Creative minds think alike. It’s such an honour and true pleasure to present to you my interview with Patricia Mitchell (née Rodwell) from patriciamitchelldesign, a woman of many talents, whose personal story can be enlightening to many of you.
I’ve come across Patricia’s work on Instagram. Her reinterpretation of the traditional Japanese art of paper folding – origami – is a feast for the eyes. But it’s only one of the funnels of her creativity. I’d like you to get to know them all, as rarely do we find such a diversity. If I can use a metaphor here, Patricia’s works are like four elements – Fire, Water, Air and Earth. Her talent is the fifth one, quintessentia, the elusive fragment of the soul.
Enjoy her thoughts on the power of the family nest, finding a career path, and how to stand strong on your own two feet.
Barbara: Patricia, you come from a creative family – your Mum [Sue Rodwell] is a sculptor, your Dad an engineer. What is your fondest “creative” childhood memory? How did you like to spend your free time?
Patricia: I grew up in a huge old house, built in the 1850s. Our family are the 7th generation of Rodwells (I am now married to a Mitchell and use that name) to live there, inheriting it from my grandparents in 1978. To grow up in such a house requires creativity. We certainly were not millionaires, so had to make do with buckets and saucepans up the stairs to catch the falling rain, racing around our bedrooms chasing bats with tennis rackets (they lived in the chimneys). We used to surf down the stairs on a mattress, roller skate around the hall, climb trees – and probably fall out of them – and play Murder in the Dark in the attics. It was a magical childhood with a ridiculous number of pets, grubby fingernails, grazed knees and second hand clothes.
It made no difference to us if there was mould on the ceiling or water dripping down the walls. It was home, and a pretty magnificent one at that. My parents spent 35 odd years doing up the house room by room. The house and its grounds are absolutely beautiful and restored to their former glory. They still live there and we go home whenever we can. Everyone who has ever had a connection or association with our family has fond memories of our house.
B: You say that you quit the corporate job to pursue your true passions. Dozens of women I know are now considering such a career shift. What helped you make the final decision? When did you say: “I’m done. I need a change”? And what would be your advice to young women who don’t know how to start their own creative business?
P: I was never particularly excited by school – or learning. I just wanted to go for long walks, ride my pony, be in an art gallery or actually be creating something in the art room. The decision was made by my parents and the teachers that I was to leave school and go to secretarial college and learn to type. I was then to go to London and start work to earn some money and to stand on my own two feet. I was 18 years old. I was made to learn the hard way; I was very happy with that. My parents did exactly the right thing tipping me out of the nest so young. I got a job immediately for a multi millionaire art dealer in Mayfair, London. I was a good talker, had a bright smile, a happy demeanour, and knew how to dress like a grown up.
Soon after I went to work as a receptionist in a business centre and a few years later was promoted to manageress with a staff of 3. I was 21. After a year’s sabbatical driving around Africa and Australia I came home and got straight back into hard work to pay off my enormous travelling debts.
In 2004, (I was 34 years old) I was absolutely exhausted; totally burnt out. I worked hard, partied hard, holidayed in wonderful destinations and I had bought my first flat by the time I was 26. I earned really good money. But, I was tired and was becoming increasingly frustrated and needed to explore a new life. One day, I woke up and decided to do something about it. Without hesitation I handed in my notice and signed up to do a three year study of figurative sculpture at The Heatherly School of Art, Chelsea. My work friends and colleagues were aghast at my apparent madness. It was a gamble and it took guts. I loved college, it was heaven to be back in an environment where I could finally breathe, relax and enjoy. However, I had to pay the bills somehow, so I started taking photographs of my friends’ children. I studied and worked really hard to earn money to make it all possible. I am forever grateful for not asking for financial help from my parents. I wanted to prove I could do this alone. And I did.
My advice to women who need to start over is just DO IT! Make sure a plan is in hand, don’t give up work if you don’t have a firm plan or any idea what to do next. If you are already in debt – pay it off, making sure you have enough to live on for 3 months, and have enough put aside to actually start your company. Ask advice from one or two people only. Most people will put you off and squash your idea. Perhaps, don’t even tell anyone. Get a part time job – it’s essential. You need a Plan B. Keep on top of your tax, keep a track of your accounts, learn social media like a teenager. Find like- minded souls on Instagram, follow them and use their feed as your instruction book. Never, ever give up.
B: Can you tell us more about your interest in origami? How does it relate to figurative sculpture? Are there any technical differences?
