In the second part of my conversation with Emily Sutton we talk about her new Alphabet print - Q is for Quince and Quail, making screen prints and Emily's influences growing up.
PP: We’ve just finished working on your latest Alphabet print Q is for Quince and Quail, I thought it might be interesting to talk a little about the process of making a screen print as I know to some it’s a real mystery. Let’s start with an easy one... how long would you say it takes to make a new print?
E: Hmm, I work on prints in several stages, but I suppose if I include the research and ideas-gathering, the preparatory studies and the making of the individual layers I must spend between two and four solid weeks on a print. Then you take over, how long would you say we spend printing?
PP: It varies I guess, but I’d say we spend a week or so proofing the image, getting the colour right and making any changes to the composition, then I usually leave the print with you for a while. I think it’s important to live with the image a little before we finalise it. Once you’re happy I go on to print the full edition. That probably takes another week or so, so it's probably longer than most people would think.
One thing I'm always asked is if you mapped out the series right at the very beginning? We began in 2010, do you have ideas dating from back then?
E: No, the ideas have developed over the years. I look for inspiration in books, exhibitions, films, travel, conversations with friends, being outside, walking around a new city, old shop signage, antiques shops… anywhere really. Just being present in the world. For Q is for Quince and Quail I took inspiration from some old French lithographs I picked up at a car boot sale, particularly with relation to the colour.
PP: We have a shared love of Folk and Popular Art, what other influences do you have?
E: I am very inspired by folk art of all sorts, in particular the collection of the American Folk Art Museum. I also love the paintings of Ravilious and Paul Nash, John Piper and Christopher Wood, Ben Shahn and Vuillard. It’s funny but when I was a child, my parents seeing my interest in drawing were always trying to drag me to art galleries but to my shame I was very unenthusiastic.
PP: Me too, I suppose galleries can be quite intimidating places for a child to visit. Maybe not so much now, I know my children enjoy visiting exhibitions with me. Maybe ‘enjoy’ isn’t quite the right word.
E: As a child, living in a quiet village meant a lot of time outdoors and a lot of time on my own. It didn’t feel particularly fun at the time, but in retrospect I feel so lucky to have had so much quiet, unscheduled time as it encouraged me to be creative and find ways of entertaining myself. I had a near-obsessive passion for classic Disney films and particularly remember being blown away by Fantasia. I also used to do a lot of ‘making’, out of paper, modelling clay and fabric, and got really interested in toy making as a teenager.
PP: When starting a new print, I know you rough out the composition in a sketchbook, making thumbnail drawings and playing with colour. Are sketchbooks important to your practice?
E: Yes, I am a religious keeper of sketchbooks. I use them to figure out stuff and develop initial scribbles of ideas into fully formed sketches. I can’t think very well in an abstract way and need to write and draw to make sense of what’s in my head.
PP: It’s fascinating to see the ideas develop over the page as you solve visual puzzles. Those sketches then become the beginnings of the print; from them you structure your thoughts and produce a full composition. That, in turn, guides you when making the separations?
E: Yes. I make one separation for each of the colours I’d like to print. Depending on the subject matter I will either stay very true to the pencil drawing when making my stencils or sometimes go off-piste. With more architectural or structured subject matter, such as P is for Pantomime, I do trace the lines from a full-scale drawing because there is so much detail to fit in that I’d find it near impossible to do more spontaneously. With the Quince and Quail print however, I enjoyed having more freedom in the organic branches and foliage. I was much more expressive in my mark making.
PP: I know you as a very organised, methodical person. In that way, you’re ideally suited to printmaking. Does this follow through into your workday routine?
E: Definitely. Being a very structured person, most days do have a set pattern. I get up early and go straight to my desk as I find that having an hour or so’s work under my belt before the day has officially begun bolsters me up and gets me off to a running start. I’ll often have been thinking about it the previous evening, so I’ll already have a plan of what I’ll be doing. During the day I take breaks for breakfast and lunch and make time to get outside for a walk. I find this is particularly important when something isn’t coming easily, even though it’s often the last thing I feel like doing! I’m definitely a morning person, so I try to tackle the more challenging, mentally taxing work earlier in the day and then after lunch concentrate on the more methodical elements. I usually finish around 6/7pm.