A Chat With A Cumbrian Artist

Part 2. Daniel Ibbotson

a series of casual chats about being a professional artist in Cumbria today.

you can find out more about Daniel and his work on his website.

Catriona
So we’re Sat in the second exhibition that you've organised this year, 
So I'm guessing this year you've gone from not just artist but to 
curator, organiser and all around busy person.

Dan
That’s right, a stressed person

Catriona
Big on the stress! And so if you could tell me… we'll start with your 
education or background in art. How you got into being and making art?

Dan
Okay. I went to Morecambe High School And just got my O level in Art, 
which obviously triggered my interest in it. But my main inspiration 
was football crowds when I was younger and drawing the reactions of 
the football crowds to goals and to the difference movement within a 
crowd. And also the colours within the mass groups of people 
supporting the same team. So obviously there's set colours within 
those huge areas. Making expanses of human movement which was the 
first interest for me. 

After that I started drawing. When I went to London to work, I started 
drawing my friends and different situations that I was in, even if it 
was waiting in the dole queue at Brixton Dole office and I’d draw 
pictures of people and different types of behaviour. So I became more 
interested in experience, drawing what I experienced in my life. Now 
after that, I applied for Brixton college, which was Lambeth college 
today. My foundation back in about 1994 something like that and they 
give us a chance so I did a year there and then moved on to Middlesex 
University to do a degree. And when I got to Middlesex, I worked on the 
building sites during the day and then, because we had 24 hour access 
to the studios I was in, I went in at night and just worked like crazy. 
But I ended up picking up things from work and that I used within my 
pictures. So any buildings that were stripping or you know, we were 
peeling off history in the buildings, I would collect material, put 
them into plastic bags and take them up to Middlesex, why I would 
include the work and into the pieces I was doing. And from there, that 
developed. I got a first class degree, which is brilliant, you know, 
for myself after that I applied for the Royal College through a 
recommendation, but I wasn't organised enough in my application, it 
was a bloody shambles because I was stoned out of my head when I did 
it. It was me and my friend, a photographer, made a bit of a pig's 
ear. So, so that didn't work out. So eventually….

We took a short break to allow someone to come into the gallery and 
then restart our conversation…

Catriona
So you were too stoned to get into RCA... 

Dan  To present work that was acceptable, my friends took the pictures 
but he was the one who was causing the damage, so between the two of 
us it wasn’t a very good end product. And I got told off by the tutor 
who had recommended me! Anyway, that was my first introduction to 
preparing your work for potential buyers or competitions and 
everything else. A lesson in, you know, preparation and presentation 
of your work. So ever since then, because I missed out on a fantastic 
opportunity, going to RCA, simply because the work wasn’t presented 
well, it was off the scale pathetic. So then I took a break for 15 
years. We moved back to Carlisle, because by then My daughter had 
been born and after that my wife was due with our second child so we 
decided to move up to Carlisle and I didn’t do anything, well 
artistically, in a painters sense, for a few years. In the meantime 
I used to teach dance all over Cumbria and graffiti art. I got 
approached by Cumbria dance to do it, just because I attended a class, 
and from there I did a couple of years of that before that all ended. 
Then I returned to my painting, in 2016. So I’d taken a break of 
maybe 15, 16 years. But in the meantime I’d still worked on pieces on 
my own and developed a style I was really happy with and that suited 
my day to day job obviously being a decorator, just picked up loads 
of waste materials and used them creatively so that was what 
sustained me through that period of not exhibiting at galleries, 
exhibitions or whatever. 

Catriona 
So you used those techniques that you picked up during your degree 
and developed your personal style and even though you weren’t out 
there, you were still working on it and chipping away at the old 
block? 

