Interview with Deidre Ogilvie
Deidre Ogilvie was interviewed by Creativity Cluster facilitator Nancy Lane for the Melbourne City University of the Third Age (U3A) course Conversations with Artists on 10 February 2020 at the Kathleen Syme Library. Below are excerpts from the interview and several of Deidre’s artworks that show the variety of mediums she works in.
How did you get started?
Somebody once said, ‘If you are willing to do something that might not work, you’re one step closer to being an artist. All you have to do is love it.’
I have been doing craft-type things most of my life. As a young mother, I made clothes and soft toys for my kids, and knitted blankets for them. I used to make macramé hangings, including animals and dolls, to hang on nursery walls. When pot hangings were all the rage, I had several commissions The biggest one was 70 feet long, to hang in a double-height space.
I conducted classes and demonstrations in a variety of crafts at community centres and shopping centres across Melbourne. I demonstrated for a company that imported the modelling clay Fimo and fabric paints, and did a couple of demonstrations for Family Circle magazine.
Since retiring from full-time work, I have been taking various art classes. I have found that learning to paint is 10% tuition and 90% endeavour. I still take classes in oil painting, which is my favourite medium, and facilitate a U3A class in Albert Park. A friend of mine commented recently: ‘There is always a need to learn from different people, or you may be stuck with one person’s style. Allow your own style to develop.’
What are your favourite mediums?
When I started painting, I used acrylics. Although I have experimented with lots of different mediums and mixed media, my favourite medium is oil. This I am told is the easiest medium to use, although I do need a dedicated space to use it, as it can get messy.
The other main medium I use is water colour, which is the easiest to set up and can be done anywhere, but to master is really the hardest to use.
Lately I have been experimenting with alcohol ink, which is a real challenge. It is probably the hardest to control, so to use it, I really have to just go with the flow. This has to be done on a non-porous surface like Yupo paper or ceramic tiles. The main thing with this medium is: Don’t use too much, or it will turn into mud.
What most inspires you?
I am inspired mostly by photographs that I have taken in my travels, locally and internationally. Sometimes it’s buildings, sometimes it’s landscapes, or sunsets, or just a bunch of flowers in a shop, or some tree roots or doorways – lots of doorways!
It drives my husband crazy when I stop and take photos of random things, but this is the way I get my inspiration. I also take images from magazine and newspapers. Sometimes I take bits of them, and adapt them to create my own images.
You’ve painted pictures for children. How did you get involved in this?
I started doing this when I was looking for a present to take to a new expected grandchild in Canada. I asked my daughter what her favourite childhood things were and she said teddy bears, so this turned into the Teddy Bears Picnic, with images of the baby’s birth flower, Canadian maple leaf and my daughter’s teddy bear.
For her second child, I painted Grandfather Bear reading to his grandchildren with hidden significant images and references painted in. Others I have done include Ben and Holly, Thomas’s Room, Fairy and Unicorn, and The Tortoise and the Hare.
Where do you create your artworks?
I have the luxury of a spare bedroom that I have turned into an art studio. I covered the carpet with a heavy plastic drop sheet that I stapled to the edges, and then covered that with a fabric drop cloth so that spills are absorbed and hopefully not carried throughout the house.
When I work, I usually stand at an easel or sit at an old ironing board, as this can be adjusted to my required height. The ironing board stand has a great place to put my water when I am painting with water colours. It’s also great for my small grandchildren to sit around and create their own masterpieces. I use the spare bed standing against the wall as a pin board.
Where do you exhibit your art?
The first time I exhibited my work was at the Camberwell Art Show. I have exhibited from time to time in the local Rotary exhibitions in and around Melbourne. It is always good to see my work up for other people to see. It gives artists confidence to continue if they are lucky enough to be accepted into these shows.
I lived in the UK for a while and had one solo exhibition and a couple of group shows there. I also had an exhibition of my work in Italy after a mentoring session I did in Ostuni, Puglia.
More recently I’ve participated in exhibitions with the Creativity Cluster group, in Geelong as part of Renew Geelong, at the Docklands library and in the Louis Joel gallery in Altona. Some of my art group in Albert Park also had an exhibition at the South Melbourne Community Centre in December 2019 and January 2020.
Sending Christmas cards is old fashioned, but this is something I like to do to keep in touch with friends. I paint something new every year to send out to my mailing list.
I also show my work in four places online: Gallery247, Bluethumb, my Instagram account and now the Creativity Cluster website. These give me wide exposure, as well as somewhere to refer clients when they ask questions like ‘What sort of painting do you do?’ or ‘Are you still painting?’ (like it is some sort of disease).
