Sarah Jane Szikora Biography Continued:

...I also made frequent trips abroad to my fathers native Hungary, encountering for the first time the larger than life ladies and gents who were probably the earliest influence for the characters in my paintings.

Although I found school to be an unpleasant experience I enjoyed art and music classes, so it was natural for me to pursue an artistic career. I completed a foundation course at Harrogate College of Art where I studied a range of subjects, including photography, sculpture and graphics. During this time I maintained a lifelong interest in simple drawing, and always enjoyed the life class most.

From Harrogate I went on to study illustration at Cleveland College of Art. The same interest in studying the human form continued and led to the development of the extreme figures in my work. I left Cleveland, taking with me a HND with distinction and a handful of paintings, but I didn’t yet know how to turn my studies into a job, so the painting went on the backburner. In 1991 I set up a business called ‘Wild Thing’ hand making papier-mâché models, ranging from twisted newspaper sheep to 7-foot giraffes. These were sold from a shop in York, and kept me busy for a couple of years until I decided to display the work I had left college with. The ‘big girls with attitude’ sold surprisingly quickly and encouraged me to concentrate on painting instead as my chosen career.

Since then I have been painting non-stop. Along the way my partner took responsibility for publishing my work as greetings cards until I found an agent who in turn introduced me to Washington Green and the Halcyon Gallery in 1995. I have since had my work published as limited edition prints, greetings cards and jigsaws as well as having various exhibitions over the last 4 years.


Many things inspire me. Looking at great art is both a humbling experience and an invigorating one, and generally fires me up for a new piece. Among my favorite artists are the awesome Stanley Spencer, LS Lowry, Renee Magritte and I love the recent surrealist paintings of Michael Sowa.

Occasionally I get sparks from film or TV, and I like to keep my eye on fashion and interior design. These provide the latest ‘looks’, which I try and use to keep my paintings fresh. Sometimes I am responding to social issues. For example, much of my work has focused on turning around the negative relationship that women, in particular, have with their bodies, thanks to the media presenting perfect airbrushed models for us to live up to. Mostly though, I draw my ideas from simply observing people and human behavior. If I am struggling with a blank canvas, I take myself off to a local town centre, where there before me is an endless supply of imagery to work on. Often I need only see a mundane scene such as the purchase of a bag of chips and I am on my way.

Another great source of inspiration is the wealth of embarrassing incidents that unites us all. Who hasn’t at sometime been caught out by a skirt unknowingly tucked in the back of your knickers, or accidentally spraying tap water down the front of your trousers! Need I say more?


In my case, palettes are old saucers bought in bulk from the charity shops as I can dispose of them at the end of every piece. I prefer to work on stretched canvas or canvas board because I paint almost exclusively in oils. It is such a flexible medium and gives the richest colour, nothing else has tempted me away for long, I love oil pastel but it doesn’t lend itself to the detail I like to put in. I have worked in ordinary pastel but I tend to reserve that for more somber pieces.

A typical painting begins with one or two very quick scribbles to determine composition. I don’t do roughs or try out colour, as I am too impatient and like to get something down on canvas quickly. I then draw an outline in pencil, and rather than paint one figure or object at a time, I build up the whole picture in layers. It is possible to overwork a painting and although I have rarely had to do it, I would rather throw weeks worth of work in the bin than present something I am unhappy with. I almost never use reference, except for maybe when I am painting animals, preferring instead to rely on imagination. I do have a large mirror though, which is useful when I am struggling with a figure. If there is no one around to model for me I can often be found posing ridiculously in front of it, hoping that I can remember what I see when I get back to my easel. Most paintings take me an average of one day per figure so a heavily populated piece may take a couple of weeks but on average I do about 38 paintings a year.


I wake up every day and consider myself very lucky not to have the kind of job that requires leaving home early and commuting to an office somewhere. A typical day starts when my partner has left the house and I potter around doing household jobs until starting work, at around 9am. If I am on day one of a new painting I maybe visit the library or gallery and spend some time generating ideas. If I am lucky this can take a matter or minutes or, if the horrible specter of artists block threatens to set in, I may need a whole day or two. I absolutely love what I do and have no problem with my own company, my 3 cats provide enough companionship while I am working, although essential to healthy production is a steady stream of tea, biscuits and radio 4.

On a good day I will work through to 5 or 6pm, then do the usual leisure things, cooking, seeing friend’s etc. However, what is more likely is a series of distractions including phone calls and visitors who consider me fair game for coffee and a chat. If I am at a difficult point in a painting, I can find myself weeding the garden or organizing my drawers and generally getting stuck in work avoidance mode. You have to be reasonably self disciplined if working from home, so on these interrupted days I usually work late to make up the difference, this means I will finish working at 8 or 9pm (luckily I am not the type of artist who suddenly gets inspired at 3 o’clock in the morning!). At this point I reward myself with a large G&T, then vegetate for the rest of the evening. Cheers!

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