STUDIO TALK: Colleen Boyle

Exciting! This week marks the first of a new series on the blog called Studio Talk where I get artists and designers to talk about what goes on in their studio. Our first guest is Melbourne artist, Colleen Boyle. Colleen is clever – she was awarded a PhD from RMIT School of Art in 2016. She’s also a gifted artist having recently won a sculpture commission for the Wonderment Walk in Melbourne. I met Colleen many years ago through a tribe of connected colleagues and friends in the city I contantly pine for – Melbourne. I moved to Sydney 2.5 years ago and so have not seen Colleen’s fantastic new sculpture, Celestial Ground, installed at Docklands. But I will be making a beeline for it on my next trip south.

I asked Colleen some questions about her studio practice hoping that this talented and very busy woman might shed some light on how she does it for the rest of us.

All images in this post belong to Colleen.

Colleen Boyle

What do you create?

I currently create sculptural forms that relate to images. I’ve always been interested in photography—particularly that of outer space—geometry, and human visual perception, and most of my work relates back to one or more of those topics. In terms of materials, I use contemporary commercial printing methods in combination with mirrors, acrylic, and composite aluminium board. I recently made my first permanent outdoor sculpture and that had to be made out of stainless steel into which the images were etched. 

Colleen Boyle

How long has your practice been going? 

I began my ‘mature’ life with art when I completed my BA in Fine Art at Monash University in the early 1990s. Back then I was determined to be a printmaker and I made large hand-colored intaglio woodblocks and large coloured etchings. I was always interested in mixing things up: printing etching or woodblock over silkscreen prints, or using chine collé and oil paints with etchings. The subject matter was all about space, religion, science, and representation.  

After university I tried to maintain a print practice for a few years, but it was nearly impossible to do without access to a studio with all the equipment and I was young and nervous and felt very shy about using the Australian Print Workshop. I was also very light on funds…so I got a job. Unfortunately, that meant that I got sucked into the vortex of paying the rent. I also went back to uni and did an MA in Art History at the University of Melbourne. So my practice went on the backburner for some time whilst I established a career in the arts industry. I ended up working at Melbourne Museum for over ten years. I was in a couple of group shows, but not much.  

When I had my son, I tried to turn my front room into a home studio and did a lot of digital work and collage when he was napping. I didn’t achieve a lot but it was enough to make me realise that I really wanted to return to my art practice and that I needed some support to do it: both spatially and intellectually. So I did my PhD at RMIT where I had access to fantastic workshops, my own small studio, and really supportive supervisors. It was here that my practice evolved from just print into a more expanded practice including sculpture. If I’d not had that time and space, it would not have happened. So, my practice has been on and off for about 20 years with some major interruptions!

Tell us about your studio. Is it a designated space? Or a space run from home? What does it look like? Do you share it with others? 

I’ve recently been lucky enough to gain a sub-let space at Artery, which is a well-established studio of about 60 artists, in Northcote, Victoria. There are close RMIT ties there and I share my space with two guys, one of whom is a PhD student at RMIT and a close friend. It’s a big old factory/warehouse that has been divided up into a lot of mini ‘white cubes’. There’s lots of natural light from the roof and a communal workshop that is run by a professional sculptor and coordinator of the studios. My area is about the same size as I had at RMIT: enough for a desk, shelves, and enough floor to muck around on. Its great to be in a space where you know there are other people working away. It’s good to have people to meet and talk to. Otherwise, I have a tiny desk at home with my computer, some collage stuff, and all my books. That’s more like my ‘academic’ or conceptual space. The studio at Artery is more physical. 

What does a typical day (or morning/afternoon/evening) look like in your studio? 

I’m not sure there are ‘typical’ days for me at the moment. Coming out of 5 years of PhD study has meant that I’ve had to take on as much paid work as I can. My schedule is a little more settled now and I’ve decided to make Fridays my ‘research’ days. That’s my art day. That might mean going into the studio in Northcote or it might mean writing a paper at home.  

How do you find your creative vein? Do you have a series of steps you follow to get into the right zone to work? Or some other way? Tell us about this. 

When I get into my studio the first thing I usually do is get a cuppa and sit down at my desk and have a quick review of my sketchbook. This helps to get my brain back into the zone and catch up on where I left any work the week before. I usually diddle around with small-scale models of how I think a piece will work before I scale it up. Even at this stage it would still be made of paper and card. It’s only when I’m sure of something that I’ll then make the final version: materials like acrylic are expensive! 

Colleen Boyle

Doing the PhD gave me the opportunity to work fulltime on an extended project and in doing so you really come to understand that sitting around waiting for the muse to strike is just another big myth about creativity. Treating a studio like an office and being there even if you don’t particularly feel like it ends up being much more productive. Sure, there are some days that I might spend more time staring at pictures on the wall (I always pin images that interest me on the wall above my desk) than making something with my hands, but I’m still working things out. The space and the mindset end up feeding off one another, but that takes time and regular practice

What are the biggest joys of your studio practice? 

The best thing about being in a large studio with other people is just that: people. Making art can be very isolating so talking with others about your work helps you to solve practical and conceptual problems and allows you to build networks. I’ve made some lovely friends over the years and I enjoy being exposed to other peoples work, thoughts, and methods. 

Any challenges? 

Just getting there is a challenge sometimes. It’s a bit like going to the gym. You might not want to go at first but then when you get there it’s great. Creative work is HARD. It’s mentally taxing and physically challenging too. I also find it difficult to manage the different roles I play in my life: employee, artist, mother etc….finding time for everything is tough. 

If you could share something about studio practice with another creative just starting out, what would it be? 

If you don’t have your own little space make sure you keep up a studio of the mind. Carry a little note book with you at all times and keep that mind in the zone by observing the world around you.

Colleen Boyle