After a full month in lockdown and totally dependent on my computer to keep me connected to the world, I'm feeling a sort of strange fogginess that is a mixture of not knowing what day it is most days and scheduling myself too much as a teacher.
I used to teach in person, in the ever popular Victoria & Albert Museum in their wonderful Cast Courts. It's been over two months since I travelled to London to run my Friday evening events and it feels so strange.
I moved right before the lockdown and have been staying with my boyfriend at his new place which he just moved into also right before lockdown so his flat is in a state of unpacked boxes and bags with no way to update his new place. Because I've been staying with him, I'm not where I normally live and have limited clothes and art supplies. I miss so many of my belongings and can't wait to be reunited with the rest of my clothes and my bed with all the comfy pillows and all my wonderful art supplies.
Teaching online as an art teacher is brainwashing and though I love teaching my students, I wish for the days when I'll be able to work with them in the same room so I can see their work instead of trying to discern their faint marks via a video screen.
Zoom exhausts me. Just being online exhausts me and yet I can't escape as my life is zoom.
I need to go to a dentist to have a root canal redone and I'm really aware of the waiting and waiting causing potentially irreversible damage to an already damaged tooth so I take painkillers and distract myself.
How is this crisis happening in my lifetime? I'm still baffled by this and each morning it feels shocking to remember on waking that life isn't normal anymore and that it's probably the same shared thoughts of thousands of others around the world.
There's talk that next week the UK government will start the process of bringing us out of lockdown and I still can't imagine how this will go or how our lives will still be impacted by these events. I've enjoyed staying with my boyfriend and look forward to actually properly moving in with him but hopefully after he's had a chance to make his new flat a home with all the improvements he's talked about. Until then, I hope I can get a few months of time in my attic making art projects, listening to audiobooks and maintaining my online teaching and hopefully returning to teaching in person too.
It's been a strange time in lockdown and it's taught me a lot about who I am, what I need in life and those I want by my side. Very different values than what I had before lockdown, that's for sure.
One thing I love about lockdown are the long walks in the countryside that we've been doing and the strange routine that's kept myself and my boyfriend in place each day. It's going to be difficult when I return to my attic.
Artistically, I'm currently fixated on making a forest in a terrarium so I can have my very own personal forest to draw from. I think this is a feeling of not being able to grow things during lockdown. I'm also in the process of building a paper fairy house miniature which is an attempt to use only materials everyone has in their homes.
Otherwise, in my studio practice, I'm untethered and all my former creative projects are on hold so I feel disconnected and unfocused. I should be keeping up with social media and posting to keep my followers interested, but I feel like a boat caught on a windless sea........
How different a single month makes....this time last month, I had so many things I took for granted, like being able to go outside to the market and walk to the cathedral and interact with people in my events in London.
Now I've been on lockdown for just a week and have gone out for food late in the evening to the corner shop, just once in that time. Shelves are very empty of things that I want to eat like, sweet potato or cucumber or strawberries or just any berries or any veg. I found a bag of frozen veg during my trip the other day to the corner shop and felt like I'd hit the jackpot which isn't how I expected my life to be at this stage.
What an eye opening learning experience this is, to be participating in a nationwide lockdown and realising how very dependent I have been on so many things and how if I just changed what I need vs what I want and how to obtain these thing then how much better off the planet and myself might be.
I dearly wish I had a garden or somewhere that I could grow fruits and vegetables without needing to go to the shops all the time for their produce. When this pandemic lifts and we're all able to come out and go about our lives again, I plan to sort out this garden need so I'm better equipped for a healthier future.
I've been having to conduct my art events online which has been a challenge but is fun once I understand how to do it all. I'm not a techy person so when I realised I needed to adapt my events for online, I spent a week learning how to transpose everything I teach into an online format so that my students could get more for their money and still get to socialise with each other.
Our online classes are small and not like how we used to be when we met at the museums and quite a lot of my students who prefer to meet in person have either left my group or dropped off the radar.
I find that I'm thriving in isolation as it's time to think and time to create that I've needed. So I feel as if I'm on a strange badly funded artist residency that leaves me still very much unnoticed but able to work on projects I'd previously not been able to give much attention to. It's just the first week of course, so perhaps my feelings will change in a month from now. But currently, I'm delighted to have so much time to myself and my creative projects and I hope I can create some structure to get as much accomplished as possible.
Below are two photos....on the left a snapshot from one of my online classes with everyone trying to get into a position to draw their own feet which was a tricky and amusing thing as we all became temporary contortionists while scribbling away furiously! The second image is of the aftermath of my class and the sketches I generated while sketching with my students and an example of how I was holding my foot with my hand. A fun class with my wonderfully talented members!
I think that once we're allowed to go out and meet up again in public, that some of my events may remain online to cater to those people who have difficulties joining in to the in person events. It's been interesting learning about some of my members who have not been able to attend my regular events due to long term illness or anxiety issues or because they just live too far away and I hope that they'll keep attending my online events even when I return to doing regular in person events. I'm meeting such wonderful new friends. In some ways, I'm glad we're all on lockdown, because I'd never have gotten to meet so many people if it wasn't for this current experience so perhaps that's some good to be had from our social distancing time.
