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!
This week I'm giving myself a rest so instead of giving a review of an exhibition I've seen here in London, I'm opening up my own creative space to you to share with you where I work, what I have on display, what I'm working on and chances to come and tour my workspace for yourself.
I work in my tiny bedroom which is limiting for obvious reasons. The majority of my art materials live in various sealed containers under my bed which is a sort of slapped together storage unit made from two mattress boxes - my flatmate helped me put them together so I could cut out the front fabric, elevate my bed and have massive storage spaces for all the materials I need. It works but it's challenging too. My room is the width of the length of my bed, if that makes any sense. I also have a wardrobe, desk, chair, 3 bookshelves and a bedside table. It's like living in a walnut!
Because of the cramped space, any sculptures that I do have live on the ceiling, with the biggest sculpture languishing on top of one of the bookcases. I try to keep organised but it does get quite overwhelming sometimes. The majority of my finished paintings/drawings end up either on the walls or leaning up against the walls where ever space can be found. I often fantasise about having a bigger studio space again but that would only work if I was actually successful in my ongoing job search and could afford to move somewhere with more space.....still trying.
At night, all my sculptures and some of my miniatures glow which is quite enjoyable.
I'd happily show off my little creative workspace with anyone interested so please get in touch if you are in London and would like to see what it's like for artists like myself who have to work in tiny spaces. My email is: firstname.lastname@example.org
Above is the main wall of work where I put old and new 2D work, partly to give myself inspiration and also to get it out of the way.
Fibonacci Fold Pod - one of the largest sculptures I have here in London that takes up space on top of a bookshelf.
Above, miniatures in various stages of progress on the top shelf of a bookcase.
Above - at the foot of my bed, one of my mother, Juliette McCullough's drawings and a scattering of my own work, old and new.
Sketchbooks on the floor, the only place other than the bed where I can put projects half in progress.
Above - miniature chairs mixed in with toys, books and jewelry that is part of my bedside shelf/table!
Above, a few ceiling sculptures, drawings/paintings and a viking shield prop that's at the head of my bed.
Above - at night all my sculptures and some miniatures will glow.
I've been experimenting for the last few weeks with just hot glue and wax paper. I wanted to see if I could build with just hot glue by creating stencils that I could glue together to create sturdier structures.
So far it's remained an experiment and is just purely for fun. I've yet to figure out how I can use this method to make something substantial.
Here are some images of the stencils and what I've created:
I enjoy the shadows cast by the structures much more than the structures themselves.
A fun experiment that I am enjoying. The only big issue is that I wish I could control the amount of glue coming out of the gun as it's difficult to create strong sturdy strands or avoid the typical gloopiness of hot glue.
A video I made below of the process with some cheesy music:
Well nothing more to really share about this, aside from it's a fun experiment so if you have a hot glue gun, some wax paper and some time then this is a good way to explore sculpting and drawing at the same time.
If you want to see my other experiments and processes in my art studio then please follow me on instagram. I have four profiles:
Mirmarnia - mainly for illustrations
Toothpickmuse - for processes and experiments
Draco_Ganymede - for sculptures/model making
11MillionHands - for my ongoing art activist peace project
*If you enjoyed this Material Monday post then please stay tuned every Monday 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.
Today I went to see the Emma Kunz exhibition at the Serpentine Gallery as I'm fascinated by artists working in geometry. This artist was unusual and difficult to find out about prior to visiting as she never exhibited her work during her lifetime and is for the first time being exhibited in the UK. She is completely unknown and yet quite fascinating.
Apparently she was a healer and had telepathic tendencies and the ability to heal others using her craft. It seems that her pendulum drawings were tools in her trade. She didn't title them and seems to have only used them as a way of learning how to treat the various people she encountered who came to her looking for treatments for their different ailments. I find it fascinating that the benches in the galleries are made from a stone that is from Switzerland and imbued with healing qualities which were sculpted by artist, Christodoulos Panayioutou. The idea here is to sit on these benches and meditate on Emma's work and perhaps glean some form of healing for yourself in the process.
