Originally from Halifax, West Yorkshire, Helen Millington, both an artist and a teacher, now finds herself settled in the pleasant town of Kirkcaldy on the beautiful East Coast of Scotland.
Studying Fine Art at Huddersfield School of Art and recently graduating from the University of The West of Scotland with a Masters Degree in Arts and Education. Helen seems to have found a perfect balance between her full time role as an Art teacher and pursuing her own creative work.
Helen tells us what it is like to study a traditional subject, balancing teaching with her own work and shares a little word of encouragement for all you aspiring artists & teachers out there….
What is your earliest creative memory?
My earliest creative memory is painting in the garden on my little easel. Another early memory is watching ‘Hartbeat’ with artist Tony Hart on BBC1!
A lot of people are put off by studying Fine Art due to today’s working environment being so digital, what made you make your decision to follow your passion anyway?
When I attended university in 2005, tablets were a rarity. The course was hugely inspiring and traditionally taught. Three hours of life drawing on a Monday morning, followed by weekly crits and regular constructive criticism from tutors which certainly toughened you up and made students more resilient. We were encouraged to set up a blog, but facebook hadn’t taken off so we relied on visiting exhibitions and sharing ideas. In hindsight, pinterest would have been a lovely resource to have back in 2005. Digital media has since enhanced creative courses but if you are considering a course in fine art, I can assure you that the fundamental aspects of drawing will still be present, as they should be.
For our aspiring fine artists out there… Would you say working, as an Art Teacher is a great stable job to keep you going while working on your art on the side?
The MEd I have recently completed at The University of The West of Scotland specialised in artists and teachers working as one. The course title is ‘artist teacher’. I wholeheartedly agree that the two should crossover. The stability of teaching is reassuring but by bringing in elements of my own personal practice, the pupils can see the potential of the subject, and where it can lead. I am currently in a department where I and at least two other art teachers regularly sell work through galleries, websites and open studios. This makes for an inspiring, energetic atmosphere. The holidays are generous in teaching, and as long as you manage your time efficiently, the holidays can be a very lucrative period.
What do you love most about being an artist? And also a teacher?
Introducing my favourite artists to pupils and them being well received is always a positive. Teaching can be incredibly rewarding, especially when you are working within a supportive department with likeminded people. As an artist I enjoy the endless possibilities that creativity brings. The opportunity to record observations of life through different mediums is exciting, I would urge anyone to give it a go.
We are obsessed with your pet portraits (so cute!!) what is the process for this? Do owners send you pictures of their pets to you?
The portraits started out after I painted my mate Kirsty’s Chicken. It was fairly late at night and she had posted photos of her Chicken. I shared the painting and my Brother asked me to paint his dog Teddy. I then started to advertise and I took a few more commissions. There is a page on my website dedicated to the pet portraits, all I require is a clear photo of a pet. I guess the whole thing started out as a happy accident, so I can thank Edna the Chicken for that!
What is your favourite subject matter to paint?
I like to paint fairly morbid illustrations. A few years ago I was having a difficult time and I started to paint skulls. I have struggled with pretty severe depression from an early age and I find the process of painting macabre pieces cathartic! I have recently been working on a series of illustrations based on my personal experiences of mental health and discrimination.
Working within the creative industry is fun yet very difficult at times… Any advice to other traditional artists out there who are in need of some motivation?
Paint what you enjoy. Try and draw every day, even if it is just for five minutes. Email galleries, even the posh ones! Email them pieces of your work with a short statement. They can only say no.
And we second that strongly! The worst they can say is no… but what’s worse than that, is never trying and never knowing if that answer might of been a yes!
Check out more from artist Helen Milligan: