Finding fine art helped Morven Shortt find her feet. Starting in higher education in her fifties she says was hard, but very rewarding.
Hear about how Morven took that step from mother to student, and about how she came to make art from waste materials, and how she wants to inspire and encourage others to explore their creativity, no matter what their age.
Music: Day Trips by Ketsa https://ketsa.uk/under Creative Commons License
Artworks: Emily Portnoi emilyportnoi.co.uk
Other podcasts cited: You and Me Both with Hillary ClintonSupport the show (https://ko-fi.com/creativityfoundpodcast)
I always had this inkling that there was something more out there for me. I didn't always know what I did want, but I knew what I didn't want. I think with being creative or creativity, there's just something inside you that never goes away. This waste that we we repel. Beauty still exists in that. Hi, In this episode, I'm chatting with Morgan short, who, at the age of 49, decided she'd like to do an arts degree. Hi, Morven. Hello, good morning. You are a mixed media artist currently working on a PhD in fine art. What does that actually mean? Well, it, I work with unusual materials, such as sort of kitchen waste foodstuffs, especially tumble dryer lint, dust, that kind of thing. And a PhD has just given me the opportunity to really research one particular thing, ie the waist for a few years. And my aim, I think, probably hopefully, at the end of it is to develop new materials that are completely sustainable. With PhD, I have the support of other people. And I also have access to many facilities at the university that I wouldn't normally have access at home. And that's really sort of why I'm doing a PhD. Amazing. Yeah. Interesting. Where you are t as a child, and did you have positive arts experiences at school? Yeah, I was. I've always been RT, you know, it's just, it's something I think you're not really aware of it just it just kind of happened. It always happened at school, I always drew and that kind of thing. I had, I had good art teachers at school. But I mean, I'm what 57 now. So when I was at school, we're talking sort of the 1970s when it was drove as a flowers, you know, and I suppose my works always been quite abstract or contemporary. But I was inspired certainly by by one of my teachers at school, he definitely gave me the idea that art could be much more than, you know, just a landscape painting or the iconic sort of hours of flowers. And yeah, he did, he definitely inspired me. But then I also grew up in sort of the subculture era. And when we were influenced by the freedom and the the can do attitude of punk and things like that, although I was never really allowed to be a punk. I was a part time punk that weekend, sometimes. But all those sort of influences and that kind of thing did make you realise that maybe you could do something different or be something more. But at that time, I was growing up in Northern Ireland, things were things were a little different. They're given you know, that we were sort of growing up in the midst of the troubles and that sort of thing. I used to always sort of do things like take friends jeans, in dye on shirts, and so I was always experimenting and just trying to find out what what else what else was out there and how I could how I could just be a little bit different without being too outrageous. My messed up rageous was probably when I had my ears pierced, but we used to cut off the ends of safety pins. And of course, me being me. I would say they were always sterilised first you put them through your ears are nearing or food colouring in your hair. That was never a great idea. because growing up in Northern Ireland, it rained all the time. So if you went out especially if you're wearing your dad's white shirt, and you ended up with green food colouring all over it by the end of the night, but we came to England when I'd finished August 16. I finished my own levels. And I I went to to boarding school, we had a great art department there. And again, another reason Good art teacher. I sort of decided I'd like to go to art school. But my parents were of the mind of my dad's favourite phrase was nice girls didn't go to art school. He was sort of like, have you seen the things that come out of art school? Because I think sort of Vivienne Westwood and that kind of thing was just getting going. And that it just so excited me, ya know? Yeah, I didn't go to art school, but I always have that creativity in me. I think probably looking back growing up in Northern Ireland, you did face certain restrictions, but at the same time, you had there are lots of things around it to influence you. And I think that's kind of always stayed with me. Yeah. So instead of going to art school, what did you do? And my dad's advice, it was always well, you know, get something safe, get something sensible. It was, again, it was the I think I left school in 1981. And it was, it was assumed then at, you know, we would Well, you know, only do it for a couple of years, because it's not really important because you're going to get married and have children, etc. I went to college and did business studies. Because my parents thought we can use that for anything. And I ended up working for a stockbrokers in Bournemouth where I lived. And it was, it was the most boring job ever. I was in an office I was I was an accounts clerk. And it was, it was horrible job. I absolutely hated it. Yeah, I just I felt like I was in a cage. And