Friday, 1 September 2017

Interview With Encaustic Artist Sue Wharton

One of our artists we have been lucky enough to work with is Sue Wharton who proves that its never too late to follow the career path many of us should have done in the first place but as is so often the case a teacher or parent steers you in another direction. Grab a cuppa and enjoy her journey.




Tell us a bit about your work history and your journey to becoming an artist.
When I was a child I just loved to draw, paint and make things. I would design elaborate dresses, knit, dressmake, embroider – anything and everything, I loved everything about art and crafts. I wanted to be an artist or designer when I grew up but when I applied to enter 6th form at school to do art ‘A’ level the 6th form tutor said ‘No!’ That was that, I did biology instead and went on to train as a nurse. However, you can take a person away from art but you can’t take the artist out of a person! Decades later at the grand age of 50 I finally went to art college and gained a diploma in Art and Design. Not wanting to be thwarted again I took up residence in West Studios in Chesterfield and set about becoming the artist I always wanted to be. Better late than never!

Your work is quite unusual in that the techniques are very interesting describe the process and equipment needed to do what you do.
I work exclusively with encaustic wax. This is a very ancient medium first used by the Egyptians and the Romans over 2000 years ago. It is a very tough and enduring medium and many paintings, known as the Fayum mummy portraits still exist today and are in good condition:
Basically beeswax is combined with a resin, such as damar resin, and is coloured with pigment. This encaustic paint is heated until it melts and can then be applied to the support using stiff brushes or tools such as a low temperature iron or a heated stylus. If applied with brushes the wax is kept warm and malleable using a heat gun and can be fused to the support board with a blow torch. Both smooth and textured effects can be obtained. Since most encaustic artists are self-taught each has developed their own unique processes with the wax.



You work at West Studios in Chesterfield what opportunities do they provide for you and what could they provide our readers?
I was very lucky to get studio space at West Studios, I just happened to be in the right place at the right time! All the studios are shared spaces so I share with another fine artist, John King and a potter, Deb Langer. However, we have a range of creative industries represented not just artists and makers. We also have a shop, café, gallery space and meeting rooms for hire. We also benefit from having dedicated staff who manage the studios, run the shop/café and organise a range of events and opportunities for both West Studios tenants and other local artists/makers, so we serve the local artist community as well. The drop-in studio is available for hire by any creative person or company to run workshops, rehearse for performances, have meetings or have a public exhibition of their work. West Studios tenants also have access to facilities in the art department of Chesterfield College such as the photographic studios, print room, textile equipment, kiln room and metal work room. External artists can also gain access to some of these facilities by becoming associate members of West Studios. There is also a dedicated social media officer who provides social media training to tenants and external artists at very reasonable cost. West Studios has allowed me to have the room and support to grow as an artist. Working with wax is messy and requires quite a lot of equipment – I really couldn’t do this on my dining table anymore!



 We are very grateful to have supported you this last year what aspect of Purple and Greys portfolio has benefited you the most?
Thank you very much for your support. The business side of becoming an artist is the hardest and support with this is very much needed as this doesn’t come naturally to us artistic types! I first did the SWOT chat with you to try and help me sort out what I was and wasn’t as an artist and what kind of art business I wanted. This led to a lot of self-reflection and pointers to where to look for opportunities and all sorts of other things that artists need to know to put themselves on a professional footing. I remain a work in progress as far as this is concerned. One of the hardest things for artists to decide upon is how much to price their work – what are you worth when you first start out and no-one knows who you are? So, I came to you for a price chat. This gave me a variety of different formulae for working out what my work is worth. I still juggle with pricing to find my point in the market but at least I can do it in a systematic way rather than a random way now, so thank you. I have also enjoyed coming to some of your networking events which is a great way to meet other artists and find out how they do things and give the benefit of my experience too. You often meet up with the same people and a feeling of camaraderie builds up. I think this kind of support is important for new artists, particularly if they are working from home as it can get very lonely on your own. I’ve always been impressed with how helpful and supportive artists and makers are to each other, even when they are commercial competitors!

 Congratulations on being selected for some very prestigious exhibitions lately, what are your plans going forward for your art business and any tips for new and emerging artists? 
Thank you. I do feel that things are starting to take off for me this year. I felt very honoured to be selected for the exhibition for the Lichfield Prize 2017 and proudly took my mum to see my painting hanging in the Emporium gallery in Lichfield. My plans are to keep entering other local open exhibitions/competitions – The Thoresby open is my next target! I am also planning to attend more art trails/art fairs as I think face to face events with customers are more fruitful than just selling online. I’m also looking for more commissions for my pet portrait and wildlife art paintings. What would I advise new and emerging artists? Well, I’m no expert so I can only reflect on my own experiences: Be seen and meet with your potential customers – all sales of my original paintings have been at art fairs/markets. Have an online presence to let people know you exist and what you do but go with what you are comfortable with, I have a website, blog, Facebook, Twitter and I have just started a LinkedIn profile. I personally don’t get on with Instagram but you may. I also have a YouTube channel to show my time lapse videos! Expect there to be a fairly lengthy period of trial and error as you work out what works and what doesn’t – give yourself time to grow as an artist as well as a business person. My branding has changed quite a lot as I have evolved to concentrate on pet portraits and wildlife art. Finally, expect it to take time to start making any money, it takes time to build a reputation and get a customer base. If you are not selling very much it doesn’t mean you are a rubbish artist it means you haven’t found your customer base yet, so, keep believing in yourself and persevere until you succeed.


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