How do you create images that feel so rich and mysterious—instead of coming across as just random? What’s that thought process like?
I do think a lot—about my images and the symbolism—but I don’t think while I’m painting. I actually do painting to escape from thinking. I have a really overactive mind so it’s kind of my way of quieting my mind.
I do the thinking and reading and journaling when I’m not painting, and that’s where the ideas develop, and then painting is when I get to not think, which is a real relief and release for me. I think perhaps the mystery comes through the nonthinking part just as much as any research or planning—that is how I experience it anyway—this kind of magic that occurs when I’m in the flow.
Do you ever go for one particular feeling or vibe, and the end result has a different feeling or vibe—maybe one that’s equally good, just not what you were going for?
The mood—the emotion and feeling—that’s the thing I seem to be able to capture. If I have an image that I particularly want to create—a very fixed idea in my mind—and it doesn’t turn out that way, that’s more about the style or my technical ability. But the feeling seems to be something I can do.
I always like to ask people about how their location might influence their art, since our featured artists are from all over the world—and often live in interesting, beautiful places. You’re the first Scottish person we’ve had as our featured artist ...
I now live in a small town—just on the edge of it, so it’s still quite rural. Before moving here I lived in a really rural setting for 13 years.
And before that I lived in Spain, first in Barcelona and then in a tiny village, a very rural place. I definitely think that places affect my work. I did very different work when I lived in Barcelona.
I found it a challenge to get my mojo right in my new environment because I lived for such a long time in this really rural place, surrounded by nature all the time. It was beautiful. I had this big window in my studio that looked out onto trees. The winters could be tough, but beautiful. The arrival of spring was always such a relief! I like to feel attuned to the seasons and nature’s cycles. I certainly seem to find it easier to feel in the creative zone if I’m surrounded by nature.
If I knew what to look for and really studied your paintings, do you think I could see a Scottish influence?
Hmm, I don’t know. I think there are themes and mythologies from all over the world in my art. But there’s definitely Scottish folklore, and other northern, Norse, Nordic folklore. It’s predominantly northern animals as well that tend to feature more in my work. But I don’t know that you’d necessarily recognize a Scottish influence.
There are a lot of different people in your art—a lot of diversity. What led you to that? Why is that important to you?
If you look at my work 20 years ago, there’s one character who features in almost all of the images. I guess she was sort of representative of me, the journey I was experiencing.
People want to see themselves in images. I didn’t start out thinking that way—I was just trying to process and express my own experience and emotional journey. But then I realized that people like my work because they can relate, they can see themselves in the images—so I started to understand the importance of representing different people to make my work more accessible.
Quite a few years ago somebody contacted me and asked me to do paintings with people of color in them. She said, “It’s so hard to find art like yours that depicts children with brown skin, and I’d like for my daughter to be able to see herself in the worlds that you create.” At first I was a little uncomfortable, maybe I felt like I was being called out for not representing different ethnicities in my work, or I feared I’d be accused of cultural appropriation if I did, but then I realized that she was right, there needed to be more representation in the kind of art I do, so I took on what she suggested and I’m happy to report that the response to the greater representation in my work has been super positive.
Last question: Where would you like to go next, artistically?
I’m always looking to technically improve. And you know, I’d actually love to learn how to do tattoos. I really love tattoo art and I’d love to learn that. That’s my plan for when I’m an old lady. I’m going to become a kickass tattoo artist!
But generally, to continue to evolve and develop. Eventually I’d like to be able to teach, give workshops, and collaborate more. I get a lot of people asking if I do, but I don’t have the headspace for teaching at this point in my life. But it would be a good thing to do, to share what I’ve learned along the way.