GUEST ARTIST: Finding Your Passion

Doodlewash and watercolor sketch by Alice Cleary of five fish on blue plate

Doodlewash and watercolor sketch by Alice Cleary of AvocadoMy name is Alice Cleary and I live in London (follow me on Instagram and Tumblr!). I am an illustrator and food enthusiast. I’ve always loved to draw from a young age, I used to draw before school, draw on the walls and even on cupboards (which my mum was none to happy about) Art was always my ‘thing’ at school, the one subject I was good at, so naturally after school I wanted to go to university and the obvious choice of subject was fine art.

Doodlewash and watercolor sketch by Alice Cleary of radishesI finished university 2 years ago, and although I loved living in Oxford and having a great time with friends, my passion for art somewhat dwindled. My course was very contemporary with performance pieces and quirky sound art so I began to rebel by sticking to my roots and drawing – to my tutors dismay. By the end of my 4 years I gave up drawing all together as I felt my talent was underwhelming and as I didn’t have any meaning behind my work, other than to make it look nice. For my final piece, I gave into my teachers, by going out of my comfort zone and created an installation piece. 

Doodlewash and watercolor sketch by Alice Cleary of lettuceAfter university I wanted to have a gap year as I didn’t take one before starting. Whilst on my gap year of traveling and having fun, I got an opportunity to become a chalet chef in Meribel (a ski resort in the Alps). I was thrown in the deep end as I loved cooking, but had never cooked professionally before. And cooking a three course meal for 11 people every night seemed very daunting! However, luckily, I absolutely loved it!

Doodlewash and watercolor sketch by Alice Cleary of Sloe Gin Bramble PieCooking became my new ‘thing’ and I decided then and there that I wanted to pursue a career in food, and my next plan was to be a chef on a yacht in Croatia. Unfortunately, my wonderful dreams of sailing around the Mediterranean cooking and swimming every day came to an abrupt end. A fun day trip out on the slopes in Meribel ended with me doing the splits, snapping my ACL and cracking my tibia all in all breaking my knee …just before I reached the bar at the bottom of the mountain. This, therefore, was my ticket back home to Hampshire, being rescued by my parents and living back at home.

First Oil Painting by Alice Cleary of a horse runningI had a cast on my leg from my ankle to my hip which made movement very difficult. Luckily my mum is an artist and suggested I get back into painting by trying out some of her oil paints. I was very sceptical at first as I had never painted with oils, but it turned out I really enjoyed it. This was a great way to relinquish my boredom and give me something to focus on as people were asking me to paint for them. By June my leg had healed but to my disappointment I had to have an opperation to fix my ACL , this meant another setback in my life as I was now desperate to move to London and follow a career in food and art- in the form of food magazines. But, unfortunately, I could not commit to anything until my operation was over (in December) and my leg had recovered. 

Doodlewash and watercolor sketch by Alice Cleary of various colorful eclairsI finally moved to London at the end of February of this year, and this is where my food illustration journey began. I started emailing thousands of people about food styling jobs and work experience in food magazines, desperately trying to get my foot in the door. Meanwhile, when I had the time, I was drawing with biro and watercolours – mainly photographs from food mags to de-stress. 

I showed one of the ladies I was working for some of the drawings I had been putting on Instagram and she said, “What are you doing here then? You shouldn’t be trying to be a food stylist when you have this talent to be an illustrator. Surely that’s fairly obvious.” I looked at her in confusion, and said, “Oh well, it’s just a hobby….something I do to relax.” When I got home it dawned on me quite suddenly. As her words were whirling around in my head,  I looked at my room noticing that it was covered in illustrations that I had pinned everywhere. Oh I thought, I’m such an idiot. 

Doodlewash and watercolor sketch by Alice Cleary of Coconut cut in halfWith my work, I try to re-create the life in the image I’m painting. I don’t want it to be too flat, I want it to burst with life, almost abstract, as I don’t want it to be just a replica of the photograph. I see colours very vividly. When I was younger, I found colour too overwhelming. I didn’t know how to deal with it and I would just end up with a messy colourful blur! So I opted to stick with black and white drawings. Now, however, I have a very different approach.

