Joining us in conversation today is Tiggy Beaman, a body positivity artist who first started experimenting with nude artwork during her Fine Art degree at Loughborough University. Our in-depth discussion includes details of some of these initial painting experiences, along with a look at the ways Tiggy's art is desexualising the female body and boosting her own body confidence levels - albeit inadvertently!
Britain Uncovered: Hi Tiggy! During your time studying fine art at Loughborough University, you’ve built up an impressive portfolio of nude art, and you’re doing great work to raise awareness of body confidence and self-acceptance issues. Had it always been your intention to focus on nude art when you first started the course, and were some of your early experiences painting nudes impactful to you on a personal level?
Tiggy: Hello! Thank you so much! So, I started life drawing back at school during my A Levels and totally fell in love with it. When I started at Loughborough, I did an Art Foundation year which was really fun, but it was a year dedicated to experimenting, so I didn’t do any figurative work.
Fast forward to my first year doing my Fine Art degree, I was still experimenting with random projects and I ended up looking at pylons (strange, I know); but while doing research I came across a poem by Stephen Spender called Pylons – in this he described the pylons as nude giant women. This really stuck with me and inspired me to start painting naked women into my landscapes. It was then I knew I wanted to continue painting the figure but didn’t have a solid concept to support this urge.
I looked into sexuality, the male gaze on nude art, feminism and voyeurism, but nothing really worked and it wasn’t really going anywhere. I started working with a fellow student and now good friend, Scarlett, who has struggled with her body image and had never been a sitter before but wanted to have a go. We started working together at the start of my final year, and I decided to paint her across three canvases to create one large trip-tech.
It was amazing and seeing the shift of her confidence and how much this painting affected her in such a positive way was incredibly inspiring. This was when I decided to use my painting to encourage body confidence and body acceptance. It was so impactful for me to see my paintings help so many women, and it really helped me to not be so critical of my own body.
Britain Uncovered: Your body of work seeks to promote body positivity and help people to see the beauty in their bodies, but another of your aims is to desexualise the nude within art. How important do you feel this concept to be, and – looking beyond the art world – is this something that needs to be addressed in wider society too, and are nude bodies still sexualised far too often?
Tiggy: Definitely – as well as promoting body positivity and body confidence my aim has always been to desexualise the female body with my art. I think because the nude is one of the oldest subjects studied in art and traditionally painted by men there is a slightly tainted light on it.
When you look in today’s society, women are constantly sexualised, whether this be for their clothing, make-up or even body hair. There’s a pressure to look a certain way and we’ve been programmed to change our physical appearances to fit into what is considered ‘normal’ and ‘feminine’ in the eyes of social media. It’s sad that this happens but I think we’re moving in a better and more accepting direction; nude art is just one of the amazing stepping stones to getting there.
Britain Uncovered: One of your early projects, ‘Get Naked For Art’, was a fundraiser for the Mind charity that was designed to raise awareness of mental health – drawing particular attention to the trauma that can arise through a lack of body confidence. Can you tell us a little about what the project involved, how you came up with it, and what it was like creating the personal drawings for the individuals who decided to volunteer?
Tiggy: Get Naked For Art was amazing! It started during lockdown after suddenly leaving university and I was trying to complete my degree from home. It was a really hard time for me, and I wasn’t in a good place mentally, so starting the fundraiser for MIND was almost a form of therapy.
I was able to meet so many people across the world and draw them and it also inspired my final degree show paintings. The process was to donate £5 (100% went directly to the charity) and send a photo you’d like drawn and receive a digital illustration which you can print off. It really was the best experience and I was blown away by the support.
Britain Uncovered: A little while after this, you moved onto a project titled, ‘A Nude a Day Keeps the Doctor Away’, which – as the name suggests – saw you create a different nude every day for 30 consecutive days. With a slightly more demanding timeframe, did you have to approach this differently to your other projects, and what kind of feedback did you receive from the models featured in this series?
