Meet the artist: Judith Logan
Artist Judith Logan creates evocative illustrations, paintings and prints from her beautiful studio in a converted barn in County Antrim, Northern Ireland. The themes of identity, belonging and roots run through her work, which she believes probably stem from 10 years living in Chile and now living as a ‘blow-in’ in Ballymena. We talk to Judith about the anecdotes of everyday life she captures in her artwork, her studio/gallery space and why she believes mistakes are an inevitable and important part of the creative process.
Can you introduce yourself and describe your work?
My name is Judith Logan, and I have been a professional artist since 2011. Ï work in a variety of media, but waterbased, especially watercolour, is my current favourite, though I also enjoy mixed media where I can add my own collage and sometimes embellish the work with hand or machine stitching. Over the past couple of years my interest in printmaking has grown, in the most part, linocut and monotype. Pattern is often an important part in my artwork, and I sometimes use my own handcut stencils and stamps, so making original artist prints seemed like a natural progression.
My dad is a hobby painter, and I remember, unfortunately for him, doodling on his oil paintings
Could you tell us about your background – have you always been creative?
Yes, my childhood is filled with creative memories. My dad is a hobby painter, and I remember, unfortunately for him, doodling on his oil paintings. One Christmas I got this amazing set of crayons and paints by Crayola and a book of Disney Bedtime Stories. I was only about six or seven years old, but I started to draw the figures from the book and it just naturally progressed from there. My elder brother is an architect and was always drawing things too, so in many ways I grew up in an environment that encouraged art. My poor mum got so fed up with me scribbling on the walls, that she actually designated a corner of the living room just for me to draw on.
Certainly having lived and worked in several countries, especially Chile, has influenced the thematics behind a lot of my work: roots, identity and belonging.
How did you get from doodling on walls to where you are now?
I am truly passionate about art but I could never make my mind up between that and foreign languages, which I also love. I successfully completed a Foundation Course in Art and Design with commendation from the Ulster University in Belfast in 1995, but in the end I opted to study for a degree in French and Spanish, which eventually led me to Chile. One year there ended up as almost 10, mainly because I met my husband there.
While I was in Chile I worked long hours as an English teacher and rarely picked up a pencil or drew, except for a few life-drawing courses I did during one summer. I hadn’t realised how much confidence I had lost but my life-drawing teacher was very encouraging and, little by little, I started to draw more and paint again. When we came back to live in Ireland, I saw a sign in our town that a new gallery was looking for artists. I got in touch and started exhibiting and selling with them right away. My artwork now sells in several galleries for two or three times the price it did then, and I have exhibited in London with the Royal Watercolour Society and the UK Coloured Pencil Society.
It has been, and still is, a lot of hard work; contacting galleries, building up a portfolio of work, entering open competitions, marketing on social media. There have been plenty of knocks along the way and plenty of contradictory advice from well-meaning people, but in the end you have to follow your heart (and a little bit of your head, too) and find your own path.
There have been plenty of knocks along the way and plenty of contradictory advice from well-meaning people, but in the end you have to find your own path.
Is the work you create now influenced by the time you spent in Chile?
It probably is but not on a conscious level. Someone once told me they could see a South American influence coming through in some of my earthy/red coloured pieces, although there is some Irishness to it as well. I also love the traditional patterns and geometric forms of the earthenware vessels and the clothes of the historic people of Chile, the jewellery and dress of the indigenous Mapuche tribe in the south. Living and working in a big city like Santiago, I was able to frequent museums and art galleries often, and one artist that particularly stood out for me was Constanza Villalba. Her use of colour and pattern has definitely left its mark on me. I regret not having kept more sketchbooks during my time living there.
My dream is to have an exhibition based on Chile that could travel from the Chilean embassies in Dublin and London to the British-Chilean Institute of Culture, where my husband and I used to work. But certainly having lived and worked in several countries, especially Chile for an extended period of time, has influenced the thematics behind a lot of my work: roots, identity and belonging.
My studio has a myriad of stones, shells, feathers, dried flowers and seed heads from country or seaside, family walks, as well as various vintage objects to give me constant inspiration.
Where else do you look for inspiration?
I try to sketch from life regularly and often go back to these sketchbooks for ideas. Over the years I’ve also collected a magpie’s nest of vintage and retro cups, teapots, fabrics and other objects with designs that catch my eye. These are ornaments in their own right, but they’re also useful as props for a painting or as an inspirational starting point. The rest is usually my imagination, my children, my pets, the wildlife and countryside where I live, and essentially anecdotes of everyday life.
How do you start a piece? Can you talk us through your creative process?
As I work in various media, that process varies, but I usually start with a general idea in my mind and I’ll sometimes sketch it out lightly beforehand. If I am very organised, which is a rare occurrence, I’ll do a thumbnail sketch of how I want the finished piece to look and work from that. But I find that the work tends to unfold itself as I go along. My acrylic work is built up of several layers of pattern and colour, using my own handmade stencils, stamps or printing with bits of material, using scraping tools, sometimes adding usually my own collaged papers, and then I’ll work on the figures or the animals, birds. If I am using stitch, which is a bit of a risky business on paper, I’ll do that last, as a finishing detail. I’ll often rework a similar theme in various media, to see how I can reinterpret it, improve upon it, add to it or subtract from what I did last.
