Camden Close-Up: Elizabeth McCarten

Love Camden loves its local talent. We aim to celebrate everything cultural in the borough, from Hampstead to Kilburn, from the British Library to that little café around the corner - we are always out to show what Camden has to offer. As part of this we launched our Camden Close-Up series: interviews with artists, thinkers, entrepreneurs and downright interesting figures that live, work or are inspired by the borough.

This month we spoke to painter Elizabeth McCarten, tutor for the Royal Drawing School's Young Artist Programme and winner of the Jacksons Young Artist award in the Sunday Times Watercolour competition. She regularly takes her students out to paint on Hampstead Heath and has lived in Camden most of her life. 

Elizabeth: "I was born in Kilburn and went to The Rosary primary school, Haverstock Hill. Later I went to La Sainte Union’s Catholic secondary school, which faces Hampstead Heath. Growing up my parents would take me and my brother on lots of walks through Regents Park, Hampstead Heath or Primrose Hill. I would love to get out and explore and this hasn’t changed for me still at age 27. Camden is an exciting, vibrant and colourful place: from its bustling markets to its beautiful canals and green spaces. It is ever-changing and continues to feed my imagination. I often return to many of these sites to draw and paint and I love to make the most of all the borough has to offer.

In Field painting E McCarten 2017
Elizabeth McCarten, in field painting, 2017

Living in a complex and urban environment, my work often stems from a desire to find freedom, space and simplicity. Connecting to places by creating emotive responses are central to my practice as a painter. Working directly from observation I gather information and context through drawing. My studies are mostly made in watercolour or gouache before I deconstruct and break down  the image to lyrical lines and marks, often on a larger scale that may be worked on in a variety of mediums. A lot of my work is made on paper and will use colour washes, economical lines and brush strokes in an attempt to achieve a directness within the work. Imagination and reality start to merge together in a freedom of paint and conversations between figurative and abstraction become apparent. Scenes are reduced to shapes and colour that invite the viewer to see differently into a landscape of possibilities. 

Constable’s painting, ‘Hampstead Heath with Pond and Bathers’ at Kenwood House is a treasure. It is set in one of my favourite places to visit and draw, and Leon Kossoff is a fantastic example of a living artist drawing and painting what are familiar streets and stations, everyday landmarks I have passed by growing up, (Kilburn Underground, Willesden Junction) in such an innovative and exciting language that it makes me want to pick up a pencil and get out and draw!

As an artist, a large part of my practice revolves around responding to the environment, to the experiences that surround me. A living pioneer of surveying and discovering life on earth is Sir David Attenborough. I would love to travel more and have the opportunity to document some of the rare scenes of the earth we usually only get to see through television. 

Elizabeth McCarten work
Elizabeth McCarten, large paintings on paper suspended at a 48Hr takeover in Clacton, 2017 

Alongside my practice as a painter I also tutor drawing to school children and I have been involved in a combination of collaborations and artist-led projects working directly with other artists and local communities. I believe we can all benefit from drawing. It is a fantastic learning tool to help understand the world around us while building confidence and self-expression. I would love my involvement in this to continue by developing new initiatives and projects that help ensure art is open and accessible for all."

If you would like to see more of McCarten’s work follow her on Instagram at emccarten_studio!