Today we chat with Fi Bowman, an English artist who, like her artwork, is quirky, magical, mythic and poetic. She creates illustrations and other visual works that are rich with the folklore, myth, legend and literature of the English landscape and frequently feature faeries, goblins, woodland nymphs and little green men.
As she tells her blog visitors, “I don’t believe that faery tale, myth and legend are just for children. I believe they tap into our need for a deeper picture of the world than science provides – a need for mystery and things that aren’t explained but are understood in the bones. And a need for connection with the natural, wild world that so many of us are disconnected from in our daily lives. And I feel sorry for people who can no longer feel that.”
Fi thinks and writes quite a bit about her art-making process on her blog, so her interview is filled with wise insights about how she keeps her creative juices flowing!
Tell us about your creative pursuits, paid and unpaid.
Hmm. Well, sometimes it seems to me that life is the one big creative pursuit we all share, but I imagine you’re thinking of something more specific?
I guess my biggest creative pull is from visual arts – specifically the intersection between the traditional fine arts of drawing and painting and the so-called craft medium of textiles. It’s taken me pretty much the whole of my life to get to the point where I understand that the two can somehow come together, and merge with my life-long interest in stories of myth, magic and folklore. This is where my focus is currently, and where the ‘paid’ part comes into it, although I’m really just at the beginning of a quest to pursue that full time.
As for unpaid creativity, it comes in a lot of forms around the home, as I find my environment affects me strongly when it comes to both creativity and happiness. So things like gardening, decorating, cooking (if I’m not tired or distracted by art!) and journaling all come to mind. I’m also exploring the power of using stories creatively around my life in general, not just in my work. That’s why I’m calling it a quest to find a place where my income comes from art, rather than a goal of building a business as an artist. Questing is so much more exciting than working!
Do you have any formal training in your creative discipline(s)? Do you feel training is important in creative development? Why/why not?
It depends on what you mean by ‘formal’ training. Do I have a degree or art school education in art? No.
But I have taken many, many day workshops and short courses to learn technical skills and get inspiration from many different teachers, and I currently take a weekly life drawing class, which is challenging and satisfying in equal parts. I guess you could say I’ve built my own curriculum of study over the years.
I definitely would have liked more training on the fine arts side of my skills, but I’m not sure that art school would necessarily have provided what I was looking for. And I suspect I would have chafed against some of the restrictions and requirements of such a discipline!
I do feel training is important – when the person involved craves it. It can provide not only experienced advice and technical skills, but also inspiration and encouragement. But, of course, when it comes down to it, you’re going to have to do you own work some time, and that means blazing your own trail rather than always following the beaten path. (Still with the story metaphor, see?) So the training can only take you so far before you strike out in your own direction and follow your own interests and needs.
What habits do you cultivate to facilitate your creative “flow”?
This is something I’m still working on, as I transition from a part time job to a full time artist. But there are several things I’ve discovered about my ability to get started on creative projects over the last few years, and I try to encapsulate each one in a little motto as a reminder. Some of these mottoes are:
“Take care of the quantity and let the gods take care of the quality.” A reminder that practice makes perfect and no effort is wasted. It all counts.
“Process not product.” Focusing on just getting on and doing something rather than fretting about what it should be.
“Every piece does not have to be a masterpiece.” A tricky one for anyone with perfectionist tendencies, I usually follow it up with the quantity vs quality motto!
“Stop while you still know where to go.” It’s easier to pick up something when the next step is obvious, so I try to leave things in medias res, rather than at a natural stopping place whenever I can.
“Make bricks before building castles.” I tend to get overwhelmed at the thought of a huge task (like my large piece Pearls of Wisdom), so I break it down into teeny tiny turtle steps and list them out. Then I can concentrate on just one little thing to get done at a time.
And finally, probably my favorite is “Naps are always an option.” Sometimes when everything feels stuck and I’m getting nowhere, the answer is not to push through but to take a break, whether that’s a nap or a refreshing walk or a cup of tea.
What advice would you give to a “blocked” artist in your discipline to free up their creative energies?
Seriously, play. Get out your cheapest – or most luscious – materials and just play around with them. Doodle, color in, splosh paint or dye around, collage fabric or paper, stitch random designs in lovely colors. Anything that takes the pressure off and reminds you why you love the thing you do. If you can let yourself relax into the physical pleasure of that creative moment, that deep sense of peace and timelessness that overtakes you when you’re creating, you will tap back into the creative part of your mind and start the juices flowing again. Remember: process not product; it all counts!
Which artistic project that you are working on excites you the most right now?
I will be selling at my first large craft and design show in about a month, so I’m currently working on a lot of products for that. It’s challenging because in the last few years, I’ve been focused on large, one-off pieces like Pearls of Wisdom and We Must Not Look at Goblin Men, but for this show I’m actively trying to develop smaller, more affordable pieces of both framed art and original gifts that still retain something of the deeper stories I’ve used in my larger works. It’s forcing me to mix stitch and paint in ways I’ve not tried before, to incorporate techniques I’ve only played with, and to work on a completely different scale.
How do you select your creative projects? What elements of a potential project tend to intrigue you the most?
Oh, definitely the stories. In another life, I think I might have been a children’s book illustrator!
I always start with a blank piece of fabric (or paper) and an image in my head, and the image is like a moment from a story, frozen. I like people looking at my work from a distance to be thinking, “What’s going on here?” and to discover more and more detail and meaning as they come closer. That’s why I sometimes include symbols, text and little almost-hidden details as well – because it’s all part of the story behind the image.
Any other advice to artists to help them make their creative activity more satisfying?
Such a big question! I think perhaps the most important thing to remember is that you’re (presumably) doing this because you love it. If you’re not loving it, then something has gone wrong. Maybe you’ve moved too far from what you like doing to what you think will sell or what people expect. Or maybe it’s become about product instead of process. Or maybe you’re just tired and need a break.
Stop, take a breather, and check your internal compass. Are you still blazing your own trail, or following too hard on the footsteps of someone else? Can you still see the sunlit glade ahead of you or does it feel like you’re trudging towards a grim castle shrouded in fog? You can always adjust your path or even change direction entirely.
Remember, this is your story and you get to write it, so make it a good one!