With a first class degree in Fine Art from Farnham University, a host of exhibitions across London, a piece in the 2013 Jerwood Drawing Prize (After Andrew Catlin) and now, a scholarship for this year’s Atelier drawing course at Draw, 24-year-old Poppy Veale has a lot to boast about. Except Poppy doesn’t boast at all; in fact, she’s incredibly modest about her talents.
From a one-horse town in Somerset, Poppy has relocated to Brighton to embark on a journey that she hopes will free her from the niggling self-doubt that plagues her creatively. One week into the course, Amy Squirrell talks to Poppy about her artistic career so far, and what awaits her this year on Atelier.
What drew you to art?
Art gave me a way to concentrate my thoughts, because they’re really sporadic and I worry quite a lot, so it was nice to have a space where I could contain all that. People talk about how it’s therapeutic and how it gets them out of their heads, but for me it wasn’t like that. I couldn’t stop all my thoughts but I could put them into something. If you have a unidirectional focus, all this peripheral stuff can just be on the back burner for a bit. You can go into your studio and be annoyed about something, or worried, or even really elated about something, but when you’re there, it’s like, I’m present. All your thoughts might not be, but you are present.
Does that link to your Lack (2013) series?
I felt very much at the time like I was searching for something, in the way that existentialists would say that you anticipate the future and you lament the past, but you’re not really present.
Why are we drawn to certain artworks? I used to think that we’d grow attachments to artworks because of something that was internally lacking.
Why did you want to do the Atelier course?
I predominantly used to draw from photographs, I was quite interested in photorealism, which always kind of gets slated at art school because, if the photograph is already there, why would you draw from it? My work is so focused on getting all the small details, on being really meticulous and uncovering every stone - trying to get everything as accurate and perfect as possible. And I’ve realised that that mentality actually doesn’t help you, because when you’re drawing from observation you’re trying to simplify in the best way that you can. You get your point across, but you pare it down so you have just what you need. There isn’t the time and the model is always going to move - there’s no certainty. I think that’s why I used to draw from photographs because it was certain and fixed. When you draw from a model, it’s not like that.
Does that scare you?
Yeah, definitely. Really. And that’s why I’m here, because I need to learn to be okay with that.
What else are you hoping to gain from Atelier?
When I came out of uni I had all these mixed messages. There were people saying [drawing from photographs] is a cop-out and something that everyone can do, but at the same time I had a curator saying if I could bring them a portfolio in six months time then they’d think about representing me. So it was all going very, very fast, and after uni I couldn’t really look at a pencil for a year. I just couldn’t draw, it was too fear provoking, it was too threatening. I want to get over that fear.
How was the first week?
I think it can be scary when you first start because you realise how much you have to cover, but that’s good in way, because that will just push you on. You go into it thinking, Oh, it’ll be okay or, I’ll be terrible! And then you learn that you’re kind of in between those two points. All the criticisms fly around in your head, but in drawing, perfectionism is so detrimental. I think the way you progress is to find solutions that are imperfect, but you keep finding so many of them that you cover all the bases and push yourself forward.
What are your expectations of the course?
I don’t have any concerns about the teaching, it’s just going to be so good, and the people are all so wonderful and friendly. We all want to help each other out. We’re like, “Have you seen this book?” and “I learnt this by doing this!” so that’s really nice. The only concern I have is in myself, because I don’t want my own self-doubt to stop me from doing the things I need to do. It’s more of an internal battle.
Did you always want to be an artist?
When I was in the Jerwood and in my degree show I was like, “Yeah! I wanna be an artist!” Now I try now to put those… they’re almost blockades. If you drive for that one thing and that’s your goal, sometimes it can put too much pressure on you. So I haven’t really thought past this year.
What are your plans for the year then?
I’d love to go to LARA (the London Atelier of Representational Art). What I want to do is learn a new skill and keep practising and keep going. Because the thing about trying to learn from the figure is that it takes longer than a year, it takes longer than five years! It takes however long it’s going to take, with continuous practice. You can do life drawing endlessly, because you’re always in it. I’m hoping to improve my observational drawing and how I measure, and how I see the world. If I can get better at something and enforce discipline on myself I think I’d feel a lot better in myself. You’ve just gotta push a little more each time, do it piecemeal and just go with your own rhythm.
By Amy Squirrell
Amy is a freelance journalist and is writer-in-residence at Draw, alongside being a regular life model and chellist for the Drawchestra. As part of an ongoing series of interviews Amy will be checking in with Poppy as she progresses on the Atelier course, posting quarterly updates.
Photograph: Poppy by Milo Hartnoll
Drawing: After Andrew Caitlin by Poppy Veale