Drawing, painting and photography have been the driving force in Phil Sheil’s life for over three decades. He currently works full time as a University Professor teaching Art and Design at the American University of Sharjah in the United Arab Emirates. However, he is excited about his newest venture as co-owner of Creative Endeavors and looks forward to building it into a unique and highly respected center for the arts.
In 1984 Phil graduated with a Higher National Diploma in Illustration from Wrexham College of Art, North Wales. After a few years working as an Illustrator in London, he returned to university in Calgary, Canada where he completed BFAs in both Drawing and Painting and an MFA in Painting. During these university years, Phil freelanced as a mural artist and painted prolifically— exhibiting in solo shows in several galleries around Western Canada.
In 1997, shortly after graduation, Phil began working as a professor of Art and Design, at the American University of Sharjah, UAE. It was there that he discovered a newfound passion: Teaching.
“Teaching is probably the best thing I do anywhere in my life. This surprises me, as it was never something I had ever planned to do and I don’t really know why it comes so naturally to me. But, probably because I’m quite good at it, I have become particularly passionate about it. I love teaching Art and Design. I love being good at teaching. I am always exploring new ways to be a better teacher. And if I had to name the one thing I most like about teaching, it would be the students.”
Phil remains a full time professor in the UAE where he teaches art and design students. During this time, he has broadened his photographic interests further and now spends the majority of his creative time behind the camera. In particular, Phil is feeding his love for Landscape Photography and continues to be driven by his passion for creativity and his thirst for new challenges.
1993-94 M.F.A: University of Calgary. (Drawing).
1993-95 M.F.A: University of Calgary. (Painting).
1990-93 B.F.A. (with distinction): University of Calgary. (Double Major-Painting and Drawing).
1980-84 Higher National Diploma: NE Wales Institute of Higher Education, (Vis Com).
1980-84 College Diploma: Wrexham College of Art, North Wales. UK. (Illustration).
2016 –Present Senior Lecturer: of Art and Design, American University of Sharjah, Sharjah, UAE
2014-16 Associate Professor of Art: University of Sharjah, Sharjah, UAE.
2004-14 Associate Professor of Design: American University of Sharjah, Sharjah, UAE.
2002-03 Chairman of Design: American University of Sharjah, Architecture and Design.
2000-03 Director of Foundations: American University of Sharjah, Architecture and Design.
1998-2004 Assistant Professor: American University of Sharjah, Sharjah, UAE.
1993 -97 Freelance Designer/Illustrator/Muralist/Educator.
1989-90 Pre-Press Technician: Action Printing, Calgary, AB.
1988-89 Illustrator/Visualizer: Mac Art, London E9, (Marketing and Promotion Design).
1987-88 Visualizer/Illustrator: Eucom Graphics, London W1. (Packaging Design).
