Sue Brown has been a professional artist and printmaker for nearly 20 years. Living in Cheltenham, Gloucestershire much of her work is inspired by nature. Although Sue specialises in Collagraph printmaking she continues to explore new interests and techniques that are going to produce highly creative and deeply textural surfaces. We caught up with Sue to ask her about how she got into printmaking, what inspires her and what advice she has for others looking to choose a more creative path.
How did you get into printmaking? What is your background and did you study?
‘It all began when I was at senior school in Birmingham. I was encouraged by a very enthusiastic art teacher to add print elements to my exam work. I always loved art and went on to do a Foundation Degree at Falmouth School of Art where I learnt to etch on zinc. Throughout the late 70s and early 80s I completed my degree at Bristol Polytechnic where I was again drawn to the printmaking room.
In my mid 40s while bringing up 3 children and teaching part time in a Further Education College I developed the Collagraph and sketch book habits and the rest is history. Study and experimentation are a key part to my creative development, and in 2009 I found myself back at university working on an MA in Multi-Disciplinary Printmaking. Three years of experimental bliss. I cannot emphasis enough how important study is to developing a coherent artistic voice.’
How would you describe your work. Medium used, form, style?
‘I’m Inspired by process as much as nature, my work springs from the pages of sketchbooks and I develop carefully researched themes, experimenting with collagraph, fabric and gum arabic transfer.
Collagraph printmaking is a process making textural intaglio plates from card, glue and tile cement. Over the past few years I have been exploring and developing gum arabic transfer printing. Using a humble photo copy as my plate, I use this process in sketch books and mixed media textile pieces and have demonstrated it in the Printmaking tent at Art in Action.
I explore with printmaking the relationships we have with our feathered garden visitors; I am fascinated by all things ornithological.’
What is it about birds and nature that inspires you?
‘I have been making collagraphs for nearly 20 years; I find this printmaking technique completely absorbing. But the inspiration of birds is the catalyst for my creativity.
My father spent a great deal of time teaching me the names of the birds that visited our garden and wildlife programs were the viewing of choice in out household. My father kept and bred budgerigars and finches, so there were birds inside and outside our house throughout my childhood.
I am fascinated by our relationships with the wild creatures that visit our urban environments and how they interact with us. All my images are developed from the personal encounters I have with birds, those that visit my garden or visits to Slimbridge, Birdland in Bourton –on- the-Water and country walks.
Several years ago I was fortunate enough to visit the man who breeds Ravens for the Tower of London. He lived just outside Bristol and introduced me to Marley, a semi tame Raven with bags of character. Corvids are known for their intelligence and Marley is no exception. Calculating and canny I witnessed his ability to bargain with his stone collection. Offering increasingly more of his precious treasures to gain a bottle top and calculating a swap for a shiny coin. Watching his intelligence in action confirms my research into these majestic birds and repeated use of crows, jackdaws and magpies as imagery in my collagraphs.
Which artists inspire you?
‘This is such a cop out I know, but all sorts of things and artists inspire me. I think it is safe to say that artists sketch books stimulate me; Henry Moore, John Piper and Frieda Kahlo. I also get a lot of inspiration from places like the Pitrivers Museum, British Museum, Grant Museum. I could list on and on. The little things and big things can feed my interests but they do not always stimulate work. The only thing that can do that is spotting a bird in the garden or out on a walk.’
What’s your development process for your designs, if any?
‘Draw, draw and draw again. I start in a small sketch book and progress to designing my printmaking plates in larger sketch books. At the moment I am doing a great deal of research and development. I am currently working on printmaking onto silk for a project in the Autumn at the Museum in the Park, Stroud. The final piece will go through many stages from initial idea to inking up and printing onto the paper.’
How did you develop your own style and inner voice? Was there a defining moment for you or was it a gradual process?
‘It has to be a gradual process, no one artist pops up fully formed and if they do it can often be a one hit wonder. The important factor is to have your own voice, not to try and be someone else. Don’t look too closely at other artists and their techniques, that is theirs. Do your own thing, always have your own twist. I know everyone does birds, but not everyone does birds the way I do.’
Do you ever feel unmotivated, if so how do motivate yourself on these off days?
‘Come on I’m only human! This is going to sound bad now, but being an artist is a job, inspiration is for amateurs and the rest of us get up and go to work! The days I do not have a creative flow there is plenty to be getting on with, interviews, paper work, planning, taking work to the framers. But there is nothing quite like experimenting to keep those creative muscles flexible. Open that sketch book and research your materials, I tell myself. The more you do, the less you become blocked. It’s always the outside dramas that get in the way.’
What advice would you give our students who are taking our courses?
‘Do it! Make the most of the equipment and advise offered. Experiment. Don’t stay in that safe place. Listen to advise, even if you don’t take it. Make work, then make more work. There are 3 things that make a good artist, be on time, be nice to work with and make good work…but you do not have to be all 3 at the same time!’
Sue works from her studio at the yard:ARTspace in Cheltenham where she also teaches. Sue is currently preparing to exhibit at the Museum in the Park, Stroud in October. She will be exhibiting with a group of post MA artists call IN-Sight. ‘Into the Light’ will be our 3rd exhibition together and will be about items kept in the museums stores. You can follow Sue’s blog here or on Instagram.
If you’d like more information about the courses offered at the School of Stitched Textiles then please take a look at our full range of courses.