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Meet Architect-Turned-Artist, Author Karen Neale

Picture of Briony Lewis
Briony Lewis
Updated: 12 December 2015
Meet Karen Neale: former architect, now nationally acclaimed artist. From her first artist residency at the Athenaeum to one at the Houses of Parliament, Neale is well and truly making her mark on British art. You may have seen Karen around London, sketching in situ with her Bic biro and portable watercolour palette in hand. On the release of her annotated sketchbook, we caught up with Karen to talk about work, life and her passions.
Karen Neale in Iran | © Courtesy of Karen Neale
Karen Neale in Iran | © Courtesy of Karen Neale

TCT: What made you make the transition from architect to artist?

Being awarded a Churchill Fellowship not only sent me on a journey of a lifetime – it changed my life direction. When I returned from my Fellowship Journey I was invited to be artist in residence at the Athenaeum and then the Houses of Parliament, and from there artist in residence at Lord’s Cricket Ground and so on.


TCT: What advice would you give to someone who was trying to break into architecture?

If you are passionate about what you want to do, have faith, be determined and keep going through the times when things do not go your way. Eventually something through the ether, sometimes from unexpected sources will connect! To qualify as an architect takes a minimum of seven years, but you do get a degree after three years and can branch off into other creative areas should seven years be a bit too much!


TCT: What’s next?

Another sketchbook in and around Rutland and Stamford where I live.

Sample page from 'The Fellow Traveller' | Courtesy of Karen Neale
Sample page from ‘The Fellow Traveller’ | Courtesy of Karen Neale

TCT: What is your dream project?

I would love to do a sketchbook walking round Britain’s amazing coastline. I’d love to spend a few months with a sketchbook in Venice. And one day I would love to return to Nepal and also visit Bhutan and Tibet and just draw that incredible journey!


TCT: Which is your favourite museum or gallery – and why?

Sir John Soane Museum. It is like the British Museum and Natural History Museum (also favourites) condensed into someone’s home.


TCT: If you could only bring three things to a desert island, what would they be?

Sketchbook, pen and supply of tea.


TCT: How would you describe your work in 80 characters?

My passion is sketching and painting the world around me in my sketchbook diaries.

'A Fellow Traveller: A Sketchbook Journey Inspired by World Heritage Cities and Sites' by Karen Neale, 2015 | Courtesy of Karen Neale
‘A Fellow Traveller: A Sketchbook Journey Inspired by World Heritage Cities and Sites’ by Karen Neale, 2015 | Courtesy of Karen Neale


Jane Austen or J. K. Rowling? Both

Monet’s ‘Waterlilies’ or Marcel Duchamp’s ‘Fountain’? Monet’s Waterlilies

Holiday on a tropical island or ski resort? Tropical Island.

Eggs: boiled or fried? Fried

Downton Abbey or Doctor Who? Downton Abbey

Apple or Android? Aaaaagh – prefer a real human – or any phone as long as there is a signal!

Interview conducted by Briony Lewis