Continue to believe in yourself even when others don’t
How long have you been making art and what inspired you to get started?
I have been making art for about 3 years now. It was always a childhood ambition to be an artist or designer, I always loved drawing and making things and saw my future somewhere in the art world. Unfortunately the 6th form tutor didn’t agree and dissuaded me from pursuing art at A level. So I put my childhood dream behind me and trained as a nurse instead. Years later my younger child piqued my interest in drawing again when he and I would sit together drawing faces or animal pictures – he trying to copy mine, usually with hilarious results! I realised how much I missed art and I hunted out my old paints and tried to paint again. However the negative comments my old 6th tutor had made would ring out in my head and I would get despondent and put the paints away again. This happened a few times over the next 10 years or so, until my eldest son started university in 2012. I then decided it was now or never and enrolled at a local art college to do a Foundation diploma in art and design. I graduated with distinction and with my confidence restored I finally started my career as an artist – 32 years later than originally intended!
You work entirely with melted beeswax to create your art and also specialise in painting wild and domestic animals and birds. Is this style something you like to use all the time or do you ever create something completely out of the ordinary?
I have always loved painting and drawing animals. When I was a child I liked to paint birds and used to copy pictures I saw of birds onto the back of scraps of left over wallpaper rolls, creating long scrolls. I once came third in a children’s painting competition with a picture of a heron. I didn’t even know my art teacher had entered me into the competition until he awarded me my prize; I was embarrassed and elated in equal measure! I’ve also been brought up with dogs so the idea of painting animals and pets seemed quite natural to me. However I have also dabbled with more abstract art. When I first started to teach myself to paint with wax I had trouble controlling it as it sets very quickly once you take it off the hotplate. Doing abstract painting seemed more feasible as you could literally melt the wax on the surface of the painting using a heat gun and get it to roll around and mix in situ creating interesting patterns and textures. However as my skill with controlling the wax developed I gradually moved back to more representational painting. In fact I may continue to experiment with more abstract styles in the future or perhaps develop a more impressionistic style for my painting. I like the idea of my painting style continuing to evolve.
What is your favourite medium of choice and why?
All of my painting is done with encaustic wax. This is an ancient medium used by the Romans and Egyptians over 2000 years ago and is having something of a revival at the moment as more an more artists rediscover and experiment with it. However, it is hard to find an art teacher or other artist with encaustic painting experience so most people who work with wax tend to be self-taught, including myself. This means that every encaustic artist develops their own set of techniques and methods of using the wax. One of the fascinating things about working with wax is its sheer versatility, so not only do I paint with it but I am also experimenting with encaustic photography in which a photograph is mounted onto wood and then overlain with clear wax to give a polished and unusual surface to the photograph. Wax also makes a great ‘glue’ and therefore lends itself to collage and mixed media art – this is something I also want to try. There is no end to what an artist can do with wax so I don’t feel the need to use any other medium at present, though I may experiment with mixed media at some stage.
I love your ‘robin’ designs. Can you tell me a little more about these and what inspired them perhaps?
Thank you, I’m glad you like my winter bird collection. I decided to create this little collection to form the basis of my Christmas cards for 2016. Robins in particular are such an iconic bird at Christmas time and my mum always has robins preening themselves in the bird bath in her garden so this is what inspired the idea for the collection.
What other artists have inspired you?
There are lots of artists painting and drawing animals these days so inspiration is all around me. Some of the more classic artists like George Stubbs are always fascinating to look at, particularly as they painted animals without the luxury of being able to photograph them first. Animals don’t stay still for long so I’m always impressed by artists who can paint animals from life. I also like the contemporary artist, David Filer who draws hyper real pictures of animals using graphite and won the David Shepherd Wildlife Artist of the year competition in 2011. Hyper real art is always so fascinating to look at, it’s only when you get really close, almost touching it with your nose, that you can discern the brush or pencil marks, otherwise it looks like a photo. I am also a big fan of Picasso and found it a real privilege to visit the Picasso museum in Barcelona last year; his journey as an artist is a fascinating story.
Which pieces are most dear to you, and why?