I will leave it here with the hope that in the next blog post, the virus will be less and that my family and friends will be unscathed and in good spirits with hope on the horizon.
February has flown by and I'm tired as it seems that I have too much to do in one week and for an unemployed freelance artist, it feels odd as compared to earlier decades when I was employed full time, I think I actually had more time even though my time was someone else's......I'm not making sense.
Being this Franceska.....age forty-four (how did I get to this age so fast?) - I run art events on Fridays and some weekends and they're full on to the point that after two hours of teaching, I feel wiped out for 24 hours afterwards!
During the week - Mondays to Thursdays, I split my time between admin for my events, admin for my artist career, admin trying to find a part time job and occasionally I create something in 2d or 3d and post it on instagram.....in the meantime, I'm about to move again (with my landlady and her other lodger) to another part of St. Albans (by mid March) and then if all goes well a few months later, I'll be moving again to live with my boyfriend which is quite exciting but feels like a long way off. So everything is in semi chaos.....the attic I rent at our current place is old and falling apart and since moving in last August, I've not really unpacked.....so I live on top of myself and constantly can't find anything which is driving me crazy.
In an effort to get rid of the constant chaos, I've been working for the past few weeks to live a more minimalistic way so I've been organising everything I own, getting rid of lots of unused things and rethinking how I structure my home art studio in my bedroom and how I'd like to live vs how I have been living.
I've not posted any artwork on Instagram for ages simply because I've not had time to make anything and I long to draw, paint and sculpt but once I'm moved in a few weeks and able to unpack, then hopefully I'll be able to catch up with myself.
So I've been trying to get a Monday & Tuesday part time job and have been approaching the local temp agencies here in St. Albans with various levels of frustration.....I went into a temp agency in person and was told that I couldn't speak to someone in person and that I had to email first to get an appointment.....so I went outside onto the pavement and emailed them through their front window to ask for an appointment......this has happened twice now with two completely different temp agencies and has resulted in no work but lots of stupid unnecessary emails back and forth asking what location I wanted and trying to arrange for appointments. If this is how they conduct themselves, I don't feel very confident of finding work with these agencies.....so the search goes on.
I saw an advertisement for a part time position at the Museum of St. Albans a few weeks ago and immediately got online and downloaded and printed off their job application and filled it in, scanned it back in and emailed it to the contact details provided......and waited and waited and waited.....and then was advised by the Jobcentre to physically visit them in person to show them how eager I was and to find out how the application was going. I visited the museum in the old Town Hall.....and was told to visit the Civic Centre instead as apparently they deal with applications.....so I went to the Civic Centre and was told to go to the museum.....so I went to the Roman museum instead, thinking that maybe they were the best museum to talk to.....and was told to go to the Civic Centre.....so I reached out to the Facebook group for "All Things St. Albans" to find out where I could check on my application and the museum responded and told me to email them......so I did.....and they said that they could only see one record of my application being emailed and no other communication from me .......so I told them that my attempts to reach them had been in person not online and they responded that they would respond to my application in a few months if they thought I'd be a good fit for the job........JOB SEARCHING IS STUPID!!!!
So I'm going to focus on my events in London and see if I can just add more events rather than trying to find a part time job during the week which is more work, less money and not dependable at all.
As a side note: I'm back to creative writing again and have been slowly writing a series of children's books and working on my own illustrations to them......I'm taking it slow as it's been over twenty years since I last published anything and want to enjoy the process for the journey that it is, rather than the product.
Everything I do feels like a crazy scheme to make money and survive.....I feel like it's a fairground ride that's gone wrong and I want to get off. I want to be financially comfortable and have a full day off to just lie around reading magazines and eating sliced fruit with not a worry in the world....but that sounds like nonsense compared to everything I've got to accomplish and the idea of taking time off sounds utterly impossible.
To make things that much more exciting, I've had to find a dentist because a tooth that was previously given a root canal over a decade ago by a crap dentist, has developed an infection deep down in my jaw because apparently a bit of root was never removed all those years ago. As I'm on Universal Credit, I'm an NHS patient and the only option to me is to have the tooth pulled....but because I don't want to have to just resort to pulling teeth, I've decided to sign on as a private patient in a futile effort to save the afflicted tooth so I've been scheduled to enjoy a root canal redoing session next Tuesday afternoon which terrifies me but has to be done......and will cost me between £770 to £970 over a period of months.....which I'll have to pay using my meager earnings from my events which are not dependable and make me wish I could have a successful job search and find a part time job that could let me sign off from the Jobcentre once and for all.....I've been dirt poor and on benefits and struggling like this for six years.
If one more person says....."have you tried this....." or "it'll get better soon...", I'll murder them!
Another side note: I've been trying to create non sugar recipes and have this evening made a rather successful cashew, pistachio, cacao and date spread that is a little fruity but very similar to a chocolate spread so I'm focussing on small victories like this one!
To battle my Fibromyalgia, which I neglect often as life gets in the way, I've used a voucher for a (nearly) free Swedish massage so I'm hopeful the therapist can unknot my spine and limbs over the weekend!