Solo Exhibitions in North America
1998 Medicine Hat., Canada: “Phil Sheil” Medicine Hat Museum and Art Gallery.
1998 Calgary, Canada: “Form and Function” Muttart Public Art Gallery.
1998 Calgary, Canada: “Phil Sheil” Virginia Christopher Galleries.
1997 Whitehorse Canada: “Rusted Cogs and Broken Belts” Yukon Arts Center Gallery.
1997 Calgary, Canada: “Tailings” Virginia Christopher Galleries Ltd.
1997 Vancouver, Canada: “Relics” Horizon Art Galleries.
1997 Edmonton, Canada: “Legendary Monuments” Harcourt House Arts Center.
1997 Edmonton, Canada: “Whisperings and Metaphors” Bugera/Kmet Galleries Ltd.
1996 Edmonton, Canada: “Abstract Reality” Bugera/Kmet Galleries Ltd.
1996 Fort McMurray, Canada: “Machines” Keyano College Art Gallery.
1996 Calgary, Canada: “Dragons: New Myths by Phil Sheil” Center Gallery.
1995 Calgary, Canada: “Art i Facts” Art Is Vital Gallery.
1995 Calgary, Canada: “Solid Objects” Nickle Arts Museum.
1994 Calgary, Canada: “In Your Face” Little Gallery.
1994 Calgary, Canada: “Negotiated Identities” Art is Vital Gallery.
1992 Calgary, Canada: “City Houses” City Hall Foyer.
1992 Calgary, Canada: “City Houses” Devonian Gardens Public Gallery.
2017 Dubai, Bulgarian Consulate, “Landscape Photography” (ongoing exhibit)
2017 Sharjah, UAE: “Creative Endeavors Photography” CAAD Gallery
2017 Sharjah, UAE: “Summer Works” CAAD Gallery
2016 UN World Congress Exhibition and presentation of Landscape Photographs
2016 Sharjah UAE, “Summer Works, CFAD Gallery UoS
2015 Sharjah UAE, “Faculty Show” CFAD, Gallery UoS.
2015 Sharjah, UAE: “Faculty Exhibition” Sharjah Art Museum.
2014 Sharjah UAE, “Faculty Show” CFAD Gallery UoS.
2012 Sharjah, UAE: “Faculty Exhibition” Sharjah Art Museum.
2009 Sharjah, UAE: “Faculty Exhibition” Sharjah Art Museum.
2007 Dubai, UAE: “Faculty and their Student” XVA Gallery.
2007 Dubai, UAE: “Faculty From AUS and AUB” Exhibition. Meem Gallery
2006 Calgary, Canada: “The See Exhibition” The Mezinene Gallery, U of C.
2005 Sharjah, UAE: “Faculty Exhibition” Sharjah Art Museum.
2003 Calgary, Canada: “Eight New Paintings”, exhibited in Virgina Christopher Fine Art.
2003 Sharjah, “UAE: “Faculty Exhibition” Sharjah Art Museum.
2001 Sharjah, UAE: “Faculty Exhibition” Sharjah Art Museum.
1999 Sharjah, UAE: “Faculty Exhibition’ Sharjah Art Museum.
1999 Lebanon, Beirut: “La Fiad” Biannual Art Fair”.
1998 Calgary, Canada: “Faculty Exhibition” Nickel Arts Museum, U of C.
97-99 Alberta, Canada: “Alberta Foundation For the Arts Traveling Exhibition”.
1997 Edmonton, Canada: “Neoteric: works from the AFA collection” Beaver House.
1997 Calgary, Canada: “30th Anniversary Alumni Exhibition” Nickle Arts Museum.
1997 Brooks, Canada: “Landmarks 97” Brooks Campus-Medicine Hat College.
1997 Calgary, Canada: “Four Years On” Center Gallery.
1997 Calgary, Canada: “Opening Exhibition” Art Is Vital Gallery.
1996 Vancouver, Canada: “Untitled Group Show” Horizon Art Galleries.
1996 Edmonton, Canada: “All About Color” The Bugera/Kmet Galleries.
1996 Grand Prairie, Canada: “Prairie North 96” Grand Prairie Regional College.
1995 Calgary, Canada: “Salon Exhibition” The Muttart Public Art Gallery.
Built to celebrate a victory in 1878, which lead to Bulgaria’s eventual freedom from Ottoman oppression, the sheer scale of The Arch Of Freedom Monument can be difficult to capture with a camera. However, a few years ago while I was shooting there, a young girl walked into my shot and carried on through the arch to stand in front of me contemplating the view. It was the perfect moment to be there with my camera. The girl, dwarfed by the arch under which she stood, appeared to be contemplating the very notion of freedom itself. This seemed particularly poignant since Bulgaria had relatively recently thrown off the mantel of Russian Communism and was at this very moment in its history attempting to embrace the freedoms and restrictions that come with its newly awarded membership in the European Union. I love this shot simply because it was so un-planned, and yet it so perfectly solved a technical issue while providing a much richer image than I had set out to capture.
God is Watching
This picture typifies another of those moments when you happen to be in the right place at the right time. I was shooting in a spectacular cave in Bulgaria known as God’s Eyes Caves (Prohodna), a name given because of the two eye-like holes in the ceiling. While I was shooting two unplanned and unrelated events occurred simultaneously. First, and for a few seconds only, a beautiful shaft of light came through one of the holes in the roof of the cave and just at that moment a stranger in a white shirt climbed upon a large bolder in the foreground of my shot. The contrast of the white shirted figure against the vast darkness of the cave provided scale for the scene and the shaft of light, for a brief moment, provided my picture with drama and I was lucky enough to be there and ready to shoot as it all came together.
Once again this is one of those happy accidents that I love to find. We were driving up a mountain with no particular goal other than to see where the road went. As we went higher it began to get foggy to the point that I thought I might have to turn around. However, just after a sharp curve in the road, this scene set itself before me and I immediately jumped out of the car and began shooting . This was a totally unplanned shoot and I loved the fact that I simply stumbled upon it totally by accident.
Interview with phil
Do you have any formal training in photography?
Photography was an intrinsic part of both my HND and my BFA and MFA degrees. As Illustration students we were taught how to take photographs that would help create realistic drawings and paintings. These “reference photos” were quite different from “normal” photographs and often focused on details such as hands and faces – things that would be hardest to render. We also learned how to photograph products to later render as lush and sexy looking Product Illustrations. I used these photographic skills extensively as a professional Illustrator and further developed those skills when I later re-entered University as a painting and drawing student. As my portfolio developed it became increasingly more difficult to separate the photographic process from the painting and drawing process in my work and this trend continued throughout my graduate studies. Later I became interested in digital imaging and the division between photograph and created image became even more blurred as I began to paint realistic images using Adobe Photoshop. So photography has been a part of my artistic repertoire since I began making images and was an integral part of my post high school education.
Why do you create images?
