The first Covid-19 lockdown was a catalyst for change for Wellington artist Beth Strickland. After losing her job during the lockdown, Beth received an email about TLC's Reinvent your Future scholarship for people experiencing similar challenges.
We had a chat with Beth at her studio in Khandallah, Wellington where she studies via distance delivery and works with a variety of mediums including charcoal, pastels, acrylic and oil.
Hi Beth. So how did that email from TLC change things for you?
I initially thought the scholarship wouldn't apply to me, but then one day I sat down and read it properly. Luckily, in the first lockdown, I had gone out and got a whole lot of art supplies and was taking daily photos of my progress. So I had a record of my work. I applied and found out the next day I got it. A real buzz. It's been the best decision I've made in a long time. Life-changing as they say and I'm totally obsessed with art now. I certainly have found my happy place.
How would you describe yourself as an artist?
I like to be experimental in my work and really enjoy the process – more than focusing on the outcome. I didn't really start getting into art until later in life. I first started classes as a way to meet people while living in Holland and just continued, mainly self-taught, picking up classes here and there when I could.
"It wasn't until COVID hit and I lost my job that I found my silver lining. I got offered a Scholarship at TLC and have been more focused over the past couple of years moving from Level 4 to Level 5 now."
What are some of the things you enjoyed most about studying at TLC?
The flexibility and experimentation is huge for me. I've really enjoyed being able to work on projects and be guided by a mentor. It's been a great environment that encourages experimentation. I like it when I can go along for Block Weeks and when I've been able to do just one day in class as a DD Student. Learning from other students is a big part of that.
Do you have a project you are currently working on?
Now I have finished doing exhibitions for the year – I am going to experiment and focus on making art with hidden meaning around diversity. I have done a lot of research into international languages and symbols. I find it fascinating and listened to music from all different cultures as I worked. I've travelled quite a bit and love learning about different cultures. I also work for the Ministry of Ethnic Communities, so continue to learn a lot from there.
My other little project is experimenting making art on large rolls of fabric – almost linen – rather than board or canvas. I've found ways to print my own designs onto the fabric.
I'm using a Golden product called GAC900 which you just add as a medium to normal acrylic paint. It can go through the washing machine if it needed to. So I don't need to use special fabric paint which is more expensive and has less colour options off the shelf. I can paint straight on the fabric or use smaller pieces of fabric – designed with the gel plate – or I've even found out how to transfer paper designs on the fabric. Fantastic. So a bit like collage which I love as an art form.
How do you sustain your creative practice, where do you draw inspiration from?
Financially I sustain my practice currently by working another job. Recently that's been really hard as my day job has been hugely time-consuming and I have had two exhibitions to pull together – all at the same time.
I kind of laugh when I'm asked that question about inspiration. It's everywhere. I do spend a lot of time when I'm not in my studio making art watching all kinds of movies and videos about art and artists. So some of my favourites are the big names like Picasso, Matisse, Jean Michel Basquait. But I also love New Zealand artists like Louise Henderson, Woollaston and Rita Angus for her swirling lines. I don't want to replicate their work – but do copy at the beginning to see if I can use it in different ways. Or parts of it. Great artists steal and all that.
Are your skills and approach to creativity transferable into ‘other’ fields in your life?
I think so. I find at work I'm adaptable, creative in problem-solving and able to analyse, equally well. Where some others at work are good at one of those, I think I'm a bit more of an all-rounder. Not sure if it's true or not, but I read artists use a lot of different parts of their brain. As we learn more and more about the brain I think it's become less true about left and right brain thinking being so categoric. When you are being creative it is the only time you use two parts of your brain at the same time. Maybe it's paying off for me!
Describe a highlight, a wow moment of a recent work or creative experience?
I almost always go through the ugly stage when making my abstract work. That moment when I think I've ruined it – but actually I never do. I've learnt I can always fix it. But I guess the highlight is when you make the breakthrough and recover from that ugly stage.
'When it all starts to come together and you wake up the next morning, have another look at it and think yup, I love it. You can't beat that feeling. That's the WOW moment. Sometimes I look at work I did a little while ago and am a bit stunned – in that I'm surprised I could do that.'
What advice would you give people starting out at The Learning Connexion and wanting to pursue a creative pathway?
Don't make excuses – just get into it. There has never been a better time for artists to make and sell their work. It's a world of abundance.
What are your creative ambitions? Where would you like to be in five years?
I'd like to be earning a high income from my art. Recently I have bought a house with my husband down in Kakanui – near Oamaru. I want to be living down there in a little piece of paradise with my own studio that I can open up to the public – when it suits me. The rest of the time I just want to carry on being creative and evolving. If I can be making the work and have galleries that want to sell it on my behalf, that's me sorted. And if somehow I can convert a campervan into a moving art studio and just go travelling, even better.
How have you transformed during your time at The Learning Connexion?
First, my confidence has gone up in huge leaps. I don't worry what people think about my work or compare myself to others anymore. My favourite saying is 'it's my job to make work to a level I'm happy with - it's the audience's job to seek out work that resonates with them'. I've also got a lot, lot braver – trying lots of different things and just putting it out there.
What challenges have you faced as you work towards making your creativity sustainable?
Time mainly. It's also always challenging to try and sell my art. The number of hours put in at the beginning with little financial reward just ain't fun sometimes. With marketing and selling, it's better to focus on doing a few things well, than trying to get really popular on all social media platforms, for example. If it doesn't convert to a faithful following and sales further down the track – it's just noise.
So how do you market your work?
The usual channels – website, social media. I'm always talking to people about what I do. I carry a pile of small postcards that have quality images of my work, then give them away to interested people. They are more effective than a business card as people like to keep it. When I thought about doing an exhibition I chose Thistle Hall in Cuba St, Wellington for a few reasons. It's a community-based gallery – good foot traffic and costs and commissions are lower so it seemed a good entry point. Once I learned from that experience, I've strategically approached galleries that I think will be a good match for my work. In other words, I did my homework first. I've been able to build good relationships with gallery owners so far – and they are asking for more – so that's all positive.