• Kaleidoscope

Interview: Where Are They Now?

Updated: Nov 10, 2020

Featuring: The Gathered Gallery, written by Laura Vautour.

Natalie Field (left) and Emily Pittman (right) of The Gathered Gallery.
Natalie Field (left) and Emily Pittman (right) of The Gathered Gallery.

The Gathered Gallery is a virtual platform that assists artists in advancing their careers. Facilitated by Natalie Field in Toronto, Ontario, and Emily Pittman in St. John’s Newfoundland, The Gathered Gallery provides artists with connections and opportunities to be seen and heard. Over the span of a few years, they have built a community of peers, and continue to help artists gain practical skills in navigating the art world. Both Natalie and Emily are University of Guelph alumni who graduated from the Studio Art program in 2016. 

If you could go back in time, what advice would you give yourself entering the first year of a studio art degree? 

E: I’d tell myself not to worry about finding a style or a consistent practice right away; that it will come naturally over time. Use these years to experiment and play. Don’t take anything you make too seriously. Ask every question you think of and learn everything you can from your peers and professors. 

N: Get involved in student initiatives such as FAN and Kaleidoscope in the first and second year and be open to trying mediums that you know nothing about. It's okay if you are not so great at them, but you never know what you’ll learn until you try!

Describe what it felt like when you first believed that creating The Gathered Gallery could be a success? Also, what does success means to you?

E & N: When we first started The Gathered Gallery, it was a way for us to keep a record of the artists who were inspiring us, offer a piece of writing in response to their work, and create connections after leaving the extremely supportive Guelph community. We also wanted a project to work on together and keep our friendship strong after graduating since we knew we were going to be living in two different provinces (Emily in Newfoundland and Natalie in Ontario). 

Meeting these goals was our definition of success when we first created this project, and we’re thrilled to say we’ve achieved this and more. We’ve created opportunities for artists to learn professional skills, as well as a platform to host digital residencies for artists to share their perspective and practice. The Gathered Gallery has also given us the opportunity to travel, attend residencies, work with incredible artists, and learn so many different skills over the last four years! 

Today, success to us also means impacting an artist’s practice in some way. For example, through an artist feature or the professional development of an artist. We’ve been doing this through workshops, virtual studio visits, and are creating more opportunities for this kind of hands-on support in the future. 

What has been the most challenging part of creating this online community, and how have you made efforts to overcome such challenges?

E & N: Some of the challenges we have faced include developing strong relationships through a digital platform, maintaining the treadmill of social media and content creation, and working remotely from two different time zones. The labour associated with application writing for grants, residencies, and other arts programming, as well as the rejection that comes along with it, is a challenging experience all artists go through (ourselves included). 

We have developed strategies in order to help others work through and overcome these challenges, such as: creating virtual one-on-one or small group connections with artists, going to schools and talking to students about building a creative career, making our own opportunities by collaborating with other artists on exciting projects, travelling to see each other regularly and using these trips as dedicated work sprints, and using technology to streamline our operations to work more effectively while we’re apart. Each challenge we face creates a new opportunity for us to learn from. With this mindset, we’ve broadened our skillset and pushed ourselves forward every year. 

What was the best piece of advice you received from a studio art professor at Guelph, and how has it impacted your creative practice? 

E: While volunteering for a gallery to help hang an exhibition, a professor reminded me that “it’s okay to hang someone else’s art, but [to] make sure it doesn’t replace making [my] own.” This is a reminder I still think about to this day, as I balance my own practice with time spent contributing to artist communities and spaces.

N: When discussing the inevitable change in studio space after leaving art school, a professor encouraged me to allow my work to adapt to the new limits on space and that this shift could offer a new way of working through an idea. It can be easy to use the lack of space as an excuse to stop creating artwork, but it can also give you a new perspective which can be super helpful. 

How long has it been since you graduated? Since then, what has been the most insightful lesson you both have learned regarding a career in the arts? 

E & N: We both graduated in 2016, so four and a half years ago. Wow, has time ever gone quickly!

E: In the past four years I’ve learned that creativity comes in a cycle. There are highs where you’re in your studio every day, producing art and having lots of opportunities come your way. Then there are lows where you have no ideas and you don’t feel like making anything, or there just doesn’t seem to be interest in your work. When you’re in the middle of a low, it feels like you’ll never get out of it. But, having faith that another wave of creativity will come can help the downtime be more restful and help build energy for when you’re back in the flow. Be patient with yourself and remember that you’re building a sustainable career - it doesn’t happen overnight! 

N: There are so many ways to be an “artist”. For example: being a painter, writer, potter, photographer, illustrator, or anything in between. Do not let any specific idea of who an artist should be define your creative journey. Allow yourself to be open to what being an artist means for you. Follow your curiosity and allow your interests and your practice to change and evolve over time. 

What was your focus while studying at the University of Guelph? In terms of discipline, medium, and process. How has this evolved since graduating?

E: In school, my focus was painting and drawing. I’ve always used a lot of colour, and I started painting houses in Painting III and I haven’t stopped since. I also did an English degree (double major) so my time was split between art and writing, very much like it is now!

N: I focused my studies on painting, drawing, and printmaking. Within painting, I was interested in childhood memories and how they exist through photos and stories more than your actual memory. My drawing and printmaking work were more closely tied. With these mediums, I explored light and shadow and the effect they have on transforming the two-dimensional into the three-dimensional. Since graduating, I have continued to explore drawing using sheer and malleable materials that create interesting shadows when manipulated.

Do you have any other nuggets of wisdom or encouragement for studio art students, especially during this time of COVID-19 and restricted access to studios?  

E & N: Use the internet! There are so many resources and opportunities for connection and learning. You can grow an entire art career from your home. Our project could not exist without digital spaces. Embracing remote work can bring incredible opportunities to collaborate with other artists all over the world. This can also be a time for introspection. Use this time away from in-person connection with others to find your own voice and get clear on your goals for your work and your career. 

Thank you, Natalie and Emily, for sharing your helpful insight and telling us more about the Gathered Gallery.

Head to their website www.thegatheredgallery.com to see the many resources and services they offer to students and artists. Follow them on Instagram @thegatheredgallery to keep up to date with all that they do.

Laura Vautour is in her fourth year of the Studio Art program with a Creative Writing minor. When she isn’t writing or creating art, she loves to take care of her plants. Through the interview series Where Are They Now?, Laura’s goal is to inspire current students by showcasing Studio Art alumni who work in the arts.

If you are an alumnus from the College of Arts at the University of Guelph and are interested in sharing where you are at today, please email Laura at lvautour@uoguelph.ca to be interviewed.

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