TomatoJack Arts

In this second interview, I cross back over the Atlantic to my home country of England in the UK to meet two mosaic artists who, like John, take their artistic inspiration from their previous education and work. But Lynda Knott and Angela Williams work tirelessly as a team and have made mosaics their full-time business. Between them, they run a mosaic art business based in the Gloucestershire town of Berkeley. Their business is called, well, I’ll let them say it in their own words…

TomatoJack Arts logo

All images used in this interview are the copyright of TomatoJack Arts and used with Lynda and Angela’s permission.

You can see more of Lynda and Angela’s work at:
http://www.tomatojack.co.uk/

According to your website, you’ve been making mosaics since 2011. Is that both of you or did one of you start? And did you know each other at the time?

Both:  We knew each other through our sons who were in the same year at primary school.  We started our mosaic adventure when a mosaic artist visited the school and Angela assisted as the ‘arty Teaching Assistant,’ and Lynda came in as a parent helper. We were then bitten by the mosaic bug and TomatoJack Arts was born six months later!

What was it that inspired you to work together? Did you begin a joint project before you thought this might succeed as a business?

Both:  We share a love of creating things and we get on well together – we’re both ‘Northern Girls’ (although from opposite sides of the Pennines!) with similar interests. Lynda had recently stopped work as a research scientist and was thinking about teaching, and Angela was looking to explore her creative side again, so when the local school wanted more mosaics we jumped at the chance. This was shortly followed by a ‘word of mouth’ request for a mosaic project at another school and that’s when we thought we could actually make a proper business from our growing love of mosaic.

How lovely that word spread so quickly! You also have a nice story behind your business name. Can you explain it for anyone who doesn’t yet know you?

Both: We wanted a business name that was memorable, so after a brainstorming session over a glass or two of wine we decided to combine the names of our children – Angela’s are called Tom and Matt, giving you ‘Tomato,’ and Lynda’s boys are Jake and Zach, resulting in ‘Jack’!  And there you have it: TomatoJack!

Lynda and Angela
Lynda Knott and Angela Williams in their studio

It strikes me as a pretty bold move for two people to set up an art business, yet you must have been confident in your work and seen the opportunities – your studio is not small and covers two levels. What was it that made you think “We can do this.”?

Both: Initially we weren’t at all confident, but when we saw the studio space, we fell in love with it. We thought we’ve got to give it a go or else we’d regret not taking the opportunity. We started running workshops to help pay the rent and fortunately they became really popular and now we find that all of our courses get booked up really quickly. Most of our commissions and school projects come by recommendation, so we must be doing something right!

I wrote in the introduction that there is a link between your background and that of my previous interviewee, John Sollinger. Angela, you have a degree in fine arts, but you say you take your “…inspiration from nature…”, something that John also does. And Lynda, you have a scientific research background and use this to inform elements of your art. Can you say a little more about how you use your backgrounds in this way?

Angela: I have a graphic design background and so I like to explore the linear and architectural qualities of the shapes and patterns found in landscapes, trees and plants. Also my husband’s obsession with cycling (and hence a garage full of ‘bits’) has influenced a series of works featuring cyclists and has inspired me to find ways of using recycled bike parts in my artwork.

Cyclists on the move - using tradiitonal mosaic materals and bike chain
Angela Williams: ‘Peloton’ – mosaics in actions
Vitreous glass, unglazed ceramic and… bike chain! Of course…

Lynda:  From a young age I have always enjoyed experimenting and exploring the natural world and I have been fortunate that I have managed two careers doing just that in completely different ways! As a scientist, I had to work out ways to solve a problem or answer a question, and it was very much hands on bench work. As an artist my methods of working are very much the same – try something and see if it works, if it doesn’t, tweak something and try again! I love experimenting and exploring unusual and recycled elements in my artwork and have a particular affinity for natural materials such as slate and copper, and rusty bits of metal!

Garden art using traditional mosaic materials and recycled items
Lynda Knott – WIP, garden sculpture using vitreous glass, smalti, rusted iron and slate (substrate made with Liz Tiranti at Inspired Mosaic).

In most partnerships the individuals bring different elements to the work. What would you say are your specific individual strengths? And how do you make use of these strengths as a team?

Both: We love working together and find that as a partnership we can offer each other advice, encouragement and also criticism. Although our individual styles are very different, we think that they complement each other well. Also, as a partnership we can share the burden of the admin involved with running a small business, ie. accounts, website, social media and general emails, etc. Angela is the organiser and Lynda is the numbers girl. And finally there are the laughs – if we didn’t have fun and have a giggle it wouldn’t be worth it!