then I got married, and had children and life just sort of happened. You know, I was always doing things at home. I mean, Oh, my goodness. Yeah, the kids would sort of walk in some day. And you know, one room was a completely different colour or something had been added to the walls again, you know, we're talking the 80s funnel, the sort of sponge effects came out for walls. I think the best thing, the best thing that was ever invented, for me were paint pots. For five pounds, I could have, you know, a plethora of colour, just sort of sponged all over the walls, or rags or something. I mean, my first husband died when my children, my first two children were young, I think they were seven and five. And so that kind of left me on my own with children. But, and also money came into it at that time, because I didn't have you know, vast amounts. So I was always being creative finding ways of doing things or, you know, you'd look through the great magazines, and I'd be there thinking, Okay, how can I do that cheaply? How can I do that a different way. Or, you know, I have a sewing machine. It's a machine again, as a great, great outlet, because it's amazing what you can create, you know, curtains closed, how cushion covers, Christmas, decorations, bunting, you name it, I would create it on the same machine. I always had this inkling that there was something more out there for me. I think that being creative or creativity, there's just something inside you that never goes away. And I remarried and had another daughter. Unfortunately, the marriage didn't work out. But the daughter has she's not too bad. I kept her when she went to senior school. When she started senior school. The other two by then had had left home, I really started to sort of think, what about me? What What can I do now? And for me, certainly, there was a kind of defined period in my life when I sort of thought okay, maybe maybe I can think a bit about me now. And you know, what I want sort of the rest of my life to be Yeah. Why did you decide that that thing would be a degree? And how did you go about starting the process? Well, I To be honest, I didn't really know how how I knew was odd. And I didn't really know what else to do with it. I wanted something more than just making things and selling them on the store. Also, I was very mindful that you know, I did allow my older two kids had left home the kind of sort of never leave in one way. But my my youngest daughter was still at school and needed me and these those sorts of things tended to be on the weekends, when being sort of 1213 year old, you know, you spend half your weekend running here running there for the kids. So I lived in Bournemouth, where we where we walk the dog sometimes, and we'd walk through Bournemouth University, and then through the arts university. And they also have a great gallery there, which I used to go and see some exhibitions, and that sort of thing. And, you know, so I started to think maybe I could come to university, and then it was a wonderful except to, you know, people my age at university. And so literally one day, I phoned up the arts university. And quite simply, I just said, I want to come to university. And do you accept people? Who are I think by that time I was 4950? And she went, yeah, of course we do. And that was the beginning of it was literally a phone call to say, Yeah, I want to come to university. And yeah, I went and spoke to someone there. And they suggested a foundation course, which gives you the opportunity to try so many different variations of art from, I think, from graphics to fine art, to textiles, to photography, to Crikey, arts university, Bournemouth is, it's a, it's a specialist art school. So everybody there is creative in some form or other. So she sort of said, you know, come back to me with with a portfolio. And I didn't have a clue what portfolio was. And I went home, and I googled what support. Yeah, what's a portfolio? So figured out what it was Ticket Ticket, photographs of many things I'd done, had my interview for foundation. And she was she was really great. I just sort of kept saying to me, you've got to let me come. You know, this is this is probably my last chance, given my age and that kind of thing. I don't know, I don't know what sort of artists don't want to be. But I want to come here, but I know why I'm an artist. And yeah, so I did the foundation course. And I think probably from all the years of making things and in various forms, even from paint effects and things on the wall to whatever I created for my sewing machine, textile and texture. And that that haptic thing that happens, was always very much part of my practice. So I decided to after foundation go on and do a BA in textile design. It was it was a really good course. But I thought that I part of the course would involve maybe creating new textiles or designing literally designing new textiles. But it's mostly sort of its surface, really a lot of print stitch that kind of thing was basically interiors and fashion. But you did have the opportunity to experiment in the workshops, and with laser cutters, 3d printers, etching moulding, making tiles, oh, Crikey, so many different things. I think I was I was more I was more interested in how you could almost subvert the normal than continuing with it. And you know, some some of the girls have blessed beautiful printers and the most beautiful sort of card embroidery machine embroidery and that kind of thing. But for me, I just, I