My life as an artist
During my life as an artist, a passion for the act of drawing and painting has led me through a long winding road of psychological twists and turns, emotional bumps in the road, some unexpected diversions and very many challenges. I have always been searching for a place where I felt both freely expressive and technically reasonably competent. Both components are essential. Without feeling and expression, art for me is meaningless. Without knowledge, which means both skill and ideas, it is impossible to develop. It has taken me many years to find this place and I am of course still learning and still discovering my voice and my language. I have always tried to match my work to a genuine feeling of passion. At one period I found expression in the free flowing application of dye to fabric, and I was a successful crafts-person for many years. I still enjoy the feel and intimacy of fabric and the under-the-radar voice of fashion and clothing. I thank my inspiration from other fabric painters such as the amazing Carole Waller and Kaffe Fassett.
I knew that textiles were not the only medium for me, however. I originally started as an artist on paper and wanted to have that level of control that is achievable with charcoal, pencil or pen, but not with the looser brushstrokes I used in dye painting. I began searching for a way to develop my designs and started to explore drawing and painting. I attended Glasgow School of Art as a full time student in the Painting School for 4 years in my quest to learn more. The focus here was on contemporary art practice and history, so I had to learn a completely new way of thinking. I am very grateful for this and the quality of the experience at Glasgow.
I then returned to textile practice and translated some of my conceptual ideas about space and architecture into cloth (see above). I had now achieved one goal of how to develop my work intellectually, but I was still restricted to working with dye. I pushed this as far as I could by creating abstract paintings with thickened dye rather than paint. I wanted to explore the cultural limitations and expectations around textile art.
But one winter’s day around 2008 I decided to reach out to a local artists’ community at Dunfermline Printmakers. This opened up a whole new world for me. The unexpected textural qualities of print, whether in etching, dry-point or stone lithography, had the same random element as textile work, but with added control and the the fact that I was working on PAPER. An entire new existence and form of expression that happily contained ideas rather than purely a sensual hit. The Edinburgh Printmakers Studio continues to be an inspiration.
Several years and a few exhibitions along the line, I discovered that actually I preferred just doing the drawings and if necessary reproducing them in giclee form rather than creating original prints. My horse drawings of this time were a glorious explosion of passion and energy which had been stored up since I was a small child, and were also a celebration of having recently owned and loved horses for many years. Success ensued, including commissions and awards, and in particular the commission to write a book about drawing horses “Draw Horses in 15 Minutes”. I love to write, I love everything equestrian, and I love to draw, so I took on this challenge and the book has been a success.
In the process, however, I started to discover gaps in my knowledge. How much anatomy did I actually know? Did I really understand about tone and colour? So much of what I did was intuitive, and once again I realised that I needed to dig a bit deeper in order to take another step forward. Another journey ensured, starting with a human anatomy course at the Ruskin School of Art in Oxford with celebrated artist and anatomist, Sarah Simblet, in July 2015. Very inspiring, and I have followed up with numerous anatomy and drawing and painting classes, both human and equine-related, with celebrated artists and experts such as Edinburgh-based artist, Alan McGowan.
In January 2015 my next step in my life as an artist began when I started to teach myself painting. Thanks to Iain Simpson for his step by step introduction and invaluable references in the Open College of Art texts. I was gradually learning this new medium, but still could not relate it to the energy and certainty of the textile work. Then in 2016 I heard about an Irish art teacher, Pauline Agnew, who teaches on line courses. Pauline truly reaches the parts that no other teachers do, and together with her input and that of Philadelphian artist Martin Campos, painting has started to feel like a natural form of expression of me which combines colour, texture and feeling and also precision – and which is a satisfying arena in which to explore drawing and the incredible properties of colour. One of my aims was to create equestrian paintings. I have reached “Go” with increasing confidence in painting the horse’s form and anatomy in colour.
One of my aims over the past two years was to create equestrian paintings. I have now reached “Go” with increasing confidence in painting the horse’s form and anatomy in colour. This is a traditional approach for me but I have great satisfaction in working in oil paint with increased understanding about what makes an image work.
That is not to say that I have abandoned drawing (of course) or working on cloth. For me there is still something incredibly liberating about the pots of brilliant liquid dye and the welcoming texture of wool, silk or cotton. Plus the fact that fabric exists in a different and in some ways a freer place than painting. But I am thrilled with the joyful experience of making visual statements about what I love in paint, and with my life as an artist to date.