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Making it as a contemporary artist

Making it as a contemporary artist

Paul Digby, BA Visual Studies (1997), is exhibiting his latest touring exhibition, material-process-object in our very own East GalleryNUA from 26 March to 6 April 2019. 

The exhibition is a collection of works from a project where Paul worked with the emergency services drawing and sculpting them in classical poses. The project involved a series of collaborations with different community groups. Paul shares his top tips for securing funding for contemporary art projects.

Paul Digby painted work of a fire person holding a baby

We are excited to have you exhibit in East GalleryNUA, are you enjoying being back at the University?

I can’t believe how much it’s changed, the pedestrianised street (St George’s) is a lovely thing and I would have no trouble buying a coffee. It is wonderful to be back and my years at NUA had a huge impact on me personally and professionally.

"Networking is really important! When I was at NUA, I didn’t realise how connected I was until after I had graduated. Keeping good relations and collaborating with other artists is a great way to keep going and to get projects started"

Making a sustainable living from a contemporary art practice can be challenging, What is your secret to success?

I have had a number of successful applications for funding with various organisations but predominantly with the Arts Council – although I have equally had a number of unsuccessful applications possibly outweighing the successful ones! 

You just simply have to keep going.

Receiving funding and grants can sometimes determine if an art project is able to get off the ground, do you have any tips on writing successful funding applications?

I think it helps to learn the terminology and meet people from within the Arts Council or other funding organisations. There is a way of completing these applications, and this is something that you learn over time.

If you can get specific feedback on an unsuccessful funding application, this will really help to fine tune your next attempt – remember every failed application is your next application.

Generally I agree with most of the outcomes of the Arts Council and how they distribute their funding because they are mainly about identifying groups that don’t ordinarily experience contemporary visual art and I feel this is a positive thing. If you can see the bigger picture as to why you were not successful, it certainly helps keep your spirits up.

Have there been moments in your career when you have considered getting a traditional job? 

I am registered as self-employed and treat what I do as a 9-to-5 job. It seems the best thing for me to do and suits the organisations that I work with as well. I am part of the artist union and this reiterates the role of the ‘working’ artist.

What advice would you give to someone who is thinking about taking the leap to be a full-time contemporary artist?

Networking is really important! When I was at NUA, I didn’t realise how connected I was until after I had graduated. Keeping good relations and collaborating with other artists is a great way to keep going and to get projects started. You have to be quite fierce about it and have the resilience to keep on trying.

I continue to draw every day but I also know the importance of the ‘other stuff’ you have to do as an artist these days such as writing funding applications, maintaining a website and social media, face to face networking, putting on exhibitions as often as you can and just generally putting yourself out there. 

You have exhibited your work in all sorts of gallery spaces, what has been your highlight?

As part of this project I exhibited in a primary school alongside the children’s work. The work I showed is the work from this exhibition (material-process-object) and two of the subjects visited the show. This was as well as the parents of the children. It was a great experience with a lot of positive feedback for everybody.

I have exhibited pieces at the Saatchi Gallery and the Wellcome Museum and other notable institutions but this was probably my favourite.

Image credit: Paul Digby
Louise (2018)
Graphite on paper
Image courtesy of the artist