I hope that my next blog entry in a months time, details how wonderful it is to have signed off from the Jobcentre and to be earning more than enough money to cover all my living expenses and begin to save as well as that would be something to look forward to and make this crazy fairground ride worth the unexpected dives and lurches.
Been a bit of a challenge trying to work out a routine so that I can accomplish all my duties for my freelance practice while also taking time to be in studio and find something worth writing about for my blog.
My practice revolves around my meetup groups, London Art Museum Creatives, London Art & Culture Group and Art Peace Activists which are primarily weekend adventures as I need several days to manage the admin for these groups as well as the general admin of being an artist and this doesn't even touch on just being in studio and making art! But with my schedule up and running for February, I feel a bit more organised and ready to try to manage the artist side of my life and this blog!
While all this admin stuff has been going on, I've kept myself creative and though I don't currently have any active commissions at the moment, I've given myself projects to accomplish and to keep my skills up to date. One such project is an accordion sketchbook in which I'm creating a narrative all about a tree because I love patterns and trees! I'm not sure yet what will happen on the other side of these pages but for now my tree is "unfolding" to reveal more and more secrets in its branches.
My studio is also my bedroom and on one side of the room is a line of suitcases and containers with my art supplies because this is a temporary living situation which I'm really struggling with at the moment as I'm not used to living in such disorder for so long. This frustration is having an impact on my creative process. Though it would make sense for anyone else to go to a coffee shop to draw, it doesn't work well for me as I have all my supplies here in this room and often what I want to work with, would be too messy or smelly for a coffee shop so I feel like I've had my wings clipped and only fantasise that hopefully one day, I'll have simple freedoms again and be able to paint or sculpt without being so restricted.
I've got an idea for another miniature imaginative abode.......so I've been collecting oyster shells and unusual cardboard containers! More to follow on this idea later.....
Procrastinating doing admin earlier, found me sharpening and organising all of my pencils in my roll up which was rather satisfying!
Well, I've done all my admin for several days as well as this blog post, so I'm now going to repair some miniature dragon eggs which you can view later on my Instagram: @Mirmarnia & @Toothpickmuse
Stay tuned for next months post and thank you for taking an interest in my studio practice!
As always, if you simply love what I do and wish to support my practice then feel free to check out my shop on Inktale to purchase my artwork on products: inktale.com/franceska-mccullough
I had intended to write about a talk I recently gave to my meetup group about John Singer Sargent, but after some thought and because I know my blog is in a sort of evolution, I decided I'd much rather share with you my favourite artists who still have a huge impact on my work many years after studying for my first degree.
This first one, is Richard Diebenkorn above with the knife in the glass. I was first introduced to his work and all of the San Francisco Bay Area Figurative Painters by my incredible life drawing teacher at KCAI, Norma Cowdrick, who gave me such an incredible education in the art of understanding space and relationships in drawing!
A few years ago there was an exhibition at the Royal Academy of Diebenkorn's work and I went with my knees knocking together in sheer excitement because it's really rare to have an entire room full of Diebenkorn's so I spent hours in just the few rooms they had, literally trying to inhale everything on every canvas. He just has a way of laying out space and light that I can't get enough of and it unhinges me! Going to see several rooms full of his paintings is emotional to say the least. I'm clearly still an oil painter to my core.
Even now, when I mix colour on my palette, I'm always transported back to my early years exploring the depths of colour theory. My painting teacher, Michael Walling was very organised and was an excellent guide to me when I was setting up and understanding my palette and mixing techniques especially when working with the life model. I developed relationships with cerulean blue and cadmium red and lemon yellow and my love of all the blues fell to the deep dark well of Prussian Blue that still halts my breath when spreading across my palette. Richard Diebenkorn was always in the forefront of my colour studies then and I'd study his paintings at the museum for hours and hours, trying to understand the chemistry behind his colour mixing on his palette. Sounds ridiculous, I realise but oil painting was my first passion and still a fierce addiction.
So Richard Diebenkorn has been a direct influence on my two dimensional work since the end of the 1990's and continues to wow me.
Then there is William Kentridge (below video) who I encountered a decade or so ago and who uses charcoal drawings animated in ways I'm intrigued by to tell political stories that touch the heart and make you think. I know my own activist work is influenced by what Kentridge is doing and I'm still intrigued because of the way he narrates his work and puts it into motion. It is potent, undiluted intensities that fuel me in so many ways. He is a master and I hope to meet him one day, though I fear I'd just stand there unable to form meaningful words.
I remember going twice to the Kentridge exhibition when he came to Dallas when I lived there. The second time I visited the exhibition then was with my dad which was a few years before my dad had a huge heart attack. I still cling to memories of the conversations I had with my dad during that visit and since then have wondered if the impact Kentridge has on me now is somehow tied to the sadness and longing I have for what I can't get back.
William Kentridge seems to convey human emotion almost in a dreamlike format, sometimes you feel part of it and sometimes you feel as if you're just an observer but always I feel caught up in the story line.
Following this, is a painter who I'm recently acquainted with who painted mostly empty rooms with light streaming in - Vilhelm Hammershoi. They're really dull scenes, with very little happening but inadvertently this artist has had an impact on my miniature model making work as I'm intrigued by a lit space that is glimpsed at the moment when the occupants have just left or have ducked out of sight. For some reason this concept intrigues me and I'm still in the "magic" stage of this idea in my illustrations and my models. His paintings thrill me as I understand them in a way I don't think I would have done when I was younger.
