Frank To: "It was the staff that drew me to DJCAD"

  • Published: 19 Jun 2018

Frank To studied the Masters of Fine Art at DJCAD from 2004-2005, and has gone on to achieve international acclaim. He's exhibited alongside Peter Howson and Damien Hirst and has a number of high profile buyers, including Star Trek and X-Men actor Sir Patrick Stewart. He tells us more…

Studying at DJCAD

“It was the quality of lecturing staff that really stuck out for me at DJCAD. Despite being a resident in Scotland, I went to the University of Huddersfield for my undergraduate degree and, during that time, there was a big emphasis on going to a major London art school to do your Masters. Although I did apply to RCA, I was more drawn to DJCAD.

“I liked that fact that the lecturers at DJCAD were practising artists who also teach. To this day that is rare. As a Master of Fine Art in 2004- 2005, I was assigned to a personal advisor, Professor Calum Colvin [now Head of Contemporary Art Practice]. I knew Calum’s reputation as an artist since secondary school and I was inspired by his work during my Highers, so to have him as my personal advisor was overwhelming. Under his tutelage I was really able to develop my quality of art making. Overall, the Masters gave me the opportunity to hone in my practical skills as well as conceptual knowledge.

“The biggest success in my career so far is that the work I created in DJCAD in 2005 is now valued much higher; I heard that an international art auction house had valued one of my MFA paintings (bought by a collector at £500) at the value of £15,000. 



“My inspiration for my art is going to sound weird, but I tend to be influenced by non-art related subjects. There are two people that really inspire and they are Steve Jobs and Marco Pierre White. Jobs I have massive respect for as he had a vision for pure innovation. In a way, that goes in par with my practice; although I’ve graduated from DJCAD, that doesn’t mean I have ‘made it’ – I am always innovating my art practice so that my art is a reflection of my beliefs and vision. Innovation for the new is something that is lacking in this fast-pace contemporary world. With Marco Pierre White, it’s mainly his work ethos especially getting the foundations correct. White once said “Keep it simple. Perfection is lots of little things done well.” This is applicable to almost everything in life, especially art where it can hinder with complications caused by the artist.

Using Gunpowder

“I started to experiment with gunpowder in my work a couple of years ago. I’m not sure why I was first inspired to start using it - I wanted to emphasise the importance of drawing but to innovate it in a way it would be exciting and have a feel of ‘danger’. That was another thing about DJCAD – they always always encourage innovations on previous practice, craft and art-making, and I also personally feel that DJCAD is maybe one of the very art schools today that places strong emphasis on art craftmanship that supports the conceptual. It’s about that balance."


Teaching Patrick Stewart

 “When I first met Patrick Stewart [during my undergraduate degree] I was star-struck. Having one of my childhood heroes – in his Star Trek role as Captain Picard – buying my work is surreal. Over time, however, his support encourages me to know that what I'm doing is what I am meant to do. To have someone like Patrick believing in me and my art has driven me not only to succeed, but also to push myself in my art to the limit.

 “I’m also now giving him art lessons. We were having tea one afternoon in Yorkshire and he mentioned that his wife had bought him a watercolour set and that he’d recently taken up art. He said he wanted to improve, but would it find difficult to attend an evening class because of his Hollywood status. So I suggested that I could teach him in private and could go at his own pace. A lot of the teaching has been long distance which is ideal for both of us; he has more flexibility in learning with his busy work schedule and it helps to develop my teaching practice with distant learning.

My Advice 

“There are two pieces of advice that I would give to students starting out in their career. The first thing is: sign up to a waiting list for a studio. That’s what I did and I was extremely lucky to have a studio ready for me when I graduated. If you don’t sign up for a studio during art school, you could be on the waiting list for 3-4 years and that’s time you’ll never get back.

“The second thing is to learn as much as you possibly can while being at art school. Just because you’re not given certain knowledge doesn’t give you an excuse not to seek it. If you want to know something, ask the lecturers and technicians. They are more than happy to help you, and a lot of the external skills I have were the result of personally asking lecturers and staff for advice. You need to be proactive, especially in seeking professional and practical knowledge.”

For more on Frank, log onto his website

"As a Master of Fine Art in 2004- 2005, I was assigned to a personal advisor, Professor Calum Colvin. I knew Calum’s reputation as an artist since secondary school and I was inspired by his work during my Highers, so to have him as my personal advisor was overwhelming."

Frank To