As part of our new blog post theme, that of ‘Meet the art teacher/tutor/artist’ each month we will highlight either an art teacher/tutor or artist and ask a handful of questions, nothing too serious but something that could encourage some interaction between art teachers, artists also college tutors.
Welcome Fiona Thompson, ceramic artist and art teacher – if you would like to take part or know someone who would then download the questions here and fire them back to us at: email@example.com
1. Who are you and where do you work?
I’m Fiona Thompson, and I work at Beaverhall Studios in Edinburgh. I combine work as a ceramic artist (sole trader) and running Cyan Clayworks (a social enterprise), a ceramic studio that offers courses and studio hire. I’ve been here almost a year, and before that in a variety of different locations.
2. When did you decide you wanted to be an art teacher/tutor/artist?
I wanted to be an artist since a small child; I’ve always been very single minded (stubborn)about it. Luckily my parents were supportive, and my art teacher encouraged me a lot and gave me free rein in the art department (which was fortunate enough to have a dedicated ceramic classroom). I started as an art teacher by pure chance; after being a couple of years out of college my old tutor at Edinburgh College of Art offered me a few hours teaching there. Although I didn’t have any experience and found it a little daunting, I developed from there and I went on to do all sorts of teaching and running workshops. I think it took me a long time to feel really confident about teaching.
3. Where and what did you study?
The first time around; I took a one year Art Foundation course at York College. Then I went on to Edinburgh College of Art in the early 1990s where I studied a ceramics degree, which was a great experience. The second time was a lot later; I took a research degree (Master of Philosophy) at the University of Sunderland in ceramics and tourism which I completed in 2010. Although the return to study was a big challenge, it helped having some prior experience studying, making and teaching. (And of course the internet had been invented by this stage which made things a little easier!)
4. What is the best thing about being an art teacher/tutor/artist?
In terms of being an artist, I couldn’t not be creative…it’s just something embedded in me. It’s a great feeling when you’re into the flow of working with the buzz it creates; it’s quite a heightened feeling. In terms of being an art teacher, I enjoy being in charge of my own studio; planning and delivering the courses, marketing, admin and cleaning all included! I like the switch between working on my own work which is quite personal, to teaching where I’m working with a diverse range of people. Some of the conversations we have are really fascinating, and I like seeing them progress and get their own enjoyment from clay.
5. How would you describe your style (clothes, art, home….whichever you choose)
My personal style has changed a lot over the years; its quietened down somewhat. I prefer my artwork to do the talking. The style of this I suppose is about hidden meanings, duality and the surface.
6. Do you listen to music while you're working? If so, what?
I either listen to Radio 2, or Radio 4, and occasionally other music, which could be anything from the Scissor Sisters to Queens of the Stone Age, or a little country. It depends also if I’m on my own, or if my partner Chris is in working (he’s a bit more in touch with new music than me).
7. Which artist or designer inspires you most and why?
There are quite a few, so difficult to pick just one. I generally like artists that push boundaries, are ambitious and not afraid to take their own approach. I have to say, as I ge older, I have got more critical, and find a lot of ceramics pretty boring…! I tend to be inspired by photography, painting, textiles and film for the most part. I went to the Andy Warhol Museum in Pittsburgh around 15 years ago and that had a huge influence on me; his approach and ambition particularly and the use of print.
Paul Scott is another inspiring artist, particularly in terms of the way he has evolved the ceramics and print ‘movement’, and encouraged an intelligent enquiring approach to ceramics. Cindy Sherman is another I would like to mention; in terms of how she manipulates our expectations and how we view photographs and their content. Thing masquerading as something else, or work that had hidden layers, are themes I pick up on a lot in art.
8. If you could give one bit of advice to your 18-year-old self, what would it be?
Where do I start…more than one piece of advice needed. Firstly it would be to learn how t use a computer rather than leave it until my late 20s…also those secretarial courses at school that I dismissed as not relevant would have come in handy later in life. Resit my A-level Geography. Be more open minded about things generally – you never know what you can end up doing. Be more confident.
9. What advice would you give to anyone who wants to become an artist or designer?
Go for it! Get as much from college or university as you can; even the things that you might not be interested in can be useful or relevant later. (As an example here; I hated plaster making at college in the 90s, and didn’t know how to type- all my essays and dissertation were hand written. For the last few months I have been working on plaster moulds, and writing applications, articles and doing general admin.) Soak up as much other art/design/culture as you can, and don’t be afraid to take risks in your work (especially while you’re at college as its gets harder later on…). Keep an open mind and be prepared to work really hard and be challenged.
10. What’s your greatest achievement?
Undertaking and passing my MPhil in 2010. Despite having struggled with/failed essay all the way through my ceramics degree the first time around, I learnt how to write, research and enjoy writing.
11. What three things would you still like to do before you die?
Travel more. Write books and get them published. Make really exciting art.
12. What’s your favourite food?
Most Italian or Indian dishes (veggie or fish). And cake.
13. Where was the last place you went on holiday?
Calgary, Canada. Visiting partner Chris’s family, almost two years ago(!) This also was a starting point for a body of artwork.
14. What was the last book you read?
Currently reading Huysmans ‘Against Nature’. Pretty intense book…
15. What is your biggest distraction?
Food, wine and wanting to travel when it's not possible.
16. If you ruled the world, what single act would you carry out.
Lots of things potentially…but definitely try to prevent any more animal extinctions. And try to change attitudes in certain countries that treat women as second class citizens…!
17. Do you have any regrets?
A few, but don’t want to go into it here particularly…everyone makes mistakes however; that’s just part of life. On a lighter note, wish I’d started yoga years ago.
18. In no more than five words, write your own epitaph. (Optional!)