Meet SJ Axelby - the room portrait artist

SJ Axelby’s gorgeous room portraits have cheered us enormously through lockdown, so we thought we’d ask her about how she became an Instagram interior art sensation...

When did you first realise you were an artist?

I was born with a paint brush in my hand! I’m from a family of artists so you could say its in my DNA. The first time I realised I could paint was aged 10 when I was asked to paint a scene from a play to put on display to all the parents. I was allowed to skip class to work on it so it felt quite special.

When did you start painting interiors, and what draws you to interiors as a subject?

I started last year in lockdown, as I longed to visit these places. I started with my own sitting room and then painted the interior designers I admired and the products that appealed to me. I know instantly if it will translate into a painting and I get excited when a new room appears that I want to paint.

SJ Axelby - sitting room by Vanrenen GW Designs

Can you tell us a little about how you approach painting an interior scene?

I start with a rough sketch of the room, a very based line drawing to get the proportions right. But I spend the majority of my time using paint and pastels.

Your paintings have gained a dedicated following and plenty of attention on Instagram. What impact has Instagram had on your work and life?

Instagram is such a positive platform and without it I’m sure my work would not have been recognised. I have been so lucky that it has brought about the most wonderful projects and commissions, like Kit Kemp’s latest book and an incredible auction coming up at Christies.

SJ Axelby - sitting room by Chloe Jonason; bedroom by Lonika Chande, featuring Pooky's Disco table lamp in Olive

You seem to particularly enjoy eclectic, colourful, possibly slightly Bohemian interiors….Who are your favourite interior designers or experts for inspiration?

Kit Kemp, Nathalie Farman Farma, Nicolo Castellini Baldeserra...I love the feed of TAT London, as well as Bible of British Taste, Pino 3bravo, Beata Heuman, Salvesen Graham, Penny Morrison and Robert Kime.

SJ Axelby - room by Salveson Graham

Are we right in thinking that you’re also an interior designer yourself? Does your interiors style reflect your painting style?

Yes my background is textile design but I completed the renovation of my own listed barn and several client projects before lockdown. But I feel I have found my niche in room portraits. I am naturally drawn to the bold colourful interior designers – no room in my life for grey or beige! I am a big collector... not a hoarder but I love an eclectic and colourful but also restful feel in my own home.

We’ve been thrilled to see some Pooky lights popping up in your works, as they feature in some interiors you’ve been painting. How important is lighting to you as an artist?

Light can make or break a painting, and the same goes for an interior. You can have the most incredibly well designed room but if the lighting is off it can kill it. I love lots of lamps (floor and table) in my own home and have these all on a remote so I can turn give on together. I do have some Pooky lights and recently used them on a client project. They look amazing.

SJ Axelby - rooms by Sophie Robinson, featuring Pooky's Trixie lamp and black and white Ikat shade; and by Charlotte Gaisford, feauturing Pooky's Grey Ferns lampshade

What are you working on next?

I am working on a brilliant collaboration with Alexandra Tolstoy on a series of prints, due to be launched in April, but it’s top secret! I have also been invited to Schloss Hollenegg in Austria as artist in resident over the summer to record in room portraits some of their incredible rooms. And I’m also working on my own book. I feel so lucky to be able to combine my love of interiors and painting into a fulfilling career.

SJ's portrait of our Padang lamp, plus the original model

For more stunning room portraits visit SJ Axelby’s website here and make sure you follow her on Instagram.