Introduce yourself and tell us a little bit about your practice?
I currently work almost exclusively with graphite on paper, producing crisp, highly detailed realist drawings based on aspects of natural history. I grew up in rural Northumberland, surrounded by a menagerie of animals (six-foot lizards, chameleons, tortoises, praying mantises, peacocks, sheep and donkeys, to name but a few), where I spent a lot of time poking around in rock pools on the windswept beaches. Although the thought process behind this focus in my practical work has changed since then, the fascination has remained a constant.
Since my time studying at the Courtauld Institute where I primarily researched the anatomical drawings of George Stubbs, I've become particularly interested in early medical and travel illustration; explorers and researchers mapping their finds. I deliberately seek to echo some of their clinical and flattened approach to depicting nature in my own drawings. Recently this has included incorporating hand-drawn maps into the specimens I observe.
What are you currently working on?
I've just completed a commission working from a Victorian-era panther skull, which was really enjoyable. Returning to other ongoing projects, I find myself slightly at the crossroads: a half-finished study of a curlew, containing a drawn map of Lindisfarne (where I saw this particular bird), is still giving me great satisfaction, but I've become really keen to explore the far looser approach to drawing I maintain in my sketchbooks but now on a much larger and more formal scale. After ten years of working exclusively with graphite, I'm also playing around with cyanotypes and gold leaf. It's time to change things up!
How do you spend your time when you are at the studios?
I enjoy being inefficient at the studio; it's in luxurious opposition to the demands of my teaching role. I tend to work late in the evening, often when there's no one else around, and definitely faff around for a good while until things feel right. Once it clicks, I love the feeling of suddenly realising that hours have gone by, and that the work has been flowing. Internet and magazine procrastination is all vital preamble! I usually listen to an eclectic mix of music while working, but particularly like minimalist/ambient stuff like Boards of Canada.
What are your other (work) commitments if any?
I'm Head of Art at Magdalen College School, which takes up most of my time; my practical work often has to go on the back-burner, but this suits me well - I feel like I can drop in and out of my practice without the disruption becoming a stumbling block. Teaching has its own rhythm over the academic year too, so I can get to the studio for extended periods every so often. The daily work with teenagers just setting out on their own creative paths massively inspires my own activity; perhaps the drawback might be that I'm less inclined to really experiment in the studio unless I know I've got a good stretch of time there ahead of me - which can mean I often play it safe.
How does having a studio at Magdalen road support your work?
Having the studio space is critical to me in maintaining my practice: the work is sitting ready and waiting for me when I arrive, and its away from my day job and home. Being surrounded by others all equally absorbed in their own projects, even if we don't bump into each other all that often, is a great driving force.
What are you hoping to achieve over the next year?
The next few months are quite uncertain; I think I'm likely to put a couple of solo exhibition ideas largely on hold, while pursuing some new directions and forcing myself to have more of the dare-to-fail attitude I promote in my students when teaching!