Fiona Spirals is a collage artist who specialises in using old climbing magazines to create pieces of art: colourful coastal landscapes, wildlife portraits, mountain scenes and unique interpretations of whatever catches her eye. Based in Kent, Fiona only started creating art in her 40s, but her many years of observing, photographing and enjoying the outdoors helped to foster her talent and trained her eye for detail.
I sent Fiona some questions to find out more about her inspiration and work...
'I’ve tried working with other kinds of magazines, but climbing magazines are absolutely the best.'
How did you become interested in art and collage, and when?
I’ve always loved being creative. Everything from cooking, gardening, poetry and art. A while back, I started an access course in art. It was the diversity of this course that allowed me to discover collage. Having a pile of climbing magazines also helped!
When did you discover climbing, which made you take an interest in more rugged landscapes?
I stumbled into climbing. Canoeing was my passion and I never liked heights, but I got a job belaying at a climbing wall in Bluewater Shopping Centre, near where I live. This is where I began to face my fear, and I slowly grew to love rock.
How did climbing help to inspire your work - were you gaining a different perspective on landscape, perhaps?
I’ve always been drawn to wild places, so climbing really hit the spot for me. I would study the landscape as we multi-pitched the classic climbs in Wales. Little did I know that a few years later, I would be collaging these very scenes. There’s a lot of waiting around and time for looking when on a climb. As an artist this suits me. Being close to the elements affects the way I relate to making the collages.
Why does collage appeal to you in particular over other media? I hear you use old climbing magazines? What a great way to recycle!
Working with paper has a great freedom. I soon found that climbing magazines had everything I needed. Colour and texture, and of course, the hidden climbers. Other media do interest me, but collage really does it, and recycling is an important part of my work. Plus, I have an endless supply of magazines when climbers feel they can part with them!
Can you explain the process of making a landscape collage - do you always work from a photograph? How do you work with colours and textures?
Normally I work from photographs I have taken, but over the years I have taken to sketching wherever I go. In Goa this year, I started to collage straight onto the canvas, without drawing or using photographs to work from. This is very exciting, but I did find the sand got in the way!
When I get stuck into a collage, I work at a pace. A collage can happen very quickly, or sometimes takes days. I begin by tearing paper from magazines and putting different colours and textures into categories, such as ice and sky, warm rock and coloured words, and various colours. I put them into labelled boxes and the boxes become my pallet. This allows me to find the right colours and textures. What I like is that whatever I’m making, whether it’s a landscape, a coastal scene, mountains, animals such as hares, trees, it’s images from climbing magazines that make it possible. I’ve tried working with other kinds of magazines, but climbing magazines are absolutely the best.
Which landscapes stand out to you as the most exciting to work with?
I always find contrasts very important to me, for example stormy skies with sunbeams, or dramatic mountain crags and cliffs. But recently I’ve been drawn to the more subtle, misty landscapes, with layers of land, cloud, mist. This is much harder, but I do like a challenge.
Which piece of work are you most proud of?
For me, the collage I made of Lake Pukaki, New Zealand captures an essence. I’ve created the feeling that I had when I was there, which I can’t describe in words. I managed to catch the mood, the mist, the water and the mountains.
If you could choose one landscape from anywhere in the world to depict, which would it be?
I live near the North Kent Marshes – open skies, the River Thames, muddy reflections, sunsets. I have a keen eye for so many landscapes, so much of planet Earth woos me. I’m very fascinated by mountains at the moment. But if I had to stay close to home, I would never run out of things to do.
What advice would you give someone who may be keen to get a bit more creative, but is apprehensive?
Being creative is an important part of life. By getting engrossed in being creative you get lost in it and let it take over. This allows the mind to sort things out. I run collage workshops and people tell me that this is what happens. It’s the same for climbing, and so many other things. Folk go home more relaxed and balanced. Of course making art, like climbing, is not all roses. I have plenty of times when I can’t do a tricky bit so I walk away, take a break, stroke the cat, breathe deeply or scream. My advice is, enjoy what you do, and if you’re not enjoying it, find something else that works.
What's your next big project?
This is where your readers come in! Or the females among them. I’m gathering photos of climbs that have inspired women climbers, and from these I’m creating collages. I want to celebrate women climbers and encourage new women into climbing. I have already started this with your favourite climb, Natalie: Dalriada on ‘The Cobbler’, in Scotland. I’m planning to create maybe 6 – 10 collages which I will exhibit around the country at climbing centres and galleries.
I’m calling it ‘The Gorgeous Project' and I already have my first place to exhibit at The Reach Climbing Centre, in Woolwich, south-east London. I have a rolling exhibition of work there, and The Gorgeous Project will fit right in!
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