Thea joined art-K in 2020: first as the art leader of our Carshalton branch, before opening up a brand new studio in Shepherd’s Bush this year. We spoke to her about her artistic journey – from her childhood influences to her practice today, and how this builds into her teaching.

When did you become interested in art? Who/what were your early influences?  

My father is an artist, so I’m lucky enough to have been surrounded by art all my life. He mainly creates figurative drawings and oil paintings. I remember first trying oils around age five – I’d thought the medium would instantly lead to making a masterpiece, so discovering that it was down to personal skill was a bit frustrating. Closing that gap between expectation and reality (in all sorts of mediums) has been a rewarding journey throughout my life and continues to this day.

Growing up in his studio and watching him, I learnt that making art is not about making a product but a potentially timeless work, an interaction between artist and materials to capture a vision or a feeling. What is created can also mean different things to different people, and can even mean different things to the same viewer over time. Growing up around that was really inspiring.

How did you get from there, to studying design in the Netherlands?

I left school thinking I wanted to be a fashion designer – then I did an art foundation at Kingston University, and one of my tutors encouraged me to consider the BA course at the Design Academy Eindhoven. I appreciated how broad the course seemed: it was 4 years long, with another foundation year at the start which covered everything from performance to chair making; then we chose a department to specialise into. I chose Communication, which was focused on media and culture and was probably quite close to a graphic design/fine art course here.

A lot of what I made for the next three years was quite digital; my project outcomes included films, publications and websites. But then my final projects were very analogue – probably inspired by my internship at Playspace, where we were evaluating board games to make workshops for Rotterdam City Council, and investigating children’s development to rethink how playgrounds can be used, so that took me back towards making more physical work.

What attracted you to teaching?

I’ve always really enjoyed learning, so being part of that for other people is really rewarding. The process of taking someone (whether they are a 6 year old or an adult) from a place of thinking they couldn’t possibly achieve something to being proud of that finished piece is brilliant to be a part of. The diversity of student ages here is really enjoyable, it means that they can inspire each other in classes and that there are a huge range of projects that I get to teach! I also like working at an extra-curricular club as it’s lovely to be part of inspiring people to explore their interests outside school, and creating a space/ environment for them to do that in. I hope that my students continue with their love of making art throughout their lives as I think it is such a valuable activity (in so many ways!). 

How would you define your practice now?

I enjoy exploring and experimenting with lots of different styles. Earlier this year I was making abstract drawings, playing with form and colour using different materials and then manipulating the works digitally to add extra layers. Last year I was doing a lot more illustrative work, again mixing working with my hands and digitally. 

Often when people become successful, they’re known for one specific style (which also makes it easier for people to approach them) – but I don’t want to be confined to one specific visual language at the moment. I’m doing lots of experimentation and maybe I’ll find something that meshes everything together; but for now, I’m just enjoying playing with lots of different things.

Recently I’ve also been really enjoying visiting galleries and museums and drawing from their collections. I find that drawing the paintings means you get so much more out of them, because you’re forced to sit and look at them for ages, in a way that’s not just skimming. Regularly going out to draw also means that I can give the freshest advice to my students!

How do you bring your education and interests into the art-K programme? Do you have a favourite project?

On my BA there were lots of modules that required careful consideration of form and colour, so I do particularly enjoy the composition-focused/ abstract projects, such as the Yellena James or the Mattise cutout-inspired bag. It’s really interesting to introduce children to making abstract art at quite a young age, as it’s not as easy as it might seem – a lot of thought needs to go into it! It’s great  to get them to start thinking about shape and colour, and negative space. 

At one stage, I could have done a shoe design BA, so I also particularly enjoy the papier mache shoe project. The prototype I’ve made in the studio is cow-themed; it’s really fun to encourage students to let their imaginations run wild with projects like that.  Maybe I’m going to inspire the next generation of shoe designers in my classes…

You can follow Thea and her students’ creative adventures in art-K Shepherd’s Bush on Instagram @artkshepherdsbush, and see more of her personal work at @multibrowser.