Tiggy: A Nude a Day Keeps The Doctor Away was a mini project I started after I finished my degree. It was a way of giving me more direction after I finished my degree show and encourage more people to get involved with my work – it was so successful and I ended up extending it to 56 days.
Personally, painting large is so much easier and where I feel most comfortable, so it was also a challenge for me to paint on A5 paper. The overall feedback was amazing, and it encouraged so many people to try life modelling for the first time.
Britain Uncovered: You work very closely with your models to create these personal and inspiring paintings that give confidence to the subject, but when you’re working on such a large quantity of paintings, how are you able to keep things fresh and ensure that each painting has a different and unique edge to it?
Tiggy: I think because each painting is different and each body is unique, I can keep the paintings fresh and different. I love working with clients and doing commissions because it’s a chance for them to choose certain elements to include into their painting. The process behind all my paintings is to find an element of their personality and capture it with paint; this is what sometimes inspires me to go slightly more abstract.
For volunteers who model, I love hearing their story, the experiences they might have been or a still going through and why they want to model nude. It’s a really exciting experience and I feel very lucky to be trusted by so many people with such personal information. It really helps me create a meaningful piece of art and not just a still life.
Britain Uncovered: You brought up a really interesting point in a recent Instagram post, noting that there can come a point where an artist stops creating work for others and begins to produce work for themselves. Aside from the impressive number of commissions you complete, is it also important for you to find time to focus on other artistic projects and retain some creative freedom? If so, how hard can it be to find a healthy balance?
Tiggy: As much as I love commissions, I do need a balance, because otherwise I feel like a production line. I saw this quote a friend shared and it really stuck with me. I realised I needed to focus more of my attention on creating work that I love without the pressure of social media and selling them – which is a big factor when you are using Instagram as your main source of advertising.
Experimenting is the best tool for helping me stay creative and fresh minded. It is hard and I definitely don’t think I’m the only artist who struggles finding a balance, but it’s just something I am more conscious of moving forward.
Britain Uncovered: Our website is pleased to be part of the increasingly powerful body positivity movement that continues to gain momentum, and step by step it appears as though we are all becoming more accepting of bodies all shapes and sizes – including our own! What has your own body positivity journey been like through the years, and do you think your art and all the projects you’re involved in have made a positive contribution to your outlook and body confidence levels?
Tiggy: It really is moving in the right direction, but it still has a long way to go. I’m incredibly proud to be a part of such an inspiring movement – everyone has battles and their own struggles, whether it’s with their body confidence or mental health, and sometimes we have to remind ourselves of this and think with kindness before judgement.
I’d be lying if I said I was body confident 100% of the time. I still struggle with my body image and have done since my early teens which resulted in an eating disorder and caused a lot of strain on my mental health. I’ve turned a huge corner since I started using my art to promote body positivity – it’s been like therapy but it’s not something I speak about often as it was not the reason I began directing my work to body positivity.
As soon as I see the amazing community I’m a part of and work with such beautiful women I realise that loving yourself and celebrating the fact you are unique is the best way to be and gives me so much happiness. If body positivity was as big as it is now back when I was 14, I think my experience as well as many others’ would be very different.
Britain Uncovered: As we bring things to a close, could you possibly let us in on some of your artistic plans for the remainder of the year – and is there anything you’d like to convey or achieve with your work that you haven’t yet got around to?
Tiggy: I’d love to but I’m not much of a planner – I’m very spontaneous and try not plan too far ahead.
My fellowship year will end in October and I’m hoping to be moving into a city and have a studio somewhere new. I honestly treat every day as a blessing (as cringe as that sounds) but I really do feel very lucky to be in the position I am and creating everyday.
A big goal is to exhibit my work somewhere alongside some other artists or do a solo show. But overall, continuing to help men and women with their body confidence is my main aspiration.
Tiggy's recently-launched website can be found at tiggy.me, and you can also find the artist on Instagram at @tiggy.paints.