Beautiful big faces
Josie McCoy graduated from the MA Fine Art course at Central St Martin’s in 1999. Since then she has had solo exhibitions in London, Valencia, Newcastle, Milan and Santiago de Compostela and has exhibited in numerous group shows. Her work has been selected for competitions and awards including the Castellon International Painting Prize, four times for the BP Portrait Award and she received a Woo Charitable Foundation Arts Bursary. In 2001 Josie was awarded first prize for the Centre of Attention Painting Prize. Her paintings are in private and public collections. Originally from Plymouth, Josie moved to Valencia in 2005 with her partner Andy. Their son Danny was born in 2013.
Living in Valencia
What brought you to Valencia in the first place?
My mum and dad moved to Calpe when I was seventeen. I was doing my A’ Levels so I didn’t want to move to Spain with them. They owned a bar-restaurant and I went to help out every school holiday. One trip in the early 90s, Andy my boyfriend came too and my family took us on a daytrip to Valencia. Andy fell in love with the city and since then wanted to live here. We moved here in 2005 and didn’t go back.
What was your experience of relocating?
For the first 5 years or so I spent a lot of time in London, but then gradually started living more full time in Valencia. It’s harder to be an artist here than in the UK, as there isn’t the same culture of going to see art or buying original works as I experienced in London. I miss having dozens of wonderful shows to see whenever I want. But I’m now part of a studio group and am enjoying a similar working environment as I had in London working alongside a diverse range of artists in a converted boxing gym.
How has life changed for you since the birth of your son?
I still have a studio in London, but since having Danny, I don’t work there anymore and it’s more of a safe place for my paintings to be between exhibitions or until they sell. Now I think Valencia is the best place to live.
Do you consider Valencia to be a child-friendly city?
Absolutely! People here seem to adore children and kids are much more welcome in daily life than I’ve seen in the UK. You can take them with you pretty much everywhere.
What is your impression of childcare and education where you live?
Danny goes to a nursery near my studio and we are really happy with it. At first, he just went for a few hours each day as we didn’t want him to go all day while he was so little, and they were fine with accommodating this. At nursery he is happy, safe and clearly loves going. Andy is a secondary teacher and works at the English school ‘Los Olivos’. Next year Danny will start there and I’m sure he’ll love it.
Is there anything you think would improve children’s lives where you live?
We live near the river bed (the river was diverted after a big flood in the fifties and it’s now a giant park) which is great for children. I can’t think of anything that would improve children’s lives generally. But personally, if our family and friends moved here too, life would be perfect!
What advice would you give for anyone thinking of relocating to Valencia with children?
It’s a brilliant city for a family and I highly recommend it. There are some good websites (like this one!) and Facebook groups to help you feel connected with other families and to get day to day advice like how to get the papers you need etc. I’d also advise anyone who comes here to learn Spanish as quickly as you can. I was really slow to learn and regret not doing it more intensively at the beginning.
How do you combine your work with your family life?
It’s fine as I drop Danny to nursery at 9.30, then go to the studio to paint until I collect him at 5.30. I used to paint until much later in the evening and I miss the quiet of that time of day to be creative, but I’m happy to do family things instead and feel like I get enough time to do my work.
You are primarily a portrait painter. Have you always been interested in portraits?
Yes, I’ve always loved painting faces. It’s endlessly interesting to paint a face as the shapes are all so beautiful! It’s also fascinating to me to be able to capture someone at a moment in their life and make that image timeless.
What is your inspiration?
There are two sides to my work. Commissions and paintings of film/television characters. For the commissions, I love that the paintings brings such joy to the people commissioning them and to the subjects of the paintings. For the film characters, I’m interested in how the paintings mean different things to different people depending on how they engage with the film or television character I’m painting. I’m also inspired by other artists’ work, especially other painters.
Your portraits are so incredibly life like they could almost be mistaken for photos. What technique do you use to achieve this?
I paint in very thin layers of oil paint – the first layer is transparent and has a watercolour quality. I then build up the density of the paint. I drag a dry brush over the surface to blend what I’ve painted and to give an even finish. Each painting usually has 8 layers of paint for the skin and up to 15 for the features.
How long does it take to complete a portrait?
Depending on the complexity of the image, it takes between one and three months to complete a painting. I work on several at once so that one can be drying while I paint another.
How would you describe your work in 3 words?
Beautiful, big, faces.
How would you sum up Valencia in 3 words?
Sunny and kid-friendly.