Anna-Louise Felstead

The work of Anna-Louise Felstead (left) crosses subject matter almost as often as she crosses the globe. Here, the reportage artist reveals the buzz of painting at events and venues ranging from mosques to military ships.


What does the work of a reportage artist involve and when did you discover this creative flair?

Being a reportage artist means you have to be willing to put yourself in positions where you wouldn’t ordinarily be. When on location, people often watch me draw which means you have to be confident in your work and not allow them to put you off. This can be hard when crowds form as happened to me recently when painting a mosque in Dubai. In the end I had to close my sketchpad until the crowd dispersed. I also believe you have to be fast as a reportage artist. Nothing stays still in real life so you have to work quickly and confidently. I realised I had a talent at a very young age. My teacher at nursery school even put up one of my paintings of some sunflowers in the staff room, telling my mother she knew I would be a successful artist one day.

Any other vocations considered en route? 

I very nearly went to music college to become an opera singer. I had been head of my school choirs over the years and even had an audition lined up at Glyndebourne, but knew my love of painting overtook my desire to master sight-reading! I also found there to be too many large egos in the world of singing and theatre and preferred being surrounded by the more humble temperaments of painters.

Which events and venues inspire you?

At the moment I am very into drawing fabulous architecture. One of my favourite recent paintings is the ink drawing I did of City Hall in Cape Town. Other than that, I love drawing people in unusual environments. Over the years I’ve drawn on Royal Navy ships, capturing the workers fixing harrier jump jets and the chefs in the galley preparing ‘scran’ for the officers or junior rates.

Crufts is always fun to go and paint. However working with the MoD was very exciting when they sent me all over the UK to paint their ships , submarines, helicopters, aircraft carriers and the marines 

I also  loved painting the  Cartier Polo World Cup on Snow in St.Moritz this January. The people have such wealth and show it off like peacocks. Women in full furs with designer handbags holding lap-downs wearing Gucci accessories.  Wonderful to draw. 

The most challenging events that you've painted at?

Backstage at London Fashion Week. It’s packed,stressful and a tricky environment to work in due to the photographers, tv crews, journalists, make-up artists, designers, models and PR people everywhere. There is hardly any space to sit or spread my inks. 

When I eventually do find somewhere the inks often get knocked over, or the model I am drawing suddenly has to rush to another side of the room for an interview or fitting. When painting, I am often interrupted and asked to be interviewed for some television station, but it’s a huge buzz being there and I love it.

You already cover conferences and corporate events - how does the event industry benefit from reportage art?

We so often see photographers documenting events and photography is very relevant. However I think having an artist there to document the surroundings adds a different perspective. It is exclusive and eye-catching, plus I find my style often amuses people when they recognise themselves. Many large companies like Cartier have used illustrators for their press packs and visionary event companies are  showing courage and the ability to experiment with new ideas.

As a location artist which country have you found most inspiring?

South Africa. Because of the varying landscapes, the colour, architecture, light and atmosphere. It is one of the most beautiful places I have ever visited and as a place I instantly relaxed my style and focused on what I wanted to paint, even though I knew it might not be particularly commercial.

Favourite airlines and places to stay?

My favourite airline is Emirates. As for accommodation, I of course love to stay either in wonderful 5* hotels or at the other end of the scale, in gorgeous little family run B&Bs because they can have so much more character.

Travel nightmares? 

In 2001 I was in Marrakech with students from Central Saint Martins painting the souks when a Moroccan man said he would take me to his friend’s factories so I could paint people working. True to his word, he spent the day with me showing me wonderful hidden places where locals made tiles for mosaics and built furniture. Towards the end of the day I was working out what to pay him as he had been such a help. He invited me to the rooftop of his family home to see the views of the city. Having been into various houses with other drawing students, I accepted his offer and met his family who cooked supper.

I naively allowed him to show me the views from upstairs but he soon made me uncomfortable by showing me pornography and ushering me into a dark room. I made my excuses to leave and he responded by physically stop me. I managed to escape down the stairs with him giving  chase.  In the busy maze of streets I eventually navigated my way home. It was terrifying! 


Your favourite unwinding routine after a long haul trip?

Cuddled up on the sofa with my border terrier, Ruby.

Who would you have paint your own portrait?

Stuart Pearson Wright. I’d have Stuart paint my portrait because I think he’s incredibly skilled at drawing. There are many portrait painters who paint, but I like the fact he draws using pencil or charcoal. His portraits sometimes have incredibly detailed faces with sketched hands or backgrounds which I like – to me it’s more about capturing the intimacy of the person rather than trying to create a flattering portrait.

Which projects are imminent in your schedule?

Cannes Film Festival, Monaco Grand Prix and a visit to Delhi in November to paint the architecture and markets.


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