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Painting Realistic Abstraction With Rosie Woods

London based, Rosie Woods, is a street and studio artist with some ten years on the creative path, cutting her teeth with London collective, Graffiti Life, and developing into her own style which blends abstraction and realism for a unique visual treat which entices and captivates.

In her career, Rosie Woods has travelled the world painting walls — the canvas she loves most — leaving her mark and spreading joy and colour to onlookers lucky enough to view her masterpieces.

With a sparkly, vibrant nature, Rosie joined Street Art Unearthed to chat about her work; how she got into street art, how she paints her unique style, and how she teaches everyday people, like you and I, how to pick up a spray can and do awesome things.

Set to relocate to Australia (again) in 2021, Rosie Woods is a street artist you’ll want to put on your radar.

Check out the podcast with Rosie Woods, or read on for excerpts from the chat.


From Art School to Street Art

I was working with a collective called Graffiti Life in London. They are the guys responsible for putting me on this path, really.

When I finished art school, it was just one of those right time, right place things. I was looking to learn how to paint large scale and use spray paint and ended up falling in with the brilliant guys at Graffiti Life. I was with them for about four years; I was effectively a designer.

It’s more of a craft, really. We were producing different scales and for different projects and briefs. Within that, there were some projects where we had a lot of artistic freedom and we could come up with our own designs and the clients would very much be led by us, and on the flip side, we had clients that had a very specific idea, a specific brief in mind, and then we implement that. Some projects definitely had my stamp on them, but I painted sort of anything and everything you can imagine during that time.

Favourite Projects to Date

They’ve all been fun in different ways, as projects are, they all have their highs and the lows. I absolutely loved going to Norway and painting the buses; it was just such a mad job, and the chance to go to Norway… I didn’t think I’d end up there. That was really cool.

The students out there have a festival every year when they finish school, and it’s totally nuts. They go all in. They have these 1970s buses that have minimal restrictions because of when they were built, and every year, they just get artists to come in and paint them completely top to bottom in their theme and save money for this festival all throughout high school and then they just have this mad blowout at the end.

I think the project I got involved with, the Heartwalk Festival in Kalgoorlie was honestly one of the most brilliant experiences. It was the biggest canvas I’ve painted, by far. It was enormous. I think one side of the building was 17 meters and the other was like seven. And then it was at least ten high, I think.

I just absolutely loved it. I had really great people around me. I loved the design and the place I went to, Kalgoorlie, I’ve never been anywhere like that in my entire life. I’m from the suburbs of London, so the chance to go out into the middle of Western Australia and see the gold mines, it’s just yeah, so so interesting.

Blending Abstraction and Realism

I definitely started honing my skills more with realism, and then when I was studying, I came across a few art theorists that I really sort of resonated with. They were just talking about the abstract way of stretching your imagination, and also connecting with something other than what’s physically in front of you.

There was a guy called Clive Bell that used to talk about aesthetic emotion and how you can really connect with a piece of art despite it having no narrative and just sort of exploring that emotional response you can have to an artwork.

Learning about these theories did influence the direction my work then took after that. I’d say my last years of study I really started to push that. I was using realistic imagery that I’d taken, just photographs, and then blending into quite abstract patterns and painting on a really large scale, on canvas, as large as I could.

Refocussing on Her Own Style

I spent quite a few years working commercially, and I got to a point where I just I’ve lost my way a bit, I think, with my own style my own work, and I had to then sort of leave that world a bit and refocus myself. I’d say I’ve gone on a bit of a sort of swirly whirly roller coaster the last few years just getting back to where I left off. But I do feel that now I am on the right path with the work that feels right to me right now.

Clients that I speak to that have contacted me because they like my work; I think they get in touch because they appreciate that maybe it’s a bit different.

I think you’ve got to just like that work for it to be received well. Some people just question like, “oh, what is it?” and I like that because I don’t dictate what my work is necessarily about. I want people to bring their own sort of experiences to the work and take from it what they want.