See one of his paintings below:
And following below one of my models with the photo taken in a similar way as the painting, to offer an idea of just having missed someone beyond a half closed door:
There are so many more artists who inspire my work but these three are at the top of those lists at the moment and seem to be remaining at the top for the last couple of decades.
*Thank you for reading my blog posts and though I know this blog is in a strange sort of evolution at present, it'll even out in a few weeks/months and develop a more reliable schedule (hopefully!) so stay tuned!
Above: Scribbles from a sketchbook relating to a previous sculpture I built and then destroyed. It served its purpose and was fun but is no more!
I don't think many people read my blog but for those who do, if you have read yesterday's blog post then you'll know that I'm giving myself a two week break as I have a lot of projects that need attention and plans to be made!
So if you have been following my artist interviews then please stay tuned for more beginning on the 10th of May, 2019.
In the meantime, here's a series of interesting photos of artwork I've created over the years......
Above: A paper pop up dragon I made.
Above: Faux litho made out of torn paper for the set of the TV series, "Dallas".
Above: A commissioned illustration for a baby.
If you've read my blog post for yesterday, you'll see that this week I'm giving myself a rest from being an extrovert so I'm offering you myself. Yesterday it was a tour of my creative space and today I'm answering a series of questions that my lovely friends, Juliana Graham and A. Michelle Young-Wilson have asked me.
(Images above - left to right - "Pagan Year" ink drawing, "Barnacle Pod" toothpick sculpture, me as a child, scaling a tree in the shadow of the castle in Wales.)
So I hope you don't mind the change this week, we'll get back to normal next week for sure.
Thank you lovely Juliana and Michelle for kindly putting forth some really good questions!
Michelle: What was it like being raised by an artist and a musician and how did that affect your decision to study the arts?
Franceska: I do feel fortunate to have had such a creative upbringing as I realise now how unique it was. Growing up, it was standard that my brother, the cat and I often spent afternoons under the grand piano while my dad practiced through Rachmaninoff, Chopin and Liszt. While my mother maintained her painting studio and exposed us to a universe of visual expression. I knew I was going to be an artist by the time I was three....I had a fierce determination to see it through and I knew without a doubt that my family would accept this so it was just logical.
Michelle: You often draw from your childhood memories. Can you tell us what keeps you delving into themes from your childhood in Southern Wales?
Franceska: Though challenging at times, (growing up dyslexic in a time when dyslexia wasn't recognised or supported by the Welsh schools), my childhood was full of magic. We lived in such a beautiful part of the world and growing up, I was guided by a wonderful imaginative grandmother who helped me see the world through different eyes. She definitely influenced my artwork.
My dad taught music at Atlantic College which was housed in a 12th century castle surrounded by beautiful countryside which we children explored in every way possible. When we moved to America, it was such a blow....it was before the internet and even making a long distance phone call was such an ordeal. It was so difficult being so far from the sea and everything we knew. I remember that I felt like our family was a little island in a sea of Texans. If we'd had the internet, it would have been so much easier. Adding what I remember from my childhood into my drawings was a way of coping with the transition, I think.
Michelle: Who or what sparked your interest in string theory, multi-verses, planet's orbits and other space themes that inspired your toothpick sculptures?
Franceska: Brian Greene wrote a book called, "The Elegant Universe" which I think was published in the late 1990's when I was just graduating from Kansas City Art Institute. I remember still living in Kansas City and being quite poor so I couldn't buy his book but I'd spend my free days at the bookshop and tried to read as much of it as I could in eight hour sittings....I was intrigued then because what he was describing seemed to fit with how I was sculpting so I developed a serious appetite for learning about String Theory even though I'm absolutely useless at mathematics! I also love science fiction and have always been fascinated by the universe. Once I discovered Sacred Geometry and applied it to my sculptures, I kept getting deeper and deeper into cross referencing patterns in nature vs orbital planetary pathways and now I've reached the point of no return, delving deeply into black holes, gravitational waves and light in the vacuum of space.
Michelle: How does synesthesia affect your art?
Franceska: I have many types of synesthesia. They're all part of my daily functioning as a human being so they affect my whole being as well as the art I create. I can't imagine how others without synesthesia can function so it's difficult to know how to explain how it affects me as I feel like it's like asking how my skin affects me......but I'll say that perhaps I rely very heavily on my visuals in shapes and colours when I see sounds as patterns to create structures to my sculptures. I use my youtube channel to "collect" specific colours of sounds so I can use that colour/sound combination when needed!
My experience of the passage of Time does affect how I map out my website or how I visually describe something to someone as for me, all dates in my history that are past are to my left and my future is to my right with each date in a specific position in space around me with their own colours. Hard to explain!
I learned to spell and count by mixing colours of the letters and digits and have an intense understanding of the colour wheel because each specific colour represents meaning in language and everything I know. I'm frowning trying to explain this! Ha! So not sure if it's making sense!
Michelle: What artist most inspires you today?
