Your questions answered!

Today I’m answering questions that came up from my first solo exhibition at ArtsPost. (Happy dance! Thank you for all your wonderful feedback!)

1. Where do your stories come from? Do you get any inspiration from fairy tales?

I’ve had a few different sources of inspiration for my stories.

My Giselle series with ballerina Paige is based on the ballet, Giselle. First performed in 1841, Giselle is known as a “romantic ballet”. Jules-Henri Vernoy de Saint-Georges and Théophile Gautier wrote the plot, inspired by a passage about the Wilis in De l’Allemagne, by Heinrich Heine, and the poem “Fantômes” by Victor Hugo. If you ever see the ballet danced live (do – it’s beautiful!), the plot of the ballet can change somewhat depending on the production, so my series with Paige is the story that we’d like to tell.

©2017, Ailene Cuthbertson, <i>Can't help but dance</i>. Photograph, 30 cm x 30 cm
©2017, Ailene Cuthbertson, Can't help but dance. Photograph, 30 cm x 30 cm

My Hürrem Sultan series with belly dancer Elena and her husband Yevgen (Jack) is based the life of Hürrem Sultan. Hürrem lived from 1502 to 1558, and the series incorporates historical moments from her life and her romance with Suleiman the Magnificent, the ruler of the Ottoman Empire. During our planning, Elena and I did a lot of brainstorming to decide which parts of Hürrem’s story most resonated with Elena and the story that inspired her to dance.

©2017, Ailene Cuthbertson, "My sweet, my rose". Photograph, 30 cm x 30 cm
©2017, Ailene Cuthbertson, "My sweet, my rose". Photograph, 30 cm x 30 cm

For my personal pieces, some, like my flamenco dancer swirling in front of a sparking fire, are based on stories I wrote as a teenager – I’ve always read far too many fantasy and science fiction novels! And some, like the mermaids, are inspired by something I’d like to create, and then the story comes after the piece is finished.

Do I get inspiration from fairy tales? Not directly. I don’t have any “Belle” from Beauty and the Beast, or “Cinderella”, or “Sleeping Beauty” characters. But fairy tales do explore archetypal characters seeking fulfillment by following their hearts, which is what my heroines do as well.

2. What paper did you print on?

I use Ilford 100% cotton rag fine art papers. They’re “archival” – durable, stable, and will last for a long, long, long time. The prints are “giclée”, which basically means inkjet printed on fine art paper. This produces beautifully rich colours and crisp details. My Giselle series is printed on textured fine art paper, giving a depth to shadows, especially in the moonlit scenes. My other artworks use smooth fine art paper to bring out detailed brush strokes or elaborate areas like Elena’s mischievous eyes.

A print from my Giselle series with textured fine art paper.
A print from my Giselle series with textured fine art paper.

3. How do you actually create the images?

This might need a blog post on its own! I use Photoshop, which is a rather complex piece of software. I certainly can’t say I know everything it can do! I use two specific areas: digital painting, and editing and compositing photographs. Learning Photoshop is about finding what works for you and your process – for every effect you want to achieve, there’s usually 10 different ways of doing it. So instead of going into detail about layers, blending modes, masks, adjustment layers, smart objects, lighting effects, brush configuration, and all the rest (and watching your eyes glaze over), I usually sweep it all up under the heading of “digital magic”.

My mermaids are an example of digital painting:

©2016, Ailene Cuthbertson, We sang in the warmth of the Waylight. Digital painting

And my fire dancers are an example of a composited photograph (lots of photographs stitched together):

©2015, Ailene Cuthbertson, …why she was standing in this forgotten wasteland, steam whispering out of cracked mud, waiting for creatures who belonged only in legend.. Photograph

Do you have any other questions?

I hope you found this interesting. If you have any other questions, ask away! Leave me a comment, or send me an email at Or, if you went to my exhibition, you could be lovely and fill in 5 quick questions to help me make my next exhibition even better (thank you!). I look forward to hearing from you!

Keep on shining bright,



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