Alice Macdonald


“I have always loved making and painting and drawing. I don’t think there was a precise moment, I think I always thought I might be an artist, but it has been gradual journey I suppose.”

  • Alice! Thank you for speaking to me today. Let's start with you telling us how where you studied, and how you were trained?


    I studied Illustration at Falmouth University, graduating in 2014. I enjoyed my time at Falmouth, and learnt a lot, (where as the fine art course had next to no teaching, we had classes in life drawing, composition, colour, printmaking…) but I knew I did not want to be an illustrator. I had been painting throughout my degree in my spare time, when I graduated, I wanted to explore painting and drawing more. I applied for the Royal Drawing School and studied there in 2016-17. I had a great time at the Drawing School. It offers more technical teaching and support than most universities in the UK. In the different classes you try out new ways of working and get so many different opinions on your work from different tutors. It was an intense whirlwind experience, but It gave me the opportunity to think about what I wanted to do in my work, and begin to develop my way of working. I had this great feeling that I was doing something I loved and working with people who also loved what I loved, which is drawing and painting. I felt a sense of belonging I hadn’t felt at university. I met so many incredible people on the course who are amazing artists and still good friends. I think it is really only now, two years since leaving I am processing all the different things I learnt and discovered and beginning to put it all together.


    Was there a moment you decided to be an artist, or has your journey been gradual? What was your earliest memory involving art?

    I have always loved making and painting and drawing. I don’t think there was a precise moment, I think I always thought I might be an artist, but it has been gradual journey I suppose. Some of my earliest memories with art are of painting with my Grandma. She used to get me to paint still lives and let me use her watercolours. She told me off all the time for using the watercolour straight out of the tube as if they were acrylics and not watering them down. I liked having the colours really strong and bright and did not want to add water.


    Who or what is your inspiration? How does it come out in your work?

    Almost everything I make starts with a drawing, from either observation or memory or imagination. These drawings could be inspired by anything from an idea in a book I am reading or a character in a film, or the experience of talking with a friend or watching strangers in a bar. It might be a mood or atmosphere that interests me, or the light, the composition, the colour or the narrative. It’s quite instinctive, I will have a moment of clarity and know I would like to paint or draw it, and so I do.

    In terms of artists, I think Munch is a huge influence on me, I am interested especially in the raw emotions that are portrayed in his paintings, jealousy, melancholy, fear and love…I also love the way he paints, his colours are incredible. And I love his prints, their economic graphic style.


    just incredible wasn't he? So i wonder, What is your studio like?

    My studio is with ASC Studios in the old courthouse in Kennington. It is really a cubicle within a large room. Usually one wall will be covered in small paintings which I take down and put back up as I work on them, and then the other wall I will work on larger paintings often stretched straight onto the wall. I have two desks, one I have turned into a palette and the other one is supposed to be a ‘clean’ area, for drawing and watercolours, but it is often invisible covered with paper. The other two walls are covered with shelves with all my materials on them, and finished paintings. It’s quite a small space, when I get really into work it becomes pretty chaotic. I’m not very good at tidying as I go. The floor will disappear, covered in paintings, paint mixed up in different jars, painting rags, chocolate bar wrappers, cups of tea, scraps of canvas and paper, piles of books and drawings, staples… I let the mess build up until it becomes completely unbearable and impossible to work in and then finally, I tidy up and it is like turning the lights on and I feel so much better. It is almost worth the mess for the relief and calm you feel once it is back in order. If you were ever to come to visit my studio in person I promise I would tidy up for you.


    aha! i can't wait till i see it. so, What does an average day look like for you alice?

    Things have been different over the past few months, but now things are slowly getting back to how they were before lockdown. Usually I try to get up early and read while I eat breakfast (sometimes in bed). I work part time for a charity called Intoart, facilitating the practices of artists with learning disabilities, it is a really inspiring place to work, all the artists I work with are so fearless when making their work, and make such amazing things.
    If I am not working at Intoart l cycle to the studio, aiming but usually not succeeding in arriving by 9.30. I listen to audiobooks a lot of the time while I paint, usually fiction, I have been listening to some great books recently- Three Women by Lisa Taddeo, American Dirt by Jeanine Cummins, Lady Chatterley’s Lover by DH Lawrence. I often start with watercolours making small studies from drawings in my sketchbook and move on to oil paintings in the afternoon. I’ll drink lots of cups of tea throughout the day, at some point I will search for lunch in Tescos if I haven’t remembered my packed lunch. I’ll stay painting until about 6 or 7. Some evenings I go to a gallery opening or to a pub with friends or have friends for dinner. Or sometimes I just go home and eat dinner with my boyfriend Mark and we might watch a film.


    If you could be a colour, what colour would you be?