I sat on one of these benches and got cold and had to put my coat back on. I'm not entirely sure how I feel about the work but I do like the peaceful feeling in the galleries as her work has a very calming quality so perhaps something is at work here. I'm sure the people that benefit the most are the lucky gallery attendants who work there who are all so sweet and lovely to talk to.
Highly recommend a visit to the exhibition as its so nice coming to the Serpentine anyway, especially on a lovely spring day and also because Emma Kunz's work is very intriguing and if you allow yourself a good hour to go around quietly and just to sit and meditate then it's a very liberating experience.
See below my images from the exhibition:
This is one of the benches you can sit on to meditate at the work. A bit chilly but quite a nice place to sit and contemplate.
I loved this image.....
This is the biggest room with lots of Emma's work all over the walls and a wonderful light coming through from above. A great place to meditate if you're lucky enough to have the room to yourself.
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*If you enjoyed this exhibition review then stay tuned every Thursday at 9am UK time for more!
As an artist, I try to make myself create something daily even if the something never develops into what I would define as successful so I feel this is an important topic.
I've always known I would be an artist.....growing up in a very creative family almost defined my path before I knew it myself because the creative path seemed the most logical. During my childhood, I was accustomed to what "studio time" meant because my father had to practice the piano because it was his profession and my mother had to paint because it was her profession so when I was young and took time out of my regular routine to create, I was left to make those discoveries on my own. So when I got to art school as a young art student, making time to create in studio was as much a part of the day as anything else. But being in art school put more pressure on what we created because an art school's objective is to get us into the idea that we must produce work which will define us, show our "style" and give us a map as to where we should go next. It was in art school that I realised I thought differently than what my teachers wanted from me and that changed who I was as an artist.
To me, the product that comes from the act of creating isn't as important as the journey it took to get there. Luckily, I get to keep the best part for myself as process can't be priced and sold! It can be wasted however which riles me very much as you will see later on in this post.
So since art school, over twenty years ago, I've relished every ounce of "studio time" I've had as it is where I try and attempt many different thought processes and though often this results in failure in terms of not producing a finished piece, it does offer me a chance to learn about my material and what I'm trying to develop.
So I'm sharing with you today, some previous attempts......followed by failures of projects where I've tried something and tried again and tried again and not yet succeeded to achieve the results I'm looking for. I don't really know what I'm trying to do except that I'm trying to push a material to the limits of my own understanding of it to see what happens and if I'm lucky enough to go beyond that limit, then evolution occurs and I move on to the next level of trying and failures and successes......
Below is a speed video I've created where I've been working with sliced up toilet paper rolls, coloured paper and hot glue as sculpting materials.......I abandoned this process about 4 hours in and binned the product because it wasn't going where I had wanted it to go but the process brought out another idea which is slowly developing.
Above, the image is of a backdrop in a theatre production that I did many years ago for the Hockaday School in Dallas Texas for their 8th grade musical, Oliver!
I spent about 2 months working on this, was paid very little and was then unrecognised for the work on opening night. Still riles me that I wasted so many precious studio hours on something like this but then everything is a learning experience. I learned from this that I can demand more money for a job and that I can also turn it down if it will not forward my career as an artist. To work for little to nothing is commendable......if you're financially stable and have time to spend. Many lessons learned from this job!
The actual production of Oliver was of course a success and I must make it clear that I was glad to be invited to paint the backdrop to be part of their production. To do a 10 ft by 40 ft drop like that for limited funds and then have none of the organisers recognise my work is a bit frustrating but it did the job of giving me a much needed life lesson so it was a good experience in that sense. I do also enjoy giving of myself to help others but in this instance, I gave too much at a time when being valued monetarily would have been greatly appreciated.
This photo above is of myself standing in London Bridge station holding my sculpture, "Fibonacci Fold Pod" as my friend took a picture as it isn't everyday that you see a massive toothpick sculpture in a train station - we were transporting it across London to St. Albans a few years ago after it spent some time on top of a wardrobe of a friend in Clapham.