Franceska: Difficult to pick one......I'd say William Kentridge is fairly prominent in my inspirations currently though I have to mention, Richard Diebenkorn whose paintings consistently bring me to a standstill.
Juliana: Are there any techniques that you feel you haven't fully mastered yet?
Franceska: Gosh, loads.....I'm constantly researching, discovering and relearning and perfecting. Currently (for the last decade) I've been re-evaluating my techniques on understanding perspective in illustration and I'm never satisfied but completely obsessed with the process.
Juliana: Are there any artistic styles/movements that you personally dislike and why?
Franceska: Yes.....can't stand Brutalist architecture....I don't like the abruptness of the structures as it unsettles me. I'm too much of a traditional artist possibly! As for movements, I'm not sure because I'm fascinated by all.
Juliana: What is the painting that you would save if the gallery of all the world's art was on fire?
Franceska: A difficult question that I can't think of an answer for, except that I'd try to put the fire out and hope that all images were photographed before the fire broke out. I think my answer is greatly influenced by the deaths of older family members and a dear friend and items I've inherited that has put me into a conflicted place where I want to cherish precious things but that I'm also in favour of not seeing loss as an end but seeing rebirth from tragedy instead......remember, never forget, educate and create more and move forward.
Thank you so much to both for tolerating my daftness and asking me such great questions! I hope I've answered satisfactorily! Please comment below if you would like to share your thoughts.
Next week I'll return to normal hopefully but a rest from being an extrovert has been nice!
*If you'd like to see more artist interviews then please stay tuned every Friday at 9am UK time for more!
I first met my friend, Heather Scott when we were both on the MA Art & Science course at Central Saint Martins here in London. Out of all the students on the course, we were amongst a limited number who were keenly interested in combining our art practices with elements from the universe and outer space.
Heather intrigued me also because of her fascination in black holes and because of her keen sense of design in her work. Trying to weave together the complexities of everything that a black hole is to elements in the design world is a huge challenge to say the least but Heather knew how to bridge this and it was a fascinating experience being witness to her discoveries along the way.
Just below before we begin are some of Heather's images as they are fascinating and worth a look with fresh eyes before you get to know her work and reasons behind what she does:
So wanting to know more about my friend and her work and her life as an artist, I'm super pleased that she agreed to be interviewed for my art blog!
1. Franceska: When you were young, was there someone or something that inspired you in the arts?
Heather: At school I had a great graphic design teacher who inspired me to go into graphic design but I have always drawn inspiration from around me and my interests. I can’t remember there being a particular thing that inspired me but I know I have been making art since I was very young.
2. Franceska: When you need to create, what methods to you use and why?
Heather: I always need to be making or be creative in whatever form that manifests itself. My main go to is drawing, especially illustration, I like creating fantasy images or just drawing what comes to mind at the time.
3. Franceska: Where did you study and what part of your education has helped you the most in your career? Were there any teachers or courses that really got you going?
Heather: I feel like my whole art/graphic education has helped me in a roundabout way. At school it was something that I loved doing and was good at so I wanted to work hard and learn more about it. It also helped that my teacher was really good as well and had worked in the industry before teaching. He encouraged me by pushing me out of my comfort zones and made me want to be better. Undergrad helped me understand why I wanted to be a graphic designer and the style of my design. I also learnt how to explain my concepts and understand how my design could be applied in the wider world, to help people understand larger concepts or educate them on world issues. Doing my masters helped me with networking and freelancing, working on internal projects to help promote our course and external work from friends and opportunities from the uni. Before this I had not really exhibited my work so I learnt a lot and it was good practice in public relations.
4. Franceska: I’m a big admirer of your “speed builds” in the Sims, can you describe what enticed you to start creating these speed builds?
Heather: I started making speed builds in The Sims to work on my video editing skills and because I have always loved building and creating in The Sims but it was not until I started watching others on YouTube that I started to work out what I needed to do to create my own. It has also helped with confidence, as I have to talk about my builds and open up about my life and experiences.
5. Franceska: Do you have any Sims “speed builders” who you really admire and why?
Heather: My favourite Simmer is James Turner aka. TheSimSupply. He inspires me because he is a great builder and tries to build things that are realistic but also out of the ordinary and different. He always goes the extra mile and works hard to create something good and entertaining. I also find his Let’s Plays hilarious and ridiculous, which inspired me to start creating my own Let’s Plays and to work harder to create content.
6. Franceska: Where do you find your inspirations behind your “speed builds”?
Heather: I find inspiration from all over the place, quite literally sometimes. I love exploring places and seeing what different types of architecture there is around the UK. I love it when you walk down the street and pass a really interesting building and you stand there working out whether it’s possible to recreate it. I also like to recreate buildings from tv and films to see how accurate you can get with the limitations of objects and styles we have in the game.
7. Franceska: Do you have any advice for those of us just starting out on building in Sims or learning to do “speed builds”?
Heather: The advice I would give to someone thinking about starting to make ‘speed builds’ would be to find something you really want to make and something you think other people would be inspired by. Or you could think about a technique you do that could help other people with the game or to help them make something they never thought about making. I would also say that your videos don’t have to be perfect and no one expects you to be amazing straight away. Confidence and ideas take time to grow but as long as you are yourself and are genuine, you will be on the right track.
