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Trina Dalziel: Imagining New Places and Dreaming Up Parallel Lives

Between the Art’s featured artist for October is the lovely Trina Dalziel, a freelance artist and illustrator.

Originally from the North of Scotland, Trina grew up on a tomato farm! She studied and worked in London for 25 years before moving to Northumberland six years ago, where she now calls home. After finishing her illustration degree, Trina also did a postgraduate diploma in 20th Century Art and Design History at Winchester School of Art, which influences her work today. Her illustration work involves the challenge of answering a brief and finding a clear, clever, visual solution.

Recently, Trina’s work has pivoted to focus more on her own artistic projects. This came about after moving to Northumberland, where she found that this environment gave her the opportunity, more space and time, to develop this side of her work.

This conversation gives an insight into Trina's work both as an illustrator and as an artist. She talks of how her work has changed since living in London and discovering a new home in Northumberland; and why valuing the beauty of the everyday is an important part of her work and life. Read on for more...

Where do you work? What makes this place important for your creative process?

When I moved to Northumberland, it was the first time I had a room of my own to make my work in. Previously, I had always been doing it with flatmates and in the corner of the living room, or at a desk space at friends’ companies. When I moved to the room I’m now in, I thought it was hideous! It had purple carpets, striped wallpaper, and everything was dark wood, but during that time I made some work that I particularly liked. Then, when I redecorated to make it feel more me, I felt a bit frozen for a while because it was as if I had to create work that was more beautiful than the space I had created. Often in my illustration work, I’m creating interiors or places that are slightly more appealing than real-life. Suddenly, when I was working in this lovely space, I felt a bit daunted. However, once I moved my table into the middle of the room, rolled up the rug and started making a mess, I found my way again! This was quite an interesting experience to realise that the clean, pristine studios that you often see on social media aren’t necessarily beneficial to the creative process.

Since moving to a rural area, I feel I incorporate more nature into my work, and it’s more closely observed because I’m walking in it nearly every day and therefore attentive of the changing seasons.

"Since moving to a rural area, nature is more closely observed because I'm walking in it nearly every day and attentive of the changing seasons."

How would you describe your creative process? Do you use certain mediums/techniques to develop your creative ideas?

In August, I had an exhibition called Horse: Collages, Printmaking, Paintings, and I used collage as a way to ease myself into producing the work. However, it got to a couple of months before the exhibition, and I still hadn’t explored all the media I intended to. I found that I had held myself back and focused too long on collage and printmaking before getting into painting quite close to the deadline.

In contrast, when the work is for an illustration commission, I just get straight down to it! There’s no time for uncertainty or waiting for inspiration; you just get on and do the job because someone is waiting for it at the other end. Although illustration is creative in itself, the important thing for me is I'm providing a service and finding a solution to someone’s problem. I love this aspect of illustration and you do get to put a little bit of yourself into each piece too.

Over the next few months, I would like to be a lot more open and explorative with my personal work, within the confines of a theme, and just see what work comes from having no end goal.

Do you have any rituals that help with this process of creating work?

I always push back working on my own self-initiated projects to the end of the day. I’ll block out a whole Friday afternoon to focus on it, but it rarely happens! However, one thing I did earlier this year were online classes once a week with other artists which, in a way, was a ritual to help get me into doing my own work. I also did a monthly meet, with 18 other artists, and this got me in the habit of coming into my studio space in the evening to work whilst the other artists were also working online. From that, there are five of us who still meet to talk and discuss our work or ask questions about projects we are tackling that month. This is such a nice way to have a check-in point. It’s a good motivator to do the work, without it being pressured. It’s interesting to share things in this way, which wouldn’t have happened online like this pre-Covid.

What are you working on at the moment?

The last month or so has mainly been filled with illustration commissions, including for The Washington Post and a couple of USA lifestyle magazines. However, the summer saw the conclusion of my horse project, with a solo exhibition at Newbiggin Arts Centre, where I also led a few collage and decorative paper printing workshops. Recently, I was delighted that The Biscuit Factory in Newcastle and The Old School Gallery in Alnmouth, Northumberland have agreed to stock some of my work.

As a personal project, my partner, who is an animator, and myself are doing a one-year drawing project called Seven Miles from Home, sketching and painting the world immediately around where we live through the changing seasons.

What does “sense of place” mean to you? Is this concept present in your work?

Recently, I went to an exhibition in Berwick-upon-Tweed called Truth and Beauty. It was about a woman art collector in the 1930s who, for 11 years, rented Rock Hall, which is a beautiful house and in walking distance from where I live. I have always been intrigued by the house as it’s very different architecturally from the other buildings in the area, and so I thought there was something quite magical about it. The woman who lived there collected work from artists such as Winfred Nicholson, Ben Nicholson, and David Jones, who were artists I loved when I was a student! I was really influenced by their work. This connection at the exhibition made me quite emotional. There’s no other built structure nearby that captures my imagination as much as Rock Hall does. My attachment to Rock Hall has now become somewhat more magical and with more strings attached, via these now long-gone artists. This has helped me to create a greater sense of connection to the immediate area.

Sense of place is present in much of my work. For example: my paintings of Paris Rooms were imagined many years after I’d worked there as an au pair. I didn’t necessarily see those rooms, but they captured the feelings of the 16th Arrondissement intertwined with my memories. This also was the concept behind my series of illustrations called Places I’ve Never Lived In. For me, art and illustration can be an opportunity to create parallel lives and examine unlived lives.

I love to draw places I visit - I'm currently completing a concertina sketch book illustrating a week I spent in Sofia, Bulgaria three years ago. But I’m also interested in capturing everyday domestic settings and the nostalgia of our belongings. I find it strange that often time is invested in recording places that we visit briefly, yet not always capturing the beauty in the everyday.

"Art is an opportunity to create parallel lives and examine unlived lives. I find it strange that often time is invested in recording places that we visit briefly, yet not always capturing the beauty in the everyday."

Do you have a message that you hope to give to the world?

When I first started creating my own work, in contrast to illustration commissions, it felt too self-involved. However, I now realise that though my work might seem very personal to me or about my internal world, people can still connect with it in a way that is meaningful to them.

Trina's Book List:

My book collection feels as though it has shaped me… although I suppose I have also shaped it.

1. The Art of Gathering: How We Meet and Why It Matters by Priya Parker

I read this book partly because I’m hosting a research workshop into funding opportunities in the North East with fellow artists in the near future, and so I was looking for fresh ways to bring people together.

2. Olga Da Polga by Michael Bond

This is a children’s fiction book! I read it as a child and returned to it when I had Covid recently. I always seem to re-read children’s books in the winter.

3. The Unseen by Roy Jacobsen

This book follows one family and their life alone on an island in Norway a hundred years ago.

To see more of Trina's work, visit her website or Instagram @trinadalziel

All Images: Artist's Own


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