Winsor & Newton is a proud supporter of The Fine Art Collective (TFAC), a global network committed to educating, connecting, and empowering artists the world over.
In this series, we talk to international members of the TFAC network whose passion for art materials and wealth of knowledge enables other artists to push the boundaries of their creativity.
Natalie O’Connor lives and practices in Australia, and facilitates workshops everywhere from Sydney to London.
“It’s important to me as an artist to respect the materials and make informed choices that connect on a conceptual level with the intended artwork,” O’Connor says. A native Australian, O’Connor is currently a lecturer at the School of Art at UNSW Art & Design, where she is also a candidate for a PhD, combining her interests in the effects of colour with the innovations of science and colour making at Winsor & Newton.
O’Connor has worked as TFAC’s resident artist across Australasia for 10 years, providing educational programs and technical advice on Winsor & Newton materials to captive audiences enthralled by her passion, knowledge, and challenging approach to traditional media.
In this Q&A, we delve into the ideas fuelling O’Connor’s practice, her relationship with art materials, and some of her top tips for aspiring artists.
Tell us a bit about your practice as an artist
As an artist, I am challenged by the physiology of colour and the idea of permanence. Some artists are quite happy with degradation in their artwork – it is part of their intention – and then there are artists who perpetuate the same practice without questioning why and how they use their materials.
Every colour behaves in a different way in different lighting conditions, and as artists we have to predict what that colour is going to do. In my recent work, LUISANT, my use of fluorescent colours challenges my ability to predict, as they will undergo changes as they fade and respond to different lighting conditions.
Why do you paint?
I was given a Winsor & Newton box set of oil colours for Christmas when I was 11 years old and I’ve been painting ever since. For me, creating an artwork in paint allows me to disappear into another world. Nothing can replace the tactility of paint and its magic. Painting makes me stop and think about the bigger questions in our world.
What materials do you work with most frequently?
I like variety and I always want to challenge my ideas. I often start with the idea or concept of the artwork and then I consider what artists’ colour (watercolour, oil or acrylic) would best communicate these ideas most sensitively, and with the most integrity.
Why do you use certain materials, and how do they inform your practice?
I do a lot of my preliminary work and ideas sketching in watercolour and I like to push the conventional use of each media. But I am always conscious of the need for best practice and the importance of using professional quality materials – respecting the ingredients.
Like all artists, I like to experiment. Acrylics hold so many possibilities that artists are still coming to learn. Winsor & Newton Professional Acrylics allow me to create very subtle dynamics with colour, so I have been working with them a lot recently. I’m working on an installation that explores the constant state of flux of colour and the ephemeral nature of artists’ colours.
As a teacher and working artist, what advice do you have for fellow artists wanting to establish a career?
First of all, find a space where you are comfortable to make art. It does not need to be huge and have all the bells and whistles – just a space that you can turn up to every day.
Secondly, you are not an artist if you do not make stuff, just as you are not a runner if you don’t run. No matter what you make, big or small, good or bad, it all contributes to making art. It’s all a part of the discipline and the road to developing your art practice.
And last of all, but most importantly, use the best possible materials you can afford, as it will become evident in your work and will reflect your ambition to be a professional.
What’s the most remarkable thing you have encountered as a teacher?
We are all artists, teachers and students, but with different experiences. We can all learn from each other.
Share three surprising facts about yourself.
Maybe not surprising!
- I financially supported my undergraduate art degree by singing and hosting karaoke shows in pubs in Sydney.
- I have two beautiful sons, Jack, who is 17, and Sam, 15.
- I have lived in 35 different homes in my life.