An Interview With Mixed Media Artist, Blythe Scott

Article by Michelle Heslop. Photos by Jody Beck.

Deftly wielding a paintbrush, chopsticks, or any other household tool that inspires her, mixed-media artist, Blythe Scott, paints urban environments with a colourful, expressionist palette. Vivid and incandescent, her heightened colours and textures, dramatically transform historical architecture and dynamic landscapes into living, breathing creatures that seem to dance on the surface. Informed by the ineffability of first impressions, the exhilaration of experiencing a new place for the first time, Scott’s paintings capture this visually exciting moment of having your eyes opened to a place’s uniqueness. Intriguing surface qualities, distorted shapes, and often exaggerated perspectives interact with Scott’s vibrant colours to take hold of your senses and generate a certain energy and movement.


Originally from Glasgow, Scotland, Scott has painted and taught her way through various parts of Europe and Asia and is now contentedly painting from her home studio in Victoria, BC. Continuing her exploration of movement, colour, and texture through a new and vibrant lens, acquired in her previous collection, “Drawn to the Edge”, Scott applies a west coast luminescence to the charming harbours, dramatic cities, and sensuous landscapes of Scotland in her latest collection, “A Different Light.” MHV was fortunate enough to visit Scott in her home studio to discuss her history, her inspirations, and be able to discover that the distinctive joie de vi·vre, evident in her paintings, is just a part of Scott’s essence.

Describe your history and course to becoming a professional artist.

I think you are born an artist. I believe that some people are born with a tendency to process the world in a primarily visual way. I certainly feel like that was my path. I was born into a very artistic home. Both my parents attended the Glasgow School of Art and were pretty obsessed with things visually. Discussing aesthetics and visual communication was the norm growing up in my house. My mother is very particular about the aesthetics in her home. Every direction you turn in my mum’s home has still life groupings and little vignettes of beautiful things. She is very effected by interiors and by her surroundings overall. I think living in this type of environment and feeling inspired by our conversations really impacted me and my choices.


Where were you born and how did that impact what you do today?

I grew up in Glasgow which is a very polarized city. Fortunately, I was born into a nice part of Glasgow; I feel very lucky about that. It was a lovely experience growing up there but I have always had an adventurous spirit and as soon as I could travel I did. I took off travelling at seventeen-years-old and I’ve had the bug ever since.

I had a fantastic art teacher in high school and she impressed upon me the importance of investigation, process, and drawing. She encouraged me to be really thorough and authentic about what you do. That was a great start for me and one of the things that propelled me to study at the Glasgow School of Art. I think a lot of people imagine going to art school and learning a lot of techniques and instruction, but for me it was more about learning how to think as an artist and that was more important to me than learning technique. Not to mention the richness of being surrounded by fairly like-minded people, for four solid years, from first thing in the morning to the last thing at night, and just living and breathing art. That was a phenomenal experience; I am certainly very grateful for that.


How did painting mature into a profession for you?

Like most artists, I’ve had to do a variety of jobs to pay the bills during different periods of my life. I’ve had an odd collection of jobs but I’ve also had a lot of art-related work and have been an art teacher in various settings. Teaching keeps me connected and looking at the world as an artist. One the best jobs I had, straight out of art school, was living at Euro-disney, in Paris, just before it opened. We were asked to do Trompe-l’œil painting with creative finishes which was really fun.

I didn’t want to go home after the Paris contract so I quickly retrained as a Teaching English as a Second Language teacher and applied for every job I could find in the newspaper. I had the travel bug and thought TESL would be a great way to see the world. I ended up in Toyko which was kind of a random experience. After gaining some teaching experience, I thought I would attempt some art teaching. I taught art at all different levels, from the Glasgow School of Art to Strathclyde University. I eventually did a high school teachers certificate and taught art to high school students.

Teaching has been an invaluable experience because when you learn about education it forces you to go back to the basics, things you may have forgotten or feel are redundant as an artist. But when you revisit them it’s always worthwhile. You learn a lot from other students and their interpretations as well.


