The Warrior Artist Podcast 10 – ‘I get up at 5am to paint’ Sile Walsh shares her creative journey

Sile Walsh also talks about:

  • The importance of drawing and life drawing in her practice
  • How she draws inspiration from the sea and the sea swimming community
  • Why she gets up at 5am to paint
  • The evolution of her painting style away from form
  • How her self portraits are guiding her
  • Her favourite tools and paint
  • The best advice she received
  • Working on her self-confidence
  • Her up-coming exhibitions

BIO

Sile Walsh paints figurative portraits and landscapes inspired by the sea, swimmers and the community around her.  She previously worked as a veterinary nurse and lifeguard trainer.  She stopped painting when her children were young for about 6 years and then returned to her practice with the goal of being a professional artist.   Sile has exhibited extensively, including the RHA, Royal Society of Women Artists in UK, Royal Ulster Academy and the Flash Gallery in Barcelona.  She was a heat contestant with Sky Portrait Artist of the Year in 2019 and Sky Landscape Artist of the Year in 2022.

The importance of drawing

“I drew from when I can remember..I was constantly drawing little things for friends..I think it was very much part of my identity and it was something I was compelled to do.”

“[In school] instead of studying in my bedroom, I’d be drawing, drawing, drawing, drawing.”

Life drawing

“I think [life drawing is] one of probably the most difficult practices in art… I’ve seen incredible artists struggle with it… it’s a real practice in itself. It’s an entity in itself. ..I think it’s incredibly informative on getting your hand and your eye to work together.”

Composition

“I see everything in line and shape, and the shapes are put together. So that would be how I would construct my work.”

Inspiration

Sile’s work is inspired by the community that gravitates to the sea.  She’s interested in the connection  and shared experience of a group of people who engage with the sea.

“I want to paint my connection with the people in the ocean. It’s not the physical act of swimming or surfing. It’s the shared experience or every time I’m in the sea, whether it’s surfing, swimming.. it’s just like this peace. It’s like this awe and peace and connection because you have to read the water … You have to be able to work with the water and the wildlife.”

“I want to shout about the energy and the power of the sea.”

The sea swimming community “has only become a thing since COVID..we’ve had this ocean around our island forever.. I’m so happy that people have found it and that they found community and solace and well being.”

The challenges of painting with raising young children

“I had this great vision of myself every evening that I would take out an easel and I would start painting, [but by 8pm]  I’d be like, oh, my God, just want to go to bed..”

“I was absolutely exhausted just being a mom.. I was shattered.”

When she started painting again, after a six year hiatus

‘I found the missing piece of my identity’

Time management.

Sile gets up at 5am to paint before her children get up

and goes to bed between nine and ten.. “I’m up at five..I have my coffee and I read my book and I have my breakfast and then I’ll start to work. .. it’s usually about an hour to an hour half of work before I do lunches and breakfast and school run.”

Painting early gives Sile time to swim each day.

“The way I work with the kids is very sporadic. So it’s kind of two hours here, an hour there. You could say 60 hours for each piece. Some more, some less.”

“My production and my time is limited, so my production to actually physically produce the work for sale is slow..if I’m working towards an exhibition, I’m not selling my work.”

Painting practice

“I’m painting very much what’s true for me

‘I paint every day and every piece is a puzzle to be solved and another step forwards in trying to find my voice’

Portraits

Sile paints portraits as a way back into her practice.

“Anytime I’ve had a long gap without drawing, I will do self portraits. So over the years, I actually have a collection of self portraits in the mirror..I ..completely disconnect from myself, and it’s a way of finding form.. because you know your own face.”

Evolution of her painting practice

Sile’s work has been evolving and gradually moving away from form.  Her self portraits have been leading her in this direction.  She paints out her face towards the end of the process in her self portraits.

“I never approach any painting with a deep meaning, but the deepness comes out as I paint because they’re all things that I’m connected with, people or places..when I start the painting, it becomes something else.”

” I want to bring the emotion and the moment into [my self portraits]. It’s not really about the depiction, it’s about what can be read into it. Now, I’m still not sure how I’m going to do that. And again, I kind of have elements in my head, but one of the frustrations I found over the last year in particular is not being able to implement what’s in my head due to.”

Sky Portrait and Sky Landscape Artist of the year

Sile entered Sky Portrait as a goal when she returned to painting after a six year hiatus.  She was surprised when she got in and felt very unprepared.  “I was very overwhelmed with getting in.. I kept thinking, I need another year, because I just hadn’t been practicing… you do get rusty… I had three weeks to figure out how to do a four hour portrait. ..I think now, in hindsight, if I brought paper and pencils, I probably would have at least gotten through the heat feeling like I had done my best.”

“I didn’t understand about mixing paints. I mean, I know how to mix green and orange, but I didn’t know how to use colour. I didn’t know how to mix paints together. I just didn’t know I didn’t know about composition.”

“I was drawing with paint because I didn’t really know how to use paint in its own right. My hand was shaking and I kept having to wipe it off. And Kate Bryan, who’s one of the judges in the show, she said, ‘you need to take a break’.”

“They’re incredibly kind, that’s one thing I will say. They don’t highlight the drama to make a TV show. e.g. they could have [shown my] hand .. shaking, but they didn’t. They took all that out. And also ..they asked you afterwards, ‘what do you think the judges will think of your work?’ .. I said, I think it was verging into being cartoon like because I was struggling with the time. And one of the judges then says when they’re reviewing the works afterwards, ‘I think she was worried about becoming cartoony.’ And it did. And I felt like that was fair.”

“The whole Sky portrait or landscape experience is fabulous. I mean, you couldn’t make it up. It’s so much fun. They’re so incredibly kind. It’s very surreal. It’s a twelve hour day.. you start at half seven in the morning and you finish at half seven at night… there’s a lot of interviewing, there’s a lot of interruptions. you’re actually only given 40 minutes intervals to paint, but during those 40 minutes intervals, you might be stopped and interviewed. ..And at the end of the day, it’s a performance, it’s a TV show.”

Sile was accepted into Sky Landscape Artists of the Year after entering a painting of the steps to where she swam during lockdown. “I don’t do landscapes, and to be very honest, I struggle with them. ..we weren’t seeing people in lockdown…I was swimming a lot. And that walk down the steps is really significant because that’s how I judge how I’m going to swim, where I’m going to swim, the conditions or who’s there, who isn’t. ”

Favourite Tools

  • Birch ply
  • Rosemary brushes
  • Michael Harding oil paint
  • Fabriano paper
  • pencils

“Cheap materials do you no favours.”

“The material I love the most are paper. I love Fabriano paper. I love the raw edges…to me, just that piece of paper is a piece of art in itself… Pencil and a piece of paper. And that, to me, is heaven.”

Best advice she received:

“Try and keep your drawing and your painting practice separate, because you’re depending too much on your drawing in your paintings…You’re trying to hold on to your drawing and paintings…Drawing is what you’ve always done, and painting is new.” [ Catherine Barron]

Upcoming exhibitions

Sile has a group show coming up later this year in the Coastguard Station Tramore and Shells Cafe Strandhill, Co. Waterford and a solo show in the Limerick Museum in October 2023.

Sile’s work can be seen on Instagram @silewalshartist and www.silewalshartist.com

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