Being a self-taught illustrator, over the years I have nearly created a course of study of my own by researching interesting books that could help me develop my artistic voice. I have read books on art, painters, illustration, artistic techniques, etc; some have inspired me to develop, others have simply given me a broader perspective on how to work in such a competitive environment. However, one thing I haven’t come across so far is a book that discusses creativity itself, without becoming a psychology treatise or philosophical essay. I am curious to find out how ideas are generated, and what artists do when they get stuck.
How do you keep creating? What do you do to stay motivated? This is why I decided to stop searching for books and go out there, talking to artists around me. The first person that came to mind was, quite obviously, Alice White. Being her assistant, I spend lots of time in her studio and it came natural to me to bring the subject up and ask her a deluge of questions.
What follows is a dialogue we had on Friday, I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.
Q: Hello Alice! So, what inspires you to start a new project?
A: Normally, the contents of my sketchbook inspire me. I build up source material in there and occasionally I hit on a very good image, which I then take on to be a painting.
Q: Have you ever been stuck for ideas?
A: I can’t remember a time when I have been stuck for ideas because, even if I don’t have an image in mind, I have a texture or a colour range that I want to investigate. So I am always searching for answers to questions that are constantly being posed in my mind.
Q: Is there someone in particular who inspires you?
A: There are certain filmmaker-painter friends that I have that inspire me because I admire their work ethic, but I am also inspired by the likes of people like Toulouse-Latrec and Francis Bacon, just to name a couple; Picasso’s output, his sheer, dogged output…constantly painting. The way in which these people worked, their final artwork aside, that approach steals me, fuels me in times of concern or quiet.
Q: What makes you laugh?
A: Charlie Brooker makes me laugh. I do actually watch a lot of comedy, and I listen to a lot of radio, radio comedy.
Q: what piece of advice would you give to a young artist who hasn’t yet developed his/her style?
A: Work! Produce a lot of work. I know it is the most useless answer, almost the most frustrating answer, but you have to make work in order to know what work you are making.
Q: How did you develop your style?
A: Through blood, and sweat, and tears. Genuinely through making a lot of mistakes, a lot of technical mistakes, being very lost at times. Generally getting used to my own process, by just keeping making work.
Q: Do you have a preferred material that you like to work with?
A: Yes! I love oil paint, oil paint is always the answer for me.
Q: How much do you take into account other people’s opinion of your work?
A: The worst thing that can be ever said is that something is nice. If someone tells me a painting is nice it doesn’t help me, because it doesn’t tell me why it’s operating well or badly. So I prefer when people pick out a quality of the work that they like, or even a quality of the work they think that is failing. I respond very well to negative comments because I have a bit of a contentious attitude, I like to prove people wrong.
Q: Do you give yourself rules when you work?
A: My rules are in terms of technique, so there are certain techniques involved in oil paint, which make the process easier or more successful, that you develop through working with that material. Those are my rules, so to speak.
But in order to be a good technician you have to expand and experiment within those rules, so you have to keep questioning whether your rules still apply and keep challenging yourself.
Q: How do you keep your creativity alive? How do you feed it?
A: I guess the answer would be image and colour gathering. Source material, If I’m really, really stuck, I’ll just go and get material samples, that could be even just one chip of paint or a photographic series, or watching films, anything involving images or colour. It helps me keep the pilot light on.
Q: is there any project that you’re working on that you’d like to share with the readers of the blog?
A: I am producing a series of drawings on hand-mirrors, they are all real vintage mirrors, going back to the 1940’s and beforehand. I am drawing onto them using a laser cutter, and it’s an incredibly exciting process. I will be presenting that work by mid-April, and that’s one of the most exciting things I have happening at the moment. It will be tying in with an exhibition of work on the natural world, in which I am presenting animals from the natural world utilising luxury materials, such as gold pigment, presenting them as very valuable items. The works are valuable, but I am also trying to argue that the animals are too.
Thank you very much, Alice!