New England Au Atrist, Fiona McDonald, Creative New England

Interview with local Artist Fiona McDonald

It’s incredibly inspiring learning more about our community, one of the areas we have been focusing on is our local creatives and being able to highlight them through Creative New England. We’ve had the privilege of working alongside many creatives from UNE, as well as organisations and artists in our community.

This week we would like to share a profile on the lovely Fiona Macdonald.

How did you get into the art world?

I’ve loved drawing and making things since childhood. I dropped out of high school, went to Sydney, and enrolled at the Julian Ashton Art School where I studied painting, drawing, and etching for four years. I cleaned the premises to pay my tuition fees, which coincidentally is following in the footsteps of artists like Dobell.

Is there something from your childhood that inspired your affinity towards the creative industries?

My mother and father were always making things. Dad did woodwork as a hobby and mum sewed and knitted. I was brought up to love stories and learned to read before I went to school. Stories are what my art practice is all about.

That’s awesome – we can actually see that in your artworks!

What’s your favorite medium to work with and why?

I love to draw more than I love to paint. I think because the medium is right there, no fussing about, no huge mess to clean up afterward. I find black and white such an exciting medium. My most recent works are detailed drawings in art pen although I am playing around with forms of graphite, including a kneadable graphite lump and water-soluble graphite.

How would you describe the art you typically create?

I draw narratives. They are usually enigmatic, and I invite the audience to participate in the story making, during, and after the process. I often put up progress shots of my work on Instagram and Facebook.

Tell us about a few artists that you admire…

I love a group of women artists who were related to the surrealism movement. Leonora Carrington is one and Remedios Varo another. I also love the artist Paula Rego who lives in Britain. She does the most luscious pastels. I shall be working in pastel a bit later in my home-based residency!

Creative New England is all about inspiring people to get creative, and think outside the box, what’s one message you would give to any aspiring artist?

Draw and paint. Don’t be put off by criticism, your own as well as from others.

Look at what you are trying to draw and don’t draw what you think you know, for instance, if you look head on to foot at eye level it is a strange triangular shape. So many people think ‘foot’ and draw their own image of the foot but it’s usually from an angle looking down at the foot. Drawing mediums are relatively cheap and easy to use. Watercolor can be tricky if you are a purist and oil really needs a bit of tuition so you don’t just get a mess. Acrylics are very versatile. Just give it a go!

You’ve recently been given a micro-grant from Arts North West – can you tell us a little about this?

Arts North West invited project proposals for a micro-grant of up to $1,000 for artists who were experiencing difficulties because of the home isolation rules. This could be financial hardship or depression, that kind of thing.

We love what Arts North West does, and they often have funding available for local regional artists – it’s a great initiative!

The grant allows you to work on a special project, what’s the project you’re working on?

I (as many) have found the self-isolation rules quite confronting. Mostly to do with the way we have to shop and not do this and not do that and not visit friends and family.

I have watched friends on Facebook exultantly claiming that as artists (writers etc) they are in their natural state but I have also seen people who are extremely lonely, or they’ve lost their jobs, or family members have died and they can’t attend the funeral. Some people are really suffering.

Anyway, I had several money-based projects cancelled because of the virus and have found myself struggling to pay for basic things. My project stated that it would explore issues of isolation and loneliness by experimenting with new drawing media and through this process I would pull myself out of my depression and, with colour and creativity, bring forth optimism and, hopefully, joy to myself and others.

I intend to document my experiments, the works in progress, and the finished works and I often put up progress shots of my work on Facebook and Instagram.


View this post on Instagram


At last a selfie video using the kneadable graphite. #kneadablegrahite #blackandwhitedrawing #graphitedrawing

A post shared by Fiona McDonald (@atholglen) on

I’m really loving your biro work – can you tell us a bit about your creative process?

Biro is great fun to work with! I’m a member of some drawing groups on Facebook and I had seen some examples of hyper-realistic work done in biro of all things. Blue and black were interesting but then I saw some in technicolour. I just had to have a go at rendering flesh using such a restricted palette. My drawings are quite muted in colour, but I think they are getting the feel of old hand-coloured engravings, which I am very happy with.

My ideas for drawings often pop into my head in a flash and I try to pin them down. They often change in the process but that is exciting, like a twist in a story you are reading.

What’s the best creative advice you’ve received?

Don’t let negativity towards your work stop you from creating. If you love it, do it.

Do you have any other hobbies or activities, that influence you creatively or get you inspired?

I make magical and mythical creatures, like dragons and goblins, with my daughter and son-in-law. I started a toy shop in 2013 selling my handmade items. Unfortunately, my business sense isn’t as strong as my imagination. My daughter offered to take over the business and all I would have to do would be create. Now Granny Fi’s Toy Cupboard seems to be doing quite well, at least, I seem to be sewing quite a lot!

And finally, what’s your favorite thing about being a part of the New England community?

I was born and grew up here. My family has been in Armidale since the 1880s. I love the landscape, the cold, the four seasons. I also love that it is a university town, it’s full of schools and there are lots of artists, musicians, and writers who also live here.

Thank you so much for your time, Fiona! We’re really loving watching your creative process on social media – if you’d like to follow Fiona’s journey you can check her website or connect on Facebook and Instagram OR if you’re in the area pop into Granny Fi’s Toy Shop in Armidale, it’s magical!

If you’re looking for something to keep you inspired why not check out Creative New England or join their Facebook group to keep in the loop with up and coming competitions!

There’s something for everyone! #CreativeNewEngland