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Interview with David Drain

There is a delicacy found in David Drain’s paintings. Varying in colour, form, and movement, Drain creates a meditative space for viewers of his work. I believe that perhaps this delicacy and thoughtfulness comes from his approach to his work, something beloved and sacred, as something recently rediscovered after being long lost.

Imagining Perspectives III

Acrylic and Ink

Work on Stretched Gallery Canvas

70x50 cm / 30” x 20” x 1”


Having started painting five years after retiring from his career as an engineer, there is both an excitement and reverence for art felt in how Drain approaches his practice. This passion can clearly be felt, as he has already achieved success with his work being shown internationally. I had the chance to ask the artist about his work, his life, and what he’s up to.

Favourite Aunty

Acrylic and Ink

Work on Birch wood Cradled Panel

80 x 80 x 3 cm / 32” x 32” x1”


You began painting five years ago. How do you feel this has affected your approach to making art?

I have always highly appreciated and enjoyed art. And I have always been particularly interested in abstraction. I am a huge fan of Klee, Rothko, early Kandinsky, Johns, Richter, Diebenkorn, Hepworth, Scully. But appreciating art and making art are two very different things. Making art is emotional labour for me. And I am addicted to it!

I know that painting is my preferred mode of creating art. It is my emotional language.

I can now describe my approach to making art as a constant, restless search for an aesthetic combination of chaos and harmony in each and every one of my abstract works. I have immersed myself full-time in learning how to paint, learning the multitude of techniques and use of materials involved. And more importantly, learning what the elements are which I feel at home with and which provide me with creative expression. Some colleagues from my previous profession have commented that I have, over these five years, fully reinvented myself. I agree.

Prior to giving up my previous profession, I had for a long time felt a strong compulsion to totally immerse myself in some form of creative process which could be different to what I was doing professionally. In my working life at that time, there was no space or opportunity to do artistically creative work, to make art.

Deep Blue Drift VII

Acrylic and Ink

Work on Birch Wood Cradled Panel

70 x 70 cm / 30” x 30” x 1”


What was your experience with art before you began painting? How did you feel about it?

Art is and has always been powerful medicine for me ever since I first visited art museums in Glasgow and Edinburgh as a boy. I have always been fascinated by art and, honestly, jealous of those individuals brave enough to have made art their profession.

As a boy I wanted to go to art school, but that did not happen. I grew up in a beautiful area of Scotland, the Southern Uplands. My family was extremely poor. Art as a career was not an option. I became an engineer and had a successful career. Before I began painting, I frequently felt that my day job, my profession, my career was not enough for me, was not providing me with the emotional nourishment I needed. Fast forward to leaving my profession five years ago, and from then on focusing on making art.

I am often overcome by emotion just standing, in a museum, in front of an original Klee painting, for example, which just transfixes me, transports me to a different level. I have always wondered why this happens with specific paintings, with specific pieces of art. This has always been my reaction to art I am attracted to.

Visual Voices I

Acrylic and Ink

Work on Birch wood Cradled Panel

80 x 80 x 3 cm / 32” x 32” x1”


How do you think your time living and working around the world affects your process and your art?

I believe my exposure to many different cultures and ways of living has been a powerful influence on my development as an artist, my view of art in the world, and in my understanding of the power of art. I firmly believe that art is a form of nutrition for all of us, food for the soul. That art is precious to humanity was, in younger years, a cliché for me, which I could only smile about. That has now changed.

In my previous lives, working and living in many different locations across the globe, I had many experiences which influenced me emotionally and spiritually and matured me as an individual. The art I make today is strongly influenced by my globetrotting past.

As an example, many years ago I worked as a young engineer on the beautiful and fascinating Orkney Islands, off the north coast of Scotland. And only recently, this year, I created a series of five highly abstract paintings, depicting my experiences while living in Orkney.

How do you choose the titles of your work?

As we know, every single person who takes the time to really look at a painting will experience things which are unique to themselves as individuals. The job of the title is to not get in the way of that experience, of that phenomenon, not get in the way of the unique dynamic between viewer and painting. That is always in my mind when I choose titles, which, to be honest, is a struggle sometimes.

I try to find titles which open up a conversation between viewer and painting. I hope at least that I provide titles which enhance the freedom the viewer has in taking in the multitude of messages emanating from the painting.

