Creating Visual Art in the Age of Instagram: How the effusive painter, Samantha Redfern is using the picture platform to drive, inspire and promote her work
Door to door sales is not where you’d expect to find artists. But it turns out it’s the perfect place to develop the right kind of attitude required to put yourself out there as a painter of fine art. Samantha Redfern was fresh out of University in the UK with a degree in Fine Art when she enthusiastically signed up for a door knocking gig. She went on to have a busy family life and many professional experiences before turning to art full-time, with her last position being a successful Business Development representative at IBM. But her first job instilled her with a confidence and detachment that would come in handy when wielding the powerful platform of Instagram to her advantage later on in her career.
Pulling pints might be where young graduates go when Artists Wanted ads don’t materialise, but Samantha was under no illusion that art was going to pay her — at least not yet — and she had no intention of spending the intervening years in a pub until it did. “I just thought if I’m not going to get paid very well, I was better off going somewhere where I could improve my odds,” she says. Turns out Samantha was rather good at sales. “I absolutely loved it. We’d meet in the office and sing this weird song to get us all revved up. We were dropped off in different areas and everyone would disperse to go pitch people to sign up to this telco package. Then it was time to return to the office, and someone would ring a bell if we’d reached a number of sales and we’d all celebrate! It sounds like a cult but winning commissions was fun!” The perspective of having nothing-to-lose and everything-to-gain presented freedom.
A bit like her university experience. Samantha says that her double A Levels in Art, Design and Literature at college, followed by her early entry into University (she managed to skip the Foundation Year due to the significant portfolio she’d amassed), were some of the best years of her life. “I thought I was only going to learn fine art painting techniques but it was so much more. We had free reign to experiment with sculpture, etching, photography, life drawing, anything we wanted to pursue. And then we’d come together in groups for a proper critique of our work and really tear shreds off each other,” says Samantha. It may sound brutal but it was inordinately productive. “I developed a thick skin pretty quickly and learnt to separate myself from my work. If people like it, great. If they don’t, no problem. It made me realise how subjective art is.” As well as honing her skills, having a scathingly honest peer group helped Samantha to stand by her work, yet stop short of being so attached to it that she was defending it at all costs. In other words, she learnt to let go and feel a whole lot more relaxed about launching her art out into the world once it was completed.
“I’m not a perfectionist. I want to produce good work but I don’t beat myself up about it. If what I’ve produced is no good, I’ll just move on and make something else. I’m free to paint what I like.” And what she likes to paint at the moment is cityscapes. “They’ve just sort of evolved. Maybe I can trace it back to college days… a big part of my A Level work was city photography. I love architecture and its effect on the psyche and I loved capturing it in images. But I hadn’t put it on canvas until now.” In the same way that being surrounded by foliage has influenced her botanical work, playing host to visiting family and friends and showing them the sights of Singapore has resurfaced her passion for skylines, and the interplay between the built environment and the natural environment. “Here, the jungle is always just being kept at bay and can creep in at any moment. I love that.”
Moving to Singapore a few years ago opened up new possibilities for Samantha. Raising her young family was a joy but there wasn’t time to fulfil her art in the way she’d longed for while in the UK. “I’ve gone from having my own fine art portraiture business (pets and people), working in pastels, where I always had to plan and be so accurate, to letting go and exploring my own style and ideas, moving through a floral phase, a geometric phase, and an abstract phase, including using the inspiration I get from my three children,” she explains. “I even spent time working the paint directly with my hands so I could really get a sense of how to transfer energy onto the canvas. I’m using my instincts more and my art practice has developed,” says Samantha. The biggest shift might not be a physical one so much as a mental one. “I see stories in my mind’s eye when I approach the canvas… other worlds. Maybe it’s just that I have Netflix on in the background and I love sci-fi! But I like exploring how the jungle is never far from the city, a character always creeping in. I haven’t populated my cityscape paintings with figures yet, but I already see humanity present in the structures. To me it’s been more about the clash and conversation between the wild jungle and the urban landscape.”
And it’s been a conversation starter with her audience too. Samantha has cultivated a great online showcase for her work and been able to connect directly with admirers and collectors using Instagram. “About a year ago I met with an artist, who has now become a friend, and encouraged me to get on Instagram. It’s such a visual medium and lends itself perfectly to art,” she explains. “But I was sceptical. When I started my account I suddenly realised I had nothing to post. I had no content I wanted to share. But it turned out to be a good thing. Just like my door sales days, instead of freaking out it spurred me into action and I just started creating. It became a catalyst for getting me to produce and the regularity then helped my practice develop even more. Because of my university experience I guess, I’ve got no problem putting stuff out there and seeing what happens.”
And she likes seeing what happens to herself too. Samantha uses the platform as a tool to feed her own inspiration. “I can visit so many places and feel creative energy just by looking at Instagram. Which, right now, is a good thing.” But what of the negativity she comes across on social media? “Sometimes I receive negative comments. But I’m not a dark and troubled person and I don’t subscribe to the notion that art has to have some dark and troubled meaning for it to be legitimate. If you respond to a piece positively, be ok with that. Art doesn’t have to be self-consciously profound. Its meaning comes from the intention behind it, not just the results. And if it was created with intention then I believe it will naturally have substance. I want my work to be happy.”
Want to know more about Samantha? Here are some fun facts on how she creates….
~ Inspiration ~
“I’m interested in things that are not quite real, like other worlds. I’m not a girlie girl so things like horror stories fascinate me. I’m reading The Stand by Stephen King which is about a virus and very apocalyptic, so quite relevant at the moment. Weirdly, it helps me go to sleep. My mind races a lot, especially at night, so I listen to audio books, set a sleep timer and relax knowing I can drift off when I need to.”
~ Process ~
“I don’t come with a preconceived notion of brushes, colours, techniques. I just get started. I’m not thinking about what I’m doing. It’s like a manual labour. I step back, move around what I’m painting, look, then add a bit more. It’s very liberating and freeing. Then my own flair and imagination comes forth. The storytelling starts and that influences the composition. I see where ideas lead me and the plan reveals itself.”
~ Technique ~
“My works tends to evolve very rapidly. I like the spontaneity of working in acrylics these days — they dry well and lend themselves to working quickly. I like to use oil in portraiture but acrylics allow you to transfer energy onto canvas much more naturally. Right now, I particularly love acrylic inks as they’re just so smooth and intense and work very well as pops of colour.”
Keep an eye out for Samantha Redfern’s wonderful “Cityscapes” series launching on Monday 20th April at Addicted Art Gallery.
Written by Skye Wellington, Lens & Pen Projects