Some of you may remember that in the Spring I attended a wonderful workshop down at Hospitalfield, Arbroath with Sally Payne. Edge – textile artists scotland had arranged the workshop and in some ways it seems a long time ago but as I sit here in my studio I am surrounded by some of the work I produced at that time, still feeling inspired by the teaching we experienced during the weekend. Over several years I have had the opportunity to take part in several of Sally’s workshops and they are amongst the most inspiring I have ever done so I was delighted when she agreed to take a little time out of the weekend to talk with me. Based in the Lancashire area, Sally has a wide and varied professional practice and is always in great demand as a tutor so I was really interested to learn more and started by talking about her teaching. Sally, I know you as an experienced tutor and you have worked with artists and creative people from a wide range of disciplines, not just textiles, so it almost seems superfluous to ask this, but how important has teaching been to your own practice?
- Teaching has always been an integral part of my practice. A chance to enable students to reach their full potential; not only through experimentation and exploration of materials and methods but also encouraging a breadth of thinking. The thinking and structure that goes into creating a workshop, the planning, the research, the dynamics of delivery keeps my thinking sharp and enquiring. The give and take with the students, no matter what age group, and the buzz from a room full of creativity, this can only inform and enrich my own practice. I feel very privileged to have worked at Glasgow School of Art in the Embroidery and Weave department. I arrived in 1980 full of radical ideas about teaching and passionate about the role of the tutor to challenge and support the students personal journeys within Art and Design. Head of Department Crissie White encouraged me to develop and explore my ideas on education within the studio. A fantastic opportunity to expand my thinking and teaching skills.
One of the inspirational features of your workshops has always been the way you introduce new students, and more experienced students, to materials and methods that can bring design work to life. Do you have favourite processes or materials to which you find yourself returning for your own work?
- I love engaging with new processes and methods of creating . Experimenting with a diverse collection of media and materials is a vital core to my way of working. My process, methods and materials tend to change as I embark on new work. I will create with the media that will allow me to realise my ideas. This may be paper, ceramic, fabric, wire or print, usually combining methods and media. I don’t really have a favourite, but you can’t really beat a lovely 8b graphite stick with a touch of linseed oil or a tasty Derwent 8b aqua pencil and a bit of spit.
One of the features of my Conversations that is always interesting is when I ask an artist about their working space. Can you describe your studio and do you like to work in silence or do you listen to music, audiobooks?
- My workroom is at the top of the house with wonderful views across Morecambe Bay over to Piel Island, Barrow in Furness, and the wind farms beyond. A light and airy room that is often in chaos with various activities happening in different spaces. There is never quite enough room for everything, I have cupboards bursting with fabrics, some now vintage I have had them so long. I am a bit of a collector and hoarder of anything that might come in usefulI for my own work or workshops. I enjoy my work space, postcards adorn the walls, I am surrounded by snap shots of ideas and inspirations, ongoing projects and a few finished bits and pieces. I will usually have a washing line across the room to peg up work in progress or latest experiments, giving new ideas/samples a bit of space before they are developed, sketch booked or filed for later consideration. I have just re-plastered the ceiling which presented an excellent opportunity for sorting. I now have a very clean white space that at the moment suggests calm but not sure for how long. I sometimes work in silence but often there will be radio 4 in the background. I will listen to audio books from BBC iplayer and usually will have to re-listen as I become absorbed in what I am doing and stop paying attention.
Do you have a regular or daily sketchbook/drawing routine and how important do you feel it is to create that habit?
- Creating the habit of drawing on a regular basis creates the habit of looking and the more we look the more we see. The more we do the more the process kindles inspiration and helps to keep those ideas flowing. I used to keep a sketchbook which I used every day for recording everything. It would include drawing, ideas, thoughts, research and even recipes. I would complete one sketchbook, usually A4 and then move on to the next. I now work very differently. I keep a couple of smallish sketch books on the go and try to work in one or the other most days. One has a leaning to landscape, in the broadest possible sense and the other figurative. I try and use the sketchbook time to push ways of working and play with ways of description. I have a huge box of papers that I use for collage, this consists of a collection of printed and painted papers from past work, tasty bits of coloured and patterned papers and materials. This is my go-to before lifting a drawing tool. A splash of prepared paper, sometimes related to what I am working from sometimes not ; it breaks the silence, makes the the white page personal.
- My real passion is life drawing and I do this as often as possible. I find it an excellent discipline, all absorbing, total focus in looking, giving yourself over and loosing yourself in that process .I work in an A2 sketchbook for life drawing and prepare several pages in advance with collage, paint or newspaper and emulsion. I also begin a new sketchbook, usually A3 for each new body of work. This stays open on one of the workroom tables to be worked in at any time. Anything and everything to do with that body of work goes into this sketchbook.
