Friday, 30 May 2014

Wellington Mill - Six Months On

In January, Jane and I started work on transforming Unit 31 at Wellington House into a productive and comfortable studio space. There's still plenty we would like to do, but here is a peek at where we are now, 6 months down the line. 

How the studio looked the first day we saw to play with and lots to do!

This is my work desk. I got busy with the jig-saw to create a swanky curve in the mdf, and can rotate my canvas as I work on a swivel platform, which was no longer needed by my neighbour Dave Goodwin at Manchester Craft and Design Centre. When I salvaged it from Dave I had no idea what I wanted to rotate - turns out it's incredibly useful - thanks Dave!

This is our little living room space, thank you very much Mike Doward for donating the futon, it gets plenty of use! As does the sofa which was kindly donated by one of Jane's friends, (sorry I'm not sure who - thank you whoever you are, it is very comfortable!).

The kitchen has just come together after recently getting our sink plumbed in. Thank you very much to our neighbour John Brewer at the mill, who is swapping handy man expertise for one of my paintings. Just out of shot I have a little hob for making soft boiled eggs - priorities! Big thank you to Rachel Saunders (the Magpie's Daughter) for our kitchen table!

We have used some salvaged pallets to create a platform to work on by the windows. When we manage to get some more pallets we intend to extend it and fill in the middle, and also raise it by another layer. It gives us great natural working light, and an elevated view to the east, across Manchester to the hills of the Peak District.

This is Jane's packing area (fingers crossed she doesn't mind me showing you...)

Jane has made herself a mahoosive table to work on - a crafter's dream!

Thanks again to Mike Doward who donated a shelving unit he no longer required. It has been upcycled into a canvas storage system, with the help of lots of dowel.

Photography corner...I love that I can leave this all set up and ready to go.

Not much to show you here, but for a sense of completion...we also have two little rooms. This one has an odd window through from the main space. It's currently my varnishing room. Thank you Lucy Lloyd-Roach who donated the chair, and Bryony Anderson for some very useful shelves currently in there.

This room is on the other side, and will probably be a woodworking space when finished.

Also thanks to Nick Leyland (of Redstart Film) for help with seemingly never-ending painting of walls, and other assistance generally consisting of lugging heavy things around. One more picture for good luck...

Monday, 12 May 2014


It's almost a year to the day since my last post! (Can I get away with saying quality over quantity? Haha). Thank you Sue of Fir + Wren for reminding me yesterday that I even had a blog.

The reason for this post is that I was recently asked by Cerian Smith to complete an interview, for an award she is working towards in connnection with her work at Tullie House Museum and Art Gallery, in Cumbria.

The questions are ones that I get asked quite frequently, so I thought I would post my answers here. 

Here goes! (It's quite long!)

What made you want to be an artist?

 There wasn't ever a 'eureka' moment when I realised it was what I wanted to do - I just always loved drawing, painting, making, getting messy and being creative. My plan was just to continue doing that for as long as I could, which meant figuring out if I could make a living from it. As well as being creative I loved the idea of being my own boss, and not working a traditional 9 to 5. My plan was to persevere with being creative and only stop and get a 'normal' job if it didn't work out - and fortunately I haven't had to go to a plan B yet. 

Why do you make art? 

There is something very intrinsically rewarding about creating something like a piece of artwork - I don't know quite how to describe it in words, but it feels good for the soul. So although I partly make art to sell and keep a roof over my head, I also do it because I find it enjoyable, peaceful, absorbing, therapeutic, joyful, challenging, surprising, calming, emotive, and a whole lot of other adjectives!
Artists are usually trying to prompt some kind of emotional response from viewers of their work, be that love, hate, anger, passion, or many other feelings. For me I like to keep it simple and it sounds quite cheesy, but I try to bring out a feeling of happiness in people, by striving to create something beautiful, through the colours and shapes that I use. If somebody buys a piece of my artwork and can feel happiness when they see it, then it was worthwhile for me to create that artwork.

How do you start making art? 

I'm not sure if you mean start out in life as an artist, or start an individual piece of work, so I'll touch on both.

In terms of starting a piece of work, I tend to work directly on a blank canvas, with ideas in my mind before hand, but usually nothing in the way of sketches or prep work. This is usual for me but isn't always the case - I do sometimes draw a very quick sketch of the composition with pencil and paper. This is probably not what art teachers/tutors want to hear - I seem to remember at school/college the preparation and research pretty much always took higher priority than the final piece, but I don't naturally work that way - I like to do my experimenting, researching and thinking through doing - through making a finished piece straight off, and adapting as I go along based on how it goes.


In terms of starting making art in life - just by doing it, and continuing to do it! After a foundation art course and a university degree course, I graduated and had just a couple of days work a week at a gallery which helped me just scrape by financially. At that point I could have tried to get a 'normal' full time office job and been more comfortable, but I knew if I did I would be afraid to give up that way of life to try out the risky prospect of becoming an artist. So while I had nothing to lose I decided to give it my best shot selling my artwork, and over a period of many years (it is almost 10 years since I graduated now) - it very slowly moved in the right direction. That part time job continued to prop me up in the first few years, then I was fortunately able to quit that job in 2010 to work as an artist full time.

How do you know when a piece of art is finished?

That decision has to be based in intuition, the feeling that if you carried on it would be to the detriment of the piece rather than the improvement of it. You can rarely know for certain you have stopped at the right time, as by stopping you will never know what might have happened next - but something in your gut has to tell you that you're done, and you feel like it is time to leave it as it is - so you do.