Designing From Digital to Analog

When I was getting back to my in practice again, I was trying to work out a way that I could paint things with a realistic essence to them but still super abstract, and create things that I had in my brain but didn’t physically exist. So I stumbled across this on Instagram, as it always is…

I saw a lot of digital artists were using a program called Cinema 4D. It’s a really amazing program, the graphics and things you can do with it are incredible. It’s really hard to learn. So I started playing with it and just exploring different options, just different processes, that you can do through that. It’s really opened up a lot of shapes and forms and lights and colours that I wouldn’t be able to necessarily create if I was just sculpting, perhaps with my hands.

I’ve been really playing with that program and then when I have a visual that feels right, from there I often then manipulated it in Photoshop, or I’ll get my sketch pad out and sort of play with the design I have as a starting point and work from there. It’s a very digital to analogue process.

More and more, I’ve seen artwork that I know has been created with these sorts of programs. I think perhaps unless you’ve created with those programs yourself you wouldn’t necessarily be able to pick out what has and what hasn’t been made with that process. But it’s really cool.

It’s just another tool at your disposal if you’re an artist, there are these amazing programs that you can use to create great visuals.

Teaching Adults and Kids to Create

Workshops were something, again, that I did commercially, initially. It would be people come along as team-building exercises, just trying to have a go at spray paint for a bit of fun. Since then, I’ve done quite a number of community workshops, and they’re the most rewarding ones. They’re the ones where you’re working with kids for maybe a week or so to develop these skills.

It started as something really small. I just do an hour and a half to two-hour workshops to the more fully-fledged workshops now.

There is a massive fear, I think, for putting yourself out there creatively. And when you’re creating something big on a wall, obviously the extra fear is that every mistake you make is there for everyone to see. So the first initial stages are just warming everyone up, really. It’s just paint. If it goes wrong, it doesn’t matter. The reason I’m there is to help you, and I can probably make it look better at the end. So not to worry.

It’s just great to see people’s confidence grow with it. Also, spray paint, I think, is quite an intimidating medium initially because it is powerful. It’s quite hard to manipulate when you don’t know what you’re doing.

I always go through a series of warm-up sort of drills, I guess, about how to position your can, how to hold close to the wall, how to fade. Simple cutbacks. And then once people have a hand on that they generally feel much more comfortable with the rest of the week.

By the end, everyone’s usually really pumped with what they’ve done.

Embrace the Artist Within

I know some people just aren’t interested in being creative, or perhaps they’re just creative in a different way — doesn’t necessarily have to be paint on a wall. But I’d always say, people that really put themselves down creatively in that way, or especially with paint, often really surprised themselves with what they are able to do when they just focus a bit of time on it.

I would say that anyone that felt like they had even a little inkling of desire to put some colour down on a bit paper or, you know, pick up a can and put it on a wall, just give that a go because most the time, the mistakes are the things that work out really well. It’s just a really beautiful way of expressing yourself. So I would encourage anyone to give it a go.

Pushing Through Creative Doubt

It’s a really tricky one and something I battle with a lot. I imagine I’m not alone in that one. I think if you feel that you have a calling to do it. For the most part, even if you stop painting or you stop creating for a short period of time, I bet there’s a nagging within you just saying “I really want to be doing this” or you feel like you wish you could carve out the time. If you do have that nagging within you, just keep cracking on with it, because there have been times where the painting’s been going really well and works been going brilliantly, and you feel just as high as you can be, and then other times you have crippling self-doubt, and you just want to pack it in.

I guess the only thing that’s consistent is that you keep doing it. Sometimes it’s how you imagine it, and sometimes it’s not, but I think it’s just consistency, really.

I find sometimes that some things at the time where I think “what am I doing? What am I thinking? This is so terrible, the work I’m creating”, and then I’ll give myself a bit of a break and then I’ll reflect on it, maybe a year later, six months, and I’ll be like, “oh, no, actually, that was kind of cool, and it’s really focused my work in this direction”.

It’s a funny old journey, the art one, and one I’m definitely still on.

What brings me real joy is when I have created something and feel like I’ve put what’s inside of me on paper, I say paper, actually walls.

