The Athol Phillips Interview

— Hailing from South Africa, Athol Phillips (aka PhotoArt By Athol) has been producing incredible works of photo artistry from the first, even before joining the “AWAKE” group. Athol was our featured artist in September of last year, with Issue No. 19, and that cover (shown below) is still one of my favorites. It’s great to finally get this interview with him published here on Quill and Camera …

Q. You’ve been in AWAKE since the very start (indeed, in Photoshop Artistry from the very start, I believe). But what was it that really got you started in digital photo artistry originally?

My journey into the fascinating world of photography and the subsequent migration into transforming my captured images into digital photo artistry happened quite by accident. It certainly wasn’t anything I planned out. Five years ago, we sadly lost our son Jonathan (aged 23) to a fatal epileptic seizure, and this absolutely shattered our family. Fortunately, during some of the subsequent darkest days of my life, an invitation to register for an online “Photo Artistry Grunge Course” mysteriously found its way into my inbox.

In searching for a distraction from the awful event which had just unfolded, I clicked on the “Register” button … not realizing just how much my life was to be catapulted into a totally new and exciting direction — and in the process, keep me from landing up as a patient at the local loony bin.

And where some folks may soon lose interest in a new-found hobby, I found the progression of moving to the next level extremely rewarding. I couldn’t get enough. Joining “AWAKE” (with its private Facebook group) came next, and this past year I managed to secure one of the 500 coveted spots in the “KAIZEN” group.

Q. I’ve noticed some shifts in your style this past year. You seem to have really come into your own. What would you say inspires the work you have been creating lately?

Although I have had no formal training in either photography or digital artistry, I did study and practice Architecture for many years. And I recall an “art class” at school in which I was particularly struck by the works of the artist Salvador Dali … Both of these influences, coupled with the writings of Roald Dahl (who’s books our English teacher exposed us to), have definitely played a role in influencing my artistic style … which I guess could best be described as “Fantasy” with a dash of “Surrealism.”

Q. I’m always talking about not only creating art but living an artistic life. What does living an artistic life mean to you?

My journey on the path towards “Living the Photo Artistic Life” only really began after I truly understood the concept of being able to purposefully capture specific images and then graphically manipulate them to create a fantasy world … into which I could escape.

In awakening my “artistic eye,” I now find myself continually seeing ordinary objects in the world around me as potential artistic puzzle pieces, just waiting to be captured, and then carefully placed into position and digitally massaged to form a unique and new artistic composition. I believe that seeing the world in this way is all part of living life as an artist.

If my photo artistry is able to capture the attention a viewer for just a few seconds, causing them to pause whilst they ponder my work, and perhaps even raise a smile — then I would have achieved my objective. In “Living the Photo Artistic Life,” I welcome each and every new day, treating it as another opportunity to take a blank canvas and create something unique, and I hope inspiring. As I once wrote, “A photographer can freeze a moment in time, but a true Photo Artist can thaw that moment, and turn it into a fantasy world that will catapult you into the future . . .”

Q. With such a unique style, how is it you approach your compositions?

Most often, I start with a blank canvas, with absolutely no preconceived idea in mind, unless I am working on a specific “KAIZEN” Project, which dictates the core concept on which I’ll need to focus. But normally I just start with a blank canvas and set to work. On many occasions, I will start with a few images, see where they lead, take the “work in progress” up to a point … then divert into a totally different direction. It’s all quite organic.

I absolutely love trying out the many different presets and filters from the bucket full of programs and apps that I have acquired over time (far too many of them to mention here!) I am also always capturing images of the most bizarre objects, and then adding them to my own personal “secret image bank,” only to resurrect something months later to add value to a specific composition that I am working on.

Q. Where do you see your work going next? Any particular ambitions?

to be honest, I almost threw in the towel recently. I found myself focusing on creating art that I believed would sell, as opposed to simply allowing my “inner muse” to express itself as it saw fit. It was only after I changed my mindset that I was able to take the pressure off myself, and in so doing, experience the joy of true creative freedom again.

I’ve now decided that the next step for me is to move my digital creativity (all my favorite works) from my hard disk over onto physically framed prints and canvases ready to hang — in preparation for exhibiting my work at some carefully identified galleries best suited to my specific artistic style.  

Q. What kind of advice would you give to other artists hoping to improve their work?

Apart from getting into Photoshop Artistry and AWAKE? Well, first, become a sponge — sell your TV, and make YouTube your new best friend. There is much to learn out there if you are serious about wanting to truly live an artistic life.

Secondly, be prepared to do the work, and be diligent about it. No long-distance athlete who ever won the Comrades, New York, or London Marathon just woke up on race day and decided to participate in the event. It took a lot of hard work, blood, sweat and tears to achieve their amazing goal.  

This digital photo artistic journey is no different. Do the hard yards, and then you can look forward to experiencing the joy of eventually winning the GOLD. But, as you train and put in the long hours that are required to hone your craft, make sure that you are having a lot of fun along the way, because if not, you will never find the joy in this beautiful, fulfilling, and creative journey.



You can visit Athol’s extraordinary online portfolio at: … But be sure to also explore his exceptional website at: