In the next of our Meet the Maker features, looking at contemporary Shetland craft makers showcased in our current ShetlandMade exhibition, we talk to Avril Thomson Smith about her work.
Where do you do your work?
I work from a small art studio in my home in central Lerwick.
What is your background?
I have been inspired by arts and crafts all my life. I started taking my practice seriously about 8 years ago. From there I have built a small art business, while balancing a full time job at Shetland College. I predominately focus on producing original acrylic paintings and limited edition prints. More recently I have developed my brand further to include a range of tea towels, notebooks, ceramics and a fun range of keyrings and brooches.
Who or what do you draw inspiration from?
I draw inspiration for the local scenery and wildlife. I love to explore the countryside, Shetlands landscape is so beautiful. I especially love Shetland during June as all the wild flowers bloom, it’s stunning. I try to capture this in my work.
How do you work, what is your process?
Creating a piece of artwork:
The process begins with a photograph, from there I create a basic sketch/outline. I then begin painting in the sky. The central part of each painting contains the most detail, this takes time, I like to include accuracy and produce a main focal point. The foreground is more fun, I add lots of colours and texture by building up layers of paint with different shaped brushes. The final addition is a splatter technique, which is very messy but adds an interesting element to the artwork
My landscape paintings get professionally scanned so that digital copies can be produced. The images are then used to design tea towels, greeting cards and notebooks.
Creating a ceramic croft house:
The process begins by shaping a piece of stoneware clay into a croft house shape using a range of tools. This takes approximately 40 minutes. I then leave the piece to dry for 2 weeks prior to bisque firing the piece in a kiln. I then apply 4 layers of glaze and refire the piece to create a shiny colourful finish. The glazing process is tricky as different coloured glaze will run together. Therefore I have to ensure that a very small area is left unglazed between glaze colours.
Do you have a favourite piece to make?
I get bored easily so I like to switch crafts and techniques regularly. This helps me to stay motivated. If I spent too much time on one product I get fed up!
What are your most popular pieces?
Acrylic croft house limited edition prints and tea towels.
How long does it tend to take you to complete a piece?
When creating a large acrylic painting, I would complete the work in stages of 1 or 2 hour sessions. A completed piece would take approximately 10 –12 hours. I can paint approximately 15 brooches or keyrings per hour.
What does your craft mean to you?
My craft means everything to me I live and breathe arts and crafts. I think about art every day, I am always mulling over new ideas no matter what I am doing. I look forward to getting my apron on and getting creative.
Do you make your art/craft full time or do you have another job?
I have a full time job at Shetland College - UHI delivering Scottish Vocational Qualifications to business administration students. I work part time with my art business.
Art aside, what do you like to do in your spare time?
I don’t have much spare time but I do like to explore the countryside, go for walks and spend time with my family.
If you could own another artist's work, who would you choose?
I love Ron Lawsons artwork, it’s so moody yet simplistic, the balance is striking and reminds me so much of the croft houses in Shetland.
Who are your biggest influences?
Pam Carter, and Ron Lawson both very different artists one very colourful and the other moody and dark. I love how they capture the landscape and atmosphere within each of their pieces.
How has your practice changed over time?
My practice has changed dramatically over the years. I used to produce very detailed pencil drawings of the Lerwick Lanes. Over the years I have become more focused on bright colours and I have started using a range of different painting techniques to add texture and depth. My work is also much larger in size now. I recently bought a kiln and I have been developing my ceramic knowledge and skills which has been fun and very messy.
What is next for you?
My plan is to develop my brand further and hopefully give up the day job!