How did you find your direction as an fine artist in Victoria?

I had a permanent teaching job for 6 years, in a high school, in Glasgow. However, in 2007, we decided as a family that we would like to relocate to Canada. It is extremely hard to get a teaching job in the first place with all the benefits, holidays, and security so to walk away from it was regarded as insanity. Those opportunities don’t come around twice so there had to be a big reason to walk away from that, and for me, it was emigration.

When we came to Canada, with two children, ages two and three, I wasn’t allowed to work under the temporary permit so I had time to paint. After 14 months, we returned to Scotland and I had time to paint again. However, the recession at that time was particularly severe in Scotland, so I started a prints business rather than trying to sell my originals. People just didn’t have the money for originals so the business was quite successful because it meant that more people were able to afford my work and consequently, my name became more well known.

We returned to Canada in 2012, and in that first year, I said yes to every job that came my way. In retrospect, I learned that this was the best way to find my direction. It gave me a lot of opportunities. I’ve always painted and taught to some degree, even when I came over to Canada, the second time, I taught in my studio and at the Vancouver Island School of Art at that time. It was necessary to have that balance between a consistent income and a more erratic income from my originals.

I have been teaching since my early 20’s at all levels and hold a post-graduate in Art Education. I really believe in the synergy between teaching and practising as an artist. I certainly don’t think that it is true to say that ‘those who can’t do, teach.’ If anything, teaching has only served to strengthen my foundations as an artist. Currently, I have taken a step away from teaching as there are just not enough hours in the week to do everything I would like to.


Between working at couch* Gallery, and as a mother to two busy children, how do you make time to paint?

I am a very intensive worker. I manage to get quite a lot of art work done in short periods of time. I’ve almost always had some other type of formal work going on and I actually think this is beneficial in a sense that there is less financial pressure on me to make all my income through art. I think that this actually defines the direction of the art and I think this is a really good thing. Of course, it would be really lovely to paint at a leisurely pace but it has also been a blessing in disguise to have other forms of income because I have been making the type of art I want to make. It’s not a case of striking upon something that becomes my bread and butter and I have to churn it out again and again. That would definitely be a pitfall and I can understand how that happens for some artists. It’s nice to not be worried about the market.

How does the market respond to your work when your art shifts gears?

Normally my paintings don’t change so substantially that you are looking at an entirely different client base. There will always be clients who have a particular penchant for a certain style, colour palette, or a slightly looser, more abstract painting. I quite often paint landscapes which become more abstract, and so other pieces, city scapes for example, by virtue of the subject matter, are a little bit tighter, a little more recognizable. There is a breadth of subject matter in the work that I do but there are also very definite common denominators.

Having a passion for movement, sensation, and dynamism in a place and having a more optimistic outlook are constants in my work. I am drawn to brighter colours and look for extreme perspectives in a place that may be exaggerated a little bit. I also make things whimsical and decorative, a bit more fancy-free. My methods also vary: sometimes I draw or sometimes I work from a photograph. I know that it’s going badly for me if things start to look exactly like the photograph. For me personally, I know that’s when the photo has to be ditched or hidden for a couple of hours so I can pull back what is important to me aesthetically rather than replicating a photo in the first place.


How did you connect with couch* Gallery?

The Gallery at Mattick’s Farm gave me a solo show in 2012 which was fantastic; they were really great to work with. I did the Moss Street Paint-In and the Fairfield Studio Tour and it was really serendipitous how I met Tanya Horn at couch* Gallery. Michelle Miller is a painter, represented at couch*, and I used to teach at Miller’s art school. That was the connection. I clicked with Tanya right away and started at couch* Gallery as an artist. After discussing my past experience in galleries in the UK, Tanya offered me an opportunity to work there in a smaller way. Since then, my involvement at couch* has mushroomed. I’ve become more and more involved with the business and we are both really passionate about the direction it’s going in. I’m very grateful to her for keeping me focused on art, giving me opportunities to show my art, and meeting people who want to talk about art. My whole life is full of art right now through my involvement at couch* Gallery.

