The lightbulb moment that changed the life and career of Sally Mackness

PUBLISHED: 15:51 20 December 2016 | UPDATED: 15:51 20 December 2016

The press launch at The Royal British Leagion where Sally unveiled the first of her poppy artworks

The press launch at The Royal British Leagion where Sally unveiled the first of her poppy artworks


A year ago self-taught artist Sally Mackness hadn’t even picked up a paintbrush - Carol Burns talks to the full-time painter from Bockhampton who has become the Royal British Legion’s artist-in-residence

It was a lightbulb moment that changed the direction of corporate marketing consultant Sally Mackness career – and life – forever.

The mother-of-three was watching a TV show on London’s Royal Academy of Arts in 2015 and thought ‘I’d like to have a go’. Within a week she had begun painting and had left behind her marketing career of 20 years to focus on the art.

Less than a year later she has sold more than 800 artworks, been invited to take part in a prestigious New York exhibition and has signed a deal with The Royal British Legion to paint 1,560 poppy paintings – with half the proceeds going to the work of the charity. She also has work on shown at the British Consulate in New York and her work featured on the cover of a Manhattan-based magazine in July.

“It was a lightening bolt moment,” Sally remembers of watching the Royal Academy show. “I thought I would love to have a go at painting. And within a week I had given up my marketing consultancy.”

The resulting work is simplistic and expressionistic in their style. “My paintings and textiles make a statement with their distinctive, bold and expressive style. They reflect my personality, emotions and memories,” she sums up on her website.

“They are not meant to be perfect detailed copies,” she tells me. “The way I paint is the way I am. I like to sit down and just do it; I don’t really plan it out.” But although she may paint quickly, she can return to larger works as often as 30-40 times to complete the work. Original paintings start from £45 and go up to £2,500 – and Sally also undertakes commissions.

Her living room in Bockhampton has been transformed into a studio where she is working non-stop and often long into the night on her series of poppy paintings in time to mark this month’s Remembrance Day and raise funds for the Royal British Legion. “I feel really genuinely humbled to play a little part in such a big event,” she says of the work.

“I paint from my crazy jumbled head,” she says of the still life paintings featuring flowers which are created on linen and canvas using acrylic paints and palette knife – with her work moving into a more abstract style. “If you said to me I would love to have some irises I might have to remind myself what they look like, but I would paint from memory.”

Still with several hundred poppy paintings to complete, she is already developing a range of textiles featuring her designs. Made to order, people can choose from around 35 different items featuring her paintings – including make-up and wash bags, tote bags, aprons and cushions. “That’s an exciting development,” she admits.

So what’s next for the busy mum who is fast approaching the first anniversary of her new career? “Moving forward it’s probably going to be more larger canvases and textiles and reproductions.

“Everything I have sold so far has been original, but in the future who knows!”

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