Do you ever find it a struggle to create art?

I never find it a struggle to create art in terms of not getting started or feeling that I don't want to do it, but there are some pieces of work which can be more challenging than others and take longer to get right, particularly commissioned artworks where the client has something very particular in mind that you are trying to achieve.


What gives you inspiration?

Literally anything is capable of giving me inspiration, if it has a colour or a shape, (and that is basically everything!) then it's possible to have a spark of inspiration from it. To be more specific about main sources of inspiration though, most of my work is focused on nature and the natural world. I grew up in the countryside so I suppose it partly comes from that. I would never claim to be representing the gritty, often harsh, reality of the natural world in my artwork - it's more like taking elements of beauty in nature as inspiration and running with it, seeing where it can be taken. My work usually focuses on a glorified representation of beauty in the natural world. I also love oriental artwork as inspiration - for example Japanese kimono design. The use of strong but never garish colour appeals to me, and they often employ beautiful patterns.


Where do you work?

I have a studio at Manchester Craft & Design Centre which I share with three other makers. It's a combined studio and shop so I have a showcase of work on display for visitors to browse while I work. It's a great place to chat with customers, particularly if they would like to discuss a commission in person. I'm only there part of the week - at other times my studio mates are using the space. The rest of the week I work from a mill space in the nearby Ancoats area of Manchester - lots of room to spread out, and to store materials and artwork. I also sometimes work from home - generally it's more boring jobs like accounts and admin that are done at home though.


What technique do you use?

My primary technique is something which has very gradually evolved and developed over the last ten years or more, through making and making and making, and the process very gradually adapting as I go along. I use copies of my own paintings as collage material on the canvas. I have a 'library' of source paintings, which are not finished pieces on their own, but are copied, cut out, and used on a canvas. I paint the backgrounds of the canvases with acrylics. When I'm happy with it, I arrange my collage material, then fix that in place. I then often use washes of ink over the top of this, which reacts in a certain way with the glue from the collage, and colourises the collage. After this I might draw details over the top, before applying a varnish. The varnish both protects the collage, and adds an opulent, glossy finish.


What advice would you give to aspiring artists?

It's very different for everyone - I suppose I would suggest really trying to think about the business side of things as much as the creative side, in order to work towards a sustainable way of working. It really helped me to have that part time job to prop me up along the way to start with. Also try to avoid risky options financially like shelling out a lot of money to do an art show/fair - while you are finding your way with your artworks and your audience, you can show your artwork without big expenditure - make contact with local bars and restaurants where you think your work would fit in, to test the water. You never quite know who might see it and what it might lead to. Persevere, work hard, and try to enjoy yourself as much as possible!


What is the best advice you have received?

I'm struggling to think of one specific thing which was the best - I think experience is built up through many little bits of advice that help you learn as you go. One specific bit of advice which has certainly helped me from a business point of view is to try to create a range of work which hits a wide variety of 'price points' - if people like your work, they may be able to invest in a large original canvas - but if not, they then may prefer to buy a print or bag which is much less financial outlay, or even just a postcard to pin on the fridge. Thinking about the business side in that way can feel soulless to some, but I consider it vital to enable me to continue painting.


Out of your artwork, which is your favourite and why?

I don't think I have a favourite work - I do generally enjoy the ones with the boldest colours most though - in particular I like the very vibrant red butterfly canvases. I'm not sure why, I guess different colours have different effects on people - I find red very energising.


Do any of your artworks have a deeper meaning?

From my point of view I like simplicity, and to that end most of my works do not have complicated reasoning behind them - I do what I enjoy, and then hope other people enjoy them too. I do however love it when the canvases embody personal significance for people. I've done commissions for people who feel as though they can see themselves and even their own future in apparently abstract colours and shapes. I've had customers who love the butterflies as signifying a new start, for instance the arrival of a baby or the beginning of a new phase in their lives. Another lady who visited the studio recently said the canvases felt very peaceful to her, as they embodied a soul being released when someone passed away. I love that the canvases do hold deeper meaning, but the nature of that meaning is very personal to the viewer.


Does any of your artwork symbolise anything?

My main aims when creating a work are to strive towards beauty through playing with colour and shape, so very much rooted in the aesthetic. As I mentioned above though, it's a wonderful feeling when the work becomes symbolic for somebody else on a very personal level. I wouldn't want to dictate what they should symbolise, it's so nice that it varies from person to person.


What made you want to illustrate children's books? [Note from me for those who don't know - I worked on children's book illustration during my degree at MMU]

Again the same word - simplicity. I was attracted to the simple yet rewarding aim of a children's book - to provide pleasure. Throughout my art education I saw a lot of artwork which seemed to be trying to be 'artistic' by having a very wordy, intellectual sounding blurb next to it, whereas in reality those artworks often served no purpose other than to make people feel stupid - making people feel like they don't 'get' art. To me it seemed like these artworks were usually pretty meaningless, and mainly trying to convey a very elitist 'us and them' barrier between the art world and those outside it. I had my fill of that during my degree, and loved the fact that children's illustration had a more noble, and simple, goal, to provide enjoyment. That really appealed to me.


Professionally, what is your goal?

I don't think I would enjoy being 'famous' and all that comes along with that, so my main aim is to be able to be creative and paint every day, and hopefully make enough money to keep a roof over my head in the process. I'd love to have some exhibitions further afield too - for instance it would be a bit of a dream to exhibit in New York City one day.