In flow: Sophia Pauley

In Sophia Pauley’s bright, textural paintings, she takes inspiration from the urban environment; with shapes and lines stemming from architectural environments associated with water. Combined with her experience of moving through these spaces, she creates a sense of flow in her work. With the use of bright tones and different textures and mediums, Sophia hopes to energise viewers by the sense of movement within the works.

Creating a sense of flow remains a focus

Your art explores the shapes and movements found in our urban and architectural environment, what draws you to capture this in your art? Where do you find inspiration?

Sense of place and my experience of a particular space has always been an important element, drawing me to the surrounding urban environment. This informs the imagery, colours, perspective and sense of movement within my work; my experience of moving through these spaces has increasingly become a focus. My inspiration has been architectural structures in and around Edinburgh where I am currently based and I may find the seed of an idea in the simplest of things. This may be random daily encounters with physical, tangible objects, such as signage and the bright and angular shapes on a building site or road works and their shadows; or it may be imagery in books or online sources. I select the most interesting shapes, colours and compositions, and manipulate them. 

Water is a big source of inspiration for you, and I’ve read that this derives from your love for swimming? What does water mean for you?

Yes, I have always loved to swim, competitively pre- university and now just for leisure. Nothing beats outdoor or wild swimming! The shapes, lines and composition of my work have stemmed from architectural environments associated with water, especially swimming pools, lakes and the sea. Now my inspiration has moved on, but creating a sense of flow remains a focus. I try to create arresting images through shape and colour as well as a physical experience by manipulating the way an audience moves around the exhibited work and changing the original sense of the space. 

'Water of Leith' 2018 (1)

‘Water of Leith’ 2018

Any preconceptions or plans usually take another path once I start, and this is what is exciting

Walk us through your creative process .. what are the different stages of your work? How do you like to apply your materials and how do you choose your colour palette?

I recreate my experiences of particular places by recording, using drawing and photography, then remembering and re-imagining, both visually and emotionally. I usually construct a set of drawings, extracting the shapes and lines from initial sketches before starting to paint, looking at the spaces in between the physical forms. I use this as a process to develop the most interesting compositions, that I can translate into cohesive abstracts. The paintings are not direct representations of the drawings, but again abstractions from these abstractions, part memory and part instinctual. Recent digital sketches undergo a similar process.

Presently, I have been using a wider range of materials, including glosses, varnishes and spray paints to create different textures and to further insinuate movement. I tend to apply acrylic paint onto what looks like raw canvas (translucent primer) to celebrate the natural qualities of the canvas. There is something lovely about the softness and natural look of the raw canvas, with its slight imperfections alongside the precision of shapes and lines. 

I am obsessive with how I apply paint either by brush or spray in achieving clean lines, but the development of a painting is an evolving process. Any preconceptions or plans usually take another path once I start, and this is what is exciting. I select colours in a similar way to shapes, from places or things I have seen or visited. I tend to choose a few colours I want to focus on and create a tonal range between these. I do not have a rigid structure, but tend to follow this process.

'Boundaries'_ Acrylic and spray paint on canvas_each 120 x 100 cm_2020 (1)

I love the vibrancy and brightness of your recent works ‘Boundaries’ – could you share the meaning behind this collection? 

I am predominantly a painter, though I love looking and researching sculptural works. Three dimensional qualities within my painting have become more of a focus, either upon the flat canvas or how the canvas/es are placed. In this new series I am enjoying using contrasting materials and multiple frames to explore sculptural space with paint. I am always drawn to bright tonal ranges, sometimes reflecting a digital quality.

How do you feel when you create art? 

Sometimes it can be incredibly frustrating when a composition is not working, or ideas become overwhelming, but it’s this trial and error which is so rewarding when something clicks. Though my paintings hold geometrical or digital qualities to their surface, they are emotionally fuelled. The physical aspect of making (especially large work) is a type of meditation and escapism as I block out the mental stresses of everyday life and the constant buzz of my surroundings and I use my work as a way of expressing this constant energy.

'Tangent'_Acrylic, gloss and spray paint on canvas_each pair 200 x 140 cm_2019

Do you have any art rituals?

I suppose drawing is my art ritual. I simply use mechanical pencils and graphite dust on paper, eliminating any colour. I often have too many overlapping compositional ideas and this process of stepping back focusses aspects I want to explore further. Drawing is something I always revert back to after completing a series, exhibition or large piece of work. So in that sense drawing has become a ritual to the development of my work and often they become resolved works within themselves.

What feelings and reactions do you hope to evoke in the viewer?

I hope to evoke intrigue by the surface of the paintings, as well as how they are positioned and presented. I want the viewer to be enticed up close and personal to the canvas surface, questioning the textures and materials used, whilst physically experiencing painting in an alternative way by their unconventional presentation. Ideally I would want the viewer to feel energised by the sense of movement within the works.

Pauley_'Void'_Acrylic on canvas_90 x 75 cm (1)

For emerging artists out there, how would you recommend they promote themselves? What has worked for you? 

Exhibitions are ideally the best way to promote your work as an audience gets to physically experience the pieces, however, in between opportunities to exhibit; social media, updated website, and online selling platforms all help to promote works and you as an artist. I do not tend to have a strict structure when it comes to social media. I use social media as a tool not only for others to see, but something that I can get my ideas out and explore. I try to post when I feel like it and of different parts of my practice. This differs between development to finished works, exhibitions and all bits in between. It is also a great way to promote any shows or events coming up. Sometimes I post a lot, sometimes not at all, and this seems to work for me as I am conscious that I do not want social media to define what I do. Keeping integrity within your work I think is important, and what interests you, will usually in the long term interest others too.

Having said that, every artist has to make a living in some way or another, so whatever helps to create more time developing work, by selling or having another job, sometimes needs to be a priority. Each week/month brings something new and however organised I am, being open to accept change and switch what I am working on is key. Sometimes taking risks doesn’t pay off, but if you never take them who knows what might have been. I would simply just keep making.

'Spatial Encounters'_Acrylic & spray paint on canvas_170 x 855 cm_2019 (1).jpg

‘Spacial Encounter’

A type of meditation and escapism as I block out the mental stresses of everyday life and the constant buzz of my surroundings

What are your hopes and dreams as an artist… 

I don’t tend to look too far into the future and take things as they come. But I would love to continue to make work that interests me and hopefully is interesting for others. Right now I am focussing on testing the boundaries between painting and sculpture and hope more people can experience that work – this is always my aim. By whichever way this can be helped, I’ll take it. 

What can we look out for? 

At the moment due to the COVID outbreak exhibitions have been stalled, but I am attending the PADA Artist-in-Residence Programme later on in the year and moving to a new city. Lots of changes and hopefully positive influences to come after this strange few months in quarantine.

To view more of Sophia’s work: 


Instagram: @sophia_pauley_art

Pauley_'Flow'_Spray paint, 2.5 x 10 m (1)


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