You recently worked as Artist in Residence with a theatre company as they performed Shakespeare’s Othello. How did you enjoy that experience and the process of digitally manipulating your sketches and photographs?
- This was a challenging opportunity to work with a dynamic theatre company ( Demi-Paradise) and an inspired creative director (Louie Ingham) . We worked in an amazing dynamic venue, Lancaster Castle and Lancaster Crown Court. This was a new venture for me and I wanted to explore new territory, new thinking. I decided to learn Adobe Photoshop for this brief and to create work where the finished pieces were purely digital. Once I had got to grips with the programme I could manipulate my images creating a multitude of compositions. This process offered huge potential for experimentation and interpretation of ideas. My initial inspirations came from a mass of drawings and photographs from rehearsals and drama workshops.This collection of images were then developed with collage, layered with worked papers, photo-image and drawing, but nothing was permanent. Collage images were assembled, recorded and taken apart. I wanted no original hand made work, work developed was all digital.
- I enjoyed working with a digital process. The ability to change and develop images with a multitude of options is a great process to work with. This is the strength of digital but for me also a problem. I found it easy to get carried away with all of that potential, overworking my compositions , creating over-busy images.
- The images were printed A1 and A3. This was the first time I had had anything digitally printed, the colour, the colour was just amazing. I watched in awe as the test prints came off the printer. I had not quite realized the quality and depth of the translated image from a digital to hard copy. The Artist Residency experience was huge learning curve. All good.
A lot of people are wary of using digital techniques but I feel they are another tool in our arsenal. I know you produced digital work from the theatre company residential – what would you say to people who don’t want to engage with technology to create work?
- I would not want to persuade anyone to engage with technology unless they were keen to do so. I think working with technology is a different mind set and for me I needed the purpose (the residency) to embark on that journey. I might say you could be missing out on a very different experience. I do not think we need technology to create work but it is a valuable asset for opening new doors. My own practice is very hands on, I love the feel of the hand rubbing charcoal into paper, the manipulation of a crisp piece of trace but I also love the versatility of my ipad. I can record my work and with simple applications, I can manipulate my images, print them out, re work ideas and I am back to the hands on.
During the workshop you led with edge members at Hospitalfield, you encouraged us to explore contrasts, chaos and opposites. How important do you consider the willingness of workshop participants to work outside their comfort zones and challenge themselves?
- I really respect how difficult the challenge can be for individuals and I am always so grateful when everyone takes that step into the ‘not quite sure what we are doing’. It is important for us all at times to push those personal boundaries. I hope my workshops create a safe space to challenge our working practice, ask questions of ourselves and enjoy the time to experiment and play. During our group tutorial at the end of the workshop, the problem of working in isolation and not always having a chance to discuss work was raised, along with a desire to exchange thoughts and ideas. Finding a space for the group to do this would be a value to all.
What plans do you have for the coming months?
- I have been working with my life model, experimenting with drawing, projection and film loosely based around the concept of the visible and invisible, in a personal and cultural context. These ideas are still very much at their beginning stages. I am hoping to pursue these initial experiments using my model and maybe a dancer or dancers. My plan is to explore the potential of the projection alongside drawing, film, stop motion and sound with the possibility of an interactive element. All of this is very much at the ideas stage but I am excited by the potential. I also work with a group of creatives on collaborative projects. Our collaborative process is highly challenging, the group include a musician, a poet, a dancer and myself .This work offers a fantastic opportunity to push personal boundaries and wrestle with ideas way out of my comfort zone. We are about to embark on a new collaboration, working with chosen areas of landscape and coastline. The collaborative process, the exchange of ideas and diverse methods of working can’t help but inform my own practice, and allows me to indulge in my love of experimenting with new processes, ways of looking and interpretation.
Thank you Sally. I’m always fascinated to hear about an artist’s practice and knowing you as I do as a teacher, it’s especially interesting to hear how you approach your own work. Fascinating too, to hear about when you worked at GSA with Crissie White who, when I was at Dundee art college, was the weaving lecturer so I know her quite well. I’m interested to hear more about your ideas surrounding projection and film and look forward to learning more about that at a future workshop. If you want to see more of Sally’s work she is on Instagram at this link and of course if you have a chance to particpate in one of Sally’s workshops, take it!
We’re off to Gairloch at the weekend for a short holiday and I will be collecting more information for my current project exploring the possibilities of the crofting boundary markers so I will have photographs and more information when we return. in the meantime