I see this style of sculpting as an experiment that lasted many years but has now evolved and adapted to something smaller (living in a city in a tiny room has made this necessary) and I think more exciting. In 2011, I built this sculpture to be part of one of the first exhibitions by Parallax Art Fair and it was a fun time which resulted in being quite out of pocket due to not selling at the art fair which was the beginning of my dislike of art fairs in general. This sculpture has travelled with me for several years since that exhibition and it now languishes, half broken on top of a tall bookshelf in my very tiny bedroom but even though it's broken, I keep it.....and I'm not sure why. I don't work in that style any longer.....it is literally the last dinosaur before my sculpting methods evolved but it continues to live on top of the bookshelf........I do see it as a failure in some senses but I still love it for the memories I developed making it which ultimately led to my style evolving.
So I'd say that failure in art is part of it......you need failure in order to succeed so then trying and sitting down to create every day is a necessity for every artist because it's possible that the processes and failures are the next stepping stones to the next success or evolution and that is everything! The trick is to find the determination to keep going when faced with multiple failures.....that's tough and really challenging.....look at my unrelenting job searching. I've been trying.....and failing to find a job for five years now. But I still revise my CV and still seek out and retrain to stay up to date in my profession and I still apply to nearly fifty jobs a week because at some point, whether it's today, tomorrow, next week, next month, next year or in a few years......I'll eventually succeed but only as long as I keep trying.....
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*If you enjoy reading these Material posts then stay tuned every Monday 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.
Yesterday I visited the Estorick Collection of Modern Italian Art in Islington, North London. A new friend from my very active London Art Museum Creatives meetup group suggested it to me and I've been eager to see what it's all about.
Being a Contemporary British Sculptor myself, I'm intrigued by other artists work especially artwork well known in other countries. I find it's really nice to have a different perspective and as I really love most things Italian, it was a fun visit.
Firstly, it's a very short walk from Highbury & Islington train station with the walk meandering through the nice residential neighbourhood of Canonbury. The building that the gallery is in is very nice and recently had some renovations. It's quite nice inside and has the temporary exhibition on the ground floor and the more permanent collection on the floors above. There's also a nice little shop and cafe and garden too as well as a library. I went on a very rainy cold day so I'm sure it's much nicer outside in their garden on sunny warm days!
The history of the building was very interesting too. Apparently the gallery takes its name from that of Eric Estorick who was an American writer and sociologist who was gathering an art collection after the Second World War while living here in England. Turns out he and his wife were regular visitors to Italy and were very lucky to meet and befriend many popular artists during this time. You can see by his collection that he was very inspired by Futurist paintings coming out of modern Italian art just after the war as he has many great masterpieces from artists of that time period.
The gallery has other works too that are unrelated to Futurism and they're just as fascinating and quite a lovely hidden gem in this very crowded city! I can't tell you how glorious it was to be alone in these galleries and to have the artwork all to myself without millions of tourists all around like in the major art museums not too far away.
Cost to get in is minimal which is great. I paid just £7.50 to get into both the permanent collection as well as the temporary exhibit so that was a bonus!
So the Fausto Melotti Counterpoint exhibition has only recently begun on the 16th of January and will run until the 7th of April 2019 so do try to see it if you can. Apparently according to what I read in the gallery, this artist is very well known in Italy but hardly noted here in the U.K. which is a shame as his work is rather interesting. The first moment I entered the room, I was intrigued by his interests in the languages of music and mathematics and his visual interpretation of these combinations. Of course, art and science fascinates me so to see how another artist weaves their own visual perspective using their own explorations in the sciences is very interesting indeed. There were a few works that I didn't completely understand and it would have been great to have an explanation nearby. There were a few other pieces that I did wonder about mostly because they peaked my imagination in either the title or the material used. Please refer to the images above to make your own speculations of his work.
An interesting exhibition but lacking in explanations to those of us who don't know the artist very well and his visual interpretations. Though if I want to learn more, all I have to do is google this artist but not many people will research further so I'd say it's a pity the gallery didn't offer a little bit more for those of us unfamiliar with each piece and what it means or represents. I'd love to have had more details in the labels so I could have understood more. Interesting exhibition otherwise.
