From art to science and the road back

Demo painting of a snowy owl mount at Maine Audubon, Portsmouth, Jan 2018

Our modern world surrounds us with constantly changing images. Artists aim to use images more meaningfully – to deliver us more than a fleeting representation.   Michele’s work combines the freshness and immediacy of loose watercolor with the subtlety and nuance from observation.  It is work that has immediate impact  but also reveals its beauty over many years.

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Born and educated in England Michele didn’t really discover art until her teenage years.  ‘My father was a talented artist when he was young.  I remember sitting beside him as he sketched outside in the Suffolk countryside.   I had my own small sketchbook and tried to learn from him as he drew the landscape – marking in color and lighting notes as he went.   Frankly I wasn’t very good at that point but the joy of drawing had been planted.’

The art bug didn’t really bite Michele until she was about 13.  ‘Somehow something clicked in a school art lesson. Our art teacher had put a group of us in front of a huge old mechanical typewriter and we were instructed to draw it.  It wasn’t an easy subject for any of us.  And yet the longer I looked the more the complex mechanical shapes made sense and my pencil followed suit. I’d discovered the pleasure of truly seeing something and  representing it on paper.’

Marlborough Baptist Church

Michele combined painting and drawing throughout the rest of her school years in parallel with science and maths. ‘When it came to deciding on college I plumped for science and went on to do a degree in physics at Oxford followed by a PhD. My science career took me from Oxford to Cambridge to MIT and Harvard and I worked in many interesting areas including the Human Genome Project.  I was extremely lucky to be part of the cutting edge genomics revolution over the past couple of decades.’

Art was on the back burner for many years.  ‘I always knew I’d come back to art at some point although I didn’t know when.’  Michele remarks that it’s little appreciated that science is a hugely creative endeavor. Like art it’s also all-consuming – you can’t dabble and expect to do it well. So after emerging 6 years ago from immersion in the research world she needed a creative outlet again. And watercolor was there waiting.

‘When I first started taking art classes again I have to admit I really didn’t   know what I was doing.   In retrospect that was a good thing.   The fact I was out there putting brush to paper regularly was the best groundwork I could do.   I wasn’t overthinking things and my artistic motivation grew organically.’

The vast majority of Michele’s work is in watercolor.  She paints a wide variety of subjects but the goal is similar.   ‘I want my paintings to reflect the human response to a moment in time.   I love the way the transparency of watercolor shows how the image was built and the choices that were made.’   Michele wants not only to communicate her own vision but to tap into common human experiences that resonate with people.   ‘We all have moments when we connect with our surroundings in a special way.   It could be the stark sunlight on a New England winter’s morning, or the curve of a bird’s wing.    Something seemingly small, yet unique and perfect in the moment.’

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Michele Clamp painting at Howell's House, Kittery ME
Michele Clamp painting at Howell’s House, Kittery, ME

Michele is currently living in central Massachusetts with her husband.    She finds it a rich source of inspiration from the ruggedness of the Maine coastline to the farms of Vermont.   ‘We are very happy that we live in New England.   I feel strongly that deep immersion in your own environment gives you fuel for artistic work that will touch a much wider audience.’