My Early Hour: Fred Sorrell, painter

We speak to Fred Sorrell about being an assistant to the artist Bridget Riley, his morning routine, an unconventional upbringing as the son of well-known designers John and Frances Sorrell and his artist’s studio…

Fred Sorrell, 31, lives in Camden, north London, with his cat.

What time do you wake up in the morning, and what wakes you up?
My alarm clock wakes me up at 6.45am.

How do you feel?
Sleepy and hungry!

What’s the first thing you do?
I get in the shower and have a coffee. I have a long commute so a speedy breakfast routine is a necessity. If there’s time, I’ll sit in my studio and look at a piece I’m working on or make more legible copies of bedside notes!

When’s breakfast and what is it?
Breakfast is just before I leave home and is usually simple- muesli, toast, or a fruit salad.

In three words, describe mornings in your house…
Quiet, reflective, fleeting.

Euston Northbound by Fred Sorrell

You’re the son of artists – was yours a strict upbringing, with routines, or the opposite?
I was never pushed to achieve straight A-grades or given homework hours, but I was shown to look for things I was interested in culturally and had to give everything. My dad would take me to exhibitions, dance events, anything I showed an interest in. He would leave books on the kitchen table of artists he didn’t know but I had mentioned to him.

I was taught to work in an independent way, which in part comes from the fact that both my parents left school by the age of sixteen and they have one O-level between them. Both my parents have working class backgrounds and there was always a sense of work before play with them.

Was it a happy childhood?
Yes it was. It certainly wasn’t conventional. I am glad I was encouraged to be creative and experiment.

When working as an assistant to the artist Bridget Riley, what are your working days/hours and what tasks might you be given?
I get to work at 8.45 and leave at 6pm usually. What has to be done really varies. If I’m working with Bridget one-to-one in her studio in Cornwall or at her home where it’s more personal; we get to have lunch and talk about art or a show that’s on. Often I’ll be in the East London studio finishing the larger paintings and getting them ready to exhibit. It’s a nice bonus to be faced with new technical challenges in how to make things by hand. I love being able to work across different mediums and be on my feet, rather than at a desk behind a screen all day!

When does your working day end and how are evenings spent?
I get home around 7pm. Usually I’ll get on the mat and have a 30 minute stretch and shake off the journey home before I cook dinner. I like having the luxury of quiet evenings spent doing my own thing and know I’m going to miss it when it’s gone!

Garden View (Late Summer), 2014, oil on linen by Fred Sorrell

What time is bedtime?
I like to be in bed at 10:30 during the week and have a read before I go to sleep.

Alongside your Monday-Friday job, you’re a painter – when do you find time to paint?
I paint Friday to Sunday, plus the Thursdays I get off. Often I’ll put an hour into developing a drawing or preparing something to work on later in the week in the evenings when I get home from work. It’s an intrinsic part of my life so I have multiple notebooks and sketchbooks on the go at any one time. I like finding inspiration in a busy moment as well as finding action in a calm reflective one. For me preparation is everything; being organised is the key to making good work and developing it properly.

Can you describe your studio?
It’s a north-facing painters’ studio with a mezzanine to sleep on. It’s very unusual in that it’s so quiet, and I have good neighbours that I’m friendly with.

In a dream world, where would you be living and how would you be spending your days?
Probably somewhere idyllic and hot with a nice vegetable patch and a friendly dog called Spot.