WHEN Clare Haley is driving, the biggest distraction is the sky.

“I am a constant observer to the point of dangerous!” she confesses. “I’m always looking up to capture extremities in the clouds, especially in higher rural places, where, momentarily, the light breaks through a darker sky creating a dramatic show.

“If I’m driving I try and pull over and either make a quick note or take a picture on my phone. It’s never quite the same but the image will remain in my head.”

She adds: “We get the full four seasons’ worth of sky in Yorkshire, spring and autumn being the most dramatic when the sun lowers to cast heavenly effects through the clouds.”

Landscape artist Clare transfers these natural atmospheric spectacles to canvas in all their glory: gathering clouds, broken by chinks of light; shafts of sunlight sweeping across a valley; bright horizons following rain. In her work you can almost sense the sounds and smells of blustery days and threatening storms.

There’s an ethereal quality to Clare’s paintings, which, she explains, is reflected in her approach.

“When I paint the whole experience feels ‘dream-like’ to me, starting with the way the brush moves with the paint, to the music I play, and through trying to ‘feel’ the atmosphere I’d like the landscape to evoke.

“By making sure I’m using the right brush and by frequently standing back to look, I can ensure I’ve achieved these qualities.”

Her inspiration is Yorkshire, the landscapes of a region famed for its wild, rugged moorland and gentler green valleys.

“Our Yorkshire landscape is heartbreakingly beautiful. I have travelled all around the UK and beyond but nowhere compares to it,” she says. “Its soul is raw and it takes no prisoners in the harsher seasons with its dark looming skies and wild rain storms.

“On a beautiful windy day the rolling hills and valleys come alive in the moving sunlight with the freshest greens and intense shadows.”

She adds: “Yorkshire is a geographically fascinating region. The landscape is rugged and marked by centuries of worn pathways and field boundaries. The areas around Wharefdale and the North York Moors are stunning with their huge valleys.

“Equally, the moorlands around Haworth have provided me with so much inspiration over the years. It’s the wildness of the area, with its endless horizons, its coarse grasses and heathers bending frantically in the high winds. It feels so remote, which I love.”

Clare grew up in Clayton Heights between Bradford and Halifax, developing an interest in art at an early age.

“My first framed painting was of a horse, which I painted aged five It hung in the headteacher’s office at my primary school for years.” she says.

Her love of the natural world was also nurtured at home. “My Grandad took me on his walks when I was little and taught me how to identity bird-song and wild plants, which sparked a lifetime’s appreciation of nature and the landscape.”

After studying art at the then Queensbury Upper School, she attended the well-respected art foundation course at Bradford College of Art where David Hockney was once a pupil.

“It was a tough course and covered fine art, graphics, animation and photography,” she says. “I went on to Cleveland College of Art in Middlesbrough where I chose graphic design as my specialism.”

She did not choose fine art, she says, as she shied away from being taught ‘how to paint’.

Yet she did not abandon painting. A move to County Fermanagh in Northern Ireland, saw her working as a graphic designer, while painting in her spare time. It was here that she sold her first paintings.

“At that time I used watercolours as well as oils and painted many local scenes, in particular castles, as well as local wildlife. This was my first taste of using oils to create atmosphere and drama in a scene.”

Clare carried on using oils and favours them above other mediums. “I love the smell of oil paint. It is very manipulative and stays wet longer to create great mixing and fluid brush strokes on the board. I remain very traditional and only use linseed oil as a mixing medium or to thin down the coverage of paint I need.” There are so many new technologies in paints and mixing mediums which I’ve tried, but very quickly return to oil and linseed.”

She adds: “Texture is important in my paintings but more through the brush stokes than how thickly I add the paint.”

Returning to England, Clare worked for Hallmark Cards in Bradford in various creative roles including design and product management.

She became a full-time painter in October 2010. “It wasn’t an easy decision leaving a full time job with two young children, but coordinating a long commute with school and childcare drove me to prepare for self-employment and fulfil my lifetime ambition to paint as a career. It was a slow process to build a reputation for myself with art galleries and you need to toughen up to rejection. However the effort paid off .”and am now pleased to be called a working Yorkshire artist.”

Living in Holmfirth, she paints in her home studio, or ‘shedio’ as she affectionately calls the small insulated building in her garden. “It love it - it has amazing views across Holme Valley and is very private. It is a calm environment which suits me.

“I don’t paint on location - most of my paintings are based on the northern landscape, but painted from imagination. When out walking I take inspiration from the weather and how it affects the landscape or makes me feel within it.”

She finds that, often, people relate to her scenes, even though they are imagined.

“If I have painted an actual landmark or place a person loves to visit, they immediately connect, yet when the landscape is my own creation they find something familiar about it or are drawn to the atmosphere. One client was moved by the stormy sky drawing over. He said that while out walking, his father used to wear a certain expression when the weather turned so painting evoked fond memories for him.”

Clare, who lives with her husband Nigel and two sons Ewan,15, and 11-year-old Lucas, also paints commissions, generally landscapes.

She enjoys exhibiting. “It’s a chance to see the finished painting come to fruition - I have painted, varnished and seen it though the framing process and finally seeing it hung, with beautiful lighting, is a joy. I’m lucky enough to work with some wonderful galleries.

“I feel a sense of pride when I see my paintings in galleries but equally I will be analysing and working out how to improve. There’s always a tiny mote of self doubt lingering in the background, but I believe that’s a good thing.”

She is looking forward to next year. “I will be working on more exhibitions and also hopefully forming new working relationships. I’m looking forward to my best paintings yet finding their final destinations into people’s homes, where I know they have a special connection with their owner and can be enjoyed into the future.”

Clare’s work can be seen at galleries including Chantry House, Ripley; York Fine Arts, Low Petergate, York; Harrison Lord Gallery, Brighouse.