Tales From The Drawing Room: SJ Axelby

SJ Axelby is a British artist and author of Interior Portraits and Painted Travels who works from her Chilterns studio as an interior portrait artist for designers, hoteliers, and clients around the world. 

You’re an incredible artist and we love your wonderful interior portraits. Tell us how you began your journey in the art world and how it expanded to the world of interiors.

It really all started in lockdown, like many I found this a challenging time, juggling children, home life and particularly so as I was told I had to shield. I abandoned the interior design course I had embarked on the previous year and started to paint again. Interiors were my world and to not be able to visit them in person I felt compelled to capture ones that inspired me in paint. I posted them using #sketchaday and things took off. I’m so thankful that out of something so dreadful I found my ‘ikigai’.

Can you walk us through the creative process for your interior scenes? From picking a room to the final piece, what are the steps you take?

I will know in an instant if a room/photo will translate well into a painting. It’s a gut feel and also about how the room makes me feel. I do think when painting it’s through the artists eye, rather than a lens of a camera and so brings about another dimension to the end result. It’s not about a like-for-like copy of a room and more about capturing the essence of a space. Well that’s what I try to do anyway! I sketch in pencil then pen/scan it so that I have a copy in case things go wrong which they do from time to time. I start out in big colour washes in watercolour and layer upon layer with pattern and colour and any mixed media item I can use to achieve the effect I want. I love using oil pastels to create texture in my work which has become a bit of a trademark style.

The favourite room you painted and why.

Oh golly that’s like being asked to pick a favourite child! I adored working with Christies in lockdown. I painted Peter Copping’s Normandy Chateau and had to place antiques from a collectors auction into each room, it was incredibly tricky. I always love a Kit Kemp room and love to dissect all the details. Finally it was an absolute privilege to spend a week painting Charleston for my latest book Painted Travels, it’s such a special place.

You work from your studio room at home, how did you design and decorate it to make it perfect for you?

We built the studio in 2019 a SIPS building that looks from the outside like it’s been here for years with its reclaimed roof and cladding. I am so lucky it’s toasty with underfloor heating under the large stone slabs. The walls are papered in a cobalt vintage Liberty wallpaper in a painterly leafy watercolour design and I’ve had a custom shelving built to display my work. It has huge glass on one side of the room to ensure the light is good and I even had these powder coated in blue inside to frame the view outside. I work in chaos to be honest with books and inspiration piled high and old pots holding every pen, brush and pencil you can imagine. I am definitely not a minimalist and collect just about everything from china jelly moulds that sit up high on a shelf in my studio to art deco fans and antique pie funnels.

Is there something you can’t live without?

My dog Bonbon, she is a “bordoodle” Border collie/minature poodle and always in the studio with me.

Tell us something about you that people don’t know.

This is totally random and a bit square but I was offered a fully funded PHD to research the impact of the internet on the music industry (back in the late 90s) even though I had a degree in textile design I often wonder how different my life would have been if I had pursued that. I collect marbles, I still have my childhood ones and can name them all, I was quite the winner back in the day. I have bowls and jars of them in almost every room in my home.

What is your favourite Sharland England item?

Ooh tricky one, I adore the Peche fruit bowl and just about any of your wicker range. I have your little bell happily hanging in my kitchen.

What are you currently reading - listening - watching? 

On my desk right now: 

Reading: Diary of a CEO Steven Bartlett, Listening: Ends of the Earth Lord Huron from Yolanda Edwards Summer playlist, Watching: Selling the OC, I love it! 

SJ's Favourite Products

Peche Fruit Bowl  Noel Rattan Bell Concha Dish