Blog: Artist Focus | Studio Interview | Ian Fennelly

Ian Fennelly

Urban Sketcher

Ian Fennelly's art has been a favourite here at Watergate Street Gallery for over 20 years. As an artist and tutor, Ian is currently at the forefront of the 'Urban Sketching' movement. This week we chat to him about his inspirations and get a greater insight into his creative journey.

How did you come to be an artist?

I was always drawing at school and it was the thing that I was better at than anything else. I also got praise and encouragement from the people around me at an early stage, so this motivated me to want to get better. After school I went to Art College in London and got a degree in Fine Art, and I was then introduced to the world of commercial art galleries. I think to exist as an artist you need to sell, not necessarily to compromise your work, but to work within that world. I’ve been selling art and delivering workshops ever since. I now travel the world and run urban sketching workshops to artists and students.


Describe your work in three words

Energised Detailed Urban




What draws you to creating watercolour pen/ink based work?

It’s the medium that perfectly expresses how I want to record the world that surrounds me. I love exploring detail, so the line work in a pen is great for capturing the signs, windows, cobbles and all the rich variety of street furniture that populate my scenes. I also love emotional and dynamic colour which conveys mystery and charm, so the looseness and unpredictability of watercolour is perfect for this.

Does the area in which you live, or other areas influence your work? 

I live on The Wirral so the local subject doesn’t influence me. I love to travel and fortunately it’s a big part of my life as an artist. I prefer to visit new countries and cities, as I find it so inspiring to find new shapes and colours. My urban sketches are all about telling stories of the place you are in and what you notice and feel is important, so new locations are great for this.


Where do you draw inspiration from?

The world that surrounds me. I’ve always been drawn to the urban environment – the noise, energy, shape and colour. Through my art, I try to make sense of it all and capture the things I find interesting. It might be the shape of a building or the angle of a bridge, or the colour of a doorway. It can be the grand perspective or the tiny little detail that’s trying to hide from view. The inspiration is in finding all this stuff and making images out of it.

Do you listen to any favourite music, radio or podcasts while working in the studio?

I find the radio or podcasts distracting while I’m trying to work. But I always listen to music, especially if I’m outside drawing by myself. Headphones also keep your ears warm in winter. I have different playlists depending on how I’m feeling – sometimes I need to be calm other times I need energising, and I find music really inspiring.


If you could invite three artists or art influencers (living or deceased) to dinner who would they be?

I wouldn’t choose visual artists, I’d invite musicians. As I mentioned previously I find music my main source of inspiration. Visual artists are too close to what I do, so I’d invite Bruce Springsteen, Phil Collins and David Bowie. I’d have to get caterers in as I’m crap in the kitchen. We’d probably have Chinese and be careful with the wine. Springsteen for the story telling nature of his songs, Collins because of his unbelievable transition from Genesis drummer to mega solo artist, and Bowie for his capacity to keep reinventing himself.

What drew you to exhibit at the Watergate Street Gallery – do you have a criteria for choosing the galleries where you would like to show your work? 

I’ve been with the gallery for 25 years and initially it was the former owner Alan who contacted me and asked if he could start buying my work to exhibit and sell. Alan then became an agent and promoted my work to a selection of other galleries around the country. So having a good working relationship with the owners is really important. Also you need to feel that the gallery will showcase what you do in the best possible way.

What are you most excited about artistically in 2021?

This year most of my workshop trips were cancelled apart from Germany and London, but I do have my urban sketching book coming out very soon called “Layers of Looking” which I’m really excited about. It’s all about what I do and why I do it with loads of pictures.

Next year I’m hoping my workshops abroad will resume which I’m looking forward to. This includes urban sketching workshops in Texas, Wisconsin and New York, which will be great fun. Also in May I’m doing a Bavarian Road trip stopping off at various German towns and cities to run workshops and create online films. The best thing about all of this is the opportunity to discover new places, and find new colours and shapes for your art to exist in.

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