You discuss the importance of creativity on your website. How would you define creativity for you personally? Do you feel the need to recharge your creativity or does it feel endless/bottomless? How does it play into your everyday life versus the studio?

Creativity to me personally is the ability to generate and transfer new, fresh original ideas, insights, eye-openers, thoughts or internal images and transfer them into specific action. The action for me as a working artist, is to create, to capture imagery on canvas using paint and other materials.

Creativity is also a flowing fountain. I am convinced that creativity replenishes itself, if we let it. The trick is to allow it to surface and there are many ways in which we can positively influence this. Mindfulness, meditation, going out into nature, learning to be aware of the ongoing influence of one’s own inner voice, which can be feeding us with creative suggestions, if we let it. I make use of Reframing a lot in my art practice as well as in my daily life. This means identifying negative thinking traps, which can substantially limit our creativity and then challenging them and thereby changing them. Practicing this is highly beneficial and assists in refreshing my creative juices, both in my studio and in everyday life.

I find busy cities, especially the older parts of cities, filled with noise and human interaction, totally fascinating and I can often feel my creative eye taking in imagery and saving it for my studio time. I strongly believe that finding creative expression is a potent vehicle for personal growth.

Slowing Fields III

Acrylic and Ink

Work on Stretched Gallery Canvas

70x50 cm / 30” x 20” x 1”


What materials do you prefer to work with? Are there any you haven’t tried yet, but want to? Do you want to explore outside of painting?

I work mostly with acrylics, ink, charcoal, iron filings, on stretched canvas and cradled birch wood panels. And I create finely textured surfaces a lot using sand, marble paste, paper. I have started to experiment with oil and cold wax combinations, which also lend themselves well to fine textures and subtle nuances of value and texture.

Painting is my métier, my calling. I am always exploring new ideas for my art. In many ways, I am always painting, even when not in my studio. I often visualize my next potential steps on current paintings even when doing normal day-to-day chores at home. My studio is in my home, which makes it easy to do several sessions in a day between other activities and commitments.

When is an artwork finished to you?

“Write drunk, edit sober” is a wisdom often attributed to Hemingway. My iterative process and approach in creating and finishing abstract paintings, can also be described in this way. An artwork of mine is finished when it has gone through the iterative process of chaos then discernment and more chaos, discernment and so on, a number of cycles until I clearly consider no more is needed.

The process of creating a finished painting for me is a journey of discovery, a balance between intention and chance, between planned and unplanned, between accident and control. I normally work on three to five paintings simultaneously, and each informs the others along the path of developing the paintings. Playing, chaos, scrubbing, sanding, scarring, wild mark-making all belong to the process as well as refining, adding subtle elements, or removing elements to enhance impact. I enjoy the element of play, trying out things, letting the materials speak to me, finding new ways of adding subtle elements, texture, line, marks, letting chaos reveal itself and deciding whether it can remain, or needs refining.

What do you want people to understand when they look at your work?

I don’t necessarily want the viewer to understand anything at all in the normal sense of the word. In fact, potentially I would prefer that people don’t understand my paintings. If they can feel, experience, emotionally connect to my paintings, if a spark occurs for them, that would be nice for me.

And so, if the viewer becomes emotionally engaged with one of my paintings, or if he or she experiences a bridge to their own inner landscape, or if they are in some way moved or uplifted, then I would consider my work to have achieved something.

David Drain

Has quarantine affected your process in making art? If so, how?

For me, quarantine, the pandemic, has accelerated my opening up, my growing awareness of my own vulnerability and that of humanity. Like most of us, I feel more unsettled at this time. And I feel concerned for the future. My art-making process is strongly influenced by this. Overall, my images are becoming simpler, more efficient in that they contain less and less, but hopefully say more, express more.

What upcoming projects/plans would you like to share?

I am excited about having been recently invited to exhibit in a renowned gallery in Paris. I have four paintings showing in Galerie Sonia Monti, Paris, in October and November this year.

Currently I also have a collaboration with Van Gogh Art Gallery, Madrid, showing a number of my recent paintings.

I regularly exhibit at Frontofbicycle Gallery in Basel, Switzerland, where I am a resident artist and will be showing again in 2021.

Additionally, I will have a solo exhibition at the Museum Roemervilla, Grenzach, Germany in September-October 2021.

For any further information, visit the artist's website and Instagram Page.


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