had the idea of Oh gosh, if you just cut into that broidery and just pull some of the stitches out, that could be really exciting. And I did discover smart materials and work quite a lot of thermochromic. And that kind of thing in print. So that thermochromic to work that when you apply heat, either if you touch or wherever they will convert the colour will change. I became quite interested in that. And I did realise through that ba I had great incredible skills. Absolutely incredible skills, digital land, and screen printing and that kind of thing. But yeah, I just knew there was more. Is that why the change to fine art for the Masters then did that give you that opportunity? Yeah, fine, fine. Art gave me fine art gave me freedom. And my BA was great, but it's a it's an industry based course. So it's based around the textile industry, whether it's designed for fabric or for interiors or fashion or whatever the textile industry and that sort of thing runs in a very sort of set series. And I just thought now I want to break away from that and see what else I can do. And I think taking all the knowledge that I had gained from foundation up, I think as well, when you're older you are, you're a lot more honest with yourself, and certainly the fashion industry. And that kind of thing is, is a younger person's, you know, it's their domain, I was very aware that a, I certainly couldn't afford to intern and work for free up in London with a child that was just it was impossible. But also, I didn't have rose coloured spectacles. I was a realist, and I was very aware what the industry wants and how it operated. And I didn't always know what I did want, but I knew what I didn't want. And I think as I say, ma gave me the opportunity to be completely free. And let me develop with whatever ideas I came up with, with materials and that kind of thing. Yeah. And away from the curriculum side of it. How was how was your whole unique experience impacted by your age and your household situation? And do you think that either of those gave you advantages or disadvantages over what would be considered the more standard a student's age students? I think I had, I certainly had the benefit of both worlds. There's an old saying, isn't there something like youth is wasted on the young and I had the benefit of not sort of not recreating my youth, but certainly recreating some of those experiences, but with the benefit of hindsight, and an awful lot of knowledge, you know, just from being a parent, I never experienced any problems at all with my age, and from from other students or tutors, you know, I think, I think probably, I remember when we sort of first morning of Ba, we were all in the room together. And so many of them were coming up and asking me all these questions, and they just sort of naturally assumed, you know, I was a cheater. And, but then they sort of realised and I think for them, it was probably more of a shock to find that, you know, oh my gosh, someone my mom's age and possibly even, you know, my near my grandmother's age here. You know what, you're a student that was like, yeah, that was wild. Because, you know, because of one, two, I think we don't realise, we definitely don't realise as women the skills that we have got, you know, we've maybe spent years at home, raising children just just trying to juggle everything, make ends meet, and manage our time be in three different places at once. You know, we're very used to, I don't know, whether we come home from work or whatever we've been doing, we pick the kids up from school, one's got to go to football, one's got to go to a music class or dance or something, you have to pick something up from Sainsbury's get in, put the dinner on, put the washing on, the dog needs walking, and there's problem one of them's having a problem that, you know, you just become that becomes very normal life to you. So you're very, very, you become very good at time management, you, you become very good at keeping all these various balls up in the air, they are incredible transferable skills that, within within a university setting, probably were the most important tool I had. The I think probably the major problem I had was with, you know, my, my, my cohort, and, you know, they would say things to me, like, oh, we're going out, you know, Come out, come out. And you know, I did go out a couple of times, but their idea of going out with sort of 11 o'clock at night and I'm like, goodness, I'm exhausted. Now I've got to go home and Grace's got this and you they kind of we did tend after a while to ah just became irrelevant. We were just all in the same class, you know. And also there was an element of that before, but for them away from home. It was Yeah, it's very, very exciting. And the one thing I did try to do, I think when I was at uni was try and keep it very much sort of nine to five. You're not always, you know, in every day, but you certainly have access to everywhere every day and I did make a point of of trying to keep bass to a certain extent separate, I would always try and go to university and work there. Partly because the doorbell wasn't going or you know, it wasn't getting distracted sort of thing by maybe friends would pop in for a coffee and go Yeah, but it's me art, you know, you've got time for a coffee no and that kind of thing. But yeah, so I did, I did try to keep it separate. It's, it's daunting, but it was probably the, the most enriching experience I've had. motherhood was great, but