Dan 
Yeah, that was the key, that time wasn’t wasted it was, you know, 
utilising free materials for a start which suited myself and the way 
I wanted to work. So from there I applied to Carlisle Art Fair, 
which was in the Sands Centre, it was errr...I think there were four 
people who came on the first day, it was a boiling hot August day 
and then the second day it rained luckily so more people came in but 
it was still rubbish. But it got me going, then I applied for 
Cumbria Artist Of The Year, with a big painting which I didn’t think 
would get in, but it got in. It was made of sheets of sand paper, 
it was an overhead view of the lake district, that then rolled on to 
exhibiting at Derek Eland’s Gallery, No. 3, he accepted a couple of 
pieces then I did the Cathedral. Then I started applying to 
competitions like UpFront’s. Got some work in there, then a bit of 
success, got short listed for a couple of things, the public vote 
for the Cumbria Artist Of The Year, I won the UpFront competition 
which was amazing and really exciting. It was a double sided 
painting, based on a trip to Italy, and also the barns and 
architecture within Cumbria, so I based the painting on those two 
things, so if anyone asks about it I had the experience and all 
the knowledge to explain it. So the semi abstract, very textured 
pieces I was doing, were based on layers of experiences that I was 
having and I would put them all in to a pot, mix them up and see 
what I would come up with as far as presentation, because each 
layer could have been presented on its own. So that way, that was 
they style I was developing, multi layered experiences, multi 
textures and some of the textures may not have been related to 
the theme of the painting, they all came together and that’s how 
I decided how I was going to work. So from there I started 
picking up things when I was out walking with the dog, simply 
because that was the experience, and I like using different walks, 
I’d walk in the country and pick up bits there, but then wed do 
back alley walks where we’d basically go street combing and pick 
up dolls arms and bits of old trainers or whatever. And that 
helped, it was free material and it just added my experience and 
this existence into the work. And I was much more comfortable with 
that than trying to achieve something more abstract, and maybe a 
little out of my range. I wasn’t kidding anyone with what I was 
doing in so far as the materials I was using and also my views on 
whatever form of this existence that we’re in. So that combination 
of things is what sustains us today. I still work in the same way, 
its all based on experience, collecting, using recyclable materials 
and if anything, the textures have increased to more sculptural 
levels rather than flat pieces of work. Royal Academy, went down 
and applied for their Summer Exhibition, I got through to the last 
stage in 2017 that was a real eye opener as far as excitement and 
what is possible, that has given me a lot of confidence even though 
I failed to get in and that was heart breaking because it took three 
months before they sent the text. 

Catriona 
The waiting game, isn’t it. Its so difficult, also, you can’t plan, 
you cant move forward, book a holiday, just in case you get selected! 

Dan 
And the other side of that is crushing disappointment but I enjoyed 
the experience. I actually did a series of works based on the period 
of time between applying and getting the result. Because that period 
was the best thing that happened during that experience, because it 
was always a possibility that I’d get in, so I could dream and put 
myself into that position and having that one off experience. I think 
it would’ve been absolutely amazing, especially after 10 years of 
living in London and visiting the RA regularly. To go back down there 
on the train with a decorators table with a colour chart on it, in the 
style of the original façade of the building it was a smart idea but 
the execution was a bit naff so I had to deal with that. But that 
experience gave me confidence to apply for different things, different 
competitions and the good thing about that now is that the 
disappointment will never be beaten. It was so much, I put so much 
effort into it, I don’t think I’ll ever be so disappointed from failure 
again. Catriona So you started high, and now you’re just winning at 
life. Dan It was so exciting, I wouldn’t have changed any of it, what a 
brilliant experience that was. So that’s us up today, well Covid came, 
I was just about to do the big art fairs, Manchester, Glasgow, Chester. 
I’d got accepted to them, I did Manchester last year and that was a 
really positive experience, 10,000 people. Friends and family came for 
the weekend and we had a ball, but this year its all been cancelled. So 
this, was really an idea I came up with, I got offered an old Florist 
shop on Scotland Road, and instead of dong it for myself, I thought, if 
you expand it and offer it to other people then more people will visit 
the shop and it just went from 20 to 30 to 40, then I had to stop, the 
space was only small so with restrictions on the size and everything 
else, we managed to sell quite a lot of work and that way. You create 
something for a lot of artists rather than just for yourself, you know. 
And that you know did my head a lot of good actually. So after that, I 
started thinking, right, what about the next one, where are you going 
to go with this? Are you going to stay in the same place and do the 
same thing or change venue and the amount of artists? The variety of 
work too that’s key. I don’t hold with the same type of work 
constantly, there’s lots of landscape painters that are not included in 
this exhibition simply because I’ve got the type of landscape painter 
I want. Now in the future it doesn’t mean they’re not included because 
the door is always open, this is not a club, membership people are free 
to come and go. And also retain their own independence, you don’t need 
to sign up for anything its just if I like your stuff I’ll contact you 
and you just turn up with your stuff and I’ll do the rest, try and sell 
your work. If we don’t sell your work you don’t get charged, and that 
is the key because then if you don’t sell a single thing, at least 
you’ve had the exposure and experience. 

Catriona
And you know, the whole financial aspect of it, in these times, 
anything that can support artists, makers, you know. 