8. Franceska: Would you ever consider teaching a “speed build” workshop? If so, how would you structure it to help newbies?
Heather: I would like to have a workshop at some point in the future, as it would be great to meet other people who also love the game as much as I do. It would be great to be able to help anyone of any ability as I am still learning things about how to build so I’m sure I would also learn new ways of building from the people who would come, not just them learning from me.
9. Franceska: What is one of the biggest challenges you face as a Sims speed builder?
Heather: One of the biggest challenges, apart from the Youtube algorithm, is to create builds that have not been built before or to build something in a new way. This can be hard as there are only a finite number of styles and buildings in the world but the way that you build and think about how to recreate/create the build will always be unique to you. This makes it a bit easier but I still like to find out what builds are already out there and to create series that might use The Sims but also have an educational or story telling element to them to make them different.
10. Franceska: What is your favourite colour and has this evolved over the years?
Heather: My favourite colour has always been red and I don’t think it has ever changed. However, I am very partial to blue as well. I think I like red as it can mean a lot of different things - hot, fire, danger, love, brightness and it always attracts my attention.
11. Franceska: What are your biggest influences in your life now and how do they influence you?
Heather: The biggest influences in my life at the moment are places and the people I meet. I love to share ideas, stories and experiences to help understand this sometimes mad world we live on and hopefully I can, through my graphics or YouTube, inspire or help someone else to do this as well.
12. Franceska: Do you have a favourite creating method and why is it a favourite?
Heather: I think my favourite way to create, especially if something has inspired me, is to try out different ways to make something and just play with different mediums, methods and techniques to find the one method which I feel fits the subject matter. I love to try new things and don’t really get hung up on creating something in a practically why. I also like to be ambitious and if I have an idea for something, unless it completely does not work, I will always try to find how I can make it.
13. Franceska: Do you have any short or long term goals for yourself and your career? Where do you see yourself in a few years time?
Heather: My long-term goal is to have my own design studio, I would love to create a team of people with a wide range of skills to help other companies create designs they need. My short-term goal is to have another art exhibition and to learn more graphics skills to progress to higher levels and work on more creative and ambitious projects.
14. Franceska: We met in an art and science course and share similar interests. How have your art and science interests evolved since we first met?
Heather: The Art and Science course was a great way for me to explore my interest in finding what could be beyond a black hole. I got to work on and workout a few different theories about this subject and visualise some of them. I would love to explore some of the theories I didn’t have enough time to explore fully as each one has a different outcome to what might or would happen. I don’t feel as though my interests have changed but life has somewhat got in the way and I need to find sometime to indulge myself back into my research material.
15. Franceska: I love your reflective distortion drawings. Do you think you might do some more drawings like those in the future and if so what do you think might be an influence?
Heather: I really enjoyed making the reflection drawings and they were a large part of understanding and representing the possibilities of a multiverse or different dimensions. I would like to make a large-scale version or one that I could distort even more with mirrors; using three dimensions to create more of an experience than just a flat image.
16. Franceska: As a graphic designer, what are your main loves and hates in the industry and do you think there needs to be any changes for graphic designers?
Heather: What I love about graphic design is the possibility of being able to help others create something they need. In an ideal world I would love to create design that educates or informs, rather than selling or pressuring people into things.
From what I have experienced so far, there are a lot of people who think they can design, they may be able to create a nice bit of work but can’t understand the audience they are designing for or listen to what the client wants from the design and the humility to understand that there will always be someone that can create the design better than you but it’s the heart, soul and research you put into it that makes the design better. But that might just be me.
17. Franceska: Are there any graphic designers who you really admire and why?
Heather: There is one graphic designer that I admire, who also keeps popping up in most of my art or design research, Laszlo Moholy-Nagy. My natural design style is similar to the Bauhaus and Moholy-Nagy but he too, took inspiration from science and mathematical ideas of the time. He was also forward thinking about social ideas and helped to form my own opinions about what we can do to help others and the world.
18. Franceska: Imagine you were at a dinner party and you could choose one famous person to sit beside you, who would this be and why would you choose this person and how do you think conversation would go?
Heather: If I were invited to a dinner party I would invite Stephen Hawking. I would invite Stephen because I would love to hear all this theories on Black Holes and test my own against him, even though he would probably tell me that they were not possible. I would also be interested in what he thought the new image of a black hole would lead to and whether he thought new ideas and theories would come from it.
19. Franceska: What is your superpower?
Heather: My superpower is to attack very slow moving people when I want to be moving quickly. I am also an empath so I can tell if someone I have a close connection to is upset or in a bad mood because it will flood me with that emotion.
20. Franceska: Tell me what a “Day in the life of Heather” is like?
Heather: A day in the life of Heather can be very different; on a working day I commute to London. The one good thing about commuting is that I get some dedicated time to read which is better than being on my phone or making everyone around me awkward by people watching. I get through the day by making jokes and trying to make the best out of what I have to do, it does help that I have a great person to work with on my team. On my days off, I like to spend time with family or friends. I like to cycle or do some yoga ie, falling over!
I also record my YouTube videos and build more houses. You have to have something delicious at least once a week and to try not to be too sarcastic towards other people. Adventure, fun and caring for others are essentials!
