Advice to my 22 year old self: if you want to travel, live in New Zealand!
FORGET ABOUT YOUR WEAKNESSES and go for what you want. 18 years ago my boss said to me, "The funding people called me as your phone referee. I told them not to judge you on you spelling ability.” My shortcomings were embarrassing, but they weren’t the big picture. I got the grant.
WORK WITH PEOPLE YOU LIKE. There are two kinds of people: those you enjoy working with, and those you don’t. Stick with the former: but it’s harder than it sounds. If you're not uplifted by the company you keep, look for a new situation which sparks you up. Don't be shy to approach someone whose work you admire and just introduce yourself. Remember, nobody minds hearing the words “I love your work” or "how can I help?"
OPEN YOUR MIND. For instance, I had no idea of glass as a medium until I met teacher Elizabeth McClure in my first year at Unitec. To me, she represented a doorway to an international world of people and design in a medium which has colour and light at its core - glass! - and I was hooked.
Layla Walter: Japonica Screen - woven and japonica detail, cast glass. Photo by Fotoarte.
WORK. When I was still a student I scored a job with Ann Robinson, who was a pioneer in the lost wax process for glass casting. It started out as work experience, which led on to the offer of part time employment, which lasted until I was 35 years old: almost half my life at that point. She was both employer and mentor for all that time. Work increased my technical abilities, covered weekly bills and enabled time off to devote to my own career.
LIVE IN NEW ZEALAND. I made a conscious decision to live here because of the great working relationship I had with Ann, and due to the long casting process, I was more able to make my work by maintaining a studio here. Bottom line: I could save money.
TRAVEL. Saving money meant I could travel for bursts of input, about once a year. I’d meet and engage with my international peers in the world of glass. These relationships have also been a constant source of guidance and affirmation for me. There aren’t many people who do what I do in New Zealand, so traveling to meet them is both important and awesome.
KEEP IN TOUCH. Life can sometimes get in the way of art. Curate yourself a nice set of friends and acquaintances for regular catch ups, so you can keep your head clear of the ups and downs of life in the arts business. My group consists of people in film, fashion, acting, writing, arts and crafts, and all of us have found the odd flat spot here and there, especially after a big project. It’s normal, and when you stay on top of it, it’s really rewarding. We keep each other on track, and sometimes deliberately go off track, too, which - at the right time - can be both necessary and valuable.
BE PROACTIVE. People respect other people who are proactive, rather than passive. Proactive is another way of saying “helpful” or "engaged". Also, being proactive isn’t something you can stop doing once you’ve started. You have to finish the job. There is a responsibility that comes with that, but there are always unexpected rewards.
Layla Walter: Mistrals Camellia, cast glass. H29cm x D16cm. Photo: Fotoarte.
SHARE WHAT YOU’RE GOOD AT. I find that teaching - in all its different forms - promotes self learning and it’s really satisfying in its own right. I teach and do talks and demonstrations at universities, schools, art schools, conferences, and sometimes just by showing visiting artists around. In this way my world is always expanding. However, a lot of this stuff is voluntary, so stay humble when saying "yes" or "no". Last year a six year old boy wrote “The talk made me burst like fire”. His teacher said he didn’t usually write more than a sentence, but that he filled up four pages after my talk.
DON’T SWEAT A BUSY HOME. Artists often have messy homes, but we tend to be good at sorting them out for social gatherings or photo shoots! It’s not all how it looks in the magazines, so don’t pretend like it has to be. It seems to go with the territory: constantly processing ideas, objects and raw materials, I find these homes and people most interesting and rich!
Catch Layla's upcoming suffrage-themed exhibition at Masterworks Gallery in Auckland, 26 August - 19 September. And keep an eye out for her during Auckland Art Week, 6 - 14 October.