It’s funny how as an artist you paint subjects that appeal to you yet some pieces come to mean more than others, sometimes because the painting turns out better than you expected and sometimes because you learnt something new about your craft or the subject through the process of painting it. Paintings that I have done that I am particularly fond of include Panthera’s Eye, which was my first big cat painting and taught me a lot about how to control the wax and use it to create texture. Also I love Equus’s Stripes, which was quite technically challenging to do to get the clean lines needed between the black and white stripes. I also learn’t that zebra’s stripes have more complex patterns than just straight forward stripes! The third painting I particularly like is one of a Golden Eagle. I love the intense look in his eye and the textures I was able to create in his feathers. Each painting is a learning process, teaching you not only something about your craft by presenting unique problems and challenges to overcome, but also teaching you something about the animal being studied.
Has art always been your main outlet of creativity, or has there been anything else you have found that allows you to express yourself in an alternative way?
This is an interesting question! As I tried to get back to art over the years I think I had become afraid of doing the one thing that I actually wanted to do, which was paint. I think I was afraid to fail after all the years of wanting to do it but I still had a real craving to do something creative. About ten years ago I joined a creative writing group as I thought writing might satisfy my creative need. I met some interesting people, explored some crazy ideas and discovered I had a bit of a talent for writing nonsense poems. However it still didn’t quite hit the sweet spot. I then joined a casting agency with the strange idea of becoming an extra in TV programmes or adverts. This didn’t quite pan out and the only job I got was as an extra on the Richard and Judy chat show. However, I hadn’t given up on the idea of some kind of acting as a way of expressing my creativity so I joined an amateur dramatics group for a couple of years, but I found all those lines difficult and stressful to learn and only lasted two years with this. I reaslised then that I was just going round all the houses, avoiding the one creative activity that I really wanted to do. That’s when I decided to get my ass in gear and enroll at art college!
What have you learnt whilst establishing yourself as an online artist, and further, can you offer any advice to others starting out?
I think the way forward for all artists now is to exploit all types of marketing and selling opportunities – digital and also good old fashion meeting the public face to face at art or craft fairs. Finding your target market, both who your customers are and where they like to buy is one of the hardest things to do as an artist and takes a lot of trial and error to discover what people want to buy. As a fairly new artist I still feel that I am developing my own unique style and thus it is likely to change and evolve over the coming years. This creates a problem as potential customers gain confidence when an artist’s style is recognisable and consistent so I have to work hard with my marketing to keep potential customer’s with me as I grow as an artist. I would advise newly emerging artists to give equal time to developing themselves as an artist and learning the necessary marketing and promotional skills that are needed to be noticed in a very competitive environment. I would also advise artists to look for support from other creative people and to use any networking opportunities or business support in their area. Finally, I would advise new artists not to expect success straight away, to continue to believe in yourself (even when others don’t) and not to get too despondent with set backs or no sales. Success and reputation take time to build and it is those who persevere that succeed in the end.
Where do you see yourself as an artist in the future?
When it comes to planning the future I think there are two schools of thought. Some people set goals and then work out what they have to do to reach the goal. Others just work on the process of doing the job well, enjoy the journey and hope that outcomes will see to themselves. For better or worse I tend to be process focused rather than goal focused. I plan 6 -12 months ahead in terms of identifying events/competitions I want to enter so that I can establish deadlines to work to but after that I just work on the painting, keep up with the marketing and look for commissions. I just like to enjoy the journey and see where the road takes me. I’m not looking to be famous or make a fortune out of my art, I’m just happy to be living out my childhood dream.
How do you promote your art and what part has social media played in your self-promotion?
I started out just marketing myself on social media through FaceBook, Instagram and more latterly, Twitter and YouTube. I hadn’t used social media before so it was a steep learning curve. Fortunately at the studios I work from they provided free social media training and support, so this got me going. I have to admit that using social media is a love/hate relationship for me and I still have much to learn about how to use it for effective business marketing. I have discovered that different social media platforms reach a different type of audience both in terms of demography and the way people want to communicate with you. I didn’t get on with Instagram at all as you can’t use it on a laptop so I cancelled that. I find FaceBook better for ‘talking’ to people as they often leave comments that you can reply to and you start to develop a core of loyal followers. Twitter reaches more people and if you know who to tag, your tweets can be retweeted to larger, relevant audiences. I have recently started making time lapse videos of my paintings to put on my YouTube channel which helps people to understand how my paintings are made and are quick and entertaining to watch (if only I could paint that quickly in real life!) However, I feel that social media marketing is only half the answer and non-digital real world methods are just as important, so I attend art/craft events to meet people face to face, distribute flyers, give out business cards and enter open exhibitions to get my work seen by a broad range of people.