How did you get into art/How did you get started?
I have always loved being creative – whether it be being buried under piles of wool or covered in paint. I have loved painting since I was little and it transported me to magical places, and I was only limited to where my imagination could take me. I remember one particular cycling holiday as a child where we biked amongst the bright yellow fields of Rapeseed flowers and then, in the evenings, I would create paintings based on that day – I still have the paint set I used. It is rarely opened now, but kept as a treasure and perhaps used for the odd brushstroke in my picturebooks.
When I wasn’t painting I was making everything I could, learning skills from across the family – both my grandmothers taught me vital craft skills such as knitting, crocheting and tatting to name a few. I still remember my first sewing lesson; my mum taught me to make a French seamed drawstring bag which I treasured for years. And my dad wasn’t left out of the creativity – we often spent many hours restoring things and one of my favourite things to do was to go to our local model shop and buy kits to make houses and shops for my imaginary town. Even in the garden, I created ballgowns from hollyhock flowers, leaves were made into suits, with plants and the lawn being pushed up at the edges to create shops and houses.
As I grew up I did not leave this magical world behind as it was far more exciting to me than the real world. I was originally studying academic A levels – Psychology, Sociology and History with a view to doing social work, but the pull of creativity called to me, getting ever louder as sixth form progressed and so I went on to do A level Art, followed by Art Foundation and then a Fine Art Degree. My creative journey has continued to this day and I have recently finished a Masters in Children’s Illustration from the Cambridge School of Art where I learnt so many different skills to assist me in my lifetime dream of becoming a children’s book illustrator.
And yes, I still chatter to bees and marvel at the bright yellow fields that appear every June to this very day – some things will never change.
What artists do you admire and who has influenced you and why?
The artists that have inspired me are very varied, as you can see from the below image of my inspiration boards, and the variety of different books on my studio shelves. Three long term loves are Marc Chagall, Frida Kahlo and Leonora Carrington. I am captivated by their storytelling and strong sense of narrative as they draw me into their worlds. I am not only inspired by their work, but for also who they were – and how art permeated their entire existence. They lived their art and it flowed across disciplines and their own lives, from designing and making costumes for prestigious ballet companies to writing and performing plays and even designing their own clothes, which then became a dominant symbol in their work. I will leave you to explore their work to see who did what……
I do however, love so many other artists, many of whom cross the boundaries between Fine Art and Illustration. One is Mark Hearld, whose playfulness and multi-disciplined talent always provides me with rich inspiration. Isabelle Arsenault is another artist/illustrator who makes my heart pound with joy every time I see her work. If you treasure books then a must for your list is Once Upon a Northern Night – I have shown it to many friends, all of whom swoon in a flutter of butterflies at the images in the book. An artist/illustrator who I am in awe of for her stunning drawing skills is Pam Smy. She designs her illustrations on the page perfectly, and every drawn or printed mark she makes is so carefully considered. If you are interested in drawing and illustration, do look at her work.
Two last artists that do have to be named in my inspiration list are Catherine Hyde, whose beautiful and magical paintings and book Little Evie and the Wild Wood inspired me during a dark time of self doubt, as it was so rich with feeling and emotion, full of dark tones and dreamlike emotions. And much as I adore the final book, it was her sketchbooks that reached out to me the most! And alongside her is Jackie Morris – who wrote the text for this book, but who is also an illustrator – her own work being filled with jewel like details that fill my heart with the glittering dust of otherworldliness, and which transports me to worlds filled with dragons, arabesque tents and bears in hot air balloons.
In writing this post, I realise how impossible it is for me to stick to this list of favourites, so over on my blog I will be posting a book every month that captivates me and calls out to me – from a new publications to old treasures found at the back of a charity shop bookshelf.
What inspires you?
The world inspires me! I am so sorry if that sounds a tad corny, but it truly does. When I am struggling to find an idea or a direction to push my work in, I look around me – and the inspiration floods out from the people, the plants and the animals. As I type, I often gaze out the window, and spot birds flying about, squirrels scrabbling across fences and I am inspired to imagine narratives and stories that come from their world. I am also a people watcher – and get equal inspiration from watching the world pass by in a café window, whether it be the tender gaze between parent and child or a gaggle of teenagers exploring the city on a sunny afternoon.
The theme for this show is Inside/Outside – what inspired you to choose this theme, and would you like to say more about your work for this show.
My work for this show was initially planned to be based on a simpler idea of nests and burrows, seen from two differing perspectives, but as time went on I became entranced by the thought of exploring my inner being – not held back by outer physicality or location – but the side of myself who lives freely in dreams and loses herself in imaginative worlds. Suddenly, images passed before my eyes of handmade wings and magical lands with vivid skyscapes made from greying clouds – all of which became manifested in this body of work. But do keep an eye out, nests and burrows are there too.
I have used a variety of different techniques when creating work for this show – from collagraphs to screenprints, and from painting to collage, embroidery and even needlefelting. This variety of techniques allow me to choose the correct method for the result I want to achieve. I couldn’t imagine making my little muse Gertrude in any other way than needlefelting, and of course, hand-made wings need to be collaged and embroidered, don’t they?
During the show I had planned to write more about each piece over on my own blog, but it was such a busy time I didn’t get it all done (I was having too much fun showing people around the show)! But for now, let me tempt you with the post I wrote about the many processes involved in the making of the piece Secret Garden in the First Fowers of Summer post.
Where do you make your work?
