We sat down over a Zoom Call with our good friend Beth to catch up on what they have been up to since MADE IT 2019. Here's what she said:
SS: How have you been getting on post-graduation?
BW: It’s been slow – I needed a good few months just to kind of sit and not make anything and just regenerate after three years of having to think constantly and creatively – it’s quite exhausting. I think you’re expected to carry on how you left off immediately, but I definitely needed a rest. Allowing yourself to sit for a bit, and not putting pressure on having to keep the momentum going straight away, you’ve got time to figure it out, it’s not now or never you know? I think you don’t really get permission to rest as an artist very often, but I think rest is what makes you get the best ideas. Don’t feel pressured, if you want to immediately go into a masters or something then do that, but don’t feel pressured to. See what works for you.
SS: How does it feel being out of university as a practicing artist?
BW: I would say surreal. When you’re in uni, you know where you’ve got to be, you know what you’ve got to do, and you’ve got the facilities to do so constantly. When you’re left to your own devices it’s not quite as simple. It’s a real learning curve, you’ve got to learn what works best for you all over again it feels. For example, I was somebody who was never good at mornings, I liked working later on, that was my time to shine, and our studios were open until 10 pm so I could come in at 12 pm and work for as long as I needed. It was good knowing where I had to be, now I have to be my own motivator! You never finish learning, learning how to just be as an artist is the big thing that you have to master. I’ve kind of formed new support systems here and there so I haven’t really lost that part of it, it’s just changed. Doing it in theory and doing it in reality are two different things.
SS: Is it anything like you expected it to be, for better or worse?
BW: I definitely expected a lot of rejection; but I don’t think I expected the amount of rejection. I was applying for things from second year and I was on it and trying to get out there, and I expected rejection because it has been happening for a while but really, you get rejected for everything. It’s really hard to keep yourself motivated, but then it’s also not, because you know that there will be some opportunity that might happen eventually. You see people achieving things and you know that your time will come as well. It’s a case of learning how to keep going and not being disheartened. Rejection is a big part of it, it’s just life. I think the one thing about being an artist that people don’t often think about, is that your heart has to keep breaking over and over again, because you set your sights on things but you just can’t get every opportunity, and there are others out there dreaming the same dream who that opportunity may have been perfect for as well, and they were just as valid to get it. The dream will still happen. But then at the same time, there are little joys to it, and you do get the thing sometimes and it makes it worthwhile.
SS: Take a second to reflect on your year as an artist – are there any experiences (good or bad) that have really stood out for you?
BW: Getting a studio space was great, being able to very slowly formulate my new home and my new community, and periodically meeting the other studio holders too. You lose that system when you leave uni, so being able to meet people who’ve been doing it for years who are in it makes you realise that you can do that too, it doesn’t just end when you graduate. You just keep going, get the next thing, and find a new community and it can work out. Especially because within Preston there’s a limited number of spaces, so finding somewhere that gives you that support isn’t easy. They’ve been very supportive, and I’m really lucky.
(Arts community in Preston)
There’s a lot of practicing artists and a lot of engagement, it’s smaller than most other cities in the North West so the hard part is finding it. Getting to know other artists within the city and expanding your reach is really crucial. There’s a whole community of artists I didn’t know existed here fully while I was in university, so getting to know them properly and getting actively involved has been amazing. Everywhere has an arts scene, but I think that in some places it’s a bit more hidden, and you have to make that effort to go looking. It’s nice how artists all connect wherever they’re from though. They get each other. It’s so different when you speak to somebody who really understands the world you’re a part of, and MADE IT was a great opportunity for me to get to know more people not in my own circle. I’ve maintained friendships through that show, particularly with Ellie (Brennan) who I met for the first time at the exhibition and we’ve continued to stay in contact. I really value Ellie's opinion and friendship.
SS: Has your practice changed at all? If so, in what ways and why?
BW: It’s probably slowed down, but not in a negative way. It’s slowed down as in I’ve got more time to think of things and doodle and write notes, and it’s become very observational. So, for example when I’m on the train I’ll see a shape or an object or a cue of some kind that makes me think “Ah! That will be something!”. When I was at uni it was very niche and specific what I was looking to make and achieve, so in that sense my subject matter has just widened more, but in widening it's slowed down, the momentum isn’t there anymore, but I don’t think that’s a bad thing. I’m driven by me and not deadlines or learning outcomes. I think that’s really needed when you’ve only ever been driven by deadlines; that chance to find your feet in your own way, and just enjoy looking and finding inspiration in the little things without that pressure that comes with momentum. At the moment most of my practice is ideas that haven’t been made yet, but I’m getting back on track and I’m looking forward to the future.
SS: As an emerging artist, do you think there are enough opportunities to put yourself out there? How have you found navigating the art world?
