An eye for detail

With more artists per capita than anywhere else in Australia,
Newcastle and the Hunter are clearly hubs of creativity.

Hunter and Coastal Lifestyle Magazine talked to two talented local artists to find out what it takes to create such incredibly detailed, wild and wonderful images.

James Hough – As the son of renowned Newcastle landscape artist Sybil Hough, it’s little wonder James Hough began developing his artistic skills at a young age.

But it wasn’t until much later in life that the Bolwarra Heights-based artist considered channelling this creativity into a career. With a family to support and a solid professional background in surveying, it wasn’t easy deciding to put it all on the line but, as James explained, he didn’t want to “die wondering”.

“As a little bloke I was always sitting at the kitchen table drawing something, and I really admired the work of (artist and naturalist) William Cooper. Mum had a couple of books of his work and I used to sit down, pour through them and wonder how on earth somebody could paint that well,” James said.

“But I didn’t really take up art seriously until I was in my early forties. I did my first wildlife painting in about 1999 and in hindsight, I wish I’d taken it up earlier. I think I had it in the back of my mind that I could draw so I thought, ‘I’ll at least give it a go’, and then once I started, I really enjoyed it.
“Eventually I framed a couple up and sold them and then a little bit later on I got into Morpeth Gallery and away it went.

“It’s been my full-time career since 2003 when I resigned as an engineering surveyor and took up wildlife art. It was a huge decision to make at the time because I had two young boys, but I thought, ‘Well, if it didn’t turn out, surveying is something that I can always go back to’, and as it turns out, I never have.”

Aside from the commercial success of consistently selling his incredibly lifelike paintings of birds and other wildlife, James has also achieved widespread recognition with a number of accolades and awards, including winning Best in Show and a Medal of Excellence at the 2018 Artists for Conservation exhibition in Vancouver, Canada, for ‘Sanctuary’, a meticulously detailed image of three green rosellas. A second painting of a kookaburra entitled ‘Times Like This’ also picked up a Medal of Excellence, while a year later he had another two artworks included in the Artists for Conservation exhibition and annual book. During 2019, James was invited by Australian Geographic to provide 13 images of his most recent works for the production of their 2020 Art Calendar, with a subsequent request coming for the 2021 edition as well.

One of his biggest highlights this year, however, has been finally holding his first solo exhibition.

“I’d always been exhibiting a lot but I’d never done a single solo show before now,” James said. “It was on in August at Morpeth Gallery and I sold 52 paintings out of 55 so it was pretty much a sell-out … every now and again I have to pinch myself to realise what I achieved there. That exhibition also brought over 30 extra commissions to do and the sale of a lot of other works.

Read more in the Summer issue of Hunter & Coastal Lifestyle Magazine or subscribe here. 

Story by Michelle Meehan