British artist Cameron Watt chats about his work, his new life in Sweden, the importance of sketchbooks on his art, working with plasticine animation for music videos and his struggles with art school…
Hi Cameron and welcome to Om Pom Happy. It’s great to be able to finally chat after admiring your work so much! I love your series of 100 portraits that you’re working on at the moment…
Hello Cand, thanks very much for having me. The series of portraits started because I was getting tired of being labelled a mouldy old landscape painter ha ha!
My first exhibition was 95% landscapes and even though portraits were creeping into my paintings I struggled getting them to work with the rest. I thought one way round this was just to whack out a bunch of portraits so I bought a pad of thick paper which had 100 sheets and thought I would only use it for portraits. I told myself I would make 100 and so far I have done 50 odd. And now I think I will probably just keep knocking them out till the day I die… Or maybe I will get angry and not want to be labelled a mouldy old portrait painter and then I’ll start painting flowers or something.
You’re British by birth but living in Sweden…
I grew up in the north of England in an arty family. My mother is a sculptor and my dad used to paint. I remember Dad trying to get me to draw apples or anything other than cartoons, or teaching me how to sharpen a pencil with a knife, or how to mix black out of brown and blue, that sort of thing. It was unavoidable that I’d go to art school!
Above: 1st YEAR AT ART SCHOOL PAINTING
Above: ART SCHOOL ETCHING
Above: ART SCHOOL PAINTING
In 2002 I enrolled on a portfolio course at Telford College in Edinburgh where you do a little bit of everything, and after that I did a two year drawing and painting BTEC. It really opened my eyes and I still try and tap into that energy I had during those years. The course was great; the tutors were very passionate and switched me on to lots of painters. I then studied at Edinburgh College of Art which was also very good, but I became jaded after three years or so. It’s not something I am terribly proud about, but I dropped out. It was a dark period in my life and I didn’t touch a paintbrush for 4 years.
Above: ART SCHOOL PAINTING
I have very little work left from art school which is a shame as I stupidly burnt most of it. One glimmer of hope out of all of this was that I met my girlfriend. And when she was offered a job in Sweden I moved too. It was her who encouraged me to paint again. And I stopped beating myself up when I bagged my first exhibition here. I felt that it somehow gave me validation to move onwards which is complete nonsense really in hindsight.
Have you held any other jobs along with your art?
I have worked in kitchens, aye. When it’s creative it can be quite fulfilling, but most kitchens become too demanding. It starts off as two or three shifts a week, then the sous chef goes awol, then the dishwasher walks out, then the waiter books a table of 25 and forgets to tell the kitchen and before you know it it’s double shifts six days a week. Its not ideal if you are trying to draw everyday.
But it has inspired some wonderful monoprints…
Despite being labelled a mouldy old landscape painter I see you are still painting them!
Ha, I re-started the landscapes when I moved to Sweden. Being somewhere new is visually inspiring. Summers are warm, but winters here can get pretty real. It’s not uncommon for my watercolor paint to freeze on the sketchbook page! I always tell myself I will stop painting landscapes, that I should be painting edgy subject matter, but then I look in the philosophical mirror and I realise I’m actually not that edgy. As much as I like to romanticize about being a self destructive angry poet, its all a load of rubbish. I buy cat food and listen to podcasts about stationery. But in all fairness going out in minus 5 and drawing buildings whilst everyone else is watching Netflix is pretty hard core.
Call me old fashioned but I’m getting more and more sympathetic towards art that isn’t perceived to be hip or out there. Devoting one’s life to welding owls out of nuts and bolts, or throwing pottery, or making ships out of driftwood is pretty fantastic if you break it down to its bare elements. I am rubbing coloured liquid on a flat surface because I am emotional. I am making a decorative drinking vessel out of soft earth and very high temperatures because I think it looks nicer than a plastic cup. It’s certainly hipper than I am, eating fat and sugar and being spoon fed shit entertainment.
We have to talk about Doris! Your monoprints and paintings of her are so sensitive and acutely observed. I just love them…
I met Doris when I worked in a kitchen; she was hanging out near the bins for a week or two eating daddy long legs from a floor light. I noticed she was skin and bones so I started giving her some fish and after a week or two I eventually cracked. I felt dead bad for her so one night I put her in a potato box and took her home and the next day I took her to the vet. The vet lady said she was underweight and had an ear infection. She wasn’t tagged and was only a few months old so I adopted her. She is a good muse.
Do you keep sketchbooks?
Yeah, sketchbooks are the bones to my painting. When I’m making art it’s easy to feel like I’m making little or no progress at times, so it’s nice to go through sketchbooks and see the odd minuscule improvement. From a work flow perspective I don’t think you can get raw thought out as fluidly any other way.
My books are not beautiful pieces of art; they are a jumbled mess of shorthand style scribbles t
hat means very little to anyone except me. Quick sketches of buildings or compositional ideas. A ten second sketch can jog my memory of a place much more than a photograph can. Maybe not how many windows were in a building, but for instance what way the wind was blowing, or how I felt happy or hungry or how a man walked with a limp.
And what about a studio space?
I am looking for a place to work as my last studios contract ran out. But in all honesty the studio for me can be anywhere as I work in different mediums, a café and a laptop, my living room and a canvas, the street and a sketchbook. As of right this very moment I’m making a gig poster for a band, cutting out cardboard shapes and scanning them into Illustrator in my kitchen. I know some people need a place to work outside of their home, but I honestly don’t care too much. Plus my cat seems happy.
Lucky Doris! So how do you usually spend your day?
Nothing too exciting. I might go outside and draw, but mostly I’ll work at home. Maybe I’ll go see a gallery or the library if I’m feeling empty. My only routine is to draw everyday. If I don’t draw I get depressed. It can just be 15 minutes scribbling on an envelope with a ballpoint, but it helps get stuff out.
Above: ENVELOPE DOODLE
Above: DAY OFF
I don’t listen to music often whilst working, but I like to listen to podcasts. It doesn’t really matter what they’re talking about as long as the people talking are passionate and not going to bring me down too much. I remember when me and my dad were in the car and I used put John Peel on the radio. My dad didn’t like 99% of the music but he liked hearing John talk about Berlin techno or African jazz or whatever.
Above: THAT SHIT WILL ROT YOUR MIND
I’m a HUGE techno fan! And though I’d never heard of Withered Hand – aka Dan Wilson – I love his track Black Tambourine which of course is so brilliantly animated by none other than yourself!
Dan and I both have a love for bad plasticine animation; we both dabbled in it before. I like to think we were on the same page. I like to think that when I pitched the idea he was aware he wasn’t going to get Wallace and Gromit the wrong trousers.
Cameron, thank you so much! It’s been such fun chatting with you and I can’t wait to see your entire 100 portraits (and more) and possibly one day invite you back as a mouldy old cat painter. In the meantime let’s sign us out with one of your favourite tracks, the fabulous CATE LE BON singing ARE YOU WITH ME NOW…
Words: CAND JUSKUS and CAMERON WATT
Images: CAMERON WATT