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MEET: Gillian Lee Smith - We All Cast Shadows

Today we are pleased to meet Scottish artist Gillian Lee Smith. Now based in Nottingham, Gillian went on an artist journey three years ago and decided that her sculptural work had to be put on hold, so she could solely dedicate her time to her paintings. In 2012, she was a featured artist on BBC2’s Show me the Monet and made it through to the final exhibition at The Mall Gallery in London, where her work was sold at auction. Gillian is getting ready to launch her book 'We all Cast Shadows', based on her exhibition now showing at the Heart Gallery, Hebden Bridge. 

Gillian Lee Smith

What is your background?

After I graduated from Edinburgh College of Art in "Performance Costume" in 2005, I have been working as a mixed media artist as well as teaching workshops. I also co-ordinated a project involving reminiscence work with older people. This has been a huge source of inspiration to my latest artwork and themes of memories, connection and childhood.

sketch book

What has inspired you to create the ‘We all Cast Shadows’ Art Exhibition?

My work is currently inspired by tales of communities of women, bound together by uncertain times and stories that move the soul. A number of years ago I read ‘In the Heart of the Sea’ by Nathaniel Philbrick, and the history and stories of the fishing and whaling communities captured my imagination. They were hard times but, as is so often the case when we look back at times gone by, there is a strong perspective of communities brought together by hardship and uncertainty. It is these elements that I am particularly interested in. Whilst the specific histories and stories bear little direct relation to our lives today, we each have our own emotions and stories that bring us together and connect us to the past.

One day at a time

Describe and tell us about the women in your pictures; are they sad, lonely, lost or love sick?

The woman in my paintings have much in common with us today, I think. Life has its ups and downs and uncertainties but all through this, we put on a face to the world even in the depths of despair, hopelessness, loss and mourning. We go between joy and grief, contentment and unease, and in many ways we can mask what is inside and hide our emotions from those we love. The women who lived in these times and in these working communities were strong, hardworking, stoic women, and by the very nature of the men being away for so long, they were the backbone of the community. There are many aspects to their lives that I could have portrayed in these paintings but I chose to view the woman in those moments where they might be unseen, those moments where our thoughts drift and our walls come down even if only for a moment.

Looking for the Lights

What made you want to portray the female perspective? In history, it focuses on men. Why have you decided to tell their story?

All too often we hear about our histories through the male perspective. But here it was the story of those left behind that sparked my interest and made me want to portray this history and the stories of that time. It is the images of the women that resonated with me. The mothers and wives who worked and loved, and waited and got on with the day to day. The men were off at sea, these were dangerous and adventurous times, and many of the songs and stories tell their tales. Male or female, I think we can all connect to the feeling that, every day, we all do the best we can in unpredictable times. 

Harbour Girl

What are your plans for this exhibition as I hear you would like to tour it to different venues?

This is an ongoing body of work for me. It's a subject that grows and grows in my mind and my studio so I would love to take it to the coast somewhere in 2015.

Coming Home

You have started to teach an E-course 'Unearth, Gather, Create'. Can you tell us about it and when is the next opening day?

It is a 6 week long, intensive art course that comprises video tutorials, prompts and exercises. It is based around the premise that whilst many folks know techniques and how to create paintings, some folks struggle with making their art unique to them and telling the story that they wish to tell. This course helps you explore your own inspirations and use the techniques to create the art that you want to make. Whilst aimed at students who have some artistic background, it really is for all levels and I have had many different types of students from beginners to professional artists taking part. I am just about to begin the Autumn session which is the third run of the course and, like the first two sessions, it has already sold out. The next session is likely to be Spring 2015, although I am also working on a brand new course which will be concentrating on Expressive Drawing which I am very excited about. 

book cover

You are launching a book called 'We all Cast Shadows'. What is going to be featured in it? 

The book ties in with my first solo exhibition that is showing at the Heart Gallery in Hebden Bridge. This self-published book is a peek into my process with images of my sketchbooks and journals, writing and the artwork for the show. It's all based around the female communities, coming together in the great adversity of war time, when men had to go and serve their country on land and sea, and leave their families behind. I am excited to see this book coming together and it will be launched at the Heart Gallery on  the 29th of November, There will be a paperback version as well as a limited edition hardback version. Songs are also being written and performed on the day, inspired by the paintings seen here in this interview. 

The Harbour is our playground

When are your next workshops?

I an off to the far North East Coast of Scotland in a few short weeks to teach a week long class at the Creative Retreat in a tiny fishing village called Gardenstown. This class is sold out but I am teaching there again in Spring 2015. It is a beautiful, quaint old village and has been a huge inspiration to my own work since I was there in the Summer. Autumn 2015 sees me flying off the North Carolina in the USA to teach two, week long classes in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains. I am also looking at other teaching opportunities for the next year.

Exhibition and Shows coming up for Gillian Lee Smith

'We all Cast Shadows'  Exhibition is running at the Heart Gallery till January 2015.  Gillian will be painting LIVE on the 30th of October and launching her book on November 29th along with songs being performed, inspired by Gillian's work. 

Gillian will be exhibiting her work at The Art Market on November 30th at Holmfirth Indoor Market. 

Gillian's websites:


E-course -