvas.

Do you have a favorite living artist, whether famous or completely unknown?

There are many artists whom I admire. My first encounter with photorealism was the great Chuck Close. He was my inspiration toward the movement. I also have Kelvin Okafor to thank for revealing his techniques in his blog, which I adapted to suit my own hand. However, it is important to me that my work is not overly focused on technique. A photorealistic style contributes to the objective but is not a means to an end. I do not strive to faithfully replicate a photograph. I use realism to enhance specific areas of importance and draw the viewer toward a more intimate proximity to the work.

During the few years I have been developing my practice I have had the honour of corresponding with an Instagram acquaintance who has kindly given me guidance through the challenging process of finding myself artistically. Gary Epting is a fantastic artist, a great mentor and a good friend. I have a lot to thank him for. Epting has taught me to take inspiration from what I know and what is familiar to me. Annie Murphy-Robinson is one such artist whom also enthuses me to do so. Having a sense of mystery in my work is essential to my philosophy and Dirk Dzimirsky, Johan Barrios and Marilyn Minter are contributory in stimulating a lot of my ideas at this point in time. There are many more but my favourites seem to change with what mood I happen to be in.

Do you have a favorite PoseSpace.com model? 

Before the work is put to paper I already visualise how it will look and I will have a pose in mind. Therefore when I use PoseSpace.com I am not looking at the models, I am looking for a suitable pose. PoseSpace.com provides an extensive choice and a variety of poses. The 360 degree option is also very useful.

It is difficult to find willing models, even without nudity and it can get expensive to pay a professional model and it’s helpful to be pretty handy with a camera, have suitable studio space and lighting, etc. Consequently, PoseSpace.com overcomes these problems for a regular artist and the high quality images also benefit an artist, such as myself, who works in minute detail.

What life experiences have influenced your work?

A bit like a writer writes about what he or she knows, I draw on what is familiar to me or interpret emotions I have felt from past experiences. However, I consider it is important to have some mystery and ambiguity in the work so that the viewer has something to ponder over or put their own viewpoint to. Therefore, if I were to reveal the experiences that have inspired the work it would leave nothing for the viewer. I much prefer to keep them private, as some are very sensitive and personal.

What advice do you have for artists who are studying drawing and have an interest in Photorealism?

I think my top tip for anyone just starting to learn photorealistic techniques is to focus on mastering accuracy. Don’t rush the initial process of plotting out your drawing at the start. I spend a long time placing the features of a portrait before I even consider the shading.

If I may, I would like to mention that I am working on a book that will reveal my techniques and process. It will take the reader through a “step by step” guide of one of my drawings from start to finish. There will be photos and a detailed explanation at every stage. In addition, there will be sections the reader can refer to for more information that focus on specific facial features such as a nose or a mouth. I am attempting to make short YouTube videos to accompany the book as well.

“Twenty Four Seven” by Gwen Roberts. Shared on Artworks

You are very active on social media. How have these platforms influenced your work?

I find that social media is a great platform to get my work seen. I do not yet have gallery representation and I do not exhibit on a regular basis and so social media is a good way to get exposure and build a reputation. It can, however, disrupt my creative thought process. I have tripped up with quite a few pieces where I have been distracted with what people want to see rather than what it is I want to say. I want to produce unique and interesting work but it is very easy to jump on the bandwagon and draw portraits of celebrities in order to get more followers. Social media is flooded with repetitive subject matter and it makes it difficult to stand out from the crowd if you use a photo from the Internet. This is exactly why PoseSpace.com is so beneficial and there is the advantage that the images are royalty-free. If you are intent on taking someone else’s photograph and faithfully replicate it, the work is not entirely your own and you are at risk of the work being void of emotion and merely about technical skill.

In addition to putting together a book, I am currently working on some new drawings. To enable me to focus my thoughts entirely on a new body of work without outside influence, I am posting less frequently on social media at the moment. I will no doubt interchange between bouts of divulgence and quiet periods of solitude.

Gwen Roberts website: https://gwenrobertsartist.weebly.com

Instagram account: https://www.instagram.com/gwenrobertsdrawing/

Youtube channel: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCvq2M_m0kUecDQTcdktqezQ

Artwork: https://www.saatchiart.com/account/artworks/848989

Interview by Andrea Miliani

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