    I think blue? I think blue is quite a calm colour and I think I am usually quite calm.
    I also love green because it can be so many different shades from sickly yellow green to deep blue turquoise green….and it has so much symbolism to it, green eyed for jealousy, lucky green, green fingers, green at the gills…. I found out recently the devil used to be green… Maybe I’d prefer to be green,.

  • " Almost everything I make starts with a drawing ...

    What do you hope your work gets across to others?


    The intention behind each painting varies... but I think most basically I am interested in people. I think my work is often quite intimate, people are depicted quite close up, and often in isolation. I want to examine their interior thoughts and emotions, or my own if it is a self portrait. The portraits will hopefully engage the viewer and lead them somewhere close to where the painted person’s mind roams. I often have the subject looking out of the painting at the viewer, I want the subject to seem active, aware that they are inside the painting, being looked at. I have this feeling I want people to be able to look my paintings in the eye.

    I have been thinking a lot about the difference between the interior and exterior of people, the difference between the way we choose to represent ourselves/how we are represented, and what we are thinking inside. There is a line from an Emily Dickenson poem I read recently which got me thinking: ‘if the stillness is volcanic/ In the human face/

    When upon a pain titanic/ Features keep their place-’ I love this word-image, the idea of molten lava beneath stone like unseen emotions beneath our skin.

    I also hope my work gets across the pure pleasure I experience in playing with paint and materials, you can endlessly experiment and change the way that you create images, how you use colour and texture… and I am constantly exploring what would happen if I did this or that differently. For example, I am really interested in collaging and sewing bits of canvas together at the moment and trying out ways of doing this.

    Have you had any memorable responses to your work

    When I was artist in residence at the Institute of Fine Arts in India I was fascinated by the barber shops, they were simultaneously very intimate private spaces and completely public and open to the street, completely male dominated but always brightly painted or decorated with pink flowery curtains or wallpaper. I drew a lot of people being shaved. If people caught me they might glare at me moodily or they might ask to see the picture. Usually people found seeing themselves drawn quite amusing, they would tell me I had it all wrong, and laugh and shake their heads. Or often I would turn around and find twenty people watching me work, which was intimidating but also funny as they would all look a bit embarrassed when I turned around and caught them looking. Often people would ask to be drawn and then smile at the results as they could recognised themselves. It was a great way of meeting and talking to people who I wouldn’t have been brave enough to just strike up conversation with.


    What are you currently working on?

    In lockdown I had the chance to read and research more than usual, and that has lead to some new approaches in paintings. I began a series of works totally separate from the things I had been doing before in my London studio. I was reading about the lives of Mary Queen of Scots and Elizabeth the 1st and became really interested in the relationship between these two powerful and strong willed queens, the politicisation of their marriageability and ability to have children, and in the visual imagery of the Elizabethan world - lacey ruffs, velvet, tapestries, jewels, treasure and miniature portraits. I was working on a smallish scale in oil on paper and small canvases and have been interested in creating different layers of reality on one picture plane. The new subject matter really opened something up for me and now back in London I am trying to fuse together ideas from before lockdown, and discoveries and research made during lockdown. Right now I am painting a good friend of mine, Nancy Haslam-Chance, in an Indian restaurant in Lewisham, and a headless portrait of a pastry chef in Brussels.

    I am also working on a large painting collaboration with Mark Connolly which will be shown in Wells Projects Space… sometime in the near future.. It is made up of three 3 x 4 M paintings and a wooden cut out screen.

    What would be your ultimate dream project?

    I would love to have the chance to really scale up my work and make some really immersively scaled paintings. I would also love the opportunity to experiment more with using different materials – like ceramics and wood, to make 3-D works to go alongside a body of paintings.

    What do you do for fun?

    I love having friends over to dinner, cooking and eating a delicious meal and drinking some wine. I also love swimming especially if the water is outdoors and not a swimming pool- rivers, lochs or the sea are all good. In London the ladies bathing ponds at Hampstead heath are pretty good but they are quite far away from where I live, so usually I have to make do with lengths at my local leisure centre.

    Favourite historical female artist?


    Hmmm… a few are: Betty woodman, Alice Neel, Helene Schjerfbeck and Paula Modersohn Becker

    Aice - who are your favourite current practicing female artist?

    There are too many amazing artists working today to choose only one here is a list..
    Lynette Yiadom-Boakye
    Kara Walker
    Paula Rego
    Joana Galego
    Marlene Dumas
    Mamma Andersen
    Lubaina Himid
    Katherine Bradford
    Sarah Pickstone
    Chantal Joffe
    Ishbel Myerscough
    Zoe Spowage
    Rosie Vohra
    Nancy Haslam-Chance
    Somaya Critchlow
    Jessica Jane Charleston

    Who should She Curates interview next?


    Joana Galego

    Is there anything else you wanted to say?

    Well, not really, only thank you, for taking an interest in my work and for doing the work you are doing promoting female artists.