Artist Spotlight features the best and brightest artists in their respective fields. PortPrep interviews each of them as they discuss their experiences on how they got into the arts, what it was like studying and getting a degree in arts and design, and the important traits necessary in becoming a successful artist. Click here to check out other interviews.
If you have been researching about life drawing online, you may have stumbled upon a site named lovelifedrawing.com. In fact, if you are really serious in developing your life drawing skills, then you should have already tried out their online courses on how to properly do life drawing.
The site is a labor of love made by mother and son tandem Mayko and Kenzo Fry. Mayko is an award-winning artist who specializes in life drawing. She provides the information and artworks seen on their website, while her son Kenzo does the webmaster duties for the site.
Due to her expertise in life drawing, we requested an interview with Mayko Fry. Thankfully, she agreed to answer questions about why she decided to take up arts as a degree and profession, and what obstacles should aspiring students watch out for on their path to becoming a professional artist.
Tell us a little bit about yourself.
I was born in Tokyo. I loved drawing as far back as I can remember. I started learning watercolour painting from a local painter when I was 6 years old. However, I didn’t associate art with academic study, and instead I studied French literature at university. Art continued to fill my spare time. I moved to Paris and it was there that I discovered my passion for life drawing. This was thanks to the life drawing sessions at La Grande Chaumière, an academy for artists. If there was ever a place that could inspire a young artist, that was it. I drew and painted there for nearly 4 years and then moved to the UK where I took a Bachelor of Arts in painting.
How did you know that you wanted to study arts before going into college?
I had some great art teachers in my youth, but I still didn’t associate studying art with university level study. After years of self taught practise, I started to feel the need for more a thorough approach to art. I thought that disciplined and structured study would help me to develop my own style. So I decided to take a BA course. Because of my experience, I was able to skip the foundation course and go straight to the BA.
Did you have to create an art portfolio as part of the requirements before getting into college? How was that like for you?
I’ve made three major portfolios in my life: for the BA painting course, an MA in sequential illustration and one for when I was looking for illustration work. The size of the portfolio diminished each time, A1, A2 and then A3. That reflects the nature of work inside. When I applied for the BA, I had a lot of life drawings and paintings, but not much else. That made me feel nervous, but I told myself I only have what I have!
I spent a lot of time to prepare the portfolios, especially mounting. I used black mounts at the beginning, but later I changed to off-white, which I think was a good move.
How did your college education shape you into becoming the artist you are now?
I did my BA in painting in the early 90s. At the time, the mainstream in the art world was conceptual art and abstract-expressionism. So it wasn’t an easy time for a figurative artist like me. The tutors of the college were almost all abstract/conceptual artists. However, they gave me a good space to work in and good facilities to use – I learned canvas making from scratch, without worrying about making a mess. All this enabled me to compose big paintings and this experience – composing in freedom – is perhaps the most valuable asset I gained thanks to the course. The tutors continuously criticised my work as illustrative. This was simply because my work contained realistic figures, I think. I didn’t take that criticism entirely negatively though, especially since I was able to do some illustration work after college.
What were the most important lessons you learned while studying in a college art program?
There wasn’t a structured ‘art programme’ in my course. There were instead individual assessments by the tutors at the end of each term. The students were working towards these assessments, trying to make some presentable work to show. I painted for at least 5 hours a day in my space. This process gave me something invaluable – discipline. I learned that art is physical as much as it is mental and spiritual. It’s something for which you have to commit a big chunk your time and space.
How much did college prepare you for your professional work as an artist?
That discipline that I mentioned above is perhaps the crucial thing. They also taught me some of the craft of painting – how to make different types of canvas primer for example. My course offered me very little in terms of actual drawing and painting skills. I hope that courses nowadays are putting more emphasis on these technical skills!
What should students consider before studying art?
One of the most difficult things to know is what one really loves to do in life, especially when you are young (or in fact at any time of life!). So you don’t have to be 100% sure if you can commit yourself to art for life, before you embark on studying art. However, I think you need to know from the beginning if you have the capacity to be alone for hours, which is a prerequisite to being a painter, sculptor or print maker. If you prefer the company of others, you may be best of considering filmmaking, performance art or other artistic endeavours.
As for the choice of college, you should research the school as much as you can to find out if it is the right place for you. Going to the school’s annual graduate show is one of the best ways to know if it’s going to be a place that can nurture your creativity.
What is being a painter like as an occupation? Does it have a a competitive market with lots of demand or is it a relatively small industry with select people and clients?
I think the art market is becoming more fluid than before, thanks to the internet and the existence of online galleries and new ways of sharing your work. It’s a good idea to learn about these new ways of doing things. Of course, having graduated from a prestigious art institution or belonging to famous art societies and groups will still help you to find work to some extent, but now those things won’t guarantee regular sales of your work.
One exception, perhaps, is portraiture. There is a lot of demand for that and if you establish yourself in that field, it may be possible to make a living out of it. However, portraiture, if you want to make a good money out of it, is a business as much as it is an art, and you will have to know well how to deal with client (the sitter themselves and the family of the sitter).
What encourage you to put up lovelifedrawing.com?
One of the strange things about the fine art world is it isn’t concerned enough about technical skills. There is technique and potential for improvements to everything we do, and painting and drawing are no exception. But somehow the art world got it into its head that fussing over techniques and skills belongs to recreational artists, but are much less relevant to serious fine artists. No one thinks this way in the music or sport world. We wanted to shine a light on the technical side, and help aspiring artists to be equipped with basic skills. There’s no better way of doing this than life drawing.
What are some of the obstacles that being a painter has to overcome?
The first obstacle is financial worries. They are always somewhere near for most of artists, and we have to juggle our lives around them. It is very difficult to support one’s life by only fine art, so most of us need other jobs or means. Many painters teach to make ends meet.
The next is more of a mental thing; painting is solitary work and requires a lot of consistent self-discipline, which means physical action everyday. What I mean is actually making the paintings and drawings, not just thinking about them. We often mistake ideas with actual work.
Finally, self-doubt. It is very troublesome and can make artists give up art entirely. How do you overcome? I don’t know! I’m just thankful I can carry on painting today.
What are the keys to success in becoming a great painter?
Insensitivity to self-doubt.