I work in different places….initially, when conceiving an idea, I have to work in isolation with music playing (from Asha Bhosle to Leonard Cohen). I have a lovely desk that I work at, which is right next to the window. I see the seasons pass as I daydream out of the window. I call it my “nest” as it is filled with birds in many forms and I even have a birdfeeder on my window, so that I am regularly visited by feathered friends – I often freeze mid brushstroke as I don’t want to scare them away.
It is a ‘cosy’ space and I love spending time in there. Having a small space makes me to keep it (relatively) tidy. The best part of my studio is the raised-up floor that my husband built for me. It is level with my wheelchair, so I transfer out of my wheelchair onto it, and it gives me a huge amount of freedom to work in many ways, and is so comfortable. The space underneath then doubles as storage space, which is incredibly useful!
I also work at the marvellous Leicester Print Workshop (I often sit and look around in wonder at these facilities, and think how lucky I am to have it in my home town), and although I prefer working on my own at some stages, being at the workshop has pushed my work forward far more than if I had worked entirely at home. I have learnt so much from my fellow artists – either technically, with regards the printing processes or visually in terms of the design of images, but it has also encouraged me to take risks and try new techniques.
What inspires you to create your work and how do you keep motivated when things get tough in the studio?
I can’t really say what inspires me to create my work. It is something inside me that just makes me want (and need) to make work and be creative – I feel that it is part of my soul and nature – I can’t imagine NOT making work. Although there are times when I find inspiration lacking and have suffered the dreaded ‘artists block’, these are not by choice and I am so relieved when inspiration revisits me and I am creative again.
I am real faffer when things get tough and I tend to go and do other things when pieces aren’t working. Sometimes it appears as if I am procrastinating, but over the years I have realised this is the best technique for me, as, by doing something else, I allow my brain to think through the issue with my work without the mental torture of just sitting unproductively at my desk. Even going out for a walk can help resolve the problem and often, after having time away and clearing my head, the work comes together a lot faster.
If that isn’t successful, then I change where I work, and I pack up my work and head off to Leicester Print Workshop. I always find that such an inspiring place to work, both visually and mentally – if you are struggling, there is always someone there to offer a wise word of advice. And sometimes there is someone else grappling with their work, so it is reassuring to know that I am not alone.
BBut, if you are really stuck and none of these strategies work, then I do recommend getting The Artists Way. It is a brilliant resource, and you work through it like a workbook – it encourages the reader to write a journal every day and look to it for insights, and each week you have tasks to complete. It helped me several years ago when I was so low nothing was working, and I still dip into the knowledge I learnt years later. I can’t recommend it enough – and it is even worth working through if you are full of ideas and inspiration.
What is your starting point for a piece of work? What do you create?
I always start with a doodle, and with sketching lots, and it grows from there. Sometimes an idea can sit in a sketchbook for a year or so before it is the right time to be used. I then decide what it will be – it could develop into a collagraph, a painting or even be developed into a book.
At the moment I love printmaking, so most drawings are transformed into a collagraph plates. To make the plate I cut into mountboard, then add texture and once I think I am happy I go on to varnish it. Then comes the printing process where I add ink onto the plate, then wipe away, putting dampened paper on top of the plate to get the print. This is where my wonderful husband, Andy steps in and assists me – I like to think of the prints as a collaboration as he dampens the paper, blots it, then blots and places the paper, and runs it through the press, but he modestly insists that he is the technician not the artist. But, as a talented photographer himself, I value his opinions, and he often sits and scrutinizes prints alongside me, and his presence always makes the printing process a great deal more fun and enjoyable.
After the first prints are taken I examine them closely, almost picking the image apart, finding bits that are working and others that simply need more work, and then cut into the plate or collage into it further. Often, because the lines are so fine, I think I have cut a line and missed it completely. I also like constantly tweaking the plate, so every few prints the image changes slightly – so each print, even though they are considered of a likeness, has its own touch of individuality.
What process(es) do you use to create your work?
I don’t limit myself to one technique or process. This is for both practical reasons, as I choose the one I can physically do at the time (I can only really print my collagraphs when my husband can help me), but also, I choose the one most appropriate to the message I am trying to convey. For example, I use collagraphs for my detailed, mystical pieces with a limited colour palette, and use paint when I want to create larger and more vibrant pieces, and a range of different media including watercolours and collage for my books.
Which aspect(s) of your work do you enjoy most?
My first love is making work, and seeing an idea come out from my head and onto the page. But I also truly enjoy contact with other artists, discussing ideas and inspirations. And I love talking about work and publicising things. Friends have often jested that I should be an agent as I am always pushing them forwards and promoting them, hiding myself at the back. Throughout this exhibition project I have thoroughly loved promoting the artists and talking about the different groups, whilst delaying writing my own blogpost! I think that says it all. Mind you, when someone decides to buy a piece of my work and give it a place in their home, that is the best moment ever – very confirming as an artist.
What goals do you have and where do you want to be with your work in the future?
My aims for the year ahead is to keep creating one off pieces and collagraphs with a view to approaching galleries, and to exhibit even more. I have been recently been elected as a member of the Leicester Society of Artists, which I am delighted about and hope to be exhibiting with them in the future.
In addition to this I am also working on books to send out to publishers. Some are picturebooks that I have written, and others are collaborations. It is my dream to have a book deal for my characters, so that they can inspire a new generation and make new friends. In addition to the picturebooks I am also illustrating a classic book that is aimed at older readers as well as finishing writing a young adult book that I began a few years ago too.
But all in balance and moderation – I am looking forward to having a much needed rest after The Eye Exhibition Project. I am taking the summer to read books, sketch new ideas, rest, and most importantly chatter to the bees!
If you wish to contact me regarding buying a piece of work, a commission or collaboration, please email me: thesunbeams @ btinternet.com