Pictured above: Lichen
Rhona Duffy interviewed Scotland-based Rachel Davies to find out about her journey from hobbyist to professional, the passions that drive her art, and her advice to others who are setting out on their own mosaic art journeys.
BY RHONA DUFFY
What led you to mosaics?
I’ve always been interested in art as a hobby. When I was living in the US with my family, my mum came to visit and we went to a mosaic exhibition in a local art gallery together. It really opened my eyes to the possibilities of mosaic. I had a preconception that mosaics were fairly flat and grouted, so it was a wonderful surprise to discover there were a whole range of materials and techniques. That exhibition inspired me to get some materials and start experimenting in mosaic. I did it as a hobby for a few years and I took some classes with US-based teachers while I was living there – including Rachel Sager, Yulia Hanansen and Kelly Knickerbocker. I found it really beneficial to take classes by artists working with different styles and techniques, to help me decide what I liked and how I wanted to develop my practice. I’ve also since taken classes with Marian Shapiro and Dugald MacInnes.
How have you developed your career?
After about five years’ living in the US, we decided to return to live in Scotland. By that time I’d been a stay-at-home mum for about 10 years and I was ready to get back to work. My children were at school, so I had a choice of returning to work in the field in which I’d originally trained – as a clinical psychologist – or to see if I could turn my hobby it into a business. Because I really enjoyed mosaic art, and it would give me more flexibility in my family life, I decided to give that a go. One of the first things I did was join the British Association for Modern Mosaic (BAMM), which proved a key way for me to connect with other mosaic artists. I started out by exhibiting art, doing some open studio events and finding places to sell my work. I didn’t use social media much before embarking on mosaic, and it was some advice from Rachel Sager that led me to build a profile on Instagram. After holding some taster sessions at open studio events, I also started to teach in-person classes. And when the Covid-19 pandemic hit, I figured out a way to provide kits to students, which enabled me to take my classes online. They proved to be really popular and I ended up teaching hundreds of students from around the world during lockdown. Since restrictions eased, I’ve been enjoying doing a mix of face-to-face and online teaching.
Pictured: Red Rocks, Coastal Rocks and untitled.
What passions and inspirations drive you in your art?
I like artwork that has texture, which is why mosaic art appeals. I love using organic/natural materials – rocks I find that have interesting surfaces can provide inspiration for a piece of work. I also enjoy telling stories through my art. As I progress along my artistic journey, it’s becoming more important to me to create art with a meaning behind it that can spark conversations or create awareness of issues. For example, I recently submitted a piece to an exhibition run by the Mosaic Association of Australia and New Zealand (MAANZ) exhibition, which was about bullying. I also take inspiration from artists from a variety of disciplines, who push the boundaries of their creativity.
You make juggling a number of priorities in your career look effortless – from teaching classes, to your role as chair of the British Association for Modern Mosaic, community projects and creating art. Do you have any business and planning tips to share?
Appearances can be deceptive! I’ve found it much easier since my youngest child went to high school, which has freed up more time during the day to focus on my work. I’m also getting better at saying no to things, so that I can say yes to the things I want to do most. I’m learning to prioritise tasks and also to be more organised in my approach to them. I try to block out chunks of time in my diary – there’s time for admin and accounts, and time for creating. I don’t always stick to these time slots, but it definitely helps me decide what are my highest priorities for that week and to carve out the time to focus on them.
What do you enjoy the most about your work?
I most enjoy creating mosaics and teaching others. Being an artist can be isolating, so teaching mosaics helps me to achieve a good balance of time to create and time with other people. As a teacher, it’s also rewarding to see your students growing in confidence and developing their art practice. I also enjoy facilitating community projects and the conversations that start when people are being creative in a group setting.
What advice would you give to others looking to develop a career in mosaic art?
Keep practising and be open to new learning opportunities. Work out what your main sources of income will be. Social media has been one of the keys to my success and I recommend putting in the effort to learn about the platforms and how you can use them to promote yourself. Having some business training or knowledge is also really useful. I’ve taken training in marketing, selling and nurturing audiences, because they’re just as important as the art skills. You can make beautiful art, but if you don’t have the skills to sell it or an audience to sell to, then you won’t succeed in business. There are lots of organisations that offer free training or you can pay for some. Doing this has made a big difference to the way I approach things.
What are your plans for 2022?
Following some recent business training, I’ve already roughly planned out my year! I’ll be doing some more teaching, both in-person and online, I’ll be releasing some small collections of art, and I’ll also be creating some bigger pieces that allow me to develop different techniques and explore different themes.