How is couch* Gallery different?

In the context of Victoria, couch* is quite unique. Tanya has travelled so much she has an outward perspective. Having lived here for 17 years, Tanya is very passionate about Victoria as a city but she also loves to travel and inject those experiences into the business. I love her blend of whats happening locally with what’s happening abroad and the debate that springs from that. She embraces all mediums and offers the public more than one definition of art. She brought in sculptor from the UK, Heather Jansch, a young artist from the USA, and she is currently looking at someone from Portugal. Tanya is very open to new ideas and she makes things happen. We often have idea-bouncing sessions and I rarely hear her say no to anything. It really is an inspiring environment to work in.

How is it to work in the gallery and experience people viewing your work?

I work at couch* Gallery as a representative of all the artists and feel very privileged being able to do that. I do feel slightly sneaky watching people view the work because I don’t necessarily acknowledge that my work is on the walls so it would be very unfair of me to abuse that position and start selling myself. It does come up if someone compliments my work and I can let them know that I painted it and can give them more information. I did a couple of demonstrations in the gallery which was a great experience.

Demonstrations benefits both gallery and the artist. couch* tends to do a lot of demos. It really benefits the artist and I can say that hand on heart because there were definitely people who made that step across the threshold who might have been intimidated by a gallery before or who may not have taken that step inside. It allows people to engage with me, see the process, and also see my paintings in a rougher state which may be intriguing for people.

There was one particular person who came in that stands out. He was an architect and while we were talking about my work he made such insightful comments which actually informed a completely new direction in my work. “A Different Light” collection probably wouldn’t look the way it does if I hadn’t had that one conversation with that particular person. Normally in the UK, when you’re exhibiting, you are so divorced from the selling of your work, you’re purposefully kept away from that side of things. You might go to the opening and interact with a few people but if a piece sells you often don’t know where it’s gone or who owns it. That information isn’t shared with you. So working in the gallery that actually sells your work and sometimes being the one to sell it is a really new experience. It’s unique to get that feedback.


Tell us about your new collection, “A Different Light.”

Rewinding slightly, my previous solo show, “Drawn to the Edge”, was all about coming to Victoria with very fresh eyes on everything that was here. It was important for me to paint really very quickly so that I was responding to the environment before it became normal and every day to me. Through painting Victoria in it’s lovely summer light I noticed that my colours were becoming brighter and brighter. The whole palette, in some cases, became neon, so that has now informed this collection.

I’m revisiting Scotland, and not because I’m homesick at all, but because the last place I visited in Scotland before I moved to Canada, was the East Coast of Scotland. I visited all the gorgeous little coastal villages and because I was so busy with immigration, setting up home, and transitioning the kids, this is the first opportunity I’ve had to look at the images from that area. But now I have painted these pieces in a way that I probably wouldn’t have painted them had I stayed in Scotland because the whole palette has gone up a few notches. Everything is lighter, brighter, slightly more exaggerated in terms of composition, it’s more textural.


Where will you be five years from now?

I have no idea; I don’t like to get too fixed on goals. I have a dream, an intended destination, but at the same time I am really very fluid. Sometimes tangents and opportunities will present themselves and it will take you off in another direction than the one you intended and I’m fine with that.

Long term destination is to return to the south of France. I’ve always been obsessed with France since I did a school exchange at 14 years old. I lived with a family in the south and I fell in love with everything aesthetically, right down to the every day things like clothes pegs. Everything seemed more interesting, more curved and decorative. It reflected the way I was already drawing, I would embellish objects to look like that, but they didn’t actually look like that in Glasgow.


Tell us something people don’t know about you.

Probably that I am quite obsessive by nature. Whatever it is that I am passionate about today, I probably will have exhausted my enthusiasm for in a few months, and will have found a new passion. I think that’s why I just keep producing artwork because I am quite sure I will never run out of ideas. That is never a fear. There are too many ideas, and too many things to paint and draw to fit into one lifetime.