At first glance it is easy to mistake Gillian Buckley's complex portraits for photographs: layers of emotion, intricate details such as the fine lines the form around joints, delicate peach fuzz and flyaway hairs all add to the illusion.
Infusing her drawings with complex emotions it's hard to believe Gillian once lacked confidence in her ability and only starting pursuing her creative dreams six years ago. Quirky Fox spoke to Gillian about how she went from a quiet teen who lacked confidence to an award-winning artist:
How did you get started as an artist, what drew you to the discipline and what kind of background did you come from?
I took art at high school until 5th form (like most kids) and although I felt like I was reasonably good at it, I also thought everybody else was WAY better. I enjoyed it at the time but had very little confidence in my ability, so I stopped and life took over. I left school, working first in childcare, then studied to be a travel agent and have worked for the past 20 years in the Travel Industry. I always thought I would ‘do art’ again when the opportunity arose and I kept a lookout for classes, however the class times never quite fit around my work.
Then we moved a long way away from where I had grown up and at the same time my mother passed away. It was a very difficult period, so to make friends and get myself out of the house I searched for and found a weekly local drawing class. I learnt very quickly and I knew right from the beginning that I wanted to draw faces. I’m not entirely sure why. I just immediately started seeing faces in a completely different way and wanted to draw what I could see.
When I look back at some of the first drawings I did in class and soon after, I cringe as they are pretty bad, but I obviously felt a certain amount of confidence to continue. The classes lasted for about a year and then I carried on, on my own. By doing, and through, trial and error I seem to have developed a technique that is quite different from what I was taught and is one that works for me.
As for why I am drawn to the discipline of pencil and paper – initially, it was because I had learnt some basic drawing techniques and had a bit of confidence with it, but it has quickly become something else. Now it is a frustrating and time-consuming passion that I feel compelled to continue with. Seeing a face come to life - and literally look like it is alive and filled with unspoken emotion, is very addictive. I love seeing that life emerge.
How do you select your models?
Selecting models is quite difficult. I am always on the lookout for a good face and find myself staring at likely candidates in the supermarket! I look for beautiful and interesting faces – young ladies that have serious and thoughtful faces. Definitely not the smiley girl next door look, and not a classic model posed look, but somebody that can show emotion in a subtle and deep way with a blank stare that somehow conveys everything. It is hard to describe and sometimes hard to find, but I know it when I see it. The first model I had was the daughter of a friend and the others I have found through Facebook or just on the street.
Once you've approached someone you would like to portray how do you proceed - do you work from photos or live models?
I work from photos. I used to pay a professional photographer to take my reference shots but I quickly realised that:
So I bought myself a good camera (that I am still learning how to use) and take my own photos now. I have a few ideas of the looks I want to achieve going into a photo shoot, then we just let things flow on the day and capture what we capture. Out of 200 odd images I usually have at least 10 standouts from each photo shoot that want to use for my art.
Working with models and asking them to sit for me, is something I find to be quite difficult (although less so the more often I do it) as I’m quite introverted and nervous around certain people – especially beautiful confident young women. I am pretty sure this comes from being bullied at high school by young women, but I find that facing that fear/nervousness and doing the photo shoots on my own is really empowering and I guess as corny as it sounds, is helping me to heal that time in my life that I’ve carried with me for so long.
You work full time in the travel industry. How do you fit creating your art around working and make sure inspiration strikes when you have the time to put pencil to paper?
The actual inspiration part is very fleeting. It usually comes before I take photos of my model or while we are working together. Then it comes down to the process of drawing what I have captured and bringing it to life. The drawing part takes a long time (typically around 100 hours for each drawing) and to make sure that happens I have a fairly strict timetable that I stick too. So regardless of whether or not I feel inspired to be drawing, I make myself tick off the hours every week by drawing most evenings after work and every Saturday & Sunday.
Your work tends to portray a lot of vulnerability and hidden strength. Your Instagram posts have hinted at your own vulnerability and you've mentioned being bullied at high school. If you could show your teenage self your work do you think you would have pursued it earlier? Or do you think your work draws from the emotional maturity you have as an adult?
Interesting question! I am not sure if I would have pursued it earlier even if I had known what I might be capable of. I do know that I could not have created the work I create now earlier in my life – now is absolutely the right time for me to be drawing and learning this craft.