Looking at your CV, it’s really impressive. You teach mosaic courses, you make artworks which have featured in schools and public spaces in your local area, and you make private commissions and sell work through your studio. Yet you haven’t stopped developing your skills. You’ve continually studied and trained in mosaic techniques, not only in this country, but in Italy and the US. What is it that makes you keep reaching out like that?

Both: You can never stop learning and we find that we take something from every course that we’ve ever been on which has then fed back into our own practice. We love learning new techniques and ways of working, it keeps our work fresh and helps inspire and challenge us.

Staying on the topic of continuing skill development, what is it about a course or training event that makes you decide it’s worth the expenditure?

Both: We have attended courses run by some fantastic mosaic artists including; Gary Drostle, Liz Tiranti, Luciana Notturni, Dugald Macinnes, Joanna Kessel, Helen Nock to name a few!  Usually there is some aspect of the course that fills a gap in our knowledge, but also we see it as our treat for working so hard.

Colour garden sculpture

Angela Williams: WIP, garden sculpture based on stacking stones and rock strata (substrate made with Liz Tiranti at Inspired Mosaic).

You do a lot of work in schools. What do the children find so interesting about mosaics?

Both: Schools love commissioning mosaics because they are so inclusive – every child can take part and the school gets a lasting piece of artwork to keep.  The children enjoy learning new skills, especially the cutting and love seeing the design evolve from a line drawing to a complete mosaic in bright vibrant colours.

And do you teach different age groups?

Both: We teach adults during the week – with 48 attending our 6 regular workshops each week. Our school work is mainly with primary schools, but we have worked with children as young as 3 years old right the way up to adults in their 90s!

How do you keep going? Getting new ideas and finding new possibilities for future projects?

Both: Getting new ideas is not a problem, not having enough time to try them and make our own mosaics is the reality! The balance between running workshops and taking commissions to pay the rent and also finding the time to explore our own creative path is very tricky and one we struggle with.

Is there any advice you would give for mosaic artists who are thinking of making mosaics their business?

Both: Go for it! But be prepared to let things evolve, and take the time to evaluate what works and what doesn’t and change things accordingly.  Ideally find a likeminded friend to join you; if not in full partnership, then as a mentor.

Do you have a favourite piece of work that you have worked on jointly? And actually, while I think of it, do you have a favourite piece that the other has done?

Both: Last year we completed our first piece of public artwork at Gloucestershire Archives. It was nearly 18 months in the making and involved lots of consultation and workshops as well as a real challenge both technically and artistically. We are very proud of the result and we’ve had amazing feedback. More details can be seen on our website.

Is there a mosaic artist or artwork that you particularly admire?

Angela: I really admire the work of Gary Drostle and in particular his work ‘Shrapnel – 1918’, it’s absolutely stunning close up and gave me goose bumps when I first saw it. He’s such a talented draughtsman and designer and has such a varied portfolio, which is something I aspire to.

Lynda: When I saw Rachel Sager’s ‘Printlandia’, I thought it was such a clever concept to make a mosaic consisting entirely of tesserae made from a broken printer. I’ve always loved making things from found and recycled materials, but ‘Printandia’ takes it to another level, as it’s not until you look closely that you can see its origins.  I also particularly admire Dugald Macinnes – his gorgeous artworks in slate have always stopped me in my tracks. I have been lucky enough to attend a workshop by him and his obvious love of his material and geology in general is very inspiring. Dugie’s no-nonsense approach is also very refreshing!

Have you got current projects?

Both: We are both working on large 3D garden sculptures which we hope to exhibit later this year. We made the forms with Liz Tiranti in 2017 and are finally getting round to completing the mosaics – follow us on Facebook or Instagram to follow our progress!

Mannequin made from recycled materials.
Lynda Knott: ‘T.J.’, dress maker’s mannequin, vintage crockery, bike chain, bottle tops and vintage jewellery.

And plans for the future?

Both: Simply finding time to explore our own mosaic paths! But if we get the chance it would be great to do another public art commission. We also have plans to visit the Ravenna Biennale later this year and possibly attend another mosaic course there. We very much enjoyed our visit 4 years ago, especially as it coincided with the local wine festival!

Lynda and Angela, thank you for sharing your experiences with me and good luck with your future work.