it was a struggle. And I think the one thing that university gave me was that it was, it was probably the only place that I could go, where I was just me, I was just more than a student at home, I'm mum or householder, or, you know, I take the dog out, I'm even up. I'm the dog's Mum, you know, university was the one place where I could I could actually just really be me. That was very enriching. But yeah, there were there were there were difficulties, but nothing major, I think probably my biggest difficulty was was getting to grips with the technology. Although I was kind of determined, and I had the I do have a very sort of can do attitude. And if I can't do something, then it's up to me to figure out how to do it. But I did sort of, I think, at times, probably in the back of my mind how I'm not gonna let 20 year olds know more than me. No, no, no, I'm gonna go, I'm gonna do this, again, to find out, especially when it came to like digital skills and that sort of thing. I got a book on digital design, after the library at uni, and took it home for the summer. And it was it was a very, very good book, because it was literally sort of on your laptop press button, a press button, see, you know, it was, it was Yeah, kind of written for idiots like me at the time. But I went back in the second year, having sort of mastered what I knew that what I needed to master and gradually over time, certain things and even digital, and that became just second nature. Really. Yeah. Yeah, brilliant. You've mentioned already at the beginning, but I know you you have worked with and still do some very interesting materials. Can you tell me about some of your processes and why you like to work in this way. And yeah, like I said, I'm very my work is very haptic. And for me, there's always something very special between what the I see and the hand can touch. That haptic knowledge. You know, so many things just come from just a touch. When you touch something you can you can get a sense of possibly its history, or what it is what it's made of. I liked freedom, and I didn't like to be restricted. And within my Ma, I began, well, literally one day, I started with a process that I had done many, many times before. And that was I emptied the filter on my tumble dryer. And I had done it hundreds of times. But this one time that I didn't know there was just one morning I just lifted it and, and the way the fibres had all sort of merged together, it almost looked like sort of sedimentary rock layers, you know. And I thought, oh, gosh, I could do something with that. Or maybe I could do something with that. And at the time, I had been working with resonance and fine art and I had only been in probably I'd only been in Miami probably about a month, maybe six weeks. So I was still sort of finding my way. And I just sort of I literally one day, put this link on I got quite quite a bit of it. And just pushed it down into some resin. And it began to lose upside so like compressed it in between two pieces of MDF. And when when I took the MDF off when it hardened I just discovered this beautiful incredible material that and because it had been made and resin it was clear. And you could see the Lenten side and I had a dog you could see dog hair. You could see how her daughter will long blonde hair there is occasional law blonde hair that was identified pieces of blue fluff, which, you know, I thought are gorgeous, that was that jumper. And that sort of as the beginning of my interest in waste, and fly what I began to sort of wonder why we waste so much. And when you begin to look into something like that, more deeply, certainly the waist and things that began to sort of resonate with me, not that I had necessarily sort of wasted my life, but I became very aware of not wasting the opportunity that that I had been given, I began to work more with with various materials, dust and things like that. When when you certainly when I began to work with materials from my home, I buy then you then you naturally start to question different aspects of, of yourself and different aspects of of your life because when I sort of compressed this material, this lint into resin, I felt I was on the sort of containing and, and compressing parts of my life and and the story of my life into into these materials. Yes, some of it could be emotionally difficult. I think by the time I did my ama, I was 54 going on 55 I think I honestly thought by that time, there wasn't really much more I had to learn about myself. But I was really surprised to discover an awful lot about myself that that that I didn't know. I think then initially coming from a design background into fine art, I was really trying to find my sort of thinking, gosh, am I an artist? What's an artist? Do I deserve to be here? And I wasn't quite sure. It really did make me me Look at my life. And how how I define my life, how other people to find my life. I began to I began to just find my feet. And then I began to just feel comfortable. And And certainly, at home I had this feeling of, of being at home. It was it was hard, but I think it was probably it was very, very rewarding. Yeah. Yeah, it must have been lovely to be able to immerse yourself in it and like you say, not be that age of person, or that mother, or you either have that time this is me being the artist me. It is. And it just, you know, I didn't realise it. And it was only after I suppose a couple of years, I sort of realised, you know, here I was just more of an artist