Some examples of this at the top of the page:
top two images are by Fausto Melotti,
bottom two images are by Gino Severini (Quaker Oats - Cubist Still Life)
and Giuditta Scalini (Acrobats).
If you'd like to visit the gallery for yourself please follow the links below:
*If you enjoy reading about different exhibitions I've been to and would like to see more like this then please stay tuned every Thursday at 9am UK time.
One of the area's I love to work in as an artist is in model making - in miniatures. For some reason, a tiny version of a man made space fascinates me. Capturing textures to make my miniatures look close to life sized versions is an ongoing exploration. I do love brickwork and creating run down or impossibly imaginative spaces like this image above of the warehouse facade I created recently. The idea is that it is supposed to look like it has been built on multiple times so there are old bricks mixed with new and a great deal of wear and tear, indicating a long history and a very run down feel to it.
Last year, I retrained in model making techniques, mostly to enhance my own skills and to give myself a better chance at employment. Unfortunately, I've yet to find a job with these skills but I'm still trying and meanwhile still learning as I discover new techniques.
So here below, I'm including a technique I have perfected....making semi realistic bricks using foam board. It is my objective to try to find ways to make model making easy to do with limited materials primarily because model making materials are expensive. In this video demonstration below, I'm only using a bit of foam board with a scalpel blade, a mechanical pencil and a metal ruler. Though I've re-trained with Leigh Took of Mattes and Miniatures from Creative Media Skills at Pinewood Studios as well as David Neat here in London, I have always tried to make my materials basic and affordable. This technique below was first discovered from my time studying with David and then perfected after studying with Leigh. I think the use of the mechanical pencil as a sculpting tool is just as important as the scalpel. Using black foam board is deliberate too as it helps to have a black background before painting so that any cuts made afterwards helps define the shapes you're cutting out.
For painting afterwards, which I didn't include, you can just lightly dry brush faint reds, oranges and browns over the surface with a sponge to create realistic looking bricks.
Studying model making techniques with David Neat is great to learn about precision and how to accurately measure to create very tidy miniatures that are ultra realistic. He has a book out too which I bought and still refer to often. I did enjoy his classes but I'm too much of a free spirit and if he sees my video above, I'm sure he'll cringe at how badly I measure out the bricks but as a sculptor, I do like to "feel" my way around my work rather than seriously follow rules.
Studying with Leigh Took at Creative Media Skills was so opposite of David's classes. Leigh is more relaxed and makes experiments much more. He does of course follow measurements and so forth but not to the point where it stops him from making discoveries along the way. When I took the Miniature Model Making course at Creative Media Skills, it was the happiest week where I worked on a team with other model makers all creating one dystopian city together! One of Leigh's miniature brick making methods were to save time which is far different from David's methods. I like both methods I think. Once I have similar material to his method, I'll add another demonstration as I've used it a few times in variations with very interesting results each time.
I learned so much and experimented and discovered and really grew my skills which was wonderful! I wish it could result in finding a job in the industry!
Below is an image of the tiny miniature chairs with a little brick wall that I made in David's class:
And here's a picture I took of our final dystopian scene while in Leigh Took's Miniature Model Making class:
And below this a close up shot of the building I made:
I've always made sculptures and miniatures in particular have been a fascination since I was very young. Really sparks the imagination for some reason!
I find that I can get very excited about brickwork or architectural textures in general just while out and about and have far too many photos on my phone of close ups of textures because I'm always trying to understand how I can make something in miniature form. Brickwork being one of the most fascinating!
I'd highly recommend both David Neat and Leigh Took as model making teachers as they've taught me so much and if I had lots of money, I'd take their classes again just to freshen up and to have a lovely time! Also if you want to buy David's book then follow this link: Model-Making: Materials and Methods by David Neat
All red highlighted words are links to related content.
*If you enjoy these Materials/techniques posts then please return every Monday at 9am 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.