Walking into Yvette Hugill’s studio space is a bit like walking behind the curtain of an active art gallery where an artist is in residence.
Artworks hang on the wall, an easel is set up with pastels, brushes and other tools nearby and sketches with ideas and inspiration are also on show.
“I usually try and hang (my paintings) like a gallery, because when people want to see my work it’s up there and they can look at that end of the room and it’s presented properly.”
The only time the walls are usually empty is when she’s just finished an exhibition.
“If I go into the studio I have to start again. I stand there and the whole place is empty and so I start putting it in. It gets out of hand sometimes and it can get messy but mostly I’m tidy. I think it’s the graphic design background.”
Yvette has been painting for as long as she can remember and comes from an artistic family, saying as a youngster she preferred colouring books over dolls.
“My mum painted and an aunt on Dad’s side and my dad’s uncle.”
Yvette studied graphic design and book design and throughout her life has done design work for newspapers, worked for a printery and also spent a couple of years with a local photographer doing candid shots at weddings.
She married her husband Peter in the 1970s and when they moved to Gunnedah, she studied fine art and has been exhibiting for the past 30 years. One of the drawcards of moving to the Manning eight years ago was the strong and active art community.
“I wanted to go somewhere where there was a lot of art in the area,” said Yvette.
One of her works was selected as a finalist in the Manning Art Prize and when she came to pick it up she said they would be moving to the area. They joined the Friends of the Gallery and now Peter is the president.
Her studio, in a shed separate from the main house, has been fully renovated and looks nothing like what it did when they arrived.
“The shed had hessian which was rotting and drooping,” she said.
Peter has gyrocked and re-clad the structure and even extended it to create more space for his pottery studio, which adjoins Yvette’s studio.
Her space is simple, with storage areas and a sink in one corner, her table and easel set up in the centre and lots of wall space.
“I would paint wherever I was but for the last 30-35 years I have had a studio.
“When we were in Gunnedah we had a room at the end of the house away from everything else and I used to paint in that. The first four or five months we were here we were renovating the house. It was then Peter said, you need to get back up there, so that’s when he renovated the studio enough for me to get back in here.
“But I find if I even have two weeks off, it’s really hard, I’ve got to force myself to get back up there.
“Once I start I’m fine, and if I have an exhibition, like the one we had in April 2017 at the Weswal Gallery at Tamworth, I hate coming back home and having empty walls.
“It’s great to sell, and even if I don’t sell them all at the exhibition, the gallery obtains the work in their stock room, so usually they come home later.”
Yvette is skilled in a variety of mediums.
“Pastels, pencils, oils, acrylics and I do ink work too. I think people will recognise my pastels more than anything. But I do what I feel like doing really.
"I like to use a lot of different mediums but pastels go back with me further than any of the others because when I was working, although I had a studio space at the end of the house, pastels were great because you don’t need to mix paints and you can just walk away, leave it, come back any time and just get back into it.”
The majority of time she will use photographs for reference but it’s important to her that she takes her own image.
“Sometimes I’ll do onsite things but not often because you have to have so much gear, but I won’t paint anything from someone else’s photograph. I want to stand in the spot to feel the environment and pick what part of the area I would like to paint.”
In the car her camera is always sitting in her lap and if she spots something she’ll ask Peter to stop the car – sometimes not at the most opportune time.
Grasses, streetscapes and landscapes are a common theme in her work.
“I love the grasses specifically, it’s my thing.”
The grass work involves a lot of crosshatching which Yvette said can become therapeutic.
“You get into it. I always stand when I’m painting, unless it’s an inkwork, and continually get back and see the tones working into the shadows of the grass.”
Yvette uses pastel pencils or hard pastels like Conte Faber Castell’s.
“They snap and you can get a sharp point from them. Peter’s my main sharpener. He uses an angle grinder, so every now and again I might yell out and say I need some sharper pastels!”
As she demonstrates her grass work she shows how she “flicks” to get as much of the pigment on so she can get a deep sense of the tone of the work.
“These thicker strokes here are going to end up being the foreground grasses and I’ll get more shading into it as it goes along. It’s really a lot of fine crosshatching and it’s just layer upon layer as you get lighter and lighter and then I’ll go back and hit it as I’m getting close to the end with some highlights.”
Another style Yvette is known for is her stylised “lollipop” landscapes.
“A gallery director had called them that once and it’s kind of stuck.
“What’s really lovely is that people say to me I saw your hills. I could recognise them - the lollipop.”
Yvette also loves painting backstreets.
“It is being inspired by something that I see...and one thing often leads to another. I’ll do a big painting and then I’ll look over and see a little area and I think, that would be a nice little one.”
The style of her work varies depending on what she is working on.
Yvette said time disappears in her studio, especially when she’s working towards an exhibition.
“The last one we had at the Manning Regional was five years ago and it was getting towards the end of the deadline. It was about 5.30pm and I said, come on Peter, come out for dinner, that’s enough. I was standing there taking my apron off and he looked at me and said to look down. I looked down and I had another apron on underneath. The pressure!” she laughed.
“It’s good actually. I love exhibiting. It doesn’t ever phase me, I just really enjoy it, Peter does too. And it’s nice to meet people.”
She prints calendars to sell and was also asked by a gallery in Tamworth to create a colouring in book.
This came about after she did a painting a day in a journal, inspired by another artist was doing a similar thing, and that was shared widely on social media.
“My dad was right. It’s become a business. It’s not a hobby, it’s my work. On average, I’m up here most days, especially when there’s an exhibition happening.”