Beth Garnett is an artist and maker who creates quirky mixed media work. She has worked with ceramics, needle felting and crochet, and recently started to work with pyrography. She currently lives in Cornwall, after moving there to study an MA in Illustration. I was interested in the playful, eclectic way that she uses materials. We spoke about the differences between creating art with wood and paper, Beth’s creative process, and why she works with such a diverse range of materials.
Tell us about you and your work?
I live in Cornwall, though I’m from Reading originally. I have always liked drawing. I’m a complete introvert, more so as I get older. I do a bit of drawing and painting, and I make things too. At the moment I make a lots of brooches and decorations on woodslices, using a combination of pyrography and paint.
What materials do you like to use?
The woodslices I use in my pyrography are currently locally sourced offcuts from pruning and tree felling. Having a gardener for a husband is really useful! Sometimes customers save me bits of wood from their gardens or drag things they’ve found on their walks back for me. I also collect fabric, threads, wire, and all sorts of things because I always have it in my head that I’m going to make more. As for my 2D work, it’s mixed media: inks, crayons, watercolours, felt tip…it would probably be easier to make a list of things I don’t use!
Your painting style is very lively and fluid. How has your work and style developed over time?
I’ve spent a long time trying to develop a really gestural, lively way of mark making. I can’t spend a long time on a piece of work, I get bored, but I have spent hours repeating a three minute image until it looks perfectly impulsive! As I’ve got older, and since doing my MA, I’ve developed more confidence. I’m quite a perfectionist but I’m drawn to the imperfect; the honesty of the mark. So I use play as a way to try and make that moment when something just works happen more often, and I’ve learned to care a little less. It has to be fun otherwise it feels pointless and I don’t end up with work I care about.
How did you begin pyrography? What do you enjoy about working with wood compared to working on paper?
Completely accidentally! My husband carves wood. He makes these beautiful spoons and trinket dishes and things in the green (fresh wood). He fancied trying pyrography on his work so I bought him a cheap machine for his birthday. Somehow I ended being the one who used it. I was doing a Christmas market so decorations from all this wood lying around seemed like something worth trying. It’s sort of gone from there. If I’m totally honest, this happened by accident and I don’t love working on wood, in fact it’s really frustrating at times! But I do love making things rather than just images, and this just happens to be the thing I’m making the most of at the moment. I find making puts me into that creative place really quickly – that relaxed focus that my best creative moments emerge from. With my painting and drawing there’s so much history and struggle behind it – it’s hard to relax and have confidence in it sometimes. But for some reason I find making stuff is like having a sneaky way in through the back door to that place I need to be in.
A lot of your work focuses on animals. How did this theme develop?
I think it’s just a natural interest in them. The natural world is weird and wonderful, and I can’t believe some of the stuff that’s in it. Plus, animals have faces, they can look so silly or sneaky or whatever you like. I also love birds so I draw a lot of them. My first degree was in Illustration for Children’s Publishing so that’s affected the way I draw, but I’ve never been interested in drawing things that don’t move or don’t have life in them. In recent years I’ve become more interested in the habitats and creatures around me, insects like moths and bees and bugs, so I also work on some less silly things that celebrate those.
What are your main sources of inspiration?
For my character work it tends to be things I find silly, joyful, just playful, idiotic stuff. I definitely think I’m funnier than I am, so it’s a good outlet for that. But on a wider level it’s colour, nature, pattern, wildlife. Cornwall is a constant source of inspiration, it’s such a beautiful part of the world to live in.
What is your creative process like? How do you create a piece of work from start to finish?
It’s playful and experimental. I always have my materials to hand, so often I’ll just fancy drawing birds and using some neon paint so I’ll do that and see where it takes me. For new character work I tend to sketch things out in brush pen or soft pencil first, quickly trying different ideas, but other times the idea is just sort of there. I’ll think, well – maybe there’s a chicken who’s really into the Wu-Tang Clan, that might be fun. I’ll do a little scribble, the chicken will look at me, he’ll be saying something utterly stupid and I’ll think, right, you’re going on a brooch.
When it’s not silly chickens, or cats, or whatever, it’s still playful in its process. I play with the media, I make patterns and marks, I try to pinpoint what it is I am really interested in about a thing and it will either slowly come together or it won’t. Recently I’ve started using collage to use all the bits and pieces in those times it doesn’t, to make something whole. That’s quite an exciting development.
What is your creative set up like? Where do you create your work?
The spare bedroom is my workspace. I’d say it’s 65% full of materials I rarely use because I collect craft things hoping I’ll get round to doing something with them. The other 35% is the stuff I need regularly. My husband calls me a craft-grazer. There’s a desk, drawings on the walls, general chaos and a window that looks out to the field behind our house.
What are the most challenging parts of working as an artist?
Having confidence in your work. Not knowing if you like what you’ve just made because it’s new or because it’s good. Trying to be you and not anyone else. Always wanting to do more. Pricing. Selling yourself. Networking when you’re an introvert. Having to say ‘I burn cats’.
And what are the best parts?
When someone just gets something the same way as you do. They think a grumpy cat singing MMMbop is funny and – who would’ve thought it – worthy of parting with cash in order to pin it to their cardigan. Or they see a drawing and respond with the same buzz I was feeling when I was making it, they point out my favourite mark or the same splash of colour that makes my heart sing. That’s always a very pleasant surprise. Getting to say “I burn cats.”
What advice would you give to someone just starting out?
Assuming you already make or draw stuff and you want to start selling it…look at the stuff you make and try to work out what connects it all. That’s the thing that you are selling, and knowing what that is will help connect with your customers and followers better. If it’s something weird, don’t worry. That’s the best kind of thing to have.
Know who your customers are and focus on them. Don’t waste time trying to sell to just anyone, not everyone is a potential customer. Friends and family are completely valid customers, don’t worry if that’s all who buys your stuff for a bit. They will be the ones who rave about your stuff the most.
Define your own idea of success. Where do you want this to go? It’s not always about creating full-time.
Think about business cards, packaging, promotional materials, photography. You can’t do it all to start with but every time you can afford to up your game on this side of stuff, do it and aim high. If you do craft fairs, talk to the other stall holders. I’ve had good fairs and rubbish ones but I’ve always come away with contacts, good advice, tips, leads and – best of all – swapsies!
Most importantly – Play!!
What are you currently working on? And what’s next?
At the moment I’m entering full-on Christmas mode. I’ve just dropped my day job down to 3 days a week to try to make my creative stuff into something bigger. My idea of success would be to not need to work full-time in a day job because this stuff make a fairly consistent and significant contribution to our income, so this is a big step for us to see if I can make that happen.
All images copyright of Beth Garnett.
You can find more of Beth’s work on her website at www.bethgarnett.com, or on Facebook at www.facebook.com/ArtistBethGarnett.