Jo Sheppard is a professional fine artist. She trained as a teacher and taught art & design in secondary schools until she took a career break to start a family; now her children are older she combines teaching adult education with working in the studio.
A DAY IN YOUR LIFE
Tell us about what you do
The majority of my paintings are created on canvas using colour washes, overlaid with areas of impasto. The initial stage of many works is akin to action painting, pouring paint and taking controlled risks- sometimes just relying on chance. Working with poured washes, dripping and splashing can be unpredictable, although at its best it is revelatory.
Jo Sheppard, Elgin
I like to experiment with different techniques and materials, such as sand, wax and sgrafitto. I remove the superfluous, and focus on what is important at the time, to varying degrees of abstraction.
What does a typical day as an artist look like for you?
Once the children are at school, I dedicate a little time to administrative tasks such checking emails, finances, update my website etc. to keep all my paperwork up to date. I find if it is done daily it becomes a less onerous task. I will then work at the studio for between four to six hours. This time is usually spend drawing or painting but occasionally there are less exciting things but unavoidable things which need to be done. I like to be back home when the children return from school, but later there may be a chance to grab some more time which I may use to work on the computer, mount or frame work etc.
What is the most rewarding part of your work?
The most rewarding part of my work must be seeing work mounted, framed and hung - it is like the icing on the cake. I produce artwork primarily through a ‘need’ to create, but it is also important for me to share the final outcome with others.
What is the most challenging part of your work?
I always find finishing a work a challenge. I tend to procrastinate as there is such a fine line between a piece being finished or overworked. It may well take me two or three weeks to add the finishing touches.
What skills are essential to you?
Colour mixing and applying paint are skills are needed on a daily basis and it also essential to have a willingness to explore and experiment and say simply ‘let’s see what happens’ without being too precious about the results. It is essential to have the ability to learn through your mistakes. There are others skills also, such as time management skills and self-motivation which have helped me along over the years.
How did you choose your current theme, if you have one?
Jo Sheppard, Heat of the Old Town
My paintings tend to be fairly autobiographical in that they have reflected my interest and travels and it has been interesting to see the ebb and flow of subject matter over time. I have recently been producing a series of landscapes inspired by the Leicestershire countryside which is something I have keenly avoided in the past, due to the popularity of the subject matter. As a dog walker and lover of the English countryside I finally decided it was time to tackle the landscape, and hopefully achieve it with a ‘Sheppard’ twist.
How did you get to where you are now?
After my degree in fine art, I qualified as a secondary school teacher then worked for a number of years before taking a career break to start a family and at this point I started painting again in earnest. I have now been working as a self-employed tutor delivering art to adults since 2009.
The emphasis in all classes is on learning the basic principles of drawing, painting and printmaking using a wide variety of techniques and materials. As well as covering the basics in my classes, I enjoy working with techniques, skills and materials new to the learners and find that this often enables them to produce work that exceeds their original expectations. This enables me to share my skills and expertise, whilst stimulating my own creativity – working in the workshop and adult education environment encourages me to actively research new approaches, developing my own strengths as a professional artist and creative practitioner.
What were your best subjects at school? What and where did you study?
I enjoyed all creative subjects at school, geography and English. I went on to an Art Foundation Course at the Grimsby School of Art and Design and a degree in Fine Art and Coventry University in 1991 where I studied painting, photography and printmaking.
What challenges have you faced along the way? How did you overcome them?
The biggest challenge along the way has been financial constraints. Income as an artist is unpredictable and at times it has been hard to make ends meet. Teaching a little ensures I have a small income to help me through the leaner times. Juggling parenthood and being self-employed is also a challenge- there a frequently clashes and I have to tackle each problem as it arises.
Jo Sheppard, Flight 10
What’s the proudest moment of your artistic career so far?
I have exhibited in Venice, had a handful of solo shows and received a couple of awards over the years, but a lady recently told that one of my paintings was the most beautiful she had ever seen, and that it made her want to cry with joy. This is why I do what I do- it is wonderful way to connect with other human beings and at that moment I felt rewarded and was filled with pride.
Do you have any regrets?
What advice would give your 22-year-old-self?
At 22, I had completed my degree and was working in an office to clear my student debts. I would encourage myself to go straight into teaching as it was such a rewarding career move and was the true start of my journey.
Coffee or tea?
Michelangelo or Picasso
Picasso- due to his sheer talent and breadth of his styles. I love his Blue Period.
Mac or PC?
Morning or night
Night- takes me while to get going in the morning.
Oh La La
The Unbearable Lightness of Being by Milan Kundera
Three artists you most admire
Kurt Jackson, David Tress and Anselm Keifer. I love work which works on different levels- I admire these three artists as their works draw you in for closer inspection, and gives you a second ‘reward’ with their complex layering and expressive mark making.
Things to do on a Friday night
Good film. Glass of wine. Feet up.
Favourite holiday spot
Best piece of advice you’ve been given
It’s what you see that defines you as an artist- not what you do. Also, if you want what you do to change, change what you do.