We've launched our podcast! Follow along as Gillian and Courtney interview each other and conduct artist interviews with others about what it means to be a feral artist in today's world.
Below is a transcript from the very first episode of Dispatch from the Feral Forest! In this first episode, Courtney Brooke interviews Gillian Chadwick about her life as an musician and creator of Elemental Child. You can watch or listen to the first episode here on our channel.
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Welcome to Dispatch from the Feral Forest. I'm Courtney and I'm here with our co-founder Gillian and I guess the best way to introduce ourselves is for us to talk a little bit about ourselves first and then you'll kind of get the just what we're going for. So without further ado, Gillian thanks for letting me sit down and pick your brain a little bit, to chat about what being a feral artist means to you.
I personally have the pleasure of knowing a little bit about you and your background ( insert photos of work) (insert link to ExRev song). I know that you are a musician and you've been a crystal crown artist since - I'm not going to age you right now - but for a very long time. Not to mention you yourself are pretty much a walking talking piece of art, in my opinion. She's a Leo ladies and gentlemen. I am going to go way back for my first question before we begin to go forward. So in your youth way back when the world was still analogue
Oh my goodness i'll take it! Hahaha. Yes, I remember that time like sepia-tinged photographs
Origin Story//Personal Lore
Was there a moment for you when your creativity really became the thing that either your parents used to keep you busy or it just showed up in your life? That moment when you thought maybe you couldn't live without art - like a a-ha! Moment?
I think that for me there wasn't a moment. It was always part of my earliest memories, part of my idea of self. I think some of that is probably learned. It’s probably because I had hippy, bohemian parents who encouraged that and always talked to me about art. I was so lucky with that - but I also spent a lot of time alone. I’m not only a Leo but I am an only child.
My folks were young and fun when they had me and they were very attentive but there was also a lot of time alone.I mean this was the eighties - I'll go ahead and age myself - there wasn’t helicopter parenting. Some of my earliest memories are sitting at the base of my mom's old beat-up upright piano.
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There are just these early memories of the piano leg and weird eighties carpeting. I guess that's where my box of crafts probably was? That was the beauty of the analogue world. If I wasn't climbing a pine tree and falling out of it then I was making little creatures. Maybe this speaks to some sort of loneliness in childhood - which I don't think I felt - but one of the first things I can remember is making this series of little creatures called the buddies and they were a pom pom and a bead (the pom pom acting as the body and the bead was the head) that I drew little faces on.
Please tell me you still have some of these!
I’m sure my mom does. I was really into making entire worlds for the buddies. My favorite was the matchboxes that were their apartment buildings.
I want you to bring back buddies, the world needs them - I would like a set of little, personally.
I think you're going to get a buddy next year for your birthday. I even made catalogs for them, there were so many of them. I was just world building from moment one. I don't know if it's nature or nurture, it's probably both but that's the way my brain has always worked.
Also growing up without money meant that everything I wanted that I couldn't have (you know shy of like a Nintendo) I just kind of understood that if I wanted something I was going to have to make it - so I did.
So, fast forwarding, I used the same principles as an adult - if I wanted a certain piece of jewelry I figured - I’m gonna learn how to make it.
Jumping Someone Else’s Train
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I want to sidetrack off of that for a minute. How do you as a lifelong artist who’s established her art in the world (both the crowns and music) - when people see that art and then say - I can make that myself.
Oh we're getting right into it?! I first started Elemental Child, at the end of 2013, which you remember because you took the very first photos. I think the first copies came maybe three or four months later. I was lucky, there was a lot of viral attention on instagram so I got a lot of followers really fast…mostly thanks to you, probably.
But I remember there was a period where there weren't any copies. I had googled crystal crowns and I didn't see any - I will probably get some really angry comments on this now because it's such an insane world - but there weren't any. So, I made one and you took a photo of it, and it went from there.
I will say that it wasn't my first experience being copied. I had a business in the early 2000’s which was also a crown business and the same thing happened. It's a very strange experience every time, it feels like someone has opened up your diary…there's just a weird sort of exposing feeling.
But getting back to the point, I will say that when I saw the first Etsy stores that had Elemental Child style crystal crowns I tried to remember the lesson of being a broke kid. I thought, you know what, these crowns cost a hundred and forty bucks - I couldn't afford one either, so probably if I saw it I would think…yeah I want to make one of those of my own.
I think going on to make a store and selling them is a weird line to cross, but again I mean the artistic impulse we're talking about is right at the heart of the matter. It’s that artistic impulse that I want to honor the part that says: I can do that! That's cool, that's good, and that's powerful.
I like that you brought up crossing the line where a person is going to do it but it's not for themselves. They’re going to turn this into a business. As you know, I'm a visual artist myself so I've had my own work sort of travel into other people's brain waves and spheres and those people made it their own. I think when I was younger I definitely struggled with that a lot.
