24/01/2022

We recently sat down with Jenny Muncaster to hear where her passion for art came from, what was learning in school like, how she started her career, and tips for students looking to start a professional career in art.

When did your love of art start?

"My love of art, drawing and painting started from an early age, from when I picked up a crayon and made a mark on some paper. I was a real tomboy, I didn’t really like dolls, I spent a lot of time outdoors climbing trees, on my bike and exploring the countryside but what I enjoyed most was colouring & painting. Every birthday or Christmas all I wanted was art stuff, painting, and craft kits, whatever was going on at the time, from ‘Shakermaker’, ‘Dip a Flower’, & Plasticraft (the seahorse embedded in resin keyring was a favourite). I was also obsessed with the TV programme ‘Paint along with Nancy’ with Nancy Kominsky, first televised in 1974. I loved the bit at the end where the painting is shown as a time-lapse from start to finish."

What inspired you to pick up a brush and start painting?

"My very earliest memory of seeing a professional artist was when my dad took me to a local craft fair. I was asked to help make a simple print by dipping string in paint, placing it on paper between the pages of a very thick book. I pulled the string free from the pages and on opening the book revealed the most beautiful, printed pattern, which the painted string had left. It sounds so simple now but seeing this was so exciting at the age of 7 years old, I can honestly say it had an effect on me. It was what I call now ‘a WOW moment’, we all need more of these WOW moments, and I try and include them in my teaching and presenting of art to this day."

Did you always want to be an artist?

"It was the one thing that I was always doing as a child: drawing, painting, and trying out all sorts of art & craft activities. At school, I spent all my time in the art and drama department. My art teacher was inspirational, and I think that’s where my passion for art came from. She encouraged me to be experimental, as well as, teaching me some basic drawing skills. Many of our students who come to The Colour Factory for classes have had negative experiences of the school art room, probably due to bad teaching. Most arrive convinced they can’t draw or paint, but I like to prove them wrong and very often do!
 
I was very lucky that my school was right next to Amersham College, which was renowned for its art & design education. It was the next step for me and where I could spread my artistic wings. 1980’s art education was thriving; my tutors were inspirational, many coming from the London colleges and often practising artists themselves. From here art school was the natural path for me and I went on to do my art degree at Winchester School of Art. It was a dream location, doing the thing I was most passionate about.
 
I was always flitting between different departments doing a bit of printmaking and painting alongside my textile design. I was untidy and messy with large sheets of paper on the floor. I had paint everywhere and I loved art school so much I didn’t want to go home. I was an art nerd, and I okayed with the principal that I could ‘camp out’ at art school when it was closed with a couple of other students during holidays; we experimented with all sorts of painting styles making lots of drawings, as well as process videos on a super 8. When it came to officially leave art school – it was all a bit of a shock."

When you were at college, did you do any commissions on the side?

"I mainly just studied at art school, there were some opportunities for work experience, however, these were not particularly inspiring! The most interesting and valuable insights were when we visited trade fairs and design shows in Paris. Even fledgling designers and artists showed their work and built client relationships. It was inspiring to see how young artists and designers developed their own businesses. I was lucky to get an agent at my end of year show when I left art school."
 

What would be your advice for new artists just starting up?

"It really depends on what your goal is. Being an artist can be a lonely business. You need focus, determination, flexibility and be prepared to work hard to make it. Get out there, get seen and be brave! I also think you need to decide what’s most important to you, and whether you are prepared to compromise on the sort of artwork you do to make a living or juggle several income streams to allow you to do the thing you love most. 
 
I would recommend setting up some sort of communal space where you can join forces with other creatives and support each other. I initially took on all sorts of commissions even if they weren’t what I ultimately wanted to be doing. I have learnt so much from doing that. I now focus on a combination of my own work, teaching, more commercial painting commissions, alongside providing creative content development and training. I love my work; it is so varied, and I am absolutely happy in the environment that I have created working alongside like-minded creatives."

How did you start your professional career?

"In the early days of graduating, I set up a studio co-op with a couple of artists friends, ‘The Colour Factory Studios’, where we also had a little gallery/shop. I managed to make an income from this, selling designs through my agent and teaching at my local art college. This allowed me the time to build a body of paintings for my first solo exhibition, I then secured shows in a couple of London galleries. I honed my style by increasingly putting more time aside for painting, as they sold, I was able to adjust my income stream. It all sounds very straightforward putting it like this, but the reality at times was lots of uncertainty along the way, juggling all sorts of other little creative jobs in between to keep going. There are also the more mundane aspects of the business, admin, and tax, something we were not taught at art school for sure.
 
The Studios, which is now in its 27th year, now houses 6 artists, a gallery, and a teaching classroom. We have a full programme of art classes passing on our professional skills and encouraging others to get creative. I realise now I never actually wanted to leave art school so set up a version myself! I was also keen to build a creative business template that could inspire other graduating artists wishing to work together professionally and make art their career.
 
