October, and after a lovely week up in Gairloch – more news of that coming soon – I bring you another Studio Conversation, this time with artist Hayley Mills. Living and working in a lovely part of north Fife, her work inspired by the wildlife and landscape around her, I met Hayley during this year’s (2019) North Fife Open Studios event. It was good to meet her and see her studio as I have followed Hayley on Instagram for a while. Hayley, a member of SSA, studied at Aberdeen’s Gray School of Art and has exhibited widely in the UK with work in private collections all over the world. She runs multidisciplinary workshops in her studios sharing her love of the materials to inspire her students. I started by asking Hayley about her time at college. Hayley, when we met, I discovered that you had studied at Gray’s School of Art, Aberdeen. How do you look back on that time and how have those years formed your practice?
- To be honest, it feels so long ago now that I don’t feel so connected to it, I look back to then and see a young person with not much sense of anything except a love for art. The technical training and process considerations still form part of my practice and provided a bench mark. It also gave me experience in working in a competitive artistic environment, which is what it is to be a professional artist and to stick with what you are doing and not be confused with what’s going on around you in a way that is unhelpful. Things have moved on somewhat from that time as it is quite a few years ago now, but what I feel I have at this point which is similar to then is the joy and true essence of following my creative muse. I have learnt in life to trust and stay true to that and when I do everything else falls out of it.
You offer a varied range of workshops in your studio. How important is teaching to your practice?
- It is so important in many ways. I truly believe in the power of the creative process and its ability to generate something in the individual that day to day life doesn’t always allow, it taps into a part of our psyche that connects with powerful emotion and creative thought. It is a privilege to support people on their artistic journeys as each one is unique. It is so good to see the response of the people I work with as they navigate their way, both the artistic and personal. I was also a professional business coach and hence can’t not appreciate the personal effect teaching can spark in the individual. Teaching is a perfect combination and the opportunity for me to share, to learn, to give, to reconsider, to condense, to focus and to be sure about what I believe in art. It ensures I keep myself in check and my professional and motivations clear.
Do you have favourite materials and techniques and how has your practice developed over the years?
- Ink has generally featured in my work through the years, which I find interesting as I fell in love with it when I was a teenager, how I use it has changed a lot though. Oil pastel too. I try to keep things moving, I feel this is important to ensure my practice doesn’t become stagnant. In terms of materials I tend to mix them up. The materials I use will depend on the subject/project and my creative muse at the time. In terms of techniques this is a never ending journey of new and revisiting.
- I also still love learning and attending workshops to try techniques I haven’t tried before.
- At this point in my life my psychological approach to my practice is different, I feel there is a level of maturity that comes with age which can be helpful for considerations in work but I also have to be careful that doesn’t get in the way of not trying and staying in comfort zones. I have to be truly engaged in what I am doing, if I am, whatever I am doing will have value, it is the personal and emotional connection that is key for me, my art practice allows me to feel and have that emotional connection. I use it in so many ways to keep me balanced in life, through art I have processed grief, change and love.
You live in a beautiful part of Fife and your work is inspired by the landscape. Do you have a daily or regular drawing routine? What’s your preferred technique for visual note-taking?
- I work as I feel. A lot of my preparation work is done through looking and experiencing nature and taking time to notice. I will get a notional feeling, for example about a line in the landscape, a texture, a flash of light and from there my subconscious will start working it out. So by the time I am ready to put something on a page, especially in terms of finished pieces, my subconscious will know what is about to happen but I don’t until I see it. I get surprised all the time by pieces of work that I do.
- Drawing is an ongoing thing for me as is central to most things I do, I think it is like muscle memory, your hands and eyes return to what they know but it is also good to do some ongoing technical drawing, it isn’t unknown for me to attend my artist colleagues’ workshops/classes to do some drawing because they always make you draw things you would never chose to!
- My visual note taking is a combination of looking, feeling, mind mapping, sketching, storing, photos, scribbles of notes and studies/projects.
People are fascinated by an artist’s studio and you give visitors a unique chance to see something of your practice when you open to the public at Open Studios. When you are working there normally do you like to work listening to music, audiobooks or podcasts. Or do you prefer silence?
- Different tasks in my Studio demand different stimuli. The process of doing of art is a combination of formal set aside time where I have got into a routine of doing work on certain days as this is time when I don’t have distractions and other times where I feel I have to let it out. Both experiences are different. My regular art time tends to be very measured and will generally get lost in an audio book or some music.
- I also have art moments where I process personal emotions, for example, when one of my dogs died and I missed him I would go into the studio and draw him as it made me feel close and connected to him again, during these moments the music I play and my emotional connection to it will match the strength of emotion I feel.
- My studio space tends to be very messy and ever changing depending on what’s going on. I am in my studio pretty much 5 days a week so also have couches and a fire, some times of the year when I am busy, I spend more time in my Studio than at home. Quite often I like my Studio space better than my home space!
How valuable in terms of meeting the public and talking with them do you feel Open Studios events are to an artist? The weekend must involve a lot of work and maybe intrusion?
- Open Studios is such a unique platform to be able to meet folks that are interested in art in different ways, you never know who is going to walk through the door and what questions they are going to ask. It’s also great for networking. There is a lot of work in preparation for Open Studios, it’s not for the faint hearted! I have nothing but positive things to say about the open studios experience and as such am a member of the Open Studios North Fife Committee. I don’t find it intrusive when folks come into my studio as I also run a programme of workshops so folks are always there at various points through the year. The only thing that is intrusive are unannounced visits as I can be in the artistic moment and they are so precious.
More and more artists are using social media to promote studio events, classes and exhibitions. How useful do you feel social media is as a marketing tool?
- Mixed as a marketing tool. Folks expect to see you on social media, so just like professional artists are expected to have a website we are also expected to have social media, it’s how people find out about you. It’s good to have strong social media but if not careful it can soak up anytime you can give it. I am not sure what the value of it is in terms of marketing. I see it as an opportunity to share what I am doing with like minded people, to provide up-to-date information, it can yield opportunity. The key is not to have your artistic self-esteem connected with it, work is not rubbish because you only got 5 likes! It just might be the time you posted it or who the social media company wanted to see it. Social media is good when it is kept in its place.
What plans do you have for the coming months?
- I am ready for another art explosion so that will be a key focus, other things will be a sketchbook exchange, Christmas commissions, mixed exhibition, final workshops for the year and planning 2020.
Sounds as if you are going to be very busy so good luck with your plans and I look forward to visiting your studio again in the future. Thank you for taking the time to talk with me, Hayley. It has been lovely to hear about your practice and I’m really pleased to share your thoughts and work through this blog. If you would like to see more of Hayley’s work and if you like the idea of participating in one of her workshops, Hayley has given me these links:
Fife, KY15 7RJ