"THE minute I open my eyes in the morning Iam at my work. I have heavyweight curtains, so it's always dark, so I just lie there and let my head go for a walk. Being a Presbyterian head, it's quite a purposeful walk. I sort out what I will wear, what chores I have to do. Then I gradually get up around 9.30am to 10am. I'm useless at doing any serious work in the morning. I prowl, and make cups of tea I don't drink. I will do anything, the most almost awful chores, other than what I truly want to be doing, which is get in the studio and get on with it.

Once I'm in my studio, I don't want a cup of tea, I don't want anything. I get very angry when I'm interrupted. It's a private, personal energy. I realise this is my work . . . it's what I do. It gives me a good quality of life, and I'm very fortunate as there are people out there who love my work, collect it and look forward to the next exhibition. Sometimes I play music and I choose really schmaltzy tunes my mum and dad used to dance to. Then next thing I find the brush is down and I'm doing a wee bit of a foxtrot up and down the studio.

It's not everyday you'll find an artist who'll just have a go at anything. It's almost easier to say what I don't paint. Like when people say, do you paint animals, and they're all ready with photographs of their wee dead dog. I have to say: "I don't think so, no." I suppose if I was starving, and that was all I had to work with, I would paint wee dead dogs.

Sometimes, being an artist is a bit like being God.

On one holiday in Italy a few years ago, I took this photograph of the back of the houses in my beloved San Gimignano in Tuscany. Several years later I took some photographs of the back court of a hotel in Venice. So I've used both the photographs, and done a painting of the back court in Venice, but I've included a woman who was hanging out her washing in San Gimignano several years before.

San Gimignano has been another home for me. I discovered it in 1976, and have made friends there.

I've been to weddings, funerals, christenings. I've watched children grow up. Italy was not a subject matter for me, Italy was - you know when sometimes life is so hellish you just want to crawl into a wee hole - that was Italy. Italy was my sanity. Italy was my solace. Italy was my comfort.

Italy was my joy. And then I blew it. I got to know the people. So it was like going to visit relatives, and it became a love/hate relationship.

My inspiration for the last few years has been theatre-related. My daughter, Lin, works in the theatre, I love the opera, pantomime, and I love made-up imagery. It's not the real world. I love textures like feathers, satin and jewellery. My models gets to know me and feel comfortable with that.

One model, Lynne Bracken, works in a charity shop . . . she first came to model 12 years ago on a Monday, and she's been coming every Monday since. She's now also friends with my daughter.

Lynne's got this expression, this attitude. My daughter's capable of it too. All my models have attitude, which is a pain in the ass at times. But it's good, because they don't just sit and pout. They sit and go: "Right, what do you want me to do?"

I graduated from the Glasgow School of Art in 1968, and in the same year I was back on staff. So I was there for 25 years until chronic renal failure took over my world. Both kidneys were beyond redemption . . . with renal failure, every day you get weaker, you get worse. I've now had two transplants. The first one wasn't a good match, and after eight months, it rejected. The second transplant, in 1990, was superb, and I've called it Roger. I've decided if I call it Roger the Lodger, and give it a personality it will stay longer. The transplant gave me energy I didn't have before. When I was 22 my work was very much what I'd been taught at art school. There were a lot of still lifes and traditional things such as landscapes. Then, as I got weaker I still painted, but it tended to be within these walls, for example I did one based on a Caravaggio painting. I did giant canvases. It was a defiant

thing: "I'm not going to let this bastard illness beat me."

Then, on the recovery, a gentleness crept in.

There was a confidence; it was like someone opened a door and let the light come in. I became more involved in the history of art. I've also been to New York several times and I used to exhibit there.

One time I took Lin and Lynne to New York and, as a treat I took them to Studio 54 and we went to see cabaret at the Kit Kat Club. Alan Cumming was in cabaret at the time and he was fantastic. That really inspired me. All the tatty stuff. It was sleazy, but not Hollywoody sleazy. I was doing drawings on my programme so I could get my models to do something similar, like wear black stockings and shiny silver shoes.

Once, when I was in London a week after my exhibition had opened, I met Jeremy Irons and his wife. Tom Conti was there too, and he told me how much he liked my work. Later, the dealer phoned to say Jeremy Irons loved the drawing of my daughter called Foxy Lady, and he got on his motorbike and came from his home up to London to buy it.

Probably the secret to my success is I don't accept yet that I am successful. My painting skills are still something I am learning. I feel that now, in my 60th year, I am beginning to understand how much I don't know. My philosophy is that there's an angel in my studio and he lets me hold the brush.

In my studio I have a mezzanine floor, where the bedroom is. At night I'll stand in my pyjamas looking over at the day's work. Sometimes I look at it and go: "Oh my God, I can't go to sleep with that." And it's back downstairs, and I work till God knows when in the morning. Or I stand there and I go: 'Wow, that's gorgeous. I wish I'd done that.' Then I think, 'Oh it's my name that's on it you daft bugger.'"

Alexandra Gardner will be having a solo exhibition of her work at The Gatehouse Gallery in Rouken Glen, Glasgow, September 4-26 Doyou know someone who would be a good This Life subject? Email magazine@sundayherald. com