Today on my Artists & Artisans blog I am interviewing the very talented artist Susan Montgomerie who is also a silversmith. Hello, Susan, and thank you for agreeing to the interview. Let me begin by asking you when you first discovered your artistic abilities.
I’ve been drawing as long as I can remember. When I was about seven, I was given a box of watercolour paints by my eccentric, wealthy aunt – a big box, containing about fifty half-pans of rainbow colours. This opened up a whole new world for me. Although I never really thought I was anything special until one of my art teachers told me I was good and gave me the school prize for art. I suppose that’s when the seeds of an artistic career were sown.
Artists use a variety of materials and methods – oils, water-colours, pastels, charcoal, etc. Do you have a preferred medium?
My two favourite media are watercolours and water-based oils. It depends on the subject, really. Some subjects are better in watercolours, some are easier in oils – you can cover up the mistakes more easily! When I was at art school, acrylics were in their infancy and were really no more than a PVA medium with powder paint mixed in – no opacity, no sensitivity. As they developed, they improved tremendously and I occasionally use them when I want to layer colours quickly, rather than having to wait for the oil paint to dry.
I was delighted to be accepted for Glasgow School of Art in 1969 and spent my first two years doing a general course which meant I got to try out all the different departments before I had to choose one to specialise in. I’d always been more a designer than a creative artist and was drawn to either calligraphy or jewellery and silversmithing. They were finicky, time-consuming, detailed, delicate – all the things I loved, and I had a hard time choosing between them. In the end, it seemed that jewellery was the “in” subject to choose that particular year, so I put jewellery first and calligraphy second, certain that I wasn’t good enough to be one of the chosen few and happy enough to accept second place. To my surprise and delight, they chose me! I thoroughly enjoyed my two year silversmithing course and learnt everything from soldering tiny joints in a ring to bashing out a silver goblet!
Do you have any advice for young artists just starting out? Any tips for improving style, content or technique?
Perseverance and observation are probably the two most important attributes for any artist. Persevere with a project, drawing, sculpture, and observe everything around you. How people relate to one another, how the shadows create images with a life of their own, how the colours change with distance and juxtaposition.
That’s excellent advice and from someone who clearly knows their subject. Who has inspired you, personally and/or professionally?
There are many people who have shaped my life – some very special art teachers, the tutors at art school, my family who have never discouraged me, my friends who are always there to help.
I never have a problem relaxing – only the finding of the time to do so! I used to read a lot, but have less time to do so as I’m involved in three art clubs, a craft association and an RSPB bird group. I have taken on the treasurership of three of those – you could call me a serial treasurer! When I do get time, I love to go out watching birds – maybe using the car as a hide near a beach in winter or sometimes long leisurely walks through the woodlands in spring listening to all the beautiful birdsong.
I love science fiction too – Robert Heinlein, Isaac Asimov, Doctor Who, Star Trek, Battlestar Galactica, Stargate SG1 and slightly off the wall series like Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Charmed. So if I can do a bit of designing or counting the Group’s money in front of the telly, I usually put on one of these and put my feet up.
You are certainly very productive, Susan. How else would you describe yourself using only three words!
Lazy, shy, fat are the true ones. The diplomatic ones are – busy, bubbly, bashful.
If you could have one wish for your career as an artist, what would it be?
Just to be remembered. I’d like to think someone will look at one of my paintings in a hundred years and think “That’s a nice picture”, or that in two hundred years, on Antiques Roadshow, someone will bring in a piece of my jewellery and the expert will say “Oh, yes. That’s a lovely example of a minor Scots jeweller called Susan Montgomerie. You can tell by the hallmark and her maker’s mark that this was made in 2007. All her things were made individually and show real craftsmanship.” That’s something nice to hand down to the family.
I hope you get that wish, Susan. Does where you live have an influence on what you create?
I think it does, because being away from the bustle of a city gives me freedom to adapt what I see in nature to my work. I have always been interested in nature and a lot of my work reflects that. I particularly enjoy doing birds and animals and I get great satisfaction when I “put their face on” – in other words, engrave the details of eyes, fur or feathers as the finishing touches.
I certainly do commissions. Recently I made a silver pendant of a map of Uganda, engraved with lakes and rivers for a lady who was doing volunteering work in Uganda. I also made a dragonfly pendant using some silver and a friend’s broken gold wedding ring for his wife’s birthday present. Pet portraits in silver are always popular. I get photos of a client’s animal – dog, cat, horse or even a rat – work up some designs and prices for brooches or pendants or cufflinks and then create the one they choose.
If anyone wants to contact me, I have a Facebook page – Silvertrees Jewellery and Art – and an Etsy page – Silvertrees UK – which are slowly gathering likes and followers.
Thank you for a brilliant interview, Susan. I hope readers of this blog will check out your Facebook and Etsy pages. Let me end here by wishing you every success for the future.