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Q & A with Stuart Godfrey

When did you first become interested in art?

I’ve been drawing since I was a kid. My grade 4 book report on sharks was a thick, duo-tang folder stuffed with colour pencil drawings of every type of shark known. I remember the teacher saying it was a little thin on words, but did enjoy the artwork. In grade 8 I decided to apply to a high school that had an enhanced art department that brought kids in from all over the area. I’d be leaving my friends behind by not going to the neighbourhood high school. It was a big decision for a 13 year old, but it made me realize that I wanted to pursue a career in art, specifically illustration. That decision to attend Wexford Collegiate was a big reason I landed a job in a downtown Toronto art studio at the age of 19.


What are you working on right now?

I’m painting a large landscape of a vineyard from a winery my wife and I visited last summer while we were in Nova Scotia. We had started to walk the beautiful grounds but were getting eaten alive by mosquitoes. We made a hasty retreat inside for a little wine tasting, but not before I had taken some reference photos. There was a beautiful stand of trees beside a dirt road leading the eye away into the vineyards. The composition and the soft, overcast light were making the decision to paint this scene an easy one.


Top: Study of Red Metal | Bottom "Red Metal" 2022 Oil on Panel 21" x 12"

What mediums do you work with?

Primarily oil paint, especially for larger work. It has such flexibility, especially in the studio where I can work on specific areas depending on the dryness of the previous layer. I’m not a very disciplined painter, meaning that I don’t paint on regular schedule. The slowness of oils drying helps me out in that regard. However, my favourite painting medium for quick sketchbook studios in the field is gouache. Almost the opposite characteristics of oils— it’s fast drying and I can quickly build up layers of paint to capture the scene in front of me. I’ve also begun experimenting in acrylics for both figure and plein air studies as well.


"Alteirinhos Beach" 2023 Oil on Panel 9" x 16"

What inspires your work?

Places I visit, the scenery, whether it’s landscape, seascape, urban… I’m a visual person I soak up the details and lose myself in the visual stimuli. I think that’s why I’ve always loved taking photographs, a hobby that I enjoyed throughout my career as an illustrator. I’m first to admit that I’m not a conceptual painter. Sadly, I have no ideas swimming inside my head bursting to be freed onto the canvas. But… I love the craft of painting and bringing a scene to life that I have stood in front of and witnessed. It brings me immense joy and contentment.


Stuart Godfrey in studio

What drives you to work in a particular size: small or large?

I enjoy both, however my large size for a studio painting (around 23” x 45”) is not that big for other artists. The most straightforward answer really is: any bigger and I’d have a problem getting it out of my small, basement studio. I like the impact of larger paintings, they work a room better, but they also require the time commitment and I can get bored spending too long on a painting. Smaller paintings can be looser which translates to a fresher feel. My small gouache sketches are noticeably different (bigger brushes painting in smaller spaces), than my large studio paintings. I sometimes think I should use very large brushes for my large studio paintings to mimic the feel of my sketchbook studies but I’m happy to have two distinct styles of work— both have their merits. Also, concerning size, because I was a storyboard artist in my commercial art career, I love a more cinematic 16:9 aspect ratio. It’s a slightly elongated, horizontal cropping for composition. One of the reasons I make my cradled panels myself as well as make my own custom frames.


Which artist/s have influenced your work the most throughout your career?

As someone who is a traditional, representational painter— the usual suspects: Velasquez, Caravaggio, Rembrandt…. Levitan, Sargent, Zorn, Sorolla, most of the great masters. I’ve been fortunate in my travels to have visited a lot of the great galleries and laid eyes on these works in person. I’d also point out that many of the great American illustrators such as Fuchs, Rockwell, Pyle, Bob Peak and Mark English, to name a few, were very influential in my younger, illustration career.


As I mentioned in a previous answer, in 1979 I started work as a young apprentice in an art studio in Toronto. It was owned and operated by two Scottish artists who had immigrated to Canada in the 1960s. Both came from classically trained art backgrounds in Glasgow and Edinburgh. Their drawing and painting skills were absolutely amazing! I learned so much from them in my early twenties. I had planned to go to The Art College of Ontario when I left high school, but got offered this job at the end of high school…and took it! The 7 years I spent at this art studio was my post-secondary education. They had a huge influence on me and were instrumental in my art/illustration direction at that time and in the artistic skillset that I have now. I’m forever grateful.


If you were not an artist, what would you be and why?

Kind of a similar path but I’d be a photographer. Not sure in what capacity, but I love making images. I had a friend in my twenties who was a news photographer for Reuters, based here in Toronto, similar age to me. He was a terrific photographer (obviously since he landed that prestigious job at such a young age). He knew I was into photography and he’d get me press passes to shoot with him at sporting events once in a while, it was a real blast!


How has your artistic practice changed over time?

My art career up until 5 years ago was commercial illustration, specifically storyboard illustration. Tools of the trade back in the 1980s were the traditional kind: pencils, pens, markers, gouache paint. Then I went digital in the late nineties and never picked up a pencil or a paint brush…until 7 or 8 years ago. I started to explore painting for painting’s sake not for a new career. I thought I owed myself some time to develop this part of my art brain that had sat dormant for most of my art life. Not to say that I value my skills as an illustrator in any less shape or form as a so called “fine art painter” I bristle at that thought! It was just time to wind down a career of producing art for other people and to make art for myself and learn and explore the craft of painting.


What is your dream project?

Honestly…I’m living it!


What would you like others to know about your art that you think is unique?

I have a very hard time evaluating and judging my artwork. It’s difficult to see your own work with fresh eyes.


I’ll make one observation: Many artists I’ve met along my recent fine art painting journey have come from other career backgrounds. Not necessarily artistic ones. They’ve picked up painting or got back into painting after a long absence. I come to my recent painting career from a career in art. Drawing pictures is all I’ve ever done so I guess maybe it adds a uniqueness and quality to my work… for better or for worse!


Sketches at Studies at Neils Harbour

If you could give an artist starting out some advice what would it be?

From a business perspective I haven’t a clue… From an art fundamentals


1. Draw all the time and keep a sketchbook.

2. Don’t be afraid to fail, it’s how one learns. (I have to remind myself that constantly.)


What kind of experience do you want the viewer to walk away with?

That they enjoy the visual that I’ve painted as much as I enjoyed witnessing it to begin with.


Last words…

Always be curious

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Wonderful to see into your studio, Stuart! And I love your recent work as always!

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