I had big “death to copy cats and rats” feelings and I think as I progressed I think…I just hate capitalism. Now I feel like it's not even that people are trying to copy me, it’s that everybody's out there vying for a piece of the pie.
Yeah we're all trying to survive, that's the best part of it.
Right, like we're all out here starving. Does it still rub me the wrong way? A lot of times yeah. Do I get as cranky as I used to? No. But I think that ties back into childhood and the feeling that you don't have anything. Looking at yourself I feel like they're sort of a broad umbrella which we all sit under with that and I just blame big daddy capitalism.
Yeah,I think that's a big part of it. If there was a rule of thumb I would say: if you're starting out and you see a new idea and you think “I want to make that. I want to make it because of an artistic impulse that is pure in me.” It says “I can do that, I want my hands on it, and I want to learn how to do it.” That's great, do that. If you're making an exact copy of someone's photograph or piece of jewelry or song or anything …you should credit that person as at least an influence. That's just the cool thing to do.
I tried to do that with the first crystal crowns. They were designed mostly for a video that you shot for my band. There were some outside influences; an artist named Andy Goldsworthy who makes art out of nature, out of natural surroundings. He created a piece called Ice Arch, it's this stunningly beautiful arch of ice that was one of my inspirations for the first basic crystal crown. I think when you jump genres and you're being influenced by things that aren't the exact medium, then that's all the better.
Even in my music - which I hope is unique - definitely pays a huge debt to 70’s rock and prog and psych folk, and all of these things. I'm never going to leave that out when I'm describing what my songs sound like. I always talk about my heroes and my influences, that just gives someone an idea of where you’re starting from. You know who your patron saints are. I would just say to people credit something if it's a really strong influence.
Credit. I'm right there with you - credit credit your sources use them as a stepping stone and try to make it your own. I love seeing people improve upon something, put their own fingerprints on it, put their own stamp on it.
It's part of the evolution of art, this is what we do, this is how it works - no art is made in a vacuum.
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Exactly, we don't live in a vacuum and we're definitely part of a hive mind. I think you and I both sort of came up alongside the rise of the hive mind or the internet and social media in particular. I personally don't think either of us would be where we are now without it, I really do feel like it changed my entire trajectory as an artist.
That actually leads into my next question.
Do you feel the same way? Do you think you would have been able to travel down your current time line without the new technology?
Good question. I think about that all the time. I think about who I would be without the phone that’s always in my hands. I want to believe that it's like 50/50 good and bad. I'm not sure what the odds actually break down to but I think the first upside is the connection to other humans.
You know we were both loner artists when we were young in the land before phones and it was so much harder to find your people. I mean you and I met. Spoiler alert: we’re best friends you live hundreds of miles from me and always have. We found each other through the internet and that's the kind of thing that is huge. I mean what could be more important than finding your people and keeping them.
We keep in touch so much better through social media because we get to see the minutiae of each other's lives. Friends of mine that aren't online as much - let me say, I respect them for it- I just don't know what the hell is going on in their lives and they don't know what's going on in mine.
I have a lot of friends and I love them all but I'm not the best correspondent on a consistent basis. It's a little intimidating to know that when I talk to a friend who isn't on social media that our catch up is going to be a three hour phone call. And maybe it's big daddy capitalism again but that's a big investment and it's going to happen less frequently. Whereas with you and I or with other friends of mine who have never lived in the same country or same state, I still have a good sense of what's going on in their lives so when we catch up we can be like “Hey how was that show you played? Looked cool.”
Right it's less jarring, I guess you feel like you are running in parallel with the friendship.
Yeah parallel is a good word for it, I really like that.
Democratic Distribution Online
The other upside to the internet is the more democratic nature of distribution. As a musician, when I started… god this feels like a long time ago… people were still making money on record deals, there was kind of like the priest interceding between you and the world.
If you could get a record contract then your music could be heard and you could make money. That was something for a broke musician kid to aspire to, but it has completely changed, I mean…just destroyed in various ways. But some of them are really good.
But now there are so many ways to distribute your work. The fact that you can put your stuff up on social media and people can hear it - and if they liked it, great. What can be purer than that?
So we have true friendships and we have purity of the channel of the distribution, of the work. Those two things are incredible and I don't know what my life would be like without them.
Every time I've toured the UK or Europe I've made friends there and I've gotten to keep them because we became social media friends. We might not see each other for another year and a half but we keep that closeness because we follow each other's lives online.
Downsides of Technology
The downside of all of this is that my brain doesn't work anywhere near as well. My focus is just…fucked. I used to sit and paint for hours. I would write songs then think what am I going to do to fill the rest of tonight? Am I going to read a novel or pick up my paints? I don't like that those hours don't seem to exist any more and that feels like an enormous loss.
Those hours don't seem real anymore but I am also of the ilk of “I have forgotten what it’s like to sit down and read a book and it feels very forced when I do that now. Like time has shifted, not to sound like I’m going to grab my tinfoil hat or anything, but I feel sometimes time moves at a rate that it didn't move before.
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