P: Sculpting was a gateway for me to find my creative skills again – I just loved being at college with arty people who were just like me. Origami is something I just fell into by accident. I was watching a documentary on origami and was absolutely fascinated by it. I then delved further on the net and found some tutorials by origami masters and followed them. Some of the folds are pretty impossible to follow, so my knowledge of sculpture comes in pretty handy, as I change ancient origami techniques and design my own folding patterns. Combining sculpture and origami gives a much more satisfying effect, and with that, I learn a new technique every day.
B: How did you meet the Koi Carp breeder? Why “The Music School”?
P: I have a 4 year old daughter, and we love to visit an amazing butterfly sanctuary. This sanctuary is designed to look like a Japanese garden where there is a huge pond full of the most incredible koi carp of all sizes – some of them are years old. Their swimming formations are fascinating to watch and my daughter and I literally just sit there mesmerized by them. These fish are so soporific to watch that I decided to recreate the feeling, by sculpting them using ‘bookish’ paper. ‘School’ is a word commonly used for a group of fish – so I used that word in its other context, using library paper, music paper, and vintage map paper to give them an educational feel.
I have expanded my work and am currently designing clothes using bright and bold wallpapers by well known designers. It’s really quirky work, and pushing my creativity again.
B: You are very creative and imaginative. I know you love the ocean and the “deep blue” (hence your “Oceanscapes”). When do you like to paint? What are your favourite techniques? In what kind of interiors would you see your paintings?
P: Sculpting with paper is very intense and quite exhausting, really. I sit at my table, working away, just using my hands. I am so deep in thought and concentration that I almost forget to breathe, to eat, to go to the bathroom, to drink water, I never even hear my phone ring – two hours can pass and I feel like it’s been 5 minutes.
Painting allows me to let go. I stand up, I dance to music with my brush splashing paint onto the canvas. It’s my rebellion from the structured world of paper sculpting. It is a release. I love using blue; it’s a fascinating colour to work with. Blue is the colour of depth and stability. My work has been described as healing and tranquil which is a great honour to hear. The canvases are big, the smallest being 100cm square. I don’t think the subject or feeling would work if they were any smaller. My style is more Morocco goes to Palm Beach and finally settling in The Hamptons.
B: And finally, the photography. It started as a way to pay for your studies, but it later turned out to be also one of your professional activities. Can you tell us more about the Royal Hospital Chelsea project? What were the things that surprised you the most during that year? What are your favourite photos taken there?
P: Photography happened by accident. I had no idea that I was going to be any good at it, but I just was. I think being naturally creative is a huge help as taking a good photograph is all about composition. A fellow photographical colleague and I were invited by an army Commando unit to to photograph the troops on exercise. We spent 4 days, freezing cold, up to our ears in mud, taking action photographs. On the back of this portfolio of work, I tried to go to Camp Bastian, Afghanistan, to research a project which was going to be called ’24 hours: Camp Bastian’. I wanted to document each facet of life within the confines of Camp Bastian. I tried to get out there twice, but each time fell at the last hurdle because of security issues. As a caveat, I was invited to spend a year taking photographs of the daily lives of the Chelsea In-Pensioners at The Royal Hospital Chelsea.
Trivia: Royal Hospital Chelsea was founded in 1692 by King Charles II. For over 300 years, it has served as a home for the veterans of the British Army unfit for further service. (source)
I was the first female photographer to be granted access to all areas and ceremonies of the Hospital.
My work was published by Merrell Publishers who created this incredible ‘coffee table’ book of photographs and words. There have been many books printed about The Royal Hospital Chelsea, but mine is the only picture heavy, word light book on the market. I wanted the book to be a pictorial education rather than a heavy historical read. I interviewed many of the In-Pensioners about their experiences during the war and their life until they became a Chelsea Pensioner. Second World War heroes won’t be around forever, and I am the luckiest lady in the world to have had the honour to write and photograph this book.
B: If you could take one perfect shot – what would you like to photograph and why?
P: I love portraits of people with atmosphere, especially those who have achieved extraordinary things. I remember going to a photography exhibition where there were life size portraits (set on aluminum and Perspex to give the photograph high definition) of well known Olympians in training. Each photograph depicted power, strength, hard work, will and determination. I love to see unstaged emotion in photographs. I really associate with quiet and humble hard workers with oodles of character. Hence I always loved to photograph something that depicted strong will and determination – either human or animal.
With all the different facets in my artistic life, I’m going to settle with sculpting with paper using origami techniques. It seems to nourish every part of my creative addiction, and with this I feel that I can evolve and push some more boundaries. Isn’t it what being an artist is all about?
If you’ve enjoyed my interview with Patricia, you might want to join my Newsletter for more inspiration of this kind.
What do you think about Patricia’s creative outburst? What is your vision of being a creator? Would you like to see more interviews of this kind here on the blog? Let me know in the comment box below or on my social media.
Until next time, have a very happy week,