Artist Focus: Paula Preston

Describe your style in a few words

 “That’s very you, that is” Exactly what this means remains a mystery to me. Mostly people say this when they see something that’s a bit wrong, juxtaposed, ironic, loosely provocative or quirky. Being asked to describe my style puts me in a very uncomfortable position. But then that’s also very me – being uncomfortable. I would say that my style is defined by circumstance and the urge to tell the truth. And I like old photos of people on days out.

Stitch Sketch with Natural Dyes and Seed Stitch

What are the main sources of inspiration in your life and work?

Another question that makes me think I am devoid of any relevant sources and unworthy of even being asked it. But I know what I like. Perfectly considered and well executed mistakes which turn out good. I love creating opportunities for curious adventure and not really knowing what the outcome will be. Kandinsky was my first crush. I fell for his synaesthesia and tiny spectacles. When I first saw his “improvisations” I was very moved and it dawned on me that we shared a secret visual language. I was inconsolable when I read that his creative use of form and colour was universal and relevant to any old Tom, Dick and Harry. I am over it now romantically, but refer to his art constantly when encouraging children to be free with their mark making.

Stencil on Marbeld Board Boaty Mc Boat Face

What projects are you working on?

It’s not fun, but like other teachers who love art, I try to change things from the inside. At school I am whistling in the wind mostly. I have tried using a trumpet, and even blew my own once, but I wasn’t very good at it and people found it disturbing. So, daily I strive to cajole colleagues to make more use of sketchbooks as thinking tools for the benefit of the children we work with.
Recently, after 20 years teaching across both key stages, I was placed in reception for the first time. After a lot of blinking in the headlights and wondering what on earth was going on, I realised that this was the most important phase of a child’s education. It is a stark reality that from Yr. R onwards, opportunities for creative play and art diminish.
I am currently working on challenging the mind set of my colleagues. I run demonstrations, provide staff workshops and freebies. I gave them all a copy of Keri Smith’s “Mess” and brand new sketchbooks to play in. Sadly, a recent monitoring session showed little improvement. A sweary banner has long been on my ‘to do’ list. Onwards and upwards! Natural dyes and stitchery are a big interest since discovering the work of Claire Wellesley Smith “Slow Stitch – mindful and contemplative textile art”. Avocados have featured large in this house since, for all the right reasons.
Talking about projects would not be right without mentioning this one – the Sketchbook Circle. Quite simply it has given me a new purpose and vision. My collaborations have been the periscope and air supply to my submarine of creativity. Apologies for the poor analogy, time is short, but I cannot over-egg its value to me. The reflection and daring that some of the collaborations have induced has been a bit life changing actually.

Montage of Burlesque Prints

Tell us a little bit about your working process?

Outside of school, as well as inside it, I am an artist. It keeps me sane and drives me mad respectively. On my day off (I went part time last year) I hang out in an art gallery in town with other artists and real art work and stuff. We talk about the artistic process, the world and printing costs and what inspires us and it feels good. It’s a pop up shop called “That Gallery” in Basingstoke and it fills the dearth of artistic expression in this, my hometown, like a pear drop in an empty swimming pool. But it’s a start. My work is eclectic and sporadic. Last season I worked mostly in wax and collage. This season I have played around with Burlesque imagery, stitchery and stencilling. Stitching is a therapy for me. A threading way to work through problems. The process of stencils intrigues me. There’s a street artist in Barcelona who goes by the name of B Toy Andrea, I would recommend a Google search. I researched the technique after seeing some of her stunning work up close in Menorca. Like Banksy, it’s all about preparation. Then, when you finally spray onto a precision cut stencil and lift, you are addicted. My garden fence and house walls bear witness to this. After a few sherbets, I often fight the urge to don a hoodie and brighten up the local railway tunnel.

Artist in Residence at Rooksdown Primary School

Which books and magazines are currently on your bedside table?

“Tracks” by Louise Erdrich, and the rest of the collection which imagines the lives, times and changing environment of North Dakota Indians across generations. A book on practical magic which seemed like a good idea at the time but I’ve yet to master any of the tricks.

What is the best piece of creative advice you have ever been given?

“You can’t colour a face orange!” My first teacher

“Or.. You could go and get a job at the A.A. like the rest of your mates.” – My mum and Dad – in the days of free art degrees.

“Please stop filling this place up with your weirdness. Why can’t you be like other mums?” - Rosa, my daughter.

“I don’t get it, but do it if it makes you happy” – Jamie, my husband.

Where else can we see your work?