Lovely Sarah Coghill - photo provided by her daughter, Catherine Mun-Gavin
My mum drawing in the sand
Last Sunday it was Mother's Day in America which is where my mum lives so though I live in another country, I wanted to share with everyone how much of an influence she is in my life, especially as she was one of the reasons I also became an artist. I really wish I lived closer so we could see each other more often. My family is split across two countries and it's quite challenging and lonely to be so far apart from those I love. So I offer this blog post as a virtual hug to my mum for what I'm calling Happy Mother's Week!
When I was growing up, I had two very inspiring creative women in my early explorations in the arts and those two women were my wonderful mother, Juliette McCullough and her dear friend, Sarah Coghill, both figurative oil painters. I was accustomed to being the subject of many of my mothers paintings and drawings and watching her mix colours and paint in her studio. I remember sitting and listening in fascination to the conversations between my mother and her friend Sarah when we would visit and it was in those early years that I knew I would also be an artist.
From being a silent witness in both my mother's studio and Sarah's studio, I came to understand the set up of the palette and techniques and peculiarities of each artist. I grew up loving the rich aroma of linseed oil and the course scratchiness of palette knives across treated glass palettes. I learned to stretch a canvas by the age of two, was encouraged to discuss my opinions on art in a curatorial setting in exhibitions and studios and had thumbed through epic art book collections by the age of ten. No art school could do what my mother and Sarah did for me and I'm so aware how precious this upbringing was.
My mother's paintings are gritty and full of the deep souls of our human existence - they thrum with their own heartbeat and I regard many of her works that she did during my childhood as equal as family members. They are well loved and intense and part of the fabric of the imagery that shaped me. Now her paintings are full of sinews and living textures that make her work come to life under the veil of paint. There are not words to accurately describe what I want to say about my mother's paintings, except that they are paintings that need to be shared because their message is something we need to have in our eyes because it shows us our own humanity which is so important.
Sarah's paintings were like memories captured in a single moment, imbued with a colour intensity that poured into me as a synesthete and in colour spoke a language unwritten in words that for me was lyrical and poetic and full of the wind and sun and smell of the grass. Sarah seemed to channel the earth we stood on when she painted, it was rich and intense and echoed with family and friendships like a woven tapestry. I miss her dearly.
My mother sculpts with oil paint. She is able to dig deep and pull to the surface of the painting, beings that we encounter in our subconscious to which my mother has somehow found the key to all that roots us to who we are in this existence and it awes me daily. She fuels my own artistic journey, especially in my own teaching because of course when I was young, my mother was my teacher. I did go to art school but it was my mother who taught me colour theory and how to actually "see" colour. It is now her teaching methods that I employ in my own teaching to my students. There is something really magical about learning to actually "see" and understand how to draw and paint that makes every blank paper or canvas a treat.
So as far as mothers go, I have been incredibly fortunate! I'm genuinely grateful of the regular conversations I have with my mother, Juliette, on all things art related which keeps me firmly footed on this earth as the artist I am because of the journey she set me on over forty years ago.
So Happy Mother's Week to my mum, Juliette and to Sarah too - the biggest impacts in my life as an artist.
One of Sarah's paintings - provided by her daughter, Catherine Mun-Gavin
I feel like I'm a participant in her painting.....it's like I'm buffeted by the wind, and can feel the sun and smell the air. It's glorious and I want to inhale deep to capture it all!
I've been creating miniature tide pools inside oyster shells which has been fun, smelly and time consuming! Two examples here from my project of clear resin filled oyster shells with blue ink and iridescent pearl, silver and gold paint.
I began by submerging the shells in distilled white vinegar which was quite an interesting science experiment and made the entire flat smell like smelly feet......an unexpected eye watering treat!
I used a lot of sandpaper as well as a metal engraver to get down to the original pearly surface of the shells. I'm thinking that the next oyster shells I work on should be glow in the dark and painted in patterns.....so I'm looking forward to collecting more oyster shells!
I've got a selection of old broken clay pipes also from the same Thames foreshore visit previously mentioned in last weeks post, in which I'm now planning to draw with black ink. Apparently there's another artist out there who makes them into jewelry which is interesting but not really my thing. So illustrating them and then sculpting with them seems to be the next course of events.
What do you think of my two oyster shells shared here?
As mentioned in previous posts, my blog schedule is changing as I'm trying to accommodate a career adjustment back into freelance mode so these #MaterialMondays will be a weekly event and cover whatever I'm currently working on in my studio while I'll still interview other artists but only on a monthly basis as well as I'll be writing about the latest art exhibitions I've been to every other Thursday of the month.
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In studio lately, I've been fixated on dragon eggs and have begun to create my own little miniature scene of multicoloured dragon eggs in what I hope will be a phosphorescent den that I'm going to insert into a miniature I've been working on for the last few years. These eggs are made from assorted Fimo clay and are entirely of my imagination.
See below a detail of part of the miniature I've been building. I don't think the eggs will go in that space but perhaps in a dark exterior somewhere.
Meanwhile, aside from making miniatures, I've been drawing in the Victoria & Albert Museum and it's been a bit of a struggle this last week as my interest in model making has taken over. This week too, I received a rejection email from the Royal Drawing School who have for whatever reason decided that my drawing abilities are not good enough for their graduate programme.
(I should point out that I'm not unfamiliar with rejections because I receive hundreds a month from either job applications or art opportunities, but enough is enough. I wanted a boost out of poverty and struggle and the Royal Drawing School would have offered the boost I needed but never mind.....moving on)
So this last week, I've decided to ditch my five year long pointless job search and return to being a freelance artist instead which just means no days off, lots of work and hopefully more income than the last time I tried to live like this! Previously, I worked as a freelance artist from the late 1990's to 2014 but having struggled with the instability of the work, I broke away to try to find a steady job because I was longing for financial stability but apparently that isn't going to happen so it's back to freelance. Joy. I'm hopeful that this time around, it's easier because I'm that much wiser! (insert sarcasm here!)
Being a freelance artist feels like I'm walking a plank over sharks or something and each time I take a step, I've got to build the plank ahead of me in order to survive as an artist. Here's hoping I don't fall in!
So I've been actively involved in attending meetup groups and even organising my own events all of course related in some way to my own art practice. I've also given myself a challenge for the Cast Courts at the Victoria & Albert Museum as I feel like my drawing ability has been knocked down a notch from that rejection so I'm going to revamp my technique and try to crank out some well worked drawings while just focusing on the sculptures by Michelangelo.
Below, an image taken the other day in the Cast Courts. I've got to now work on compositions that are interesting and not typical so that I can push myself in drawing.
And lastly below this an image of some of the items discovered along the Thames foreshore when I joined an event lead by the London Cultureseekers, a group on Meetup. It was an interesting day listening to what the archaeologist had to say and show, as well as discovering for myself all the fascinating finds along the shoreline and then conversing with other members about previous discoveries they've made. As suggested by the London Cultureseekers organiser Robert, I'm trying to find ways to make these finds into some sort of art project so I'll hopefully update with this project in the coming weeks.
This blog title, River Monsters, referring to my ridiculous fear of deep dark water and the only monsters spotted during this event were in my imagination, thankfully!
I must say, it was absolutely fascinating and I'll definitely do it again, with hopefully a more knowledgeable eye and less jumpiness to the churning dark river!
If you're keen to follow me and my ongoing art projects then please stay tuned each Monday at 9am UK time for more #MaterialMondays.
If you simply cannot wait till next Monday then quickly step over to my 4 instagram accounts where I update my art projects daily:
To check out my meetup group then please go to: London Art Museum Creatives
If you're interested in archaeology and other cultural events in London then check out my friend, Robert's meetup group: London Cultureseekers
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've been enjoying exploring the many ways to create using Polymer Clay and as you can see from the above photo, I created a little bowl.
I'm enjoying the many many ways in which to make canes with all variety of patterns and colours and the delight when you slice through the cane to see what kind of pattern has been created! I'm not following any specific pattern but am just playing with ideas for now.
I have many things to perfect and still make quite a lot of mistakes some of which have lead to accidental beauty such as this bowl! I'm using it as a ring dish for my jewelry which is now helping to organise my bedside table!
I'd like to explore unconventional experiments and make little pieces of furniture for containing the multiple ingredients for my miniatures and will update my instagram accounts as much as possible with these discoveries so do follow my four instagram profiles for more if you'd like to follow this process:
@Mirmarnia, @Toothpickmuse, @Draco_Ganymede, and @11MillionHands
*To follow Material posts stay tuned every Monday 9am UK time for 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.
I'm taking a two week break to give myself proper time to focus on a career change. So if you've been following this blog for exhibition reviews, please return in two weeks time from today to see more reviews of exhibitions here in London.
Thank you for reading my blog thus far and do stay tuned for more!
My Material Mondays blog posts will continue as I'm always making something so it's easier to share those!
*Photo taken by Juliana Graham - penpal, adventurer, friend, time-tabler, and friend of hamsters
This week for this Material Monday, I thought I'd share with you my recent studio experiments using wire as a sculpting tool.
As you see in the above video, I've been making a series of wire circles that I'm linking together with no real objective other than to create a sort of layer of these circles. If you're familiar with my ink drawings and my toothpick sculptures, you'll know that I have a fascination in repetitive patterns so of course the repetitive circles seem to be having a similar pull.
With my toothpick sculptures, I'm constantly focused on trying to conquer the straight line and to create curves and this is no different except that it's going the reverse: In repeating these circles, I'm trying to explore how I can create a linear structure using curves! What is my obsession with this?! It has been going for over two decades now!
So at the moment, I've spent a few hours each day just creating circles so as with my other work, it's rather time consuming but fun. I will post updates as I progress so if you'd like to keep up to date on this process then please follow my instagram accounts: @toothpickmuse and @Draco_Ganymede
*If you would like to see more Material Monday's then please stay tuned every Monday at 9am UK time for more!
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!
My name is Franceska McCullough and I'm the owner and artist of Toothpickmoon. I'm interested in blogging about art materials, art events and conducting artist interviews.
*Disclosure: The links I'm using on this blog will only ever relate to the products I myself use in my own practice.