Arty Bit

With Barry Whitehouse of the Artery, Banbury

When someone criticises your art

I know all too well how scary it can be to sell your art work or to put on display with a view of selling it. People’s comments can be harsh, hurtful and cruel, especially if they do not know you were in earshot! When I held my first large exhibition at the age of seventeen, I used to hang around the gallery and listen to the comments. After the initial shock at how scathing some of the words were, and the huge dent in my ego, I sat and thought about them, and read the comments left in the visitor’s book which I always did. I noticed one thing: the comments in the visitor’s book were full of support and encouragement (which you’d expect), which is a stark contrast of several visitor’s real thoughts.

This realisation helped me get a more grounded view. It wasn’t that my work was hated by everyone, far from it as was evident from the many handwritten note in the book, but the comments that I saw as hugely critical could be used to my advantage. Some comments were just personal opinion so I learned to acknowledge it and move on, but other comments were actually really constructive. These were the people that are prospective customers so it was good to know what they liked and didn’t like. Even though it made me feel like giving up and hanging up my paintbrush initially, I used those comments and improved my work. I made sure I didn’t just have the cheapest frames I could find to just get them on the wall, I looked at how I could make my work less ‘twee’ and more commercial. It ended up as a fun and exciting learning curve on the journey of being an artist!

Art Surgery

In the Studio with Artist Liz Dixon

Liz is a predominantly self-taught artist, having originally trained as an engineer. She worked in both the Defence & Automotive industries for 26 years before taking the leap to change career when she discovered textile sculpture in 2011. Since then, Liz has exhibited at a number of galleries across the UK & has taken part in Oxfordshire Art Weeks, Warwickshire Open Studios & the South Northamptonshire Art Trail.

In May 2014, Liz became a certified trainer of the Powertex range of Art supplies & now runs workshops from her Artistic ReTreats studio in rural Northamptonshire as well as undertaking commission work & taking bookings for talks & demos at craft organisations.

Where do you get the inspiration for your animal portraits?

My art is inspired by the recycled materials around me – some found, some donated, some sourced for a specific task.  Textiles & texture are the common themes running through each unique piece, with designs often growing organically as each theme is developed. By looking at the world specifically through the lens of shape, form & textural properties it is possible to incorporate everyday objects & textiles into my art in unexpected ways, finding that ‘just right’ item for each individual piece.

How do you create your fabulous art work?

Each sculpture starts with a simple armature.  This can be made from a range of items including empty bottles, fencing wire, chicken wire, tin foil & more, depending on the size of the piece I am making & what raw materials I have around me.  More complex shapes are achieved by breaking the structure down into a series of simpler shapes to build up to the whole.

Textiles form a big part of my art, both for 2D canvas work & sculptural pieces. My studio is filled with piles of textiles, differing in weight & texture, but all made from natural fibre materials – cotton, T-shirt jersey, denim, hessian, silk, lace, stockinette, paper, cardboard, and more… Each material gives a different textural finish.

Textiles are dipped or painted using a water-based, non-toxic, environmentally-friendly sculpting medium from the Powertex product range, which sets natural fibre materials hard & weather resistant.  This allows recycled textiles to be turned into sculpture & outdoor artworks, but the medium is versatile enough  to also create canvases, air-drying clays, crackle effects, stone effects & more by applying the medium in different ways or in conjunction with other products from the range.

The dipped fabric is draped over the armature or onto the canvas whilst wet & is allowed to air dry before dry brushing with a pigment/varnish mix to bring out the fine details of the textured surfaces.  Layers of pigment are applied to build up a depth of colour & even fine details such as individual cotton threads can be defined at this stage.  Generally the more texture on the surface of the piece, the better the result at the dry brushing stage.

Total drying time for each piece is 3 weeks at room temperature.  This is to allow for all the water content to completely dry out, leaving a weather resistant finish suitable for year round, outdoor display.

What advice would you give aspiring artists?

  • Be patient, & invest time in really learning your craft.
  • Be confident to show your work – I speak to so many aspiring artists who are nervous about showing their work in exhibitions for fear of critique.  Remember that art is subjective – no piece of art (even by the most famous artists) is loved by everyone – you just need ONE person to love the art enough to want it in their home.
  • Take time to network with other artists.  Talk, learn from each other, exchange techniques, visit exhibitions & galleries….  This is how we develop our art practices & hear about new exhibition opportunities.

Liz’s fisherman sculpture was originally created for World Book Day, and is based on the poem ‘The Fisherman’ by Abbie Farwell Brown for an exhibition entitled ‘The Art of Poetry’ at Obsidian Art

Gallery, Bucks

The Fisherman – by Abbie Farwell Brown 1871-1927

The fisherman goes out at dawn
When every one’s abed,
And from the bottom of the sea
Draws up his daily bread.

His life is strange ; half on the shore
And half upon the sea —
Not quite a fish, and yet not quite
The same as you and me.

The fisherman has curious eyes ;
They make you feel so queer,
As if they had seen many things
Of wonder and of fear.

They’re like the sea on foggy days, —
Not gray, nor yet quite blue ;
They ‘re like the wondrous tales he tells
Not quite — yet maybe — true.

He knows so much of boats and tides,
Of winds and clouds and sky !
But when I tell of city things,
He sniffs and shuts one eye !