A fish-eye view of the world
PUBLISHED: 12:06 24 March 2014 | UPDATED: 12:06 24 March 2014
Tessa Allingham meets artist Kim Whittingham who’s perfected a quirky style
Kim Whittingham is painstakingly painting blades of grass, the finest of watercolour brushes between her fingers, utterly focused on the vast piece of Bockingford watercolour card on her studio table. The radio murmurs in the background and her two fluffy dogs, Benni and Lulu, are quiet on the day bed next to her, patiently awaiting attention.
“I try to paint every day – I get edgy if I don’t – and once I’ve started painting I work really hard for many long hours. Those days are really satisfying. But I always make time for the dogs and they are always with me!”
Kim’s current project is one that demands intense focus. She’s painting the Senate House in Cambridge, commissioned by the university to create a watercolour that will be printed and framed as a gift to visiting dignitaries. “A chap came to a fair last summer and bought cards of my Cambridge pieces – colleges, the river, bridges. It later transpired he was from the vice chancellor’s office and they were looking for a local artist to paint a watercolour of the senate in a unique way.”
A few meetings later, Kim found herself absorbing the intricate detail of the magnificent 18th century building. By the time we meet, one view is virtually complete, every blade of glass, every glint of reflection in the windows, every detail of the brickwork in place. “It’s such an exciting commission. I believe the prints will be received internationally.”
Kim’s is a fresh take on architectural painting. She has honed her quirky, colourful, fish-eye style over the past 10 years since moving on from working as a commercial artist and book illustrator to focus on her own work, selling at local exhibitions, fairs and by displaying in local venues. She specialises in house and business portraiture, many of her clients having the portraits reproduced on personalized stationery such as letterheads, postcards and greetings cards, others commissioning her to create an utterly original gift.
“I’ve always loved architecture, but I find traditional etchings dull,” she says. “So I started experimenting, and I came up with this fish-eye technique.” Her first exhibition, in 2003, sold out. “So I said to myself, ‘I think I’ll stick with this’.”
One wall of her studio in the home she shares with her former marine biologist husband, Antony, and – occasionally – two grown-up children Charlotte and William, is covered in a bright display of her watercolours in postcard form. Paintings include commissions of private houses, still lives, botanical paintings, and paintings of landmark local buildings such as the Angel Hotel, the Athenaeum and the Theatre Royal in Bury. There are several Cambridge colleges, village churches, and an exquisite series painted following a trip to Venice.
Once the Senate House project is completed, Kim’s attention will turn to a commission to paint the house and a map of the grounds at Highwaymans, Risby, and she’ll also be preparing for a solo exhibition at the Cathedral Gallery in October. “I’ve decided to do reflections, through glass or in water, for this one. I want to move away from being purely an architectural artist. I’m fascinated by texture, colour, movement, reflection – abstract things – as well as buildings.”
Even when she’s not working on her own projects, Kim is never far from a paintbrush. The Moreton Hall Art Club, a group of amateur artists who have painted under her guidance for several years, is gearing up for an exhibition at the Cathedral Gallery at the end of March.
“I enjoy working with this group,” Kim says. “The styles are so varied – landscapes, seascapes, still life, botanical paintings. One member loves painting the inside of shed. They’ve become really competent which is very exciting for me as their teacher, and a lovely change from my studio.”
See Kim’s work at www.kimwhittingham.org