London’s creative industries are fast-paced and competitive, and can be an intimidating challenge for young artists. So what are the rules to follow and mistakes to avoid? We asked emerging artist Fran Giffard to answer these questions, and tell us more about her creative journey ahead of the opening of her new solo exhibition, A Gift from Paradise in Brighton.
Words: Julia Tsilman, Subeditors: Bea Renshaw, Keziah Leary
Young creative professionals hear the same advice – “be passionate, be sincere, be hard-working” – over and over again. These words of wisdom usually come from older, much more experienced and more successful artists, and demonstrate the profundity that separates them from the rest. The problem is that although it’s honest advice, these are the words we already know to be true. The mind looks to other answers – what really makes this person special? How did they succeed? What do I need to do to succeed?
We are well-aware that we need to work hard. What we crave are little-known tricks on how to network, present our work and, essentially, discover more opportunities. That is why tips from younger artists like Fran, who are ahead of the rest but still on the same path, are invaluable.
Fran’s career has grown out of a university art project. And by now she has already hosted multiple solo exhibitions; been shortlisted for BBC Wildlife Artist of the Year and Threadneedle Art Prize awards; spent three months as Artist in Residence with Masterworks in Bermuda and been to Reunion Island to draw birds flittering in their natural habitat.
We met her at the 10th Edition of The Other Art Fair – an annual event which promotes works of emerging artists. It showcased many art pieces ranging from graffiti to film photography, yet Fran’s vivid drawings instantly caught our attention.
A down-to-earth smiling girl, she was standing calm amidst the madness of the fair. Behind her stretched out a wall full of birds of paradise in all shapes and colours imaginable, drawn with pencils, aquarelle, and gouache. These wonderful creatures placed modestly around Fran’s diary notes and shopping lists – exotic next to conventional – on moleskine pages.
Amongst other artists’ works, sometimes bulky and glaring and even shocking, her pieces stand out as something elegantly quiet, dainty, and personal. Flaws can often be camouflaged with complexity – it takes a lot more talent and skill to make something detailed appear as clean as Fran’s works.
It takes emotion too. The admiration and affection Fran holds for her subject radiates straight through her drawings: she referred to her birds as All my Beautiful Boys during her previous solo show at Northcote Gallery on King’s Road.
As London is not populated by these exotic creatures, she searched for inspiration from books, or by studying more common place birds in the Dulwich Park close to her home. “I also live fairly close to the Horniman Museum, so I like to go and draw the exotic taxidermy birds there”, she added. “Visiting museums and galleries is always stimulating and exciting.”
This ‘wealth of art’ which inhabits London and attracts creative minds here, frequently turns out to be a huge barrier towards success. The levels of competition here are extremely high. But even though Fran agreed it may be particularly difficult for an artist to get recognition in London, she believes it to be a universal problem. “Rather unromantically, art is just like any other field of work – you have to work extremely hard, you have to jump at every opportunity you get, and sometimes you just have to be lucky”, she told us. The question is, how can young creatives get the most out of the density of opportunities that London and other megalopolises have to offer?
The first advantage young creatives have is their understanding of new technology. Today, artists profit massively from using the Internet to its full potential. “Learn how to make a simple website that shows off your work”, was one of the insights Fran shared. “Make sure you can code everything yourself as it will save you so much time in the future.”
Likewise, it is essential to promote your brand on social media networks and be as active as possible: the more people interact with your work, the more opportunities come your way. For instance, an exciting chance for collaboration turned up when Endemol UK noticed Fran’s artwork online and sent her to Reunion Island to illustrate local birds for a short film. If it had not been for her online presence, this opportunity would have been missed.
However, try not to overestimate its power. It’s a good idea to keep an eye on events like The Other Art Fair, or perhaps search for small galleries and cafes that could exhibit your works.
Fran admitted that most opportunities still find her through exhibitions. She was given an awesome commission by the Pensions Investment Corporation who took her to the ZSL London Zoo to draw the penguins. “It was amazing to see them swimming and it had a great effect on my work”, she said. “[It happened] because a drawing of mine was short-listed for the Threadneedle Art Prize and the Pensions Investment Corporation saw the exhibition. Sometimes that’s all it takes.”
One of the biggest highlights of Fran’s artistic journey so far was her three months residency with Masterworks in Bermuda. There was surprisingly much more to the trip than just the beautiful nature. “Seeing new species of birds was great, but sometimes it was space that Bermuda had that was more inspiring. It gave me time to think”, Fran told us. It is an important lesson to learn: no matter how fun and vibrant London’s creative community is, no artist ever suffered from escaping its bustle for a while.
All in all, remember that success won’t find you overnight. “You’ve just got to keep at it”, Fran said. Time and effort she puts into her work is not in vain: with several solo shows already scheduled, the future of Fran’s career looks bright. And we are intrigued to see where this journey takes her.