Case Study - Fiona Swapp

Established Visual Artist Bursary 

Visual Artist Fiona Swapp was able to continue following a new direction in her practice, found during her Masters degree. The VACMA bursary enabled Fiona to have access to vital items of equipment to support the development of her practice following her graduation.

Fiona's work is available to view via her website and you can also read more on her presentation

Fiona is a multi-disciplined ethnobotanical artist living and working in Aberdeen. Her love of botanical painting began in 1990 while studying Graphic Art and Design at Ruthrieston College. Since then, she has achieved a Diploma in Botanical Illustration through the Society of Botanical Artists and more recently a Masters in Fine Art at Gray’s School of Art. She works out of a studio at WASPS Studios Langstane, opening to the public during the annual open studios' event. She has exhibited in Scotland in solo and joint exhibitions, with artworks are in private collections around the world.

Plants predominate through Fiona Swapp’s art practice. Her visual explorations through photography and microscopy uncovers fractals within Sphagnum moss and other plants, which she interprets through sketching, poetry, and printing, further enriched by deep mapping of locations and the use of oral history discussions with those connected with plant gathering, processing and utilisation in the past and present.

At the time of applying Fiona had only recently completed her Masters in Fine Art from Gray’s School of Art, Aberdeen. This time had taken her from technical botanical illustration to move into the abstract and look more at research - how plants are used and how they relate to people. When applying she was at this point of change within her practice.

During her time at Gray’s, she had been fortunate to access sessions at the School of Pharmacy at RGU and was amazed at the images she was able to create when viewing her source material through a microscope. These photographic images were used as reference, and as finished pieces in their own right. She was also practicing mono-printing and sketching the images as she was seeing them through the microscope.

Following graduation, the Covid pandemic meant that the lack of access to this microscopic equipment unfortunately became a barrier to further developing this area of her practice.

VACMA supported Fiona to purchase a microscope and camera so she could continue to develop this area of her practice at home and from her own studio.

She was also able to purchase canvasses and obtained additional surface materials to work on.

Fiona states, “With this new tool and surfaces, the VACMA bursary allowed me to connect and learn how to set up and hone my skills to digitally photograph plants through the microscope, learning the software tools along the way. And in turn gave me better reference material to use in my practice.

The purchased microscope has added a new dimension to my work. Enabling me to photograph parts of plants not normally seen by the naked eye. And the surfaces gave me the artistic freedom to practice monoprinting/monotyping on wood panels, linen, and Perspex, with no financial constraints.”

Fiona is now looking ahead to take this process forward and some of the surfaces worked will be pushed further at a later date into a set of new artworks.

She says, “If I had not received the award, I wouldn’t have had the funds to be able to continue what I was doing with the microscope to analyse plants and look at things in more detail. It has helped me continue to develop my practice.

Every time I go out for a walk, I can collect materials and now I’m able to take that a step further to observe and analyse my findings.

It’s given me an immediacy – instead of having to go to somewhere like RGU – I can now and collect my plant samples and get on with my practice at home. It’s given a better flow to my practice.”

“If there is any barrier to your practice it is definitely worth applying for. The way the award is set up now makes it easy to apply for small amounts.

“Everyone is really helpful, and the advice sessions beforehand were very useful.”

“If you are coming out of university and have items that you no longer have access to, then having access to funds like this to buy those initial tools is invaluable. It’s a great kickstart onto the next step of your journey as an artist.”

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