Dan 
Anything at all and if you give them a nice platform, a well presented 
gallery. The advertising and graphics, it gives it a proper, 
professional look. And obviously its not Saville Row, New Bond Street 
standard but if we could get this to a standard where it could be okay, 
if we could do this elsewhere. With the range of work, It’s good for 
Carlisle, It would be nice if people would come from Newcastle to see 
these things instead of us always going over there for the big 
galleries. We’ve not really got the big galleries over here, there’s 
not really anything other than pop up shops at the moment, so my 
challenge is to try and find a solution to that hole. So this hopefully 
fills that. So maybe doing it once per season. Its a sacrifice as I 
can’t work when I’m putting on these shows, but the commission I earn 
allows me to do it. If I have a good space and present it well I can 
get well known names as well as new and upcoming artists on board and 
people will come. I’ve been lucky that people have accepted their 
invitation and that I’ve sold some work, so everyone benefits. 

Catriona 
So everyone’s a winner. So I’ll ask you a little double question, 
what is your job, what job title would you give to yourself? 

Dan 
Painter and Decorator and Artist 

Catriona 
So for you, because they feed off each other, they are mutually 
important? 

Dan 
Yes

Catriona 
How would you define what an artist is? Especially within this 
context where we have so many different levels, levels of 
experience. How do are you defining artists when you’re selecting? 
How are you defining it for yourself? 

Dan 
I think individualism as far as how you represent your work so I 
picked a lot of work based on it being different from everything 
else in the exhibition. I know there is some slightly similar but 
I look at the styles and the artists. I look at how the back 
catalogue of work, I do some research and see what I’m attracted 
to and not attracted. With certain artists I specifically pick the 
work I want because all of the work I like, but I’ve seen 
something that I will pinpoint and say these are what I want, the 
rest I’m not interested in, I have to be blunt its not an insult, 
its just I really like those and id like to exhibit and sell them 
for you, you know? Because those two pieces might be totally 
different from anything else in the exhibition and that excites me. 
It gives the exhibition more breadth and in the future it might 
event get broken down into smaller sections because we’re heading 
towards 100 artists with all different styles, its going to be 
difficult to find because after 75 you might find overlaps and 
feeling as though you’re repeating yourself. Going back to the 
question sorry, individuality and that persons self, I could see 
them with in the work. Even if its, sorry that’s the wrong thing 
to say because I don’t know that person, but I can see a style 
develop from that person, even if I don’t know them I can see a 
style developing from their personality and its constant, so 
that’s how I would define the work I’ve picked for the 
exhibition, its a collection of individual artists with 
individual styles that represents themselves. 

Catriona 
And outside of this exhibition, what is it that you think is the 
difference between an artist who paints as a hobby, or an 
amateur I guess. 

Dan 
Erm, that's difficult because without dissing amateur painters 
because in my own way I'm an armature because I don’t do this 
full time. So... 

Catriona 
But then that's saying that when we chatted earlier and we talked 
about the mutual, its beneficial also but you need that painter and 
decorator practice to gather materials, inspiration, so you know, 
does that stop you being a professional? Because you need that. No! 

Dan
No that’s right, its a, based on my own experience, if you can use 
your day job in a create way, to feed your art. Obviously you could 
have other jobs that could dictate and affect your work, If I 
worked in a shoe shop, perhaps my work would be very ordered, its a 
silly example, but you understand what I’m saying, when I’m at work 
because I’ve dealing with very textured, rough things all the time, 
that dictates how I present my work. But I can imagine if I had a
very clean job that… 

Catriona 
We won’t let you work in hospitals or a dentists then 

Dan 
Yeah, I don’t know its a difficult one that one, as far as I’m 
concern my day job dictates or has ended up dictating how I 
present my work and I’m sure that is not the case for most people 
but for me, it is. That’s my opinion, I find it really difficult 
to judge other peoples creative process because, its probably 
what interests me because I really like the why and how people 
have got to that point. Presentation, based on mundane job like 
myself or not maybe they’ve got an exciting job and do minimalist 
work. I don’t know, its fascinating to see how people reach their 
conclusion artistic with different lifestyles, so yeah. I’m 
probably sitting on the fence with that, its very hard to judge 
peoples processes as I can only relate to my own. 

Catriona 
Thank you for chatting to me about your experiences and yeah and 
everything you've got To turn on hope the rest of the exhibition 
as well. Thank you 

Date of chat 18th December 2020

Date published 30th December 2020

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