LOCAL artist Rhiannon Cottam took a few moments to answer some questions about her art, inspirations and what creativity means to her.
As the first artist in our Featured Artist Series, 29-year-old Rhiannon opened up about what motivated her to begin drawing and layering colour, Grayson Perry, her love of architecture and her intuitive and therapeutic approach to her work.
Where are you from and how does it influence your work?
I’m from Cornwall and have always lived near Porthleven (give or take a couple of years when I lived in Bristol & London) which has been my biggest source of inspiration over the years. My paintings began as a kind of love letter to the clock tower and harbour. I have since painted buildings that I love from all over the world but I have to do a new clock tower painting every few months so she doesn’t think I’ve forgotten about her!
Tell me about your experience of the Cornish Creative Scene.
My painting style really came into its own whilst I was doing A-level art at Truro College. I was already studying a BTEC in performing arts but I persuaded the college to let me do an extra A-level alongside- this wasn’t really the ‘done thing’ but it meant I spent the entire day on a Friday in the art studio where I became
obsessed with drawing buildings. After a few years of doing various jobs and a degree in dance, I realised my passion was with illustration. I completed my MA in illustration at Falmouth in 2020. I also manage The Summerhouse Gallery in Marazion which has been a great way to meet other artists.
Who is your favourite artist and what or who inspires you in your art?
Grayson Perry inspires me for his ability to work over so many different mediums, whilst always keeping his signature style and voice throughout. I also love it when an artist embodies their work, through personal style and personality, which I feel he does very well. With trends on social media becoming more and more popular with creatives, I feel it’s so important for me to stay true to my reasons for making the work I do. If I let myself get too sucked into aesthetic trends I see online, I may end up with 100k more followers but there is no doubt that I would completely lose my passion for creating, my ability to dress, act and think like an individual. I am inspired by unexpectedly pleasing colour combinations, wonky old buildings, stained glass windows, theatrical costumes, vintage tea sets and the changing colours of the sky.
When did you decide to follow art as a career path and has it always been a path you wanted to follow?
I have been selling my original paintings since the age of 17, I had an exhibition with a few other artists the Old Lifeboat Station in Porthleven and I sold everything I put in there. I was completely overwhelmed and excited that people were willing to pay for my work, this exhibition paid for me to travel the world and become even more inspired! I continued to sell paintings, taking on commissions of house portraits and selling prints, T-shirts, mugs etc. on market stalls. 12 years on and my work has developed so much, whilst always keeping my signature wonky and colourful style. Art has always felt like my purpose in life!
Your work is unique in its use of colour. How would you describe it to someone who had never come across it before?
I like my paintings to be one thing when you first glance at them, but to then draw your eye in to notice hidden details. I layer watercolour, ink, acrylic and gouache until I can feel the warmth from inside the buildings or the vibrancy of a place. I work quite intuitively, I don’t really know what my hands are doing I just let them get on with it, sometimes it works but of course, sometimes it really doesn’t! It’s a fun process and I never know for sure how long a piece will take to come together.
As an artist, what is your greatest creative achievement? Personally or professionally?
Being awarded a distinction for my MA was huge for me. For the whole 2 years of studying I felt I was completely out of my depth, inferior to my peers and not ‘academic’ enough. In the few years leading up to starting the course I had studied BA dance, worked various hospitality roles and rarely read a book cover to cover. We suddenly went into lockdown at a crucial part of my final year, I thought it would ruin my chances of scraping a ‘pass’ but it actually did the opposite! I cried, fell over and cut my knee when I got my results- out of shock! I also designed and hand painted some dinner candles which were sold in Selfridges and Fortnum and Mason in 2021, that was pretty cool too.
What have you found the biggest obstacle to overcome in your professional art career?
Confidence in myself, keeping momentum when sales drop off or I lose inspiration and being compared to illustrators who create their work in half the time I do, as they work digitally! (nothing wrong with digital illustration- it’s just not how I work!)
What’s the dream? Do you have that ‘one’ job or commission that you have always dreamed of doing? Creatively, is there anything particular that you want to achieve?
As I’ve said a few times already, I absolutely LOVE buildings! To be commissioned by or have my work stocked in somewhere like Liberty London, The Royal Opera House, the V&A would be my absolute dream. My printed ceramic collection is being
developed at the moment which I’m so excited about! To have these designs stocked in one or more of our many lovely galleries and homewares shops in Cornwall would be pretty wonderful too.
What do you love most about your job and what do you most like to create? What motivates you to create?
Drawing and painting to me is like meditation so to be able to sit down and meditate for 8 hours a day and get paid for it, is pretty amazing! I have has a few commissions for wedding venues as wedding presents or invitation designs recently and I absolutely love getting in the zone and creating something that I know will be cherished and kept forever- you can’t say that about all types of work so that makes me really proud and drives me to keep creating.
Some people find art and creativity therapeutic in its freedom. What do you think of the notion of art as therapy?
I absolutely agree! At my hardest times I have always come back to drawing/painting. It feels like unravelling a tangle of threads in my brain, especially if I put on a podcast or some music. I can do that for hours without noticing the time or the fact that my whole mood has improved. I think the act of picking up a pencil/pen/brush or anything you can make marks with, and just making a good old mess of colours on a surface, is such a valuble activity- especially if no one is ever going to see it! As someone who has always struggled with expressing myself verbally, creative expression is crucial for me and I’m sure for many others too.
How would you say art is important to society, and how is the promotion of it important to the creative community.
It makes me sad and frustrated that art is sometimes seen as some kind of luxurious hobby, not a ‘real’ career and something which is not important enough to fund in education. When actually it is everywhere, I’m not just talking about canvasses on walls but architecture, advertising, in the way we dress, the way we cook, how we design our interiors, our gardens etc. Art is one of the main reasons we know anything about the history of the world, it’s so important and it’s an instinctive way of communicating so promoting creativity shouldn’t be negotiable… and breathe!
You can see Rhiannon’s work at these upcoming exhibitions:
The Old Lifeboat Station, Porthleven July 30th- August 6th 2022
The Summerhouse Gallery, Marazion October 14th- October 28th 2022
Facebook: Rhiannon Cottam Artwork