Breaking The Surface With Artist Cheryl Flemming

Breaking The Surface With Artist Cheryl Flemming

By Anna Horsnell

 In exclusive conversations with the artists from The Prow Gallery, Breaking the Surface delves deeper into the personalities and passion behind the artistry. Our sincere thanks go out to each artist for graciously sharing from the heart. 

Cheryl Flemming

How do you title your work? Is the title important?

In my landscapes and seascapes, I like to express movement and dynamic energy. I endeavour to evoke the viewer’s memories and experience with the rhythms and many changing facets of nature. The name of the painting is chosen to reflect this. In fact, I usually choose the name of the painting before I start. I like to align my focus keeping that name in mind while I paint. So, when I am thinking “Ocean Commotion”, my brushwork will reflect this energy. I want the feeling of nature in my work to be alive and robust, and the name should reflect that.

Painting on location, how do you manage to capture the ever-changing moods of sea and sky in front of you? What's your biggest challenge?

In the studio, I have reference photos, study sketches and my memories from which I draw upon for my work. I live by the ocean, so lots of time I just go look out the window. Painting en plein air is different. You have a small window of time to capture the light and the scene as weather can change, and things can move or be obscured by fog, cars, boats, etc. The plein air process allows for a large shape block-in of the main elements, locking in a snap shot of that time in that space. From this block-in you can develop the painting, but not be swayed by new light or shadow changes. The biggest challenge is seeing a much better light, colour and shadow effect, after you are already working on a piece, and not get caught up in changing your work to capture that new image. I normally just take a photo in that case and use it for future works.

What does painting allow you to say or express beyond words?

I would say a strong statement about nature full of memories and inspiration to love, cherish and respect our natural world. Also, my work could have layers of meaning beyond that. For example, in my atmospheric series, I liked to show the polarity of a living breathing natural world. A vibrant warm sunset on the horizon peaking through massive dark storm clouds in the foreground foretelling better days ahead, or a tranquil dusk water scene with a cacophony of visual music in the reflection of the water. These comparisons bring correspondence to our lives in so many ways and on so many levels. I hope that my work is a touchstone to embrace nature, and to give inspiration to work more to ensure the sustainability and health of our world.

You travel south for the winter. How does painting in other locations affect your work?

I certainly do a lot more plein air painting in California as I have more time and everyday is pretty much a perfect day to paint. There are so many plein air painting groups with whom one can paint. Doing more plein air work helps me attune more to nature with regard to true colour, temperature and value, which you really can’t do as well from a photo. It also affords me the opportunity to do several small alla prima studies in which I can explore various elements in situ, and in several atmospheric and light venues. Therefore, when working from photos you know that some darks aren’t really that dark…it’s the camera that does that. So, you can adjust studio paintings to be more balanced with a natural view not a photographic one.


How has your work changed over time?

My work has gotten more impressionistic and painterly. I started off painting quite realistically. A looser expression is a better fit for my nature and what I am trying to express. When I began to become serious about painting, I first focused on developing good technical fundamentals of painting such as composition, value, temperature, light, brushwork, etc. I painted lots of still life, figures, florals, and landscapes. I enjoyed painting dancers, especially as I have a background in competitive ballroom dancing. I didn’t really gravitate to landscapes and seascapes until I became involved in plein air painting. When I moved to the coast in Prospect, I became very inspired by coastal images and atmosphere. My intent has evolved over the years from painting narrative images to expressing a singular or simpler concept/idea. Initially the goal was to paint more traditional and beautiful renditions of a scene or place. Now it is more about expressing a memory of a place, the character of a place, or the dynamics of a place, specifically coastal communities. In plein air painting, I tend to paint on smaller size boards such as 11x14 inches, while my studio pieces are larger. I have always painted in oils. I have tried watercolour, but I am a bit too heavy handed in my expression for that medium.

What has brought you the greatest satisfaction as an artist?

The process of creating something is very rewarding. It is challenging and difficult, but when a piece comes together, it is very satisfying. It is like taking many complexities and making something with them in a strong statement that is beautiful and/or evocative. 

What or who has been the most significant influence on your work?

Well, I need to give a nod to my parents who encouraged me, and also my husband who is very supportive. With reference to painting, I would say that the California and New England plein air impressionists have influenced me the most, both the past and current artists.

Do you have any interesting stories about connections made through your artwork?

Lots of them. I have met and developed very good friendships with some collectors. I have some collectors who have purchased over 20 paintings from me. Some collectors have told me that they like the energy that my work brings to their homes, which is very rewarding for me.  One collector told me that she cried when she looked at one of my paintings as it brought such an emotional response. Her husband went back and bought that painting for her as a gift. 

What goals or aspirations do you have for your work in future?

Well, I would like to keep evolving my work. I am thinking of maybe doing bigger, bolder, and more colourful work. I had been focusing the past few years on the technical elements of painting, and now I would like to explore more creative and expressive works within a strong foundation of painting and technical principles.

You were 12 years old when you took your first art lesson. What would you like to tell her?

Relax and don’t take it too seriously. Play and explore more, but do listen to the teachings and advice of excellent art teachers. Not every painting has to be great. The road to success is paved with many trials and errors. Even look at those as success, and learn from them.

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Excellent Cheryl 🥰

Clary Flemming

Interesting questions and wonderful paintings. Thanks for sharing.

Janice Snair

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