‘Keep Working’ with Liz Foster
Artists Feature – VAA Member of the Month January 2022
Artist, Liz Foster, sits down with us at the VAA to discuss her experience with the work-life balance, in addition to the commercial-creative balance.
Born in Leeds, currently living in York. Art has been a faithful companion to artist Liz Foster throughout her life. From creating it to teaching it, Liz believes that art is its ‘own language. The poetry of her colourful and eclectic art is welcome to be analysed and deciphered by its viewer. Similar to many artists, Liz has found the task of monetising her practice to be restrictive.
After a period of chasing commercial goals, Liz began to feel burnt out. By refocusing her goals, she was able to resume her creative journey. During our interview, Foster discusses the obstacles she has overcome and the goals she has created to increase career progression. Impressively, she has achieved this without limiting her creative flow.
What has your business looked like over the last 12 months?
The last year has been surprisingly busy for me. After working from home for the last year or so, I moved into a new studio. It’s a temporary space, run by an arts charity. However, it’s given me the space (both physical and psychological) to produce bigger and more ambitious work. It’s also nice to work with other artists around.
I have focused on building up a new body of work, which I’m beginning to feel very confident and happy about. This led to some sales and joining a new online gallery who I met via Instagram; I’ve really enjoyed working with them, showing work at their pop-up shows.
My most significant accomplishment last year, was having a painting selected for the R.A. Summer Exhibition. It was the second time I’d applied, but I felt that last year’s call-out, led by artist-curator Yinka Shonibare, was the perfect fit with what I was doing in the studio, so I was really delighted to get a large oil painting hung. It meant a lot to me. I found it to be a validation of what I was trying to do with my work…and it was also fun going down for Varnishing Day and being part of the R.A. ‘event’.
Take me through a typical day in your life
My days vary according to whether it’s term time, a weekend etc. Generally, I get my son to school and then after a mug (or two) of coffee I head to the studio. I don’t usually set an intention for when I get there, the important thing is to just be present.
Once in the studio, I work-ideally, that would just be painting. But it also means all the other jobs that need doing, such as making canvases, photographing work, packing and shipping, sorting through work, and researching new opportunities. The evening (after the cooking of tea and helping with homework!) is when I try and catch up with admin jobs like accounts and updating websites.
I much prefer having a studio away from the home, because it allows for the separation of ‘home life’ and ‘work’. When I worked from home all the time it was too easy to become distracted by the ‘domestic’ and not be able to focus solely on work.
Can you take us through your creative process?
Inspiration strikes while I’m working. Even if I’m feeling far from motivated, I get the paint on the canvas and start moving it around.
I know, after years of experience, what works for me. I can trust in my intuition. I work across several pieces in the studio. I find it helpful to feel free to walk away from a painting, let it rest and then return later. So, often I’ll have 6 or 7 canvases developing at the same time. Knowing when a painting is finished is a gut feeling. I feel it. I don’t like things that follow a formula or come too easy, so I can be very critical about my work and re-work things. Ultimately, I know when I’ve done something interesting, it can be left as it is.
Conversely, when I work on paper (for a series of monoprints or drawings for example) I often have a core idea, something simple such as: “I’m looking at that tree and I’m going to draw it”. I will get a pad of paper and then keep drawing the tree until I run out of paper. I always have pads of different types of paper ready for when I want to work on a series like that – I’ll often work on up to 20 drawing in a sitting like this.
Are there any current obstacles in your profession?
I think many people will recognise that balancing an art career with parenting is difficult. As a female artist, who happens also to be a parent, family obligations (and by that, I mean money and lack of time!) are the two areas that limit output more than anything else. My days are book-ended by family stuff, and as a single parent many opportunities just aren’t open to me. Opportunities such as residencies, projects which require periods away from home, evening work, or lots of travel just don’t work for me at the moment, and by their nature they exclude huge tranches of artists.
Don’t get me wrong, I love being a parent and I am also a pragmatic person, so I focus on with what I can do and don’t lament over what I can’t, but the art world is not immune from these kinds of everyday barriers, and I do feel arts organisations and galleries still need to work on being more diverse and open minded about their concept of who artists actually are.
Do you have a particular outlook that guides you?
I have a few approaches that help shape my thinking. Fundamentally, I feel immensely grateful to be who I am and to have a passion that I can pursue. I say to myself ‘keep facing forward’ – this is my outlook on life and art. I want to actively engage with what’s going to happen next, not ruminate on what’s already been. When I work on a painting, I am in love with it, I am completely absorbed by it. Yet, once it’s finished, I’m thinking about the next piece and how it can be different and better.
I have been very lucky in having excellent art teachers from school onwards who have given me a great education and work ethos. From an early age I felt that art was important and that I was part of it. I was also taught that I needed to work hard. My tutor at Glasgow always said to me that anyone can do a bit of painting when they feel in the mood, but to be any good as an artist you need to work when you don’t feel like it, on the days when it feels crap. You’ve got to work through it and not sit around waiting for ‘inspiration’.
Finally, what would you say to the artist you were a year ago?
Keep going, you’re heading in the right direction.