Pivot to Canvas, Thanks to Covid

Covid obviously stopped me in my tracks. All of my projects that I had coming up, got cancelled, which is kind of sad, but it has made me put my work back on canvas. I think I can produce quicker on canvas, actually, even though it’s smaller and it’s a bit more fiddly, I seem to be producing a bit more work than if I was going to a wall, setting it all up, painting the whole thing blah blah blah.

So I’m just trying to pump out a bit more work and just keep honing my style, really.

My boyfriend’s not super happy that the flat is absolutely covered in canvases at the moment, which is really cool, actually, because I haven’t seen my work together in that way for a really long time. I’m not sure exactly what I’m going to do with them at the moment.

Developing Different Styles

I have a real problem wanting to paint with every single colour under the sun. I love colour — if you hadn’t noticed from my work!

I’m trying to be a bit more restrained with that, so sticking to more of a considered palette, which is definitely necessary. I’m trying to focus on that, and then there are a few directions that my work seems to be taking at the moment…

I’m trying to be a bit looser and a bit more gestural within my work. I’m quite used to painting quite tight and being very accurate with my work, but I think some of the more beautiful art that I admire from other street artists are just the ones that are a bit more… just loose and as it comes.

So I’ve been using spray paint to create backgrounds that have a bit more energy with them and are just very much directed by the flow of my hands and the way my body’s moving within the canvas and then, with that, putting more formal shapes and constructs within that, so using that as a basis and then working on top of it.

At the same time I’m also, really trying to put this in my canvases, whether that’s the background seems really blurred, like sort of soft-focus, or whether it’s that the structures feel like they’re really deep, with a lot of depth into them.

Next Step Solo Show?

I’d love to put an exhibition on at some point. I guess we just got to see what happens with the world and what’s available to me in the future.

I’ve done quite a few group shows, but if I’m being honest, I’ve really avoided doing a solo show for a while, and I think that in part, it’s because I’ve been busy with other briefs and other projects, but it’s very much putting your soul on the line for everyone to see, isn’t it? It’s quite a big leap of faith, I think, just to put your work out there. I guess you always hope for a good reception, but you know that you’re always gonna have both.

I think I just haven’t been brave enough recently or had enough time to do that.

It’s very exposing. And of course, no one’s a bigger critic of your own work than yourself. So I think for all those reasons, I need to do another one, just to jump over the barrier.

Plans Down Under

The plan at the moment is quite loose, but we’re gonna go to Queensland, around Brisbane. So whether that’s the Gold Coast way, or Sunshine Coast way, we’re not really sure at the moment. It depends a lot on my partner Dan, his job, where he ends up. But I really enjoyed my time around that neck of the woods when I was living in Australia. Just met some really great people and it’s so beautiful there. I just would love the chance to live there again.

I really want to keep working on my canvases so that I can exhibit more regularly and perhaps get involved with galleries over there. But really, I just want to paint walls foremost. That’s when I feel most sparkly and most excited about my work, is when I’m painting a large scale, and you can step back, and it’s a really immersive experience.

Setting Up in a New Country

When I first went to Australia, I didn’t know anyone. It was just a big leap of faith, really. It was a different environment, and I had to push myself in a different way. I started off in Melbourne. I absolutely adored Melbourne and had a brilliant time there, and the art community down there was really tight. It was easy to meet people. You meet people; they introduce you to other people. I think perhaps that’s a smaller city vibe. I haven’t experienced anything quite like that here in London.

There was a lot of just having to be ballsy and go to events and say hi to people that you’ve, you know, maybe followed and admired and just put yourself out there, really. So many times, I just felt so nervous about going to things, but I just met the most lovely people along the way.

I was really lucky that when I was in Melbourne, I connected with Juddy Roller. I introduced myself to them, like “hey, I’m here”, and that was an amazing way for me to meet just some of the most talented artists down there.

Coming back, I think I’ve already made the hardest things happen. I have some contacts there now. But again, Brisbane, I’ve never lived in that neck of the woods, so it will be just the same thing again; just putting yourself out there, being friendly, saying hi to people and just seeing what happens.

Written using excerpts from the Street Art Unearthed podcast with Rosie Woods.

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