Of course it is infuriating to spend hours on something that ends up in the bin, but it’s all part of the learning curve. It goes in the hard drive, so to speak. Mistakes in art, as in life, are inevitable but it’s how we learn from them that matters.
You talk about learning to embrace mistakes in your practice. Do you think people are too afraid of making mistakes?
If most of us were honest, I think yes. The blank canvas, the glaring piece of white paper can be very daunting at the start. Those first few marks are often crucial as to the development or not of a painting. Learning when to walk away is also essential, but I’m not sure a work of art is ever truly finished, until it’s framed or someone buys it or whatever. I’ve had pieces in my studio that have sat for a couple of years nagging me. Eventually I get the courage to make a change and sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t. Some artists will keep everything. There are things I wish now I hadn’t thrown out, but I find it quite cathartic to destroy a piece that’s just not working out. Anyway, I will usually find some part of it to my liking, that I can see being incorporated in some way in a future work. I have drawers and boxes full of cutouts from some old watercolours and practice linocut prints that I’ve used as stencils, masks or collage in other paintings, for example. Of course it is infuriating to spend hours and hours, and possibly quite a lot of expensive paint on something that ends up in the bin, but it’s all part of the learning curve. It goes in the hard drive, so to speak. Mistakes in art, as in life, are inevitable but it’s how we learn from them that matters.
My studio has a huge table with a built-in plan chest of drawers. A local joiner made it for me in exchange for my husband, who’s a photographer, doing his wedding photographs.
Tell us about your studio – where is it, what does it look like and what’s in it?
I am very fortunate to have been able to convert an old barn in my backyard into a studio/gallery. I have a hanging space downstairs and we made a second floor for me to work in upstairs. My studio has a huge table with a built-in plan chest of drawers. A local joiner made it for me in exchange for my husband, who’s a photographer, doing his wedding photographs. I keep papers, finished works on paper and all my handmade stamps in it. There’s also one drawer with six collagraph plates and two drypoint plates, yet to be printed and editioned, since I really need a printing press, but that’s another story! I use the table as my watercolour painting area and then I have an easel and a kitchen island from Ikea where I work on acrylics or oils, which I keep in several trollies on wheels for easy access. Coloured pencil pieces are done sitting at a desk, with daylight coming from skylights above or a daylight lamp when needed.
There’s a myriad of stones, shells, feathers, dried flowers and seed heads from country or seaside, family walks, as well as various vintage objects to give me constant inspiration. Oh, and an old armchair with a built-in small bookcase nearby (made by the same talented joiner), which houses my growing collection of artist and art-related books. Then there’s my German Shepherd, Guinness. He’s usually there too, lying at my feet, always in the most inconvenient spot!
It’s early days yet, but we’re optimistic about the future for our little The BlackSheep gallery space. We’re only open to the public a few days a week, to allow for more time to actually make art.
Can you tell us more about the gallery space underneath your studio?
Luckily, when we moved from Chile to Ireland house prices were much more affordable for buyers, and we were able to find a property with outbuildings. There was a lovely old barn in the yard with stone-clad walls, and over the years we have fixed it up to house my husband’s photography studio and an artist’s studio for me. I had a vague idea that I could use the downstairs area of my space for displaying work. Initially the building was only used for me as somewhere to escape the mayhem of the house, and while we always welcomed the odd viewing by appointment, most of my sales were concentrated through other galleries. As we are based in the countryside, we don’t have a huge footfall, and so far people still tend to ring before they come. It’s early days yet, but we’re optimistic about the future for our little The BlackSheep gallery space. We’re only open to the public a few days a week, to allow for more time to actually make art, which is difficult these days with all the necessary marketing and networking that can eat into creative time. But we hope to offer some courses in the gallery space in the future, as well as various exhibitions throughout the year. As for the name, the area I live in is famous sheep country, and having lived in a few different countries, you can sometimes feel a bit of a misfit. They even call strangers here “blow-ins!” Plus, I just liked the name The BlackSheep, it just seemed to click.
I often work on my paintings late at night and, more often than not, lose complete track of time.
I still value exhibiting in other galleries, and although the art market has changed dramatically over the years with many artists selling their work directly online, people still go to galleries because they can see and experience the work for themselves. Naturally, having work in several different galleries and online spaces like Folksy, also increases public exposure to my work. I try to make it clear to potential buyers that my work should be the same price wherever they find it, be it from myself at The BlackSheep, here on Folksy, in another local gallery, or even one in London.
What does a typical day in your life look like?
Generally speaking, after the morning school runs, there is always some housework to do and I might fit in a bit of exercise, though that used to be a much more frequent occurrence than it is now! I try to do some social networking, posting my latest paintings on Facebook or Twitter, uploading listings or updating my website either early in the morning or in the evening after the kids have gone to bed. When I can escape to the studio, sometimes I’ll only be able to do a half-hour here and an hour there, since I have to work around school pick-ups and being a free taxi-service if they have extra-curricular activities, so I often work on my paintings late at night and, more often than not, lose complete track of time. I used to work to the wee small hours of the morning, and still do sometimes if I have deadlines to meet or before an upcoming fair maybe, but I try to do that less often now as it was beginning to take its toll. My kids are also creative though, sometimes joining me in the studio, but then it can be hard to concentrate. In short though, I am never bored!
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