Artist Talk at RWA on our experience of working in a collaboration

We enjoyed giving an artist talk at the RWA in Bristol to Academicians and Artist Network Members about our experience of working in a collaboration.

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We have been successfully collaborating for a couple of years now and we are continually fascinated by how this working relationship is developing, not only in our joint work, but also how it informs our own individual practice.  We have such diverse and contrasting methods of working, so by continuing to explore them in parallel with the collaboration, their development strengthens our input into the collaborative work.  It leads us to be more critical of our own mark-making and to be prepared to defend and justify our decisions – which enriches the art process and leads to some very enjoyable, lively discussions!

We always stick to the rules that no discussion is ever ‘personal’ and all criticism has to be constructive – we may not always agree, but we find that can often be a good thing, as it challenges us to push the work beyond its boundaries and this makes it more interesting.  It was initially a little daunting to be working over the top of another artist’s work, so we also have the rule that we can’t be ‘precious’ about the work, otherwise it would be too difficult to draw or paint over it.

We have also been very aware of ensuring that we have equal input in the collaboration, so that no-one feels they are making a larger contribution.  We both contribute to all tasks, but we’ve been lucky to find that we have some complementary skill-sets  – which means that we have been able to naturally split a few of the inevitable, additional roles that being practising artists involve, such as admin, managing the finances, marketing, networking, websites, social media, submitting for exhibitions, applying for funding etc.  Being able to allocate roles has made our collaboration a lot easier to manage, especially as our two studios are 70 miles apart.  It also makes it simpler for clients, curators and gallerists to deal with one particular person within the collaboration, for ease of continuity.  It does mean though that we have to be quite well organised and masters of producing long lists on the back of envelopes!

We’re often asked how we jointly decide when a work is finished – that is always a difficult question! – however, we usually start to get a good feeling for a piece of work when we get to the 6th or 7th layer, so that’s when we organise a joint studio day and we discuss how close it is to achieving the aim of the work, ie does it capture the relationship of the farmer, the sheep and the dogs and represent their movements in an engaging and interesting way?

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We then agree between us the final marks that we hope will achieve this and make them on that day.  If a work is proving difficult to resolve, then we will leave it to settle for a while and look at it again on our next joint studio day – we work on several pieces at the same time, so there’s never a shortage of paintings in development.  We have found though, that once a piece of work is finalised, we do try and get it framed behind glass as quickly as possible, as there’s sometimes a temptation to have a fiddle and that’s not always a good thing!  We’ve been fortunate in that most of our works have gone straight from the framers to exhibitions and so the next time we see them it’s on the walls of a gallery, which is always exciting, as they can look very different once they’ve been beautifully float mounted and framed.

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We’d highly recommend to other artists that they should consider collaborating at some stage with someone – it doesn’t have to be another artist – as, for us, it’s allowed us to develop our work in ways that we wouldn’t have thought possible and challenged us take different approaches, learning new skills along the way – always a good thing!

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We’d love to hear about other people’s experience of collaborations, so please feel free to add your comments or links to blogs/websites.

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