or student or, you know, whatever I wasn't, I wasn't defined by anything else. And after sort of many years of of raising my children on my own, just all the strains and stresses of normal life and everything that that brings it, it was very cathartic to go somewhere where you could just completely Be yourself. I mean, ma was very hard work, but it to a certain extent as well, it was a year to play. Yeah, that was that was probably the best bit it was just complete freedom to really, you know, if things don't work out, doesn't it didn't matter, you know, you could make something you could try something and it, it It didn't matter within fine art. It's not so much about what you produce at the end, it's about the process. It's definitely more about the process and then anything else and what you learn and what you experience and how, how, what whatever it is you make, expresses that how how you define what it is you're trying to say, you know what, what you're influenced by whether it's things culturally or socially or past experiences or whatever. And I suppose that's where the, the personal growth and that sort of thing came into it, which did surprise me but I was certainly better. I was certainly better for it. Yes. Speaking of which you have on the flip side of the process and product outside of your studies. Are you producing work for others. At the end of my MA MA show somebody had come up to me because I exhibited a big piece of this and I'd love a tabletop mate, who got back to me about a month later and said, I'll be my wife and I were collecting fluff and lint, and that kind of thing. And you know, we really do want this. But the one thing that really surprised me, and I hadn't really considered was you're working to someone else's specifications, you know, they're the customer. I made this, this tabletop for him, and it was beautiful. They wanted it a certain way. So that's the, that's what the client wants and was like, oh, gosh, you know, that would have been so much better that way. But But no, no, no, it's okay. That's what they want. So that was a new experience working to someone else's specifications. Some things have been sold, certainly within textiles and that kind of thing. It's the designs that are so not the actual pieces. You know, I did, I did sell some of my designs to talion network company in various print places. But it's just literally the artwork that goes, there is this kind of Yeah, emotional experience, when you know that they actually came and picked up this table top. And it was almost like, Oh, my gosh, that's but that's mine. I've exhibited in London a couple of times as part once as part of university and then as part of different exhibition, a different exhibition. I think last year, I had four exhibitions but or should be part of four exhibitions, which obviously because the COVID didn't come off, but hopefully next year, they will. But again, it's an exhibition, it's a great opportunity, because I love I really want people to come up and see this material, usually the comment I get most is Oh, is that marble? And you think no, and then you know, you just say it, I always have sought smaller samples, as well at any exhibition or any event. So because I really just want people to touch it and feel it and look up place very close to it, because then you start to see fibres and you know, when you explain to people Oh, it's it's tumble dryer lint or it's dust. Oh gosh, yeah, I've got that. And then they begin to understand that in a small way that what we waste and how we wasted isn't always necessary, and that sometimes though, you know, there are alternatives and, and from this, this waste that we we repel beauty still exists in that. in Bournemouth here, I've been part of an arts fringe, Bournemouth emerging arts fringe, we take over tissue shops, and that kind of thing. Those in Bournemouth is an area called Boscombe witches. Yeah, there's a there's been a bit of degeneration that's gone on over the years. And it's been forgotten about a bit. But there's a shopping centre, which has quite a few empty shops now and that kind of thing. And we literally go in and transform these into, you know, great creative spaces. And I really want to, to let people know, especially women sort of in your 40s 50s 60s, you know, you can do this, you know, I did this. And yes, it's hard. It's hard work. But whatever we do, it's hard work. I think for women of a certain age, I think that there are so many skills and so much experience that we have got that perfectly transferable into the workplace, I think I would like to sort of instil that confidence or that belief that you know, just just give this a go, but I think I think it's really important that we realise that you know that there's value in in the knowledge and the experiences that we've had over the last 2030 years raising children or being able to juggle, you know, working home life and that kind of thing. So, yeah, that's what I do. Really. Positive. Brilliant. You've mentioned Bournemouth, and I know that you're hoping to relocate to Oxford. You had more than one university offer you a place for your PhD, I believe. Why did you choose Oxford Brookes? Well, Oxford in itself is just a really inspiring it's a really beautiful place it's a really inspiring place. But yeah, I'm that the plan is to well, the plan was actually to to move up that way anyway, because I just I love the area. Also, it's there's a lot more going on there. Then there is