This is a really interesting question and one that I have never been asked or thought about before. I have had a passion for images since almost before I can remember. Some of my strongest memories as a child are of images – drawings, paintings and photographs. I am not really sure where that love of images comes from to be honest, but I do know that images mark almost every meaningful part of my life – they are the things on which I hang the majority of my significant memories and experiences. I can remember for example pouring through my family’s collection of encyclopaedias but, unlike my siblings, it is the images that I seem to remember most not the knowledge hidden in the words. My painting professor, John Hall, once wrote of me that “Phil Sheil has a passion for image making that is infectious” and having read this I think marked the first time I ever actually thought about my love of images. As a school kid I was often in trouble with the math teacher because the margins and empty spaces between the formulas in my exercise book would be filled with doodles and drawings. Images have always seemed to pour out of me like an over-filled cup and I still come out of almost every university meeting with a clipboard full of drawings. So, on reflection, I think I create images because I really don’t know how not to. I l love images passionately of course and I love creating them, but image making seems to be something I just do.
Where do you get your creative inspiration?
I get my inspiration from the world around me. It starts with my senses, a rich texture or color catches my eye, a sound flicks awake my imagination or a smell plays with my mind. It’s never a tangible thing, but rather a feeling about that thing, a sense of the history in a place for example. It can be a deep felt sense like the booming of a huge drum or it can have the light touch of soft rain on the skin, but once felt I always want to do something with it. Perhaps it’s how a golden retriever feels when its owner throws a ball. I don’t always do something with the feeling of course, life often gets in the way, but when I ignore it I always feel the guilt of having let something important go. I suspect all artists feel this way when it comes right down to it. Of course, when we do react, do something with it, we intellectualize that initial feeling as we attempt to mold our reaction towards the creation of tangible things (or sets of things) like images, music or sculpture, but that is more about communication than inspiration I think.
What is your creative process when deciding what to shoot?
Upon arrival at a site I look around and try to pick the spot for my first shots. I usually begin with the obvious. I try to get the ‘straight shot’ out of the way right at the start of any shoot. I have a fear of wasting time trying to do something different while not doing anything at all. So I go straight in and get the obvious stuff out of the way in the first few minutes. Once the obvious shots are done I am then somehow free to move out, get away from that first impulse and more easily start looking for the less obvious – its very much like a brainstorming session, but with a camera in hand – block nothing and try anything that comes to mind.
What’s your favorite time of day for landscapes?
Like almost all landscape photographers I have to say the golden hour – that time before sunset or just after sunrise. Of the two I prefer the evening, but that preference is heavily tainted by the fact that I seem to develop a more profound love of my bed around the time of sunrise. To call it the golden “hour” though is perhaps not accurate, since often the light seems to get really good about two hours before the sun sets. At that time the shadows start to stretch out and the contrast between light and shadow increases. It doesn’t hurt that everything becomes bathed in a warm glow at that time in the evening either.
How far do you go in post-production?
This always depends on the image I am working with and how I intend to use it. Sometimes, if rarely, I will get exactly what I want straight out of the camera and I love those moments. There are times that I have used my camera to create fictional images, pieces of art or digital paintings that only pay passing homage to the facts of visual reality. But I most often use the camera to create more traditional images, landscapes, portraits etc. Each context has its own set of conventions and these requirements change with the intended use. A photograph used as evidence in a court case for example would have far more editing restrictions than a digital image used in a Surrealist Art Exhibition. When it comes to Landscape Photography I am always trying to portray what I remember seeing. As a result I am most often satisfied only with the cropping and composition of my raw camera images. At the very least I will make minor tweaks to contrast, saturation and exposure. Sometimes however, I have to work a lot in post processing, especially when results are limited by the technology and night shots are a good example of this. It all comes down to one age-old problem, how much the technical limitations prevent recording what the human eye can see. As a result, I find myself compensating for this limitation during shooting (bracketing, cropping etc.) and/or in the post editing process.
Can you share 5 quick practical tips for landscape photography?
Always take your tripod with you and make sure it is a really good one.
Never leave home without your wide-angle lens.
Always have a spare memory card hidden away in your camera bag
Always have a lens cloth or two packed in your bag
Protect your camera’s sensor from dust. When changing lenses hold the camera with the lens hole facing down. Basically treat the open hole in your camera body like an open wound and don’t let any foreign bodies fall inside.
Where would you most like to shoot in the future?
I would love to go on a tour of the best waterfalls in the world. I went to Iceland last year and I really liked the light up there. Of course the Icelandic landscape is full of drama, great contrasts and wonderful light, but there are some awesome waterfalls there too and I loved shooting them. That trip made me start wondering about the world’s most picturesque waterfalls. I can think of nothing more photographically interesting to me than getting on an airplane with the sole purpose of shooting the most beautiful waterfalls in the world–this seems like the ultimate trip to me.