HOW TO HAVE AN ART LIFE – REALITIES & REVELATIONS OF BEING AN ARTIST
Welcoming Gabby Malpas to the Gingernut Express ‘artist interviews’. Gabby is an amazing watercolour artist who I met many years ago on a visit to one of the art fairs. Her work has gone from strength to strength and she is a master in her field, creating beautifully complex, intricate and quirky compositions of flora and fauna. She is living proof that artists work really hard (every day) to be the best they can be at their art. Not only does she put a bucket load of effort into her creations but her relentless tenacity to pursue a presence in the industry is to be admired. She fights really hard for her art life. She is one of the hardest working artists I know. She is also one of the most supportive artists (helping other artists) I have ever met. She turns up, and her authenticity and integrity is to be rewarded and respected. Find out how she created her art life and how she makes it work below.
Where you always a creative person?
Pretty much. I have memories of making drawings aged 4. However, they didn’t always turn out the way I wanted so I would embellish them with lots of lines and more detail and if anyone asked I’d say it was a ‘machine’.
If I wanted things as a child, I generally made them: teasets, clothes, dolls and furniture…
When did you know you wanted to be an artist?
I was always told that I was going to be an artist. I just expected that I would somehow. This is because when they got my adoption papers, my parents saw that my birth mother was an artist (she wasn’t, but had done some classes), and that is how it started. Luck, really.
When did you decide to dedicate more time to being an artist?
I knew I wanted to be an artist by the time I started Art School in 1984. By the time I graduated I realised I needed to pay for it, and had a life plan to earn money in a job that paid me enough to work 3 days a week and paint for 4. That meant a proper job…
In the meantime, I also started the transition from clay to paint and paper: I needed a medium that was portable. I started working with liquid colours: inks, dyes and watercolours as the effects were similar to the liquid glazes I used to create my painterly ceramics.
I spent 30+ years working in corporate as a Digital project manager to secure my finances and towards the end, was a freelance, part time worker from home. At age 53 I finally gave up my day job for good.
However, the real turning point came in 2014 when I finally engaged the services of an Art coach/mentor: Vinh Van Lam of Artshine who is now my agent for lots of things. That’s when I changed my mindset from ‘artist with a day job’ to ‘professional artist’. It really challenged me to stop and look at myself and my practice and especially where I want to go with it.
I should note that corporate experience has helped me with my art business – because I’m organised, good at communication and meet deadlines!
Where do you make your art?
In the spare room of my house . I love it. It’s not big or flash, has not been painted since we moved in 13-odd years ago but it’s where I spent most of 7 days per week and I miss it when I’m not there.
Where do you store your paintings?
Everywhere! In the bathroom at my husband’s work, every large cupboard in the house, a large plan chest and another old chest of drawers in my studio bought for the purpose. Because most of my work is on paper they are easily stored and forgotten as soon as they have been scanned. It’s exciting when I put together pieces for a show or to show someone – I forget the work I’ve done and it’s like seeing old friends, but I feel sorry for anyone having to clear the house out after I’m gone.
How do you plan your art?
35+ years of making art and images has made me develop a pretty good process but not a lot of visual planning is done. I have the luxury of working on art every day if I want to at present so a lot of ideas that I have held for decades even, are starting to come to light. I have found that I actually plan less and less as my skills and technique develop and refine because I’m confident about my ability now in a way I wasn’t even 5 years ago. Part of the waiting has been time but also the readiness to produce that image in the way I want to – sometimes it’s good to wait.
What mediums and materials do you use?
I like liquid colour because it is similar in its unpredictability and randomness as pottery glazes. As a trained potter I found that affinity when I had to find a different medium when I no longer had access to materials and kilns. Any marks you make on a ceramic piece must be quick, confident and decisive otherwise a piece can look laboured.
Even though my work seems very precise I try to allow the liquid to pool and dry on my paper or canvas for what I call the ‘watery goodness’.
I use watercolours, liquid acrylics and gouache. I prefer Arches 300gsm medium paper but have been painting watercolours on canvas – a tip picked up from an artist I admire: Julie Simmons. Works on canvas are preferred when sending overseas.
What is the focus of your art?
Although I have been painting for over 35 years, it took me until I was 48 to hit what I consider to be my stride. As an intercountry adoptee, raised in a white family, it took that long to find my place in the world and to begin to process/make sense of my life.
Much of my work since 2014 tackles issues such as colourblindness, racism, privilege and difference. As transracial adoptees, our life experiences are so unique that generally only other transracial adoptees can relate.
I paint lavish and joyful images of flora and fauna, often displayed in Chinese porcelain. This is a calculated contrast to the sometimes uncomfortable subject matter and messages in my work.
My images of plants are ‘plausible’: they are anatomically correct enough that a gardener can identify what species they are but with enough artistic license to make them my own.
As a Chinese raised in a European family, I like to think I am challenging the traditional genre of Chinoiserie: the centuries-old, fanciful images of the orient, painted by Europeans who had never been there
How do you schedule your time?
I try to stick to a daily schedule, though during lockdown it is a little hard to stay focused. I start each workday with a bit of exercise. I try to paint or draw every day but some days get taken up with admin, errands or appointments.
I don’t have a problem with working in isolation and I have been a homeworker as a freelance project manager for years so it is no hardship.
If I am working towards a show or have requests for licensing images, I work back from the delivery date to set myself a deadline which is normally 2-4 weeks from delivery. On the date, I choose works from the selection I have painted and work with those.