in Bournemouth for for the arts and that kind of thing. But Oxford Brookes just embraced, I think with with PhD, it's a bit different because when you're looking to to do a PhD, you're actually it comes down to the supervisor, the person who will supervise your PhD, and supervise you through the process. They obviously have to have more knowledge than you. But because the PhD is so specific, it wasn't always easy to find the right the right supervisor with the right knowledge. Brooks gave me absolute freedom, but also, I came from a completely arts based University. So everybody there was creative. And with this material, I realised there was possibility, oh, Crikey, you could work with people in the fields of science. And I could work with people in social science and that kind of thing. And I think it was just the opportunity to to mix with people from very, very different areas, and not just the arts, and and also, Oxford Brookes house is getting a real is getting a great reputation for research. It was a no brainer, really, it offered me so much more than the other universities were offering, whilst at the same time letting this be about me and my research. within the city, there's the opportunity to make some really good connections. I think for me, also, there's, again, being mindful of my age. I mean, I'm 57 now. So I am also sort of thinking, where do I want to work as an artist in in the future and where I want to be somewhere that inspires me, but also I want to be somewhere that offers opportunities for people of my age, and then certainly didn't put me on the scrap heap yet. That's, that's my books. And that's why Oxford? Yeah. Again, same thing with that in mind and your wonderful future in Oxford. What do you have plans? Can you see past the point where the thesis is handed in? And yeah, yeah, probably collapse into heat for about six months. But I would definitely be interesting in, in engaging the students and maybe teaching in higher education as part of my PhD I have access to, to courses and that sort of thing for teaching accreditation. So again, that was another reason Brooks offered me that opportunity as well. I really want to inspire people who in their 50s 60s 40s, whatever, that, you know, just can't just be creative. So there's definitely the interest in in running workshops. I'm mindful that, you know, PhD, it's, it's consuming, it's not all consuming, but definitely the move to Oxford also entails that that opportunity to make connections within the arts within or outside in the universities within within Oxford, I want to I just want to inspire other people to really just explore your creativity and whether you net you so you paint, you make things out of clay or whatever, you know, just explore it and go for it. You certainly don't have to go to university to to be an artist. And you then sort of realise the opportunities and just the possibilities of where a skill can take you mind started from doing paint effects on walls to making things with a sewing machine. And it's gradually grown and developed from there. Really? Yeah. There are many, many podcasts out there. It's difficult to know where to start. So I like to ask my guests for their recommendations. You're welcome. The most recent I listened to was a podcast on the the BBC, and it was by Hillary Clinton and Chelsea Clinton. They had a book out called gutsy women. I actually went and bought the book from the podcast and they had documented Women over the last century so from all around the world, and some of them are very rather insignificant women, some of them have been through like rosa parks have been through incredible things. But that that podcast was absolutely brilliant. I do like it I do like listening to other artists and how they got where they got. And, and, and that sort of thing. So the majority of podcasts I ever listened to are usually sort of artist based. Although at the minute, because of the nature where I'm a PhD. It's very boring, critical or cultural theory, and quite heavy, but they are great for when you walk the dog. They're great because I just put the headphones on and take the dog out. And I find they really, really focus the mind. Yeah, I agree. I do exactly the same. Finally, how can people contact or connect with you? Okay, I do have a website. It's more than short. art.com I'm also on Instagram, and that, again, is more than short art. Or you can contact me at Morgan [email protected] you're more than welcome to contact me and just get inspired. Just go and make something, do something. And certainly if you go look at fine art, things aren't perfect. And it's not about making something perfect. It's about. It's about the process of just making and being creative. And it's great. You definitely are inspired Thank you very much. You're welcome. Creativity found is an open stage arts production. If you're listening on Apple podcasts, please feel free to subscribe, rate and review. If you would like to help fund future episodes, you can buy us a coffee, that's k hyphen is the online platform that helps creators receive financial support from fans of their work. Visit kayo hyphen f fi.com slash creativity found podcast. If you found your creativity as an adult and would like to talk to me for future podcasts. drop me a line at Claire CLA IR e at open sedar.co.uk on Instagram or Facebook follow at creativity found podcast where you'll find photos of our contributors, artworks and be kept abreast of what we're up to