What’s your first memory of art?
Well, I don’t remember this at all but I am always told the story of my first encounter with art. There are a lot of artists in my family, but at an age when I should have been starting to scribble I couldn’t even hold a pencil, so my Mum thought I wasn’t going to be artistic. But then my Grandma, who is a fantastic painter, got out a big sheet of paper and lots of coloured pens and pencils and just started drawing. I was fascinated and joined in, and that was that!
What was your big breakthrough? Career high so far?
Undoubtedly being selected to paint Rex for the Shaun in the City trail – I doubt any of my work will get quite that exposure ever again! It’s a fantastic project, it’s for such a good cause and it’s so accessible, it gets people and families of all ages and all backgrounds out and about enjoying art. I’ve loved just standing outside the RWA and watching people with Rex, I find it so rewarding that these 120 giant painted sheep sculptures seem to make people happy, because in my mind the best thing art can do is make people smile.
Which artists do you turn to for inspiration?
I’m inspired by stories as much as anything else, and my work always has a strong narrative element, or at least a feeling that there must be a story behind it. I studied English Literature and German at University, and in particular I loved fairy tales (the original Grimm or Anderson ones, not the modern sanitised ones!) and Edwardian children’s literature such as Alice in Wonderland and the Wind in the Willows. So actually a lot of the artists I admire are illustrators – Arthur Rackham, Quentin Blake, Shirley Hughes, Alexis Deacon… When I did work experience in theatre set painting in Berlin for a month, I was told to reproduce a piece of work on a large scale as practise. Where most students chose old masters, I took a John Tenniel Illustration from Alice in Wonderland, so now I have a giant 2m backdrop with the scene from the Mock Turtle’s story taking up an entire wall in my bedroom. In September I am starting an MA in children’s book illustration at Anglia Ruskin in Cambridge under Martin Salisbury, so I will really be able to combine my love of art with my love of stories. It will also be the first time I have had any real art tuition since A-level – so far I’ve been completely self-taught.
What is your studio like?
My studio is our spare bedroom in our tiny attic flat. It’s got lovely big windows and as we’re quite high up you can see for a long way which is really nice. At the moment it’s a complete tip, we’ve had so many visitors coming to see Rex that it’s been mainly used as a guest room and there’s not much room to work in there. It can also get a bit lonely – one day I’d love to get studio space somewhere with lots of other artists around, so I’d have people there to inspire me and share hour-long tea breaks with.
I like good old fashioned pencil and paper best. I prefer oil to acrylic as I find acrylic dries too quickly, and I’ve been gradually trying to teach myself to use watercolour and gouache which has been a big challenge! Recently I’ve really enjoyed experimenting with lino printing, I can’t get enough of it.
Do you still find art difficult, and if so why?
Yes, very. My partner Erik is doing a PhD in glaciology at the University in Bristol, something which you would think would have little in common with art, and yet we encounter all the same difficulties – struggling to motivate yourself, managing your own time, learning how to network, and always thinking that everyone else is somehow better than you!
Apart from art, what’s your biggest talent?
I’d say my other biggest passion is music. I play the cello with the Bristol Metropolitan Orchestra, which I love. There’s nothing quite like being right in the middle of a full size symphony orchestra playing full tilt, and you discover so much good music.
You can find out more about Beth and see more of her work here