The reason I allow so much time between finishing and delivery is because digitizing, cataloguing and framing/printing needs to be done and it puts a lot of undue stress on everyone. My organizational skills are appreciated by clients and galleries and the fact that I usually have a catalogue ready for circulation 2 weeks prior to the opening of a show really helps with sales.
I think the main thing I have learnt and worked towards as a professional artist is to minimize the stress – because we all know that really does not help creative mojo.
Do you like to work in complete silence or do you have music or other things playing in the background?
Quite often I will have a movie playing in youtube as background noise – I have watched so many z-grade movies in the last year but have also learnt a lot of ancient history too. Or else conspiracy theory podcasts and stories: so many big foot stories in the last few months! Or disco/house music towards the end of a week. Or definitely not-safe-for-work comedy.
Where do you show/sell your art?
I try to exhibit at least once a year. I also license art to a number of companies for different products. I have learnt that selling through a gallery or having an exhibition is just one avenue to generate income and when the show is on I work doubly hard to sell. I have a small number of galleries I work with. I am committed to them in terms of loyalty, promotion and activities such as workshops.
Here are some links for you
My website: www.gabbymalpas.com
My current online show through ArtShine Galleries is here >
Homewares and accessories > Acquire@design, Sydney, Australia
Below is the list of galleries representing me:
I have also been lucky enough to sell from social media – I try not to do the ‘hard sell’ on any of my platforms: I’ve been working on my art for so many years that I am confident in its integrity and value, so I tend not to discount my work or sell through artist-platform websites.
The work I do to promote my art and activities benefits not just me, but the galleries and companies I work with.
How do you pay the bills? How do you balance your art making income and out goings with other income?
This is the main reason I had a corporate job for so long. So many artists say to me that I must be raking it in but the honest truth is that only a small percentage of what I post on social media is an actual paid project. Most of what I do is making art for art’s sake but with exhibiting and licensing in mind.
When I was in my final year at Art School, the only option to earn a living afterwards was to go into teaching. I refused to follow this route because I wanted my creative energy for me. I have to admit the only creative part of my job for 30+ years was invoicing – but it allowed me to freelance, work my own hours and from home in the last 10-15 years which allowed me to transition to being a full time artist.
The business and organisational skills I have from my day job has really helped me in my own business.
How do you keep motivated? When you do hit a flat spot how do you get over it?
Because I paint or draw every day I find I am having fewer and fewer flat spots – but they do happen: the lull after a show, or especially now, the feeling of flatness after I’ve completed a large canvas or a number of works in quick succession. I have to take a bit of a break and regather my thoughts. Over the years I have so many ideas in my head that I am just getting to now – they often take so long because I am working out the technicalities of how to do it… so I make some little sketches in a notebook or make a number of small images that will then lead onto another large image. I’ve learnt not to panic – because that just removes any creative mojo you have.
How do you tackle social media in the new ‘self promotion’ arena we find ourselves in.
The internet has made self promotion and selling so much easier – think about the global audience artists now have access to compared to say 1990!
I embrace social media but I’m also conscious of being too much or too hard sell: I try to have my social media persona pretty much true to my own self. And there’s common courtesy involved – if anyone has taken the time to like something or make a comment then the least I can do is check out their work and thank them.
I have been lucky – I do sell from time to time to folks who have seen work on Facebook or Instagram.
What is the hardest thing about being an artist?
One of the things I still struggle with is the fear of: “am I good enough?”
In this age of social media, everyone else’s life looks fabulous and every other artist seems to be selling more, exhibiting at great galleries, getting coveted gigs or getting picked for prizes etc…
As we mostly work solitary and often in our own ‘bubbles’, it’s easy to forget that no-one puts the bad stuff on show and everyone struggles and has off days.
I’m getting better at it. Every year, I get a little more confident at what I do and lately I’m proud that it’s taken me so much longer to find myself as an artist and have stopped comparing myself to others. It’s good.
What would you say is the best thing about your art life?
The fact that I am doing it… every day, all day.
What is one thing you would recommend to others struggling to get more art in their life?
Get out there and look! There are so many small galleries and workshops who would love your patronage – and a lot that is very affordable. You don’t even need to leave the house – get on social media and start looking for things you like to look at.
Where can others see your work?
Please sign up to my mailing list at gabbymalpas.com. I don’t email very often but you always get a new screensaver and are the first to know of any events, promotions or sales.
I try to have different content across all platforms. Find me on:
Instagram is @gabbymalpas
Facebook: Gabby Malpas – Artist
Pinterest: Gabby Malpas
Do you have any exciting art adventures happening in the near future?
Well COVID19 sort of scuppered 2020 for me, starting with my Singapore show opening just as lockdown restrictions getting put in place.
There are paintings on show at the Bendigo Community Bank branch in Haymarket through the ArtShine Gallery (still trying for an opening date)
The show at the Dunedin Botanic Gardens in October is likely to be postponed until 2021 but my Adoption-themed show and two weeks of workshops is likely to go ahead at the Chrissie Cotter Gallery, Camperdown: 10 – 22 November 2020.
Check out more artist interviews here
These monthly instalments are a sneak peak into how other artists I know build an art life and maintain a creative existence. I hope you will jump on board as we take a few trips beyond the easle on THE GINGERNUT EXPRESS!
The Gingernut Express is a monthly blog, written and produced by Visual Artist and Arts Educator, Kristine Ballard on www.kristineballard.com
© Kristine Ballard 2020