You sell your art online. How does this work?
These take most of the hard work out of marketing, as well as protecting artists from scams. However, I still have to be careful. The site makes the sale and takes the money, then pays the artist, less their commission.
All the artist has to do is deliver to the client. The shipping costs are added to the sale price, some as an additional cost, some as part of the published price. The cost of shipping could take a big hunk out of the payment, so it is necessary to make sure this expense is covered in setting the price.
What meanings and ideas do you try to convey in your works?
This I find really difficult to answer as I paint first for my own sanity, then with the hope that other people will get some enjoyment from what I paint and find it interesting enough to look at. George Bernard Shaw said: ‘You use a glass mirror to see your face; you use works of art to see your soul.” I believe that art washes from the soul the dust of everyday life.
And as Andy Warhol said: ‘Don’t think about making art, just get it done. Let everyone else decide if it’s good or bad, whether they love it or hate it. While they are deciding, make even more art.’ I am very good at the theory; the practise is the hard part.
What are some of the things you’ve learned from being an artist?
Giving myself permission
Most artists have invisible mental habits that can be incredibly hard to overcome. That’s why I need to give myself permission, and the time and patience, to break away from my usual way of thinking. To become a successful artist, it is important not to frame things around ‘not enough’ – not enough time, not enough money, not enough confidence. This was the point where I needed to decide ‘Is this what I want to do?’ Once I dealt with that underlying fear, which is what it was, the other issues fell into place.
Comparisons are a good thing, but some people arealways going to be better at some things and worse at other things. I find that dwelling on this can stifle my creativity. A comparison with someone who is 20 years into their career could stunt my thought process. Instead, I might look at someone who is just starting, or close to my level of experience.
I like to invest my energy into comparing my recent work with the work I made six months, a year, five years ago, concentrating on my growth.
Being an artist is like anything else; you have to put in the work. This means making time to practise. Procrastination is one of my biggest stumbling blocks and stops me from making art.
I try to own the direction I am going and the willpower to change direction if it’s not working. Having said that, I do spend more time on deciding what to paint than the actual painting.
There’s no clearly defined work day, no boss telling me what to do, no promotions propelling me up the career ladder. But … maybe that was the appeal in the first place? I can’t make my best work if I’m not investing in myself.
‘Success is a marathon and not a sprint.’ I make time to stretch and exercise, go for walks and have conversions with others. This is the main purpose of the group that I facilitate – to collate and collect, give and get stimulation from others.
There are always going to be people who think I am wasting my time, assumptions that art is just a waste of time. I have to choose who I listen to and what advice to take. I try to spend time with people who push me to succeed and who inspire me.
The only path to growth is putting my work out to the public. I sometimes fail to get my work accepted, but this happens to everybody. Failure just means I am learning. This will happen again, as I am always learning.
Everybody contributes to the world in their own way. We need doctors, lawyers, economists and teachers, but we also need artists and craftsmen and creatives who make our world interesting, vibrant and enjoyable.
I like to think creative work is not a selfish act; it is a gift to the world and everybody in it. It is important not to cheat the world of any contributions. I remind myself that everybody’s work is important and needed. It is what makes us whole and able to contribute more fully to our family and friends.
Myth of the scatter-brained artist and the need for keeping track
It is always important to be organised to move forward, learning the skills necessary for selling my work. Mine is a small business. I need to keep track of my work, knowing where it is and who I sold it to. This I am not good at, but try to manage with a couple of spreadsheets. I also keep a photo album with the majority of my work.
Keeping track is sometimes difficult but a necessary evil if I am to know what I have displayed where, what has been entered into competitions, and what I have sold and to whom.
What constitutes a compliment?
If somebody has spent money to own my work, it is a real compliment. Just having people look at my work is a real compliment.
A group I was with in the UK were discussing insurance for work being displayed in a supermarket. Someone commented that if it was stolen this would be a great compliment. I am not sure I agree with this, but it does make you think.
Need for praise
It’s really scary putting myself out there, especially when I am personally invested in it – allowing the world to view my work, judge and critique it. Some people will like what I do, but some will not.
Self-doubt will always play a role, but I find it empowering to know that not everybody is going to like it. It means that my work is generating interest, talking points, and is being marked out as something different.
It is not my goal to sell to the mass market. That is the place for cheap prints. I would prefer that people buy my art because they feel a connection to it.
If somebody stops and has a second look at my work, I have succeeded. I ask myself if I would make the work today if no one would see it. The answer is yes, and I have a lot of work stacked up at home to prove it.
I know that my growth comes from within and not from external praise. Therefore, I keep painting, because not to paint would not work for me.