Thank you so much Heather for sharing about your life and your work! I have even more questions now which is just silly and I'm so excited about the possibilities of you making some more reflection drawings and explorations into your black hole research! Can't wait to see what unfolds!
If you want to keep up to date about Heather and her work then follow these links below:
See below one of Heather's speed builds from her Hevdonia Youtube Channel:
*If you enjoyed this Artist Interview and would like to see more like it then stay tuned every Friday at 9am UK time for more.
I'd like to introduce you to my friend, Joel Heires, who I met through a mutual arty friend. I remember Joel impressed me back then for his enthusiasm for fantasy art which is something I really love too!
Joel has always impressed me with his determination and his work ethic. When I see his regular drawing posts, I feel inspired to get to business in my own studio practice. His focus is wonderful and I wish I could keep focused as he does!
In particular for several years now, I've been intrigued by his figurative work and have been wanting to find out more for ages now. I wish he lived closer as I think it would be intriguing to see his work space as I too have to conduct my artistic practice in my bedroom so of course I'm curious how others have to adapt to working in a multipurpose space!
So I'm very pleased Joel agreed to let me interview him for my art blog and again I wrote far too many questions and had to edit them down from the 68 that I originally had! Sometimes my curiosity of my fellow artist friends is ridiculous!
I do hope you enjoy this interview and please note any red highlighted underlined words are links to related content. To follow Joel and keep up to date with his ongoing work, then please look below this interview for his social media links. Please like, comment and share!
Franceska: How and when did you get into the arts?
Joel: I have always enjoyed drawing. I believe my “What I want to be when I grow up” list was artist, firefighter, or paleontologist. Safe to say the interest has been present most of my life, but as I got older I would see images or sculptures created by others and just think “that” is what I want to do.
Franceska: Is there anyone who inspired or influenced you when you were young to get into the arts?
Joel: I can't think of anyone in particular, certainly my parents supported me, but it was usually a pretty solitary act that I committed on my own. Drawing was and is very much an escape for me. My drive really came mostly from art in magazines and comic books that had captured so much of my imagination. Fortunately, I had a string of supportive teachers that understood I was a bit more serious than most of the students who had to be there. So I got extra feedback or pushes from various instructors over the years and on occasion would have a professional artist see my work and relate the idea that I should keep at it.
Franceska: Where did you study and how do you feel about your educational experience? Do you feel it helped you in what you do now?
Joel: Art classes were offered from middle school on, and it was always nice to look forward to a class every day. I wasn't a bad student, but everything else felt like work. It could certainly be challenging, but the labor was usually pleasant, outside of the time constraints (still an issue today). I was incredibly fortunate to attend a high school with an amazing AP (advanced placement) art program. Double block classes everyday allowed me to really dig in with other like minded students and take risks. I also remember feeling as though the AP status placed the classes on the same level as English, Science, and Math for the first time. In no small part because of those courses, I had a strong portfolio ready when I applied and was accepted to Carnegie Mellon University.
By the time I graduated I think I was more frustrated than enlightened. Distance and time have led me to wonder if that was more due to my own social/personal issues and being so insanely naive about life and craft. The program at the time was in transition and many of the older more technical minded faculty were retiring or moving on and the newer focus seemed to be much more conceptual (which was less interesting to me). While that education has served me immeasurably over time, I felt as if my technical education was lacking. I wanted that magic bullet that would just make me awesome, but I never really connected with any of my professors and never locked onto a mentor figure. Of course I also made lifelong friends that have heavily influenced my career and life post graduation. In the end I think education anywhere is really what you make of it and I , frustratingly, feel as if I took for granted my time there.
Franceska: What is your favourite material to work with in the arts?
Joel: I like to draw. I like paper and pencil and ink, but I also paint digitally using Photoshop. There is an immediacy to traditional sketching that is more grounded, the line and the tone just feel more correct, and a pure stream of consciousness drawing devoid of purpose or direction can be meditative. Working digitally however, allows for speedy iteration. I can always undo or start fresh with another file, without fear of wasting materials, a fear that kept me from exploring much in college. Any color sense I have at all is due mostly to infinite digital paint.
Franceska: Do you currently have a specific artist or artists that you follow at this time and why?
Joel: On a daily basis it's really just about being on instagram and trying not to let the talent of so many incredible individuals extinguish my own creative drive. I would say, more than anyone else lately, I find myself continually returning to the work of J.C.Leyendecker. He is mostly known for his advertising work and an incredible run of iconic Saturday Evening Post covers. The more I look at his work the more I'm blown away by what he accomplished in every image. I'm a big fan of images drawn from my own imagination, but it's undeniable how much extra information is communicated when using reference. In his work I see both. Stylized realism with imaginative flourishes and editing resulting in a highly detailed, stylized, and nuanced final image.
Franceska: How do you find inspiration in your current work? How do you keep yourself motivated?
Joel: “Keep making stuff!” is pretty much my only M.O. I'm old enough to realize that the negative loop of trial and failure had stunted my ability to press on and just make stuff. Sometimes it's for fun, sometimes it's more directed, the way a musician practices scales or an athlete hits the gym. Keeping my brain and my fingers moving and existing in that higher plane of operating is my primary objective. I can always tell when I haven't done figure drawing or dimensional drawing in awhile. Like going for a jog after an injury, you lose progress or at the very least alertness.
