Some Q&A for a Secondary School student in Barbados

Devon Ecologies Dry point

Every now and then people from various parts of the world get in touch to ask q few questions about my artwork or with technical questions. I do my best to answer – even though writing really isn’t my thing. Oddly – this month has been little crazy with questions every couple of days. So when a student from Barbados asked me nicely is I could answer some questions for a school based assignment. I said that seeing as she asked so nicely, I would. I was a little taken aback to get 14 quite chalenging questions – but in answering them the exercise was helpful in making me think.

With Shanqiue Catlyn’s permission, I am reproducing her questions here with my answers (unedited) – just in case anyone else might be interested.

1. What was your first choice in life?

I initially studied conservation of Prints & Drawings because I liked both arts and sciences.

2. Why did you choose printmaking?

Printmaking seems to have chosen me. First engaged with printmaking on the conservation course and when I went back to college as a mature student, many years latter to study Fine Art, I found myself feeling very at home in the print workshop. I also suspect that printmaking suits me because my scientific mind likes processes, my experimental nature likes the way that the processes and presses contribute to the outcome (like a collaboration). Plus, I am dyslexic, seeing things back to front is second nature to me rather than a problem.

3. What inspired you to make this choice?

See answer to Q2.

4. Was your first piece what you expected? Can u explain your first reaction.

Actually did my 1st prints at school 40 years ago…. Don’t think I’ve ever lost that excitement of pealing the paper back to see what me efforts have produced. Things don’t always turn out exactly as expected, that’s part of the process. It’s then for me to respond to what is happening with the plate, plants I’m using, how the colours are interacting with each other, to allow the image to emerge in a way that I find satisfying. (& accept that it’s not always going to work).

5. Are u versatile?

Yes – very. I teach printmaking across a wide range of processes. There is nothing like teaching and helping other people to achieve their printmaking aims for increasing your versatility. I also use several different printmaking processes in my own work.

6. What are the various steps you take when creating a piece?

a, research the subject matter. b, collect samples, photographs and sketches. c, start creating, put it to one side and think about it. d, after satisfactory colour tests, I set aside a day to do nothing other than create the prints. (stage d is repeated until samples or I am exhausted or I have to get back to teaching again)

7. What do you sat is the most challenging of you work?

The thing that I find most challenging is being able to get a good work/creativity balance. I run a print workshop and teach quite a lot in term times. When I’m teaching it’s not always easy to keep creativity going. Then when teaching stops it’s not always easy to get the ball rolling again.

8. Would you say that your work is generally decorative or inspirational?

I try to create a balance between them both. People could just see it as decorative – and that is fine if that’s all they want. But the meaning and purpose for me creating the work in the first ambien place is that I want to draw attention to overlooked aspects of the local environment and ecosystems. I would like to inspire art-lovers to appreciate weeds and the importance of bugs; and I would like to inspire the naturalists to appreciate the worth of the arts in getting a message across.

9. How do you market your work?

I am a member of the Devon Guild of Craftsmen – and they do a lot to market all the member’s work. I have a website and an Etsy shop and use social media as well as I can (in fits and starts!). I have had several invitations to exhibit because of being noticed via social media, as well as making online sales from all round the world. Also – I take part in Art Fairs in attempt to reach potential customers out of me area. Local people can attend Open Studio events. If I didn’t teach so much, I might have more time and energy to market my work – but I can’t reduce the amount of teaching until I make more sales. It is a classic “Catch 22” (if you are familiar with that).

10. Do you aim at a specific target market?

I do try and reach out to nature lovers, environmentalists, ecologist etc. They do respond well to my work, but don’t seem to be the people with the money 😉 My artwork is of a domestic size, so my “target market” is probably people like me, but with more disposable income. I think I would need to produce larger and more conceptual artwork to appeal to National Galleries.

11. How would you describe your typical buyer?

Probably people like me, but with more disposable income. “Like me” is someone interested in the environment and aesthetics; more likely to be female and of an “uncertain age”; but also young couples (newly-weds)setting up home together; occasionally purchased for offices and hospitals, especially if there is a connection with the subject matter.

12. What are your plans for the future and for your art business?

I would like to gradually reduce me teaching hours as art sales increase. I look into possibilities for being artist in residence for different sites or situations as the opportunities arise. Sometimes this is something I have to initiate for myself. Next time I do this I plan to secure funding. I have achieved this before, I don’t find it easy, but it’s good to get some kind of pay for what you do that isn’t dependent on at sales.

13. What advice would you give to a young person who wants to do this kind of work?

Do what you love. And keep at it, don’t wait for inspiration, just do it. You need to make lots of “failures” before you can create your own voice. “Failures” are really useful for discovering what you can do. To quote a musician friend “You are only as good as you dare to be bad”. Think about it, take risks.  If you produce artwork just because you think this is what will sell – it is liable to lack life and authenticity. There is no shame in having a mundane job just to keep food on the table and keep you in ink and paper. But you will have to ring fence time for creativity – and be selfish about that time. If you need to create you will go mad without it.