ARTIST INTERVIEW: NETTIE WAKEFIELD

by Cass Art

Nettie Wakefield is a British artist living and working in London whose work is predominantly pencil work. We spoke to Nettie about her practice, how she became an artist and what she's up to in self isolation.

Hi Nettie, Thanks so much for taking the time to talk to us. Could you tell us a little bit about your journey as an artist?

I don’t remember when exactly it started but I would draw all the time as a child, mostly mermaids on the walls which displeased my mother immensely! Drawing has been something I’ve done since I was a little girl and i spent a couple of Summers in my late teens in Florence doing life drawing, which i loved. I knew when I left school that I wanted to go to art school, so I applied to Chelsea College of Art. However, when I got there, it wasn’t what I expected and I felt as though I didn’t fit in. So, I dropped out (without telling them and therefore failed by default) and went to study Art History at Leeds University instead. I thought there must be something I didn’t understand or there was something i was missing at Art Foundation, and so I thought learning the history would help to figure that out. I’m not sure I ever did! When I graduated, after hardly picking up a pencil for over three years at Uni, I felt sad about being so disconnected from something I used to get such pleasure from. I applied to an MA at Wimbledon in drawing after spending a few months drawing around london in galleries cafes and at home and by some miracle i got in and graduated a few years ago. To go back and do an MA was the best decision I ever made. For the interim show i developed the reverse portrait series which helped me gain some recognition and led me onto lots of exciting things including having my reverse portraits at Banksy’s Dismaland. 

What is it about pencil as a medium that drew you in?

There is no hiding with pencil. It’s where so many artists have started; the source of the stream. It’s perfect for me because I’m far more interested in tonality than colour. It also adds to the mystery of the piece. Most people associate it with the beginning of something, a plan. I prefer to use it as my main medium: the end product. I feel it is able to capture both simplicity and the provocative depth of the subject. Having said that I did make a life size blow up doll made out of polished bronze for a show in LA last year, which was a huge departure … Always come back to drawing though. I also love working with watercolour even though i haven’t for a while. 

What materials do you use and why are they important to your practice?

My staple materials are almost always, no matter what the subject, a mechanical HB pencil, a mechanical rubber, a rubber which looks like a pencil and can be sharpened like a pencil with a brush on the end to brush away stubborn pencil or rubber residue. My favourite pencils are Faber Castell pencils. Those dark green beauties! I go for a lot of contrast in my work so i opt for a very hard pencil be it an H or a 2H and a very soft pencil from a 6B to a 8B. 

In your work you’re able to achieve such a hyper real likeness to your subjects, you’ve got such an acute eye for intricate detail. How did you develop these highly focused powers of observations to be able to achieve this and what attracted you to this style?

I suppose there must be something that makes me want to imprint a copy of the world down onto a piece of paper with such accuracy. Brace yourself, self analysis incoming. There must be some inherent desire to understand the world around me. a way of breaking it down and simplifying it. I can’t think of any other reason other than that i enjoy it.

Your ability lends itself so that it looks like you can draw anything! How do you chose what to draw?

Im interested in contrast and light. I have no interest in drawing a subject which is just one tone. I suppose that’s why hair appeals to me so much. Drawing shiny hair is very satisfying for me.

I read that you view your work ‘as an act of mindfulness, a slowing down of sorts, through which to take time over the act of looking’ I’m always interested as to what goes through artists heads when they’re creating. What kind of mind-set are you in when you’re creating your work? It sounds quite meditative from what you’ve described.

I actually had to remove quite a large quantity of the video of me drawing my fiancé eating his cereal using the grid system because there’s about 5 minutes of silence as I’m just looking at what I’m about to draw. So often, when learning to draw, the looking isn’t emphasised enough. 

Drawing is definitely an act of mindfulness for me. a form of meditation. I find it extremely relaxing and rewarding. Of course i can’t feel like that every single day. Some days i don’t feel like drawing. So i just don’t. Taking breaks is very important and often leads to better work when returning. I like to draw and watch a series on my laptop (although i can’t watch anything with subtitles because then i’ll be staring at the screen too much). I find sometimes when I’m working on autopilot the results are better. Perhaps I’m just a person who likes to do two things at once, i like to chat while playing video games or have a deep and meaningful while running a 10k. Seriously.

7. Can you talk to us about this period of self–isolation? What are you doing with your time, whether it be making or reflecting?

 A bit of both but much more making. I started off doing some Corona Collages, then some large (A1) social distancing drawings which depict solitary figures floating in space. I also created some smaller drawings of a person (me)  doing yoga or a man (my partner) lying in the park. Ive also done a very detailed portrait of my whippet, Simon (using all available models). A reverse portrait of my fiancé and most recently a self portrait - as I’ve never done one! Its actually been quite a special time as I’ve been able to use my practise in a different way. Im only working for myself at the moment and drawing whatever i feel like doing which is a very freeing feeling. 

Nettie, It's been a pleasure talking to you and thanks so much for taking the time to give us an insight into your practice. Finally, any advice for anyone struggling to pick up a pencil?

It doesn’t matter where you start but make sure you draw something which excites you. I used to love to draw from the old Masters paintings or Watteau’s chalk drawings. I think the one thing people worry about is developing their style. Theres is no rush to develop your style immediately and many of the greats learned from other greats. Don’t put pressure on yourself. The most important thing is to enjoy it. 


See more of Nettie's work here.

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