BW: There are not enough opportunities, but the good thing is there are a large number of artist-led projects. The good thing about the art world is all the little independent people and groups who are doing what the bigger organisations should be doing but aren’t. The problem is there aren't enough spaces that can strike that in-between; there are plenty of start ups with the energy and interest in making opportunities more accessible, and plenty of big expensive galleries that get all the funding and all the big names under their roof, but not enough spaces in-between that need sufficient funding and resources to sustain their programme. There are a lot of commissions and residencies, but getting them is so competitive and hard. But then on the flipside, there are little success stories too. I was part of GRAFT at The Harris Museum and Art Gallery in Preston which was curated by Garth Gratrix, and we all got paid for that show which can be rare to find as an emerging artist. Garth is great at supporting emerging artists.
“The momentum isn’t there anymore - but I don’t think that’s a bad thing. I’m driven by me, not deadlines or learning outcomes”
SS: If there was something you could change about the art world, what would that be and why?
BW: Less pressure on numbers. When I was assembling my CV in uni for example, I got bogged down looking through lists from my peers of what they’d done, and worrying if I was measuring up. Numbers are a problem in lots of sectors, but I think it’s especially noticeable in art; numbers of followers, numbers of engagement, numbers of exhibitions, numbers of years in the game even. Generally, we need to take the pressure off feeling like you’re not doing enough and comparing yourself to others. Give yourself time to work out your own rhythm, you’ve got to do things bit by bit. If we were comparing the number of applications I’ve submitted I’d be winning let’s just say that! I’d be there. But then I think that’s also kind of your own pressure on yourself. You don’t have to go 70mph, you can go 40, it’s not all or nothing, these things take time.
SS: Do you have any advice for upcoming graduates on how to prepare for their year ahead? What can they expect, and do you have some tips for keeping going?
BW: Get to know what’s out there already, and see if you can find somewhere that you want to get involved with that suits your goals. Get to know the small galleries, because if they can, they will help. Build your own community and spend time getting to know as many artists as you can because that’s the stuff that keeps you going in the long term, a conversation today may mean an opportunity tomorrow, and a good relationship with artists goes a long way. Find your thing and don’t change it if it doesn’t need changing, trust yourself and trust the process. Don’t change to meet an expectation. Don’t put pressure on yourself and don’t rush!
SS: What’s the most important thing you’ve learned over this last year that you feel has had a significant impact on yourself as an artist and/or your practice?
BW: That the ideas you have can actually work, and if you have a weird thought in your head and you want to make it then try because it might work. Don’t put boundaries on yourself or put yourself in a box, there’s always room to try and sometimes it’s great and those moments are everything. For example, I made a film as part of my degree show, I’d never done it before, but without that in the end I don’t think it would have worked out nearly as well because it helped tie everything together. You know your work best, and don’t be afraid to make something a bit different.
SS: Are there any projects from the last year or any current projects you’re working on that you’d like to talk about?
BW: I was at an exhibition, and I started talking about one of my ideas, and I realised it was a bigger idea than I’d initially thought it was. So, I was telling them how my degree show happened, that one of my tutors had told me about a trip he’d been on to Singapore, when he came back he told me about this exhibition. He was explaining it to me describing each part, and I having not seen the exhibition was really inspired by this description, and this idea of finding work in things unseen really interested me. I’m wanting to kind of play with the idea of talking to people about an exhibition they’ve seen that they loved that I haven’t seen, and making some work in response to their description and this experience that brought them great joy. I don’t need to see the exhibition, I’m interested in their thoughts and the impressions a show can leave on people, because that’s where a lot of the value in an exhibition is I think. This is the foundation of a lot of my work. Some of my earlier pieces were interested in exploring notes in library books, people leaving traces of themselves behind for others to re-discover and view later in time. We all have all these thoughts and ideas and feelings about work we see, but maybe these thoughts can become inspiration in their own right without ever having needed to see the work to respond. I need to formalise the idea a bit, but essentially, the excitement from somebody else can be more interesting than the actual art sometimes, and I want to explore that a bit in a new project. A project like this is kind of perfect to display digitally, maybe it could be a collaborative work using the idea of prompts and swapping inspirations etc.
SS: Bonus Q – Any shout outs for artists, organisations, gallery groups, websites, resources etc that have supported you over this year or that you just want to recommend graduates and emerging artists look out for?
BW: Elizabeth Challinor who runs ORBIT is great. She was in the year above me at uni, but we didn’t really get to know each other properly then, and as soon as she graduated we started talking all the time and it’s been brilliant. She let me go on ORBIT the week I was leaving the studios, and that opportunity was so helpful. She’s really good at finding and supporting people to have free reign of a project for a week, and help them figure out what they want. She’s very supportive, she always pushes things so well and is a great contact to have.
Thank you so much to Alicja for taking the time out of her very busy schedule to answer our questions - she's one to keep an eye on!