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Workdays and Weekends: Frank To

By 26th February 2017

Prepare to be inspired! Frank is an artist and helps to instil his burning creative flare and ambition in the talented art students that he teaches at Perth UHI. No need to just take our word for it, when Sir Patrick Stewart was recently interviewed for his movie 'Logan' he mentioned Frank as someone he discovered at art school.

Frank is a #PerthPioneer and by his own admission, insanely dedicated to his art. His focused drive and ambition is something that you can't help but admire. Plus, he's got a pretty amazing story on how he recovered from a broken heart! 

1. What does a typical day at work look like for you?

I’m very much an early riser and night owl during the week. Typical day for me often starts at 5am. Two days out of my week I teach painting and drawing at Perth College. The rest I mainly focus on my art work in my studio. I know this may sound insane, but I tend to focus on my art practice between 38 to 45 hours a week! This is influenced by my old art school lecturer who instilled his philosophy which was “unless you give it your all and spend a minimum of 35 hours on your art, don’t bother doing it.” I guess he had a major influence on me.

Mornings are spent replying to emails, book-keeping and meetings with regular and potential clients Rest of the time I am doing art whether it’s for an exhibition or commission or personal projects. Evenings I usually keep working into the dead of night. I'm very obsessive when it comes to my work.

2. What signals the start of your weekend / days off? 

When I sleep for more than 5 hours is the start to my weekend and days off. Days off I don’t really have because in most of my spare time I tend to focus again on my art and how to push beyond my limits. I suppose if you enjoy what you do, there’s really no need for weekends or holidays right? But I would say as soon as I finish all pending paper work by Friday, I know it’s going to be a good weekend.

Despite what I have said, I try to be as active as I possibly can. I’ve been active since I was student going from martial arts, fencing, climbing, cycling and my recent love, jogging. I have this constant addiction of needing to do something; I cannot sit still.

Also I try to explore as much as I possibly can the Scottish countryside and the historical sites. Just pack a few supplies in my car, Top Gear sound track and off I go. I like to remind myself that despite being small, Scotland is rich with historical heritage. At the moment I’m exploring Creiff whenever I have the chance.

Frank To - Fire3. What makes for a perfect night in?

I think there are two sides to me regarding the perfect night in. I try to avoid anything art wise. I enjoy reading philosophy and psychology. I didn’t really enjoy reading when I was younger. So I’m trying to catch up. Nice glass of whisky and a good book.

I like watching films that make me think such as Inception and The Prestige. Can you tell that I’m a big Film Noir and Christopher Nolan fan? When I’m not trying to over analyse the plot of a film, I like to indulge my dark sense of humour with this new animated series called Rick & Morty. 

4. What makes for a memorable day or night out?

I try my best to get out of immediate environment and usually I remember days or night outs in places I’m not used to. I like to become lost in a place and explore. That could range from being in the middle of the Scottish Highlands to Europe. To date, the most memorable night out I’ve had recently was being in Berlin in August 2015 on Museum Island watching the monthly free classical music concert sitting on the side of the bridge. It’s experiences like that you do not forget!

5. Tell us about the weekend you’d love to live again?

When I was 20 years old, I was dumped by my ‘first love’ and what I did was pack up a rucksack and escaped into Europe. I remember it was a Friday night in London and just paid for an all season Euro train ticket and just got on the first train. I had no idea where I was going. I remember arriving somewhere in Copenhagen Denmark the next day. Didn’t know the language. Didn’t know the culture. Didn’t know anyone, had not a lot of money and slept rough in the park alongside other fellow travellers and beggars. Despite all this, I threw myself completely into art by going to different museums to study Old Masters. What I’m trying to say is that I enjoyed that sense of adventure. Throwing myself completely into the unknown without anyone knowing where I was. Although it sounded dangerous, that excitement of having a big adventure was probably the one of the few times I felt free.

6. And now your best ever day at work?

In 2007 when I was 25 years old, I received a phone call from a renowned New York art dealer saying that wealthy client of his in Texas wanted a painting of mines instead of the famous America Abstract Expressionist, Joan Mitchell. For me, having someone willing to pay that much money on a young upcoming Scottish artist instead of a deceased American Abstract Expressionist was really major for me. Last time I heard, that painting is hanging next to a Monet and Van Gogh that she acquired for her collection.

Frank To - Smashing painting7. Any workday or weekend rituals?

If I’m feeling energetic in the morning, I go to my local gym. It’s usually quite quiet meaning that I can really focus what I want to work on. During the afternoons, I usually do a bit of running to keep myself not only physically fit, but also mentally sharp.

I like to have my coffee in the morning; don’t come anywhere near me until I have my first shot of caffeine of the day!

8. What’s in the perfect day off breakfast?

Anything that is to do with French Toast and Black Pudding!

9. Any words of wisdom for us?

If you want to get anywhere in life, you have to fight for it. I was not born into privilege. I came from a broken family and was severely bullied at school. The constant nagging of “you will never aspire” and “you are worthless” were daily. Despite this, I always had this drive to succeed. You have to put everything into your dream. You will need to take risks and push through those who doubt you. The more you do it, the more you will believe in yourself as well as others believing in you.

I inspire my students by saying this: -

“Let your work speak for what you believe and love. Be bold and fearless, and the world will never forget you.”

The above is what I believe in and it’s what I instil into my own students. 


Frank To is an Artist & Perth College Art Lecturer.  Find out more on his website here >>>

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