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