We have strong links working in education with schools, colleges, business training & development, team building and outreach work including art for mental health and wellbeing. Our team of artists connect with the local and wider community, sharing creative skills and providing artistic opportunities to those who may not have easy access. 
 
A lot of the work we do is about process led techniques where we take people through a series of easy-to-follow steps where often the art materials themselves are the focus for the outcome. We believe that a journey of creative experimentation, fun in learning and making mistakes along the way is a positive road to successful outcomes. A lot of our techniques are derived from our professional arts practice. These techniques have been honed over many years of working in the creative industries especially on commercial art projects as well as in the development of own personal art practice.
 
We also celebrate the art materials themselves and the varied creative opportunities they offer. The joy of squeezing paint out of a tube, childhood memories of creating without boundaries or fear of going wrong. Seeking out all the amazing colours and all the exciting tools for making art that is now so readily available. We are not about creating the perfect landscape or still life but love to encourage everyone to have a go and to connect with the joy of creativity. All artists possess an innate need to create and in doing so communicate some of themselves and their world in their work. We encourage uniqueness and personality as well as experimentation and development through teaching art."

How did you find your niche?

"I think through experimenting with a whole load of different art techniques and materials at Art School. I would call myself a mixed media artist today, a term I’m not sure I was aware of at art school. I specialised in printed textile design, but I flitted between the departments, eager to learn about traditional printmaking, etching, painting and design. And I use a combination of all these practices in my work now. I have developed many techniques over the years, not only from my Art School years but in my professional practice working for clients. Pushing the boundaries of art materials is interesting to me and learning how to control them to the best effect. I am never satisfied with just acrylics or oils I can’t help adding an extra layer of effect or texture with modelling paste, collage, inks, or printing. I believe in not limiting yourself to one medium. There is so much energy and interest in combining all these mediums and it’s a lot of fun finding out too! I’ve always loved artists such as Robert Rauschenberg and John Piper and have found them very inspirational. 
 
For an impatient painter like me, acrylics are a great medium, they allow me to experiment and achieve results quickly due to their fast-drying time. You can create so many incredible effects with them by simply playing around with water and drying times, layering them to create washes of colour or throwing them onto the canvas straight from the pot for a great effect!
 

I have discovered so many new paints and mediums in my work as an artist, presenter, and teacher. It is never a bad thing to step out of your comfort zone and try something different. I always encourage an oil painter reluctant to try acrylics to have a go and vice versa, I can honestly say I have never had a disappointed student not try something new if it is taught in the right way!"

Why do you want to share your techniques?

"I am passionate about sharing my skills and communicating my love of art. I also get excited about the potential of the art materials themselves. I love helping people get over the fear of the blank canvas. It’s a case of breaking down the process of painting and showing easy steps. There’s also a pleasure to be had in squeezing paint from a tube and applying it to the canvas! 
 
I have always had a belief that creatives who share their ideas and inspirations gain more in the long run than those who fear others will come and steal their ideas. I get so much pleasure from seeing beginner artists learn how to do a particular technique and develop it in their own style. From my experience over the years if you have a strong enough identity yourself this can never really be replicated exactly and other artists who are true to themselves cannot help but make something in their own unique style. Whether or not we all started off with the same palette of colour, paper, and brushes, using the same techniques, we will all end up with something different and unique. 
 
As a professional working artist, I love to encourage a freedom of expression and share techniques with my students that they can adapt to their own style, I certainly don’t want to teach people the boring stuff about perspective and perfect ellipses not in the first instance anyway! 
 
Giving people the confidence to pick up a paintbrush and see instant results through fun techniques with colour and effect can immediately inspire a would-be artist who has possibly been put off art since school through a boring teacher and dull exercises. I want to engage with them to get excited about making art.
 
By sharing my techniques and skills learned over the years I find that the ‘conversation’ between student and teacher is very much a 2-way thing and I have learned a lot from my students and gained a lot of satisfaction seeing them take a technique and put their own twist on it – its brilliant to see."

Why do you think everyone has an artist in them? 

"It is an inherent natural thing in human beings to be creative we are hard-wired to have some sort of creativity in us whether it’s cooking, creating a garden or doing a bit of DIY. I believe that with the right encouragement everyone can discover the fun and pleasure of putting marks and colour on paper whether they think they are any good at it or not. There are so many different forms of art there is something there for everyone – it doesn’t have to be limited to painting and you certainly don’t have to be a Leonardo to enjoy it. This isn’t about technical drawing and creating the perfect perspective this is about fun and having the confidence to have fun. We all had the ability as children to create paintings without inhibition so let’s rediscover it! Sometimes the sheer pleasure of squeezing great clumps of coloured paint from a tube is enough to inspire a reluctant artist!"

One of my favourite quotes

'Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist once he grows up'
Pablo Picasso 

Jenny's Artist Profile

To view a selection of Jenny's work, visit her artist profile.