Testing the Water by Martin J Leighton
Testing the Water by Martin J Leighton

When did you first become interested in painting?

I have enjoyed art since my childhood.  Art was my favourite subject at school which became the highlight of my week and I won several art prizes.  School friends often asked me to sketch but my teachers were not enthralled with the cartoon style characters which I drew on the blackboard although they did praise the quality of the drawing.  The enjoyment of painting in oils started in my early 20’s and I’ve never stopped.

Did you always know you would become an artist or did you have other ideas?

I would have loved to attend an art school for formal training but my Father insisted that I ‘Get a Proper Job’ and so I was enrolled into an apprenticeship for boat building.  This seemed appropriate as I have always lived on the coast and being a cabinet maker creating the interior and exterior of beautiful boats was somehow fulfilling as it was another form of creativity.  I progressed to the building trade and ran my own building business for approximately 20years, entering art competitions and holding several of my own exhibitions, including two in South Africa. These were so successful that having put my two children through university I felt that it was my turn to do what I really loved and that was paint full time.

Are you a full time artist and if so, how do you manage your time?

Since 2003 I have been a full time professional artist and my days are managed by painting at my studio which is situated on the beautiful harbour side in Weymouth.  I have my own gallery space which is open to the public and generally I work a 7 day week.  My wife often complains that there seems little time for holidays but painting is my passion and I get withdrawal symptoms if I’m away from my easel for any length of time.  Although it’s a 7 day commitment it doesn’t feel like hard work and I never get that Monday morning feeling as I just love what I do.   I can’t think of anything worse than doing a 5 day week in an office environment.

Ally: Nude Study by Martin J Leighton
Ally: Nude Study by Martin J Leighton

Where do you get your inspiration?

I paint a great variety of subjects and living on the coast gives me all the inspiration I could need as the environment around me is constantly changing.  However, my favourite subject is figurative and I am inspired by the beauty of women.

How did your interest in human form develop?

My Father was an amateur artist and I remember a painting which he did of Sophia Loren whom I considered to be a very beautiful actress which hung in our home for many years.  During my teenage years my sketch book was full of drawings of hands, feet and nude torsos and in my 30’s I attended life drawing classes. Creating the human form in all its variety, both female & male, has always been a challenge but drawing in this way has stood me in good stead for my career as a full time artist and I am now passionate about portrait and figurative painting.

You have a very distinctive style, have you always worked in this way?

Painting with oils is my favourite medium and I want my work to look realistic yet not photographic.  Lighting is an important factor so I paint from life and my models will do a photographic session at my studio and in situ on the coast if required, so I always have details to refer to if the model cannot sit for as long as I need them to.  Achieving skin tones is such a challenge (flesh is not pink!) but I find myself getting totally engrossed in the painting until I am satisfied with the finished work.  I like my paintings to tell a story if possible so that the viewer enquires what is happening, who the figure is and if it’s a rear view, what they look like.  I am currently experimenting with a new style which enables the viewer to see a figure but there is a broken up aspect to the painting which makes it partly abstract.

Late Afternoon at the Fleet by Martin J Leighton
Late Afternoon at the Fleet by Martin J Leighton

Are you influenced by any famous artists, if so who are they?

Caravaggio and Rembrandt were masters at portraying the human form and I love to watch documentaries about them and view their work at galleries when I can find the time.  I also like the work of Jack Vettriano  which is a much looser style than mine and although he is often snubbed by art critics his paintings are loved by many.  Robert Lenkiewicz is another artist that has influenced me and I have many of his Limited Edition prints although unfortunately not any of his original works.

Could you please describe the practical process you go through when making a painting?

My head is always full of ideas for paintings therefore I often have two or three paintings in progress at one time.  As my work is usually very realistic I use life models to achieve accuracy and atmosphere. Having prepared a canvas I sketch an outline of where the person will be positioned and start to paint straight away.  If undertaking a portrait commission I will agree ideas with the sitter as portraits can also tell a story rather than viewing their head, shoulders or torso.  One of my clients was passionate about T E Lawrence (Lawrence of Arabia) and several artefacts and the man himself were incorporated into the portrait as they were significant to the client.

The figurative works which I produce often include an interior scene which may be an interpretation of part of my studio or coastal aspect and I take many photos of the coastline around me which I can then use in my paintings.  I try to make my paintings evocative and sensual, portraying the human form in a very realistic manner.

What does a typical day look like for you?

My studio – lots of canvas, paint and brushes with the kettle and radio switched on.  Perfect day!

View Martin J Leighton’s gallery.