Welcome to the Mignonnette Tea Talks, where we speak to wonderful women who inspire us and explore what it means to be a modern day enchantress.
Today’s guest is the delightful Florence Houston - London-based artist who focuses particularly on colour and its impact. Using her classical training, she paints contemporary slices of life, often depicting extraordinary people doing the ordinary, or drawing out the fabulous in the every day.
Her work can be found in exhibitions across the UK, private homes and clubs including Annabel’s, Mayfair. She has an upcoming solo show in November, at J/M Gallery, on Portobello Road.
We feel someone who can find and translate beauty from just about anything is certainly someone who can talk to us about enchantment.
Florence, can yon tell us how you got started on your artist journey?
I decided age twelve to be an artist and never looked back. I got an art scholarship to my next school and then went to Charles Cecil in Florence where I learnt how to use oil paint and to approach portrait painting with the same technique as the old masters.
Your choice of subject for a painting is so varied - from a beautiful pregnant woman in an evening dress to Victorian jelly centrepieces - and yet your work has a true sense of unity to it. What are the recurring themes you find yourself returning to?
With the still lifes, I really enjoy taking something that feels disregarded or unimportant and painting it seriously, really cherishing it. There’s something comedic about it but I also want to show how beautiful those things can be. It’s very satisfying painting a plastic bag or a jelly using exactly the same material and technique that’s been used to paint centuries of Kings, Popes and other pomp and glory. All my work focuses on beauty, I feel very sensitive to it, finding it and recreating it in my paintings feels like my ultimate goal.
Many of your subject pieces are very contemporary and yet they have a timelessness to them, where do you find your inspiration?
Day to day life inspires most of my paintings, seeing a particular scene or group of colours, or a quiet moment will conjure up something exciting which I’ll note down. Then once I have the idea I have to see whether it marries well with oil paint. Jelly, for example, feels like what oil paint was created for; the lustre, saturation and shine is a thrill to paint.
Can you tell us more about your love of colour and the way you use it?
It is a very important part of my process, as important as composition, if one colour is slightly off then it can kill the rest of the painting, but when you get it right the painting sings. Once I have an idea I plan the colour palette, I have about 80 different colours but only use 3 or 4 per painting, any more and it would loose its harmony.
With Mignonnette London, deeply embedded in the core of our brand, is that when you put our clothes on, they bring our your inner enchantress, you transform. It starts with the design process as a way of telling stories. With your work, as you are the one holding the brush, you can literally transform your subjects into something other when they are on the canvas. Do you feel you ever do that, or are you painting what you see?
In my portraits I do choose an aspect of my sitters character and lean into it or even make it the central theme to the painting. It’s never just what you see, I like designing them theatrically, clothes really help with that. I thought the shape of your dress was beautiful and the structure was very dramatic, which I loved.
When you are painting portraits, do you think your subjects change during the process?
They do! In the past I’ve had portraits that have gone on for years, either because I’m working on several other things or the model is out of town. Apart from the inevitable variables figurative painters have to contend with like hair styles and tans, our faces change shape the whole time, jawlines swell, eyes look open one day and heavy the next. I have also painted people through grief and happiness. Observing a face throughout these changes gives you a core likeness rather than just a snapshot of one moment in one day of their ever changing life.
And yourself - through studying people and things in such detail, being hyper aware of textures, colours, shapes and moods in others - do you feel that has changed you over time or made you more aware of those parts of yourself and how you are perceived?
I feel I have always been very sensitive to all of that. I had pictures of Marilyn Monroe on my wall growing up because I found her so visually appealing- I don’t remember a time when I wasn’t thinking about that.
Who makes the best portrait subject? Are there particular qualities that translate well on canvas?
Someone with a face of extremes makes the best sitter visually, a face that hovers between strange and beautiful. A certain attitude takes it further and I enjoy matching and enhancing it with clothing and pose.
What do you love to wear - when dressing up or on off duty days?
I love wearing bold colours, I don’t really wear patterns too much, my features and colouring do better with blocks of colour. I like my outfits to be a bit surprising. I put so much energy into dressing up that day to day I take it easy and just wear a colourful pair of trousers with a complimentary coloured top.
What does style mean to you?
It means dressing with a disregard of any trends or fashions, but knowing what suits you and what you like.
Who are some of your personal style icons?
I’m not sure I have any but Wallis Simpson had some pretty good looks.
What’s your favourite Mignonnette dress?
The Charlotte Sometimes High Wrap Dress in burgundy is my favourite, it’s cut really cleverly, structured on top but still graceful, and the burgundy is a very unusual colour that would suit most skin tones. I think it even made me stand up straighter.
You can discover more about Florence and her work at: