Alison McWhirter can trace her love of experimenting with colour and shape all the way back to her childhood.

But it was much later, after two painful personal experiences left their indelible mark upon her, that she finally found the will to paint.

“I had a conventional upbringing, but I always sought out any opportunity to be creative,” McWhirter, 40, explains. “My best friend’s mum was an artist, and a visit to her house always gave me such a buzz.

“She’d put music on, encourage us to mix paints, or tie-dye clothes – it was so exciting and experimental but relaxing – a space for me to get lost in.”

McWhirter’s use of vivid colour and loose, bold brushwork make her artworks – which are highly sought after and held in private collections around the world – instantly recognisable.

It was an art teacher at high school in her home town of Dumfries who first spotted the young student’s creative talent.

“That was the first time someone had said to me – you can do this, you’re good at this,” she recalls. “My dad was a French teacher, a very clever and academic man – he wanted me to study languages, or English literature.

“But by the time I left school, an aunt had given me an A1 portfolio case and I’d decided - against my parents’ wishes in a way - that art was what I wanted to do.”

Going to art school in Bath, rather than the scarier, further-away London, was a compromise to appease her parents, but McWhirter loved her time in the city.

“It was hard work and an expensive place to live – I had four different jobs as an undergraduate, just to make ends meet – but it was great and I learned a lot,” she says.

She graduated with a degree in fine art from Bath Academy and then completed a Masters in visual culture.

“And yet, still, I wasn’t painting,” she says. “That course was all about installations, or writing papers about the role of film in art, or taking photographs. It was about stretching the boundaries of what painting actually meant. Painting itself had almost gone out of fashion.”

She pauses. “It didn’t feel right. So many years of my life had been spent feeling that something just wasn’t quite right. But when it did feel right, and I did finally start to paint, it was because of two sad experiences in my life.”

In February 2006, McWhirter and her then fiancé were in Venice for a romantic Valentine’s weekend trip.

“We’d been together all through art school – we were each other’s rock,” she explains. “He fell ill, suddenly, with a serious, rare form of food poisoning and was taken by water ambulance to the local hospital. He was in intensive care, his family came over from Spain, and the doctors told us his body was in septic shock and his organs were starting to fail.”

McWhirter adds: “At one point, they said there was only a 30 per cent chance he would pull through. It was surreal, to be in this beautiful, intoxicating city not knowing, just waiting. I remember walking to the hospital every single day, waiting to see what would happen.”

Against the odds, McWhirter’s fiancé survived and the couple married the following year – honeymooning back in Venice where they had dinner with the doctor who had saved his life.

“And everyone, including him, dealt with it all very well and got back to normal,” says McWhirter, slowly. “But I couldn’t. I’m the kind of person who feels things deeply. They get to me. And while my husband did so well, and took up cycling and climbed mountains and raised money for charity, I came to a stop.”

She adds: “So I started to paint. I didn’t know why I was doing it – it almost felt like I shouldn’t be doing it. But I needed to do something to make me feel better, to try to forget the sheer trauma of what had happened.”

Digging out old boxes of paint and leftover canvases, McWhirter painted an abstract scene inspired by her daily walks to and from the hospital. Simply called Venice, it sold instantly.

Sadly, McWhirter and her husband drifted apart, and she moved back to Scotland in 2008.

She continued to “paint furiously”, setting up a studio in her top floor flat on the Ayrshire coast, and worked as a high school art teacher. A solo show at the Harbour Arts Centre in Irvine was a huge success, and earned her the label New Scottish Colourist and comparisons with Peploe, Cadell and Fergusson.

But the “twisty-turny” road which led her to discover painting had not finished with her yet.

“It was lucky I came back to Scotland when I did, as my dad was diagnosed with terminal cancer,” she says, softly. “For the last three years of his life, I helped my mum to look after him.

“It was a difficult time and yet, all of this –” she waves her hand over the table, piled high with glossy magazines, studio catalogues and exhibition invitations featuring her work – “is what came of it. This was all nurtured by that experience, and it finally made me realise that this is what I need to do.”

In his final days, James McWhirter remained interested in his daughter’s work.

“He was very weak, but he understood what I was doing and would say, ‘ah, I see you made that mark first’, or, ‘you used your left hand for that one’,” says McWhirter, smiling at the memory.

“He was such an insightful man – he could tell you the derivation of any word, and turn it around to mean something special to you.”

She adds: “My mum Sandra is the practical one. She was the one who said, while we were standing in my kitchen making tea and toast one day, ‘what is it you really want to do Alison?’ And when I said I wanted to paint, full-time, she told me to go for it. Forget teaching, and really go for it.”

In June 2011, McWhirter moved to Glasgow and now divides her time in the city between her flat in Battlefield and a studio in Huntly Gardens in the west end, which she shares with fellow artist Stephen Skrynka. The duo’s forthcoming Squaring the Circle exhibition will be on display at Huntly Gardens on July 4 and 5.

“Glasgow is a great city – it sounds like such a cliché but the people inspire me,” she says.

The studio in Huntly Gardens has allowed McWhirter to work on larger abstract pieces, a move away from the studies of flowers she initially became known for.

“It’s an interesting moment for me, because while I’m certainly not downgrading it or the people who do it, floral art is a niche I never intended to get into, or use as a vehicle for my career,” she says.

“I don’t want it to become something defining, or stifling.”

McWhirter’s first London solo show, at the Russell Gallery in Putney, was a great success, with 27 paintings sold.

“It was the culmination of two and a half years of work – I think if you have something big to work towards, it’s a great motivator,” she says.

“And I felt really privileged. There are so many amazingly talented, under-represented women out there, producing fantastic work, who have not had the chance to do this and yet, for some reason, I got that chance.

“And it has been amazing – it has allowed me to move to the next level.”

McWhirter is now working towards a second solo show at the Russell Gallery in February 2017, and she is also establishing links with galleries in Barcelona, Copenhagen and Los Angeles.

“My aim is to be affiliated to one gallery in the UK and one abroad, but I realise I have a long way to go yet,” she says, adding with a laugh: “Because I started late, I feel I am racing to catch up. I want everything to happen quickly.”

She pauses. “If I could change one thing, I would have started painting sooner.

“But I didn’t have the backbone you only get through dogged hard work. As you get older, you unravel yourself, you realise what you want to do and what you need to do. And painting is what I need to do.”