In advance of Ruth Slater's exhibition, The Very Essence I took time out with her to reflect on her work and her preparation for the exhibition.
Did you always know that you would like to pursue a career as an artist?
Yes, I think as I went through school it became more apparent that this was where I was happiest and I was lucky to have a great art teacher Mr Fiddes. He still works as a professional artist in his 70’s and seeing him exhibit alongside teaching made him a real inspiration to me.
How did you come to this point - what training have you undertaken?
I left school at 16 to start a general art course at Nene College for two years, we covered all disciplines and for me it was an amazing time where I explored my creativity for eight hours a day, I was in heaven! From there went to Edinburgh College of Art where I started on the Jewellery and Silver Smithing course with Dorothy Hogg. After a year we all realised that I needed to work much bigger and so I transferred to the Sculpture department where I completed my degree in Sculpture with a second subject in Printmaking in 1997. After time spent travelling and working as a freelance artist I returned to Edinburgh in 2003 to train as an art teacher going my PGCE (sec). In 2016 I stopped teaching to work full-time as an artist.
As a Gallery owner I feel it is important to provide a space for artists to develop their practise, to experiment and create new work which they may not otherwise have been in a position to do. How did you approach this exhibition?
I started off by binding a sketchbook and selecting a leather-bound notebook to record my process. I had the opportunity to spent six weeks exclusively on preparing for this exhibition and so I allocated a week per subject so I could completely immerse myself in that subject matter.
How did you start the process of producing new work?
The process of gessoing and binding the pages of my sketchbook was all part of my preparation as sketchbooks play a huge part in my artistic process. I then worked on one animal at a time so I could completely immerse myself in their form and markings. If possible I studied the animal in real life, like filming and watching bees to see how the behaved.
What challenges did you face during the process of producing the exhibition?
For me its normally a time challenge with a young family and teaching art classes from my studio. I prefer to have at least a few hours to fully get in the zone so it meant I had to plan my time carefully.
What have you learnt during the process?
That I know having a sketchbook to test pieces is something for me that I can’t live without. I can push the boundaries and experiment and it gives me a freedom with the actual piece.
Looking at your work and through your sketchbook I have the impression that experimenting with materials and methods is as equally important as your quest to capture the essence of your subject matter. What do you think? Do they work hand in hand? Do certain methods suit certain subjects?
Yes, totally, I love watching what happens when I layer colour and texture and sometimes I spend the majority of time preparing the ground before I choose the animal to work on it with. I do prefer to work with a dip pen for the birds to begin with and then move onto a matt acrylic paint to capture their intricate details. The larger animals work well with the artificial hair and inks to give them a real sense of depth. I love the whole process of the creation it is very meditative.
What would you like the audience to take away from viewing your work?
I would like the audience to feel a real connection with the animals and hopefully that they look as natural in an artistic way as possible, almost as if they have just stumbled across them. I don’t want to produce photo realistic work but I do want to capture a real essence of their characters and movement.
Who are your artistic influences?
I am always drawn to illustrators and printmakers work and Danielle Donaldson’s work and methods fascinate me although she must be the polar opposite from my style! Having trained as a sculptor I love the work of Elizabeth Frink and Peter Howson’s drawings.
You draw every day. Why?
I do draw every day, for me it's like running is for some people, I just have to do it. I start to get quite twitchy and uncomfortable if a few days go by and for whatever reason I haven’t been able to draw. For that reason I carry a sketchbook wherever I go and a tiny set of paints and brush. I will draw anything to just draw from my coffee to the view out of the window. This year I’ve been drawing in Matilda Tristram’s My Year in Small Drawings book and it has spawned whole new range of work related to the Isle of Bute.
What would you like to do next?
I would really love to spend time producing a body of work related to a particular place and its animals. I’d love to follow an endangered animal in its natural habitat and create a body of work to highlight its plight. The bee for me for in a small way my homage to this amazing insect but I’m also concerned about their welfare and impact on our natural world.
Ruth's Exhibition opens on 8th September and runs to 7th October. We would be delighted if you could join us from 2pm for the opening.
Gallery opening hours:
Sunday - Friday 11am - 4pm
Saturday 10am - 5pm.