Franceska: What is a typical studio day like for you?
Joel: I've been mostly on my own for a few years now, so it's amorphous by nature. Since I work in my room it's a constant struggle to not allow distraction from upending my flow. On a good day I get up late morning and try to do some observational drawing as a warm up and confidence booster. I usually do yoga, (a life saver when you spend as much time hunched over a computer or a desk as I do) and then shower and lunch. Then I settle into whatever my current task is. With freelancing being the bulk of my monetary income that work ranges from illustration, to ui design, and photoshopping. I try to work at max focus for a few hours. If I get into a groove I might work later, but if there isn't a deadline or staying on task is a real chore I let myself off the hook. I eat dinner somewhere in there and then will entertain myself in the evening, which many times now involves working in my sketchbook. This is of course a model day and not an average one, hehe.
Franceska: Do you find it easy to fill a sketchbook and is this something you embrace?
Joel: I've been using the classic black hardbound sketch books for the last 5 years now. It takes me a bit over a year to fill one. It's nice to have the singular object when it's done as opposed to piles of loose drawings. They also act as a timeline of the previous year, an illustrated diary. The sketchbooks become a powerful reminder of whether you are working or not, a tome of inspiration and frustration. The one piece of advice I have received over and over in my life is “Draw everyday!” It took me over a decade to really understand and embrace that message. I felt the idea was very unromantic, but in reality it is the practice that opens the doors so your ideas can freely flow into reality.
Franceska: What are your current challenges in your practice and are you finding ways to overcome them?
Joel: Every time I climb to a peak of skill or perception another 50 peaks become visible. I'm struggling with the subtleties of perspective and drawing figures and objects that really exist in the space on the page. My work is stiff and not only dimensionally flat but also emotionally flat. With observational drawing I really try to mentally picture the forms I'm rendering as I make my marks. Visualizing the edges and the shadow regions seems silly since I'm looking at the subject, but I've found that my hand makes subtly better marks when engaged at that level. Keeping my mind thinking in 3d helps as well when I render from my minds eye. The hope is that this will lead to more dynamic compositions and realized forms.
Franceska: Do you have a favourite colour or palette and if so how has it changed over the years?
Joel: My color sense is naturally quite poor, years of fooling around with color digitally has made me more fearless in experimenting, but it's still a struggle every time. I tend to rely on the concepts of unity and color relationships to fill my canvas. By the time my current project is finished, it will reflect the seven roy g biv colors. Because of this, as I get further into the series the color choices are less choices and more by necessity and design. I like using compliments and particular symbolic groupings adding an extra layer to the choices whenever I can. When I get a chance to attend figure drawing sessions I tend to work with ink washes, particularly an orange and blue wash in addition to black ink. There is a strange glowing quality to it that I enjoy. Other than that, I don't believe I gravitate toward anything in particular.
Franceska: Do you have any favourite books/comics that you refer back to often or that made an impact on who you are today?
Joel: My general visual curiosity flows from Greek mythology into Greek sculpture then the renaissance (Michelangelo, da Vinci), surrealism, and then dives into fantasy art in the vein of Frank Frazetta and smashes into superhero comics. By middle school I was hooked and knew fantastical art was what I wanted to do. As I've gotten older I've moved away from those figures and while digging into the lineage of comic books, movies, and videogames found new touchstones. I've started making connections among the various things that captured my attention and that eventually lead me into the realm of Jean Giraud Moebius. He has become a weird magnetic figure in my creative journey. I am much less attracted to raw skill anymore and find myself drawn to creators that have a very strong personal style. (Mike Mignola, Kilian Eng, Katsuya Terada, the list goes on)
Franceska: What are your goals for your future in the arts?
Joel: I mentioned this already, but really it's just “keep going, keep making”. In high school and college we would always have to make our artist statement and really the only thing I ever wanted was to make something cool, and that is still true. My definition of “cool” has changed, but I really just want to make stuff that ignites the same spark of creativity that I've been juiced with so many times.
Franceska: What projects are you working on currently and can you share what they are if possible?
Joel: As far as personal projects the main one is called “The Magi” It's a halfway complete series of paintings with accompanying music tracks provided and mutually inspired by my good friend Christian Kriegeskotte. Also, recently a children's book that I illustrated was published digitally on Amazon called “Robert the Robot: and the Ocular Resonators.” Instead of a moral or ethical lesson the goal is to give a lesson on socializing. Other than that, too many ideas that are nebulously waiting to be plucked from the ether.
Thank you so much Joel for agreeing to be interviewed! I'll continue to be a big fan of your work and probably you'll find more fans following this interview!
To follow Joel and keep up to date with his artwork then please follow these links:
If you enjoyed reading about Joel and would like to read more artist interviews then please check back every Friday at 9am UK time for more.
My name is Franceska McCullough and I'm the owner and artist of Toothpickmoon. Here I will share my studio practice in all it's forms.
*Disclosure: The links I'm using on this blog will only ever relate to the products I myself use in my own practice.