Doodlewash and watercolor sketch by Alice Cleary of red lobster in potI think of colour as light and dark forgetting about whether its the right colour or not. This helps me get the right balance in the painting. I can’t see myself without drawing. It’s always something I will have throughout my life and hopefully something I can make a career out of! I would thoroughly recommend anyone who’s not sure what to do, to think back to what you’re naturally good at and wouldn’t mind doing everyday. Then you will succeed as you will be truly passionate about what you’re doing and that makes everything a lot easier! 

Alice Cleary

World Watercolor Month is coming in July! Click here to learn more!

Recommended2 recommendationsPublished in Featured Artists
  1. pawelkonrad 7 years ago


  2. truejoy1986 7 years ago

    I LOVE these! Of course, I am a foodie, and an art connoisseur. These are amazing!!!

  3. Jui 7 years ago

    Amazing work!!

  4. Sharon Mann 7 years ago

    Wonderful narrative Alice, your art is so exciting, as well as your life. Thank you Charlie.

  5. Love these! Really terrific, especially the pie and the coconut.

  6. Teresa Robeson 7 years ago

    I’ll follow anyone who paints food stuff! 😀

  7. janellmithani 7 years ago

    Wonderful vibrant paintings, Alice. Loved your story of discovery and wish you the best.

  8. Sand Salt Moon 7 years ago

    That horse is amazing and so is the lobster. Love your style x.

  9. Jessica Seacrest 7 years ago

    Hi Alice, I love your beautiful and bold colored paintings!

  10. Sharon Bonin-Pratt 7 years ago

    How wonderful, Alice, that you found your passion and calling while still very young. You have your entire life to pursue that which you love, and you are so talented, I know you’re going to be sensation one day. Your art is full of life. I like your signature paint splash. Best to you in future.
    Thank you, Charlie, for inviting Alice to your Doodlewash gallery.

  11. ybromfield 7 years ago

    Your creativity really shows in each of your paintings. Love the looseness of your pieces. Will be following on IG!

  12. The Artist Anastasia 7 years ago

    I too had to struggle against the avant garde bent that college art professors preach like a religion. There’s nothing worse than being forced to paint things you’re not interested in just to keep the instructors happy.

  13. M. L. Kappa 7 years ago

    Very lively – and appetizing – work, Alice! And Charlie, I see u like fish!

  14. kathiwerner 7 years ago

    Very beautiful illustrations. And how good, that you used could use the time spent ill for something so creative!

  15. Laura (PA Pict) 7 years ago

    Your illustrations are wonderful, delicious in every way. How wonderful that you have found a path that allows you to work in two areas you are passionate about and while you are still so young too.

  16. Alice cleary 7 years ago

    Thank you everyone for all your lovely comments ! X

  17. Carol 7 years ago

    Alice, your illustrations are vividly colorful, full of liveliness, and so happy! I am sorry you had such unfortunate luck with your knee but am happy it brought you to this point. It is so great that you can make a living at doing something you enjoy and are obviously so good at!

  18. Teri C 7 years ago

    Very interesting life story and beautiful art.

  19. memadtwo 7 years ago

    The fish are spectacular! It all looks delicious. (K)

  20. brushparkwatercolors 7 years ago

    Great artwork, Alice, and very inspiring read! Thanks so much for sharing with us. 🙂

  21. Wowza work! Loving your intense colors and gorgeous results!

  22. anniedrawsthings 7 years ago

    LOVE Alice’s food illustrations! So vibrant and full of personality. Also super excited for World Watercolor Month!!!

  23. artandmoondreams 7 years ago

    Such an amazing and wonderful adventure so far, and this is just the beginning I’m sure. Beautiful paintings/illustrations, love the energy and loose brush strokes of color. Great feature post, thank you Charlie and Alice for sharing such exciting art.

  24. Alice you definitely capture life in your illustrations! Excellent work!!

  25. wendymuldon 7 years ago

    Awesome story! Life will always find a form to make it difficult, you just need to go on. LOVE your food drawings, made me hungry!

  26. Sandra Strait 5 years ago

    Your work does burst with life! The world of cooking lost a great chef, but the rest of us gained a great artist!

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