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In the Picture with SJ Axelby

In the Picture with SJ Axelby

Can you tell us a bit about your career and how your highly successful @roomportraitclub took off?

I have painted in watercolour all my life and this has ebbed and flowed through my career for as long as I can remember. It is my happy place, and I feel very lucky to have found that. Interior portraiture is something good that came out of those lockdown days, where, due to the pandemic and shielding, I found solace in painting and sketching and started #sketchaday on Instagram. It soon took off and many projects followed from the likes of Liberty, Christies, Kit Kemp and private commissions that took me to the most incredible places. @roomportraitclub was a natural progression, a chance for me to share my favourite thing with an audience ripe for it. Each week I share a room that resonates with me and people around the world interpret it in any medium. We have had embroideries, miniature dolls house versions as well as watercolour, pastel, pencil and oil painting creations and even a painting in a bottle. It really astounds me how much creativity can be garnered from one room.

ACC In the Picture - SJ Axelby


How do you approach painting your interiors scenes?

If I am working from a photograph it’s all about the angles, I much prefer a square on shot of a room or a vignette to work from where I can capture more detail. I sketch in pencil, then ink, scan my sketch (so that I can recreate or start again). I pretty much always work on A4 as it’s an easy size to create and manage before I lose patience or interest. I quite often have 3-4 paintings on the go at once and never wait around for paint to dry! I love a large colourwash and then add details with another medium such as pencil or pastel, just about anything I can find on my desk which is always crammed full of materials.

 ACC In the Picture - SJ Axelby

Do you prefer painting them in person or from photos?

I love to visit a place in person ideally but environmentally and economically it’s not always an option. I love nothing more than to fill a sketchbook with design details from the room, motifs, colour palettes and textures. My goal is to capture the feel of a room and for me that is the tactile side of things and also the light. Like a photo is through the photographer’s eye, my paintings are my interpretation of a space. Often an interior design client does a double take when they see their rooms transformed into paint as it’s seen through my eye and not the lense of a camera giving them a sense of familiarity about the room but not an exact replica of it.

Do you have any favourite rooms you’ve painted over the years?

The Christie's project was a challenge, I was briefed to paint antiques that were coming up for auction and had to place them in tastemaker Peter Copping’s Normandy Chateau. This was in the middle of lockdown and so this all had to be done using images of the antiques and separate shots of the house. I had to swap out chairs and planters and even an armoire. All of the angles of the items were the wrong scale and angle and so it was a bit of a nightmare. I was pleased with the end result and it was featured all over the world in various publications so I was chuffed to bits.

ACC In the Picture - SJ Axelby for Christie's

Can you tell us a bit about your upcoming book ‘Painted Travels’ which launches in November?

My first love is interiors and my second is travel so to be asked to combine the two was utter joy! Unlike the first book which was all about interiors this is a collection of my favourite places. Most of those featured I have been lucky enough to journey to and I have also included a few that I have only visited in paint because I guess who wouldn’t given the chance! It features hotels, bars, museums, restaurants, a gallery, a pub, a grotto and even a train. I hope for some, the paintings will be a familiar reminder of cherished places they have visited and also a few new ones for their radar too.

You must have travelled far and wide. What was the most inspiring place you visited?

Oh golly that’s like asking which is my favourite child! My children both know it’s Bonnie (the dog). These ones spring to mind though...the Square and Compass pub in Dorset, as pubs go it doesn’t get better than this and a very personal reason too, but I’ll let you read the book to find out more. I spent a week painting Charleston which was an utter privilege and it was wonderful to find out more about the house where “My family and other Animals” was filmed in Corfu. I’d better not share anymore for now! Although Hauser and Wirth, Menorca is a must visit if you haven’t been.

ACC In the Picture - SJ Axelby - Hauser and Wirth Menorca

Having raised money in the past through your work, how important is the philanthropic approach to art buying and what makes you want to support ACC?

Hugely so, I support Fine Cell work and Shelter and encourage @roomportraitclubers to do the same with our #roomforaroom campaign where they donate a percentage of sales to a local shelter charity in their own country. ACC does a super job helping so many charities how could I not want to support you?

Please could you choose your three favourite pieces from our latest shop drop?

I love the light and movement in this interior by Georgina Crisford, I’d love to own this piece.

ACC In the Picture - SJ Axelby - Georgina Crisford

I'm drawn to parasols at the moment and this painting by Lucy Smallbone is utterly charming.

ACC In the Picture | Lucy Smallbone - Umbrellas

I grew up in Wiltshire and can still hear the low drone of the Hercules (which my father flew) over this scene by Marc Dalessio, pure heaven.

ACC In the Picture | Marc Dalessio - Valley in Wiltshire


Huge thanks to SJ for taking the time to chat to us! Follow her on Instagram here and check out the @roomportraitclub here.


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