Edmund Palao studied art at Central Saint Martin’s School of Art & Design and the University of Westminster. He spent several years working for several homeless charities, helping vulnerable adults and young people in London, U.K. In 2011, he shifted to a full-time career as a fine artist.
When you reached art school, was it already in your plan to specialize in painting?
Not really, no. I wasn’t too sure what I was doing. I think because I was really good at drawing when I was younger – I was not really pushed, but it was recommended that I do an art foundation course. I did a two-year foundation course in East London in 1990 and we learnt all sorts of art techniques: color theory, tonal theory, and various ways of working. I sort of discovered paint then. I think I had an aptitude for paint.
It was only later on when I did my degree, that I just enjoyed painting outdoors. I used to go to Kew Gardens in London. In my local area, there’s an old railway line near me which is quite secluded and a little bit unnerving. I’ve enjoyed painting outdoors because it kind of fits with my personality. I like to be in solitude sometimes – not all the time – but when I paint, I like the solitude because it feeds my mind. I’d always been attracted to color and paint became something which fitted with my artistic calling, really.
Which artists have inspired your work?
When I was younger, my mum took me to a Monet exhibition called “Monet in the ‘90s”…[with his] pictures from the 1890s. He did these series of paintings where he’d have haystacks painted at different times of day. There’s a famous one of Rouen Cathedral. I was really quite impressed with that and how he used color. If you get close to his paintings, it’s a bit like Pointillism. It’s bold blotches of color but when you stand back, you optically mix the colors with your eye. I was impressed with that and because I paint outdoors a lot, the Impressionists were a natural reference point for me.
There are other Impressionists as well [like] Alfred Sisley. I like the American painters like Richard Diebenkorn, Edward Hopper, and Wayne Thiebaud. They would paint modern life in a very painterly way. Often when people ask me about what my painting style is – it’s a bit quirky. I often say to them that my style is “Monet meets the motorway.” It’s in the spirit of Monet, but I’m not trying to copy him. Things like motorways and modern scenes are what I’m attracted to, but for me it’s still very much a painterly thing. I like the light and color.
There’s a British artist called Danny Markey and he paints very dry, austere subjects like council estates, roundabouts, and side roads. He inspired me to paint more streetlamps, yellow sodium lamps, and things like that at nighttime. It’s not the prettiest of subjects. I’m not copying him, but I find it fascinating and I gain confidence by looking at his work.
Your website is called “Eddify.” I’m sensing some word play there.
Yes, it is true! About 10 years ago, a friend and I were discussing domain names. I wanted “edify,” which means to “spiritually uplift.” I’m Christian, so that sort of fits in with my spirituality. That was taken already, so I added another “d” because it sounds like my name, “Eddie,” but then it’s also “Eddify.” It’s short and memorable and snazzy. I want my work to have some positive, enchanting, and beautiful quality, not in a sentimental way, but more in an uplifting spiritual way with my audience.
What’s your strategy for painting outdoors?
I’ve got many strategies, some of them from trial and error over the years. I tend to work relatively small when outdoors, maybe A3 size or slightly bigger than that would be my maximum size. I don’t have a car – you don’t need one in London anyway. I use public transport when I work. I’m what you might call a roving artist!
I use acrylic paints because they are easy to use outdoors and they dry relatively quickly. I’d have a nightmare carrying a wet oil painting on the Underground, I can tell you that! Acrylics are also a very modern medium to use. They can be quite hard colors, which suits the subjects I’m painting at the moment. I use fluorescent paint in my work because that gets some of those harsh LED lights you see nowadays. I have a fold up easel that I take. I have an LED lamp that fits on the easel and is light adjustable so I can paint at nighttime without destroying night vision.
Do people stop to look while you’re painting?
When I pitch up somewhere, you always get curious passersby. I’ve always got a stash of business cards ready because sometimes I’ve made business that way. People have come back to me, wanting to buy a painting. It’s a PR thing as well.
How do you handle other challenges?
Most of my work is from life, but I paint at home in the studio if I’m working on larger paintings…[I]t’s not always convenient to work outdoors. If it’s raining heavily, I have an umbrella attachment to my easel. You don’t want it to get too windy, otherwise the painting will blow away! I’ve had that before; once I was running and my painting was swept down the road.
With Underground stations, you’re on a platform and you don’t get permission to be able to do that. I have my mobile phone to take photographs, but generally I prefer to work outdoors because I can see the colors and the atmosphere with my own eyes.
How did you select Central Street as a subject?
That was actually outside a gallery. I do an art networking event called “Be Smart About Art.” Every month we meet at a different gallery in London. I was coming out of a gallery and that view was right opposite. I took some photographs and felt inspired, particularly because there’s two street lamps: one is orangey-yellow on the right and the white on the left with the more natural light. I like how you can get different colors in light and it can transform things in a local environment with the cars and the high-rise block of flats in the background. It was quite enchanting. That painting is not quite finished yet and it’s on my website.
That’s the good thing about having a phone. I can take photographs. With a phone, you’re not always going to get the best quality, but it’s good for reference and inspiration. I have a folder on my computer that says “London Photos” with thousands of photographs of various places I’ve taken over the years. In the old days, they would have had sketch pads. I’m sure if Monet had an iPhone back in his time, he would have used it! [Laughs]
How has your participation in Be Smart About Art helped you develop as an artist?
It’s a peer-led group, very much based on making a living out of art. It’s not what you call “the blind leading the blind.” They have workshops and webinars on successful artists, galleries, how to market oneself, how to price artwork, and using social media. It’s really turned my head around. I suppose I was a little bit green when I first decided to properly embark on my art career in 2011. I was going into galleries and art shows and saying, “I’m looking for representation.” Some galleries had a go at me actually.
Thankfully, Be Smart About Art showed me the proper way of doing things and stuff that works. The social aspect is also that I can give encouragement to other artists. I’m very enthusiastic about sharing the knowledge I have. I can always ask for advice with one-to-one mentoring. It’s been invaluable and it’s a group I’m always going to be part of.