Interview with an artist, #8: Diane Bailey

Jo Mason-LaurenceJo started her arty adventure at Dartington three years ago in creating The Studio, where visitors met and watched South West-based artists as they created work on-site.

Many artists have since enjoyed the exposure that The Studio offered and have continued to become part of Jo’s own space here on the estate – The Mason-Laurence Gallery.

More about The Mason-Laurence Gallery⇒
More Interviews with an artist ⇒

Diane Bailey, an artist currently specialising in acrylics, talks to Jo about designing buildings, getting hands-on with wildlife and how the best place to sit and think is a trampoline.

JM-L How did we meet?

DB You invited me to Dartington having seen my work so that we could chat and get to know each other.

JM-L Yes, I remember we got on really well and talked for England! We both decided that we really wanted you to come and be part of the gallery.

What brought you to Devon?

DB I was born in rural Kent and fell in love with Devon during a biology field trip to Slapton Sands where I was studying leeches. I eventually moved here twenty years ago via the Midlands, Wales and Bristol!

JM-L Quite a journey! How has living in Devon changed or developed your style?

DB I often wonder what my work would be like if I still lived in a city, but my earliest memories are of drawing and painting animals so I guess I would always have gravitated back to that. I am lucky now to have plenty of wildlife on my doorstep to study closely.



JM-L I remember you telling me that you were actually quite hands on with wildlife preservation, that an awful lot of the creatures you paint you have actually known.

DB I’ve obviously met a lot of creatures in this country, but also I took a whole year out to travel, selling most of my possessions, giving up my house, my car, my work. I saw some quite wondrous things from yaks in the Himalayas to tarantulas in the Costa Rican jungle. Some of the most magical times were spent underwater, scuba diving with hammerhead sharks, flying on ocean currents with turtles, floating around with metre wide jelly fish, snorkelling in icy cold Mexican lakes, watching thousands of baby fish in warm mangrove swamps.

Of course there were also a few unwelcome encounters  – a monkey grabbing my throat and baring its yellow fangs because I wouldn’t give it my camera; being circled by a rogue reef shark; the hungry elderly lion stalking the tent in Tanzania; being chased by a monkey with turquoise balls; mosquitos down the snorkel…

JM-L Wow! Why does the natural world particularly appeal to you as an artist?

DB The wonders of life are around us constantly and are too often ignored. I still can’t believe that not everyone is astounded by, for instance, the structure of a butterfly’s wing, or the organisation of an ant colony, the distance covered by migrating creatures, the adaptation of the fingers of a bat…

JM-L How long do you spend creating in a typical day?

DB It depends, some days I will have a paintbrush in my hand from early morning to late evening, and will be working on, maybe 6 pieces of work. Other days will be taken up with admin, research, sketching, walking.

JM-L What inspires you?

DB Anything with colour, anything with life, anything new, anything I don’t fully understand.

JM-L Who inspires you?

DB I can’t think of any individual who inspires me more than another. My inspiration is probably an amalgam of every person and every piece of artwork, writing, photography I have ever seen.

JM-L Tell me why you like to work in your particular medium

DB When I was designing buildings I worked in pencil, ink and guache, when I was illustrating I worked with water colour, line and wash………………

JM-L Whoooa…back up there!  I’m sorry, ‘Designing buildings’? You can’t just drop that in to the conversation and expect me to gloss over it…please elaborate!

DB I ran my own business managing building projects, I designed houses from exclusive penthouses in London to huge mansions in the rural countryside, but the majority of work was designing buildings for leisure. I was quite comfortable with this, knowing I was adding something positive to people’s lives. I designed anything from hi tech night clubs to sophisticated hotels and pizza restaurants, from olde worlde pubs to swimming pools adorned with nymphs and shepherds.

JM-L Tell me a little about your time as an illustrator

DB I was first commissioned to illustrate a book when I was 14 and then just carried on, people would ask me for drawings of elephants or faces of lions, and then paintings of their pets or caricatures of their friends.

I was employed by all sorts of companies and individuals to create logos, brochures and websites, including architectural practices who wanted technical drawings transformed into beautiful spaces.  I also worked for conservation groups including Friends of the Earth and the Marine Conservation Society illustrating their publications, sometimes with cartoons alongside accurate animal drawings and paintings.

Diane Bailey, Thick Skinned


JM-L Your journey as an artist is certainly revealed in interesting layers…Can we go back now to the attraction of your current medium?

DB I’ve also experimented with pastel, chalk, printmaking and oil but have settled on acrylic for the moment – it has similar properties to oil but dries very quickly which suits my fast way of working, it forces quick decisions especially in the initial stages. It has advantages over oil in that it doesn’t yellow with age and doesn’t crack. I choose to use board rather than paper so I can present the work without glass, enabling the viewer to get really close to the textures and underlying layers of colour, some of my work is actually quite tactile. People feel a relationship with the painting.

JM-L Where do you go to think?

DB The trampoline near an ancient apple tree in my garden. It’s surrounded by birdsong, has visiting insects and bugs, is a great stress reliever and has no corners – thoughts can flow. I’ve done a lot of writing on it too. If it’s raining I sit halfway up (or down, depending on your perception) the stairs.

JM-L Do you see yourself living in Devon forever? 

DB I love Devon, but I also need to travel, to force myself out of the comfort zone; I assume we’re only here once and I want to see and experience as much as I can.

JM-L Tell me something about yourself that has nothing to do with art……

DB I have learned taxidermy and welding.

JM-L Cool!

Also I can do an impersonation of a Geiger counter, a passable penguin, and a tortoise mating.

JM-L You must be so proud!

DB Absolutely!

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