Welcome to our blog page. Each month we’ll be stepping into the world of a different Peak District Artisan, looking and their styles of work and what inspires them.

30th October, 2016

This month we’re meeting Elizabeth Forrest

I was born in South Wales but now live in Chesterfield, Derbyshire.   I spent my working life as an illustrator in the Education Department of the National Museum of Wales, in Cardiff, where I drew specimens from all departments and over all of the museum sites, for use in educational booklets and worksheets for schools. When I was employed, I had limited time to devote to my growing interest and love of lettering, which had to be relegated to evenings and weekends. It has made me really appreciate it now that I have retired from full-time employment and my time is my own.

Can you describe how and why your career as an artist began?

I became seriously interested in calligraphy in the 1990s when I began local authority evening classes (having never lost my love of lettering which began in primary school.) I had a fantastic teacher who inspired me to contact the Society of Scribes and Illuminators. From 1994-1997 I followed their correspondence modules, gaining a firm foundation in scripts, materials and layouts and in 1998 I was accepted on their three year part-time Advanced Training Scheme. This course was a turning point in my life and where my work began to develop.

What do you think people see in your work - what draws them to it?

I think that initially people are drawn towards my hand-made paper - the texture and the colours I use to paint it. They are intrigued that I make it myself. They also respond to the texts from a whole variety of sources that I paint onto the surface.            I respond to language in a very emotional way and instinctively I combine words with imagery, colours and textures which I am drawn to and which I think compliment the words. I use text as a springboard for making my own personal visual statement and I hope that people can respond to this. I often use painted versal letters in my work which are a favourite of mine and which are elegant and impressive in themselves.

What’s your typical working environment?

My dream is to have a studio of my own, preferably with a gallery attached! But for now, I make do with a spare bedroom in our Chesterfield house. I work at a large refectory table bought from a Cardiff University Students Union sale for £1 many years ago!! There are framed prints, photographs and my own work on the walls and the window sill is crammed with bits of patterned china I can’t resist buying from flea markets and antique fairs. There are some hundreds of books on book shelves and in book cases. From the window I can see the crooked church spire and I can watch the changing sky and the trees. I have to have quiet when I’m working. I have tried listening to music but it is too distracting for me. Stanley the cat is never far away and he takes an active interest in what I’m working on. I make my paper in the kitchen where I press it flat on the table to get the water out. I then dry it on the dining room table before it makes its way upstairs for preparing and priming before painting. All this is far from ideal but somehow I seem to make it work.  

How do you organize your time?

I am quite self-disciplined. I am a morning person and virtually never work past 4pm. If I have to make paper, I set aside time to make some. The joy of paper-making is that no two pieces will be the same and you cannot absolutely guarantee the end result, so I like to make quite a lot of pieces in one session so that I can choose which ones I want to use later. The paper I make is often quite thick and heavily textured (although I also make thinner fragments depending on the piece), so it can take quite a lot of time to dry out, depending on the time of year. When completely dry it has to be treated with a fungus repellent and then primed. I don’t add pigments to colour the paper during the making stage but prefer to paint the prepared pieces with gouache and acrylic paint after drying. I normally have a good idea of what I want to achieve, with the piece worked out in rough drawings by this stage. And usually the text I’m going to use will have come to my notice first - although not always. I would then spend time playing around with various layouts of the text - writing or drawing it out on layout paper to decide which version works best. So there is a lot of time spent making and preparing the paper and a lot of time working with the text prior to starting work on the final piece. After completing the final pen-written or brush-painted text I will assemble the whole piece. A piece could take up to a month or more to make, depending on the size and complexity of the design.  

Do you have a favourite or defining moment during your career as an artist? Can you describe it?

Well, there are a few really so it is hard to choose between them. The first time I had my work accepted in a selling exhibition was a huge encouragement. It was in an exhibition called Text Messages at Rufford Craft Centre in Newark, Nottinghamshire in 2002. The second was in 2006 when I was awarded the runner-up prize in the Welsh Artist of the Year competition. I had to go up on stage at the St David’s Hall in Cardiff to collect my cheque - and give a speech in front of hundreds of people - all impromptu! My mother had died a few weeks previously so it was an especially emotional moment for me. I know she would have been really proud of me but not sure she would have approved of my piece of work. It was a bra that I had treated with fabric hardener so that I could paint text from an old Welsh love song on it. The third moment was being accepted as a full member of the Royal Birmingham Society of Artists in 2013 after a rigorous selection process. And maybe last year when the 5 ft high resin and fibre glass owl I had painted for charity sold at auction in Birmingham for £8,000!

Do you attend exhibitions and shows? If so, what was the last show you attended?

I have regularly visited exhibitions since graduating. I think it’s important to see as much varied work as possible, for inspiration and for just standing looking in sheer awe. Living in the Midlands is great as I can visit many cities very easily. I try to see as much as possible on regular day trips to London and have been lucky to see many fantastic shows in Paris and Amsterdam. Making work is a solitary process so it is crucial to keep in touch with all the art and visually exciting work produced, past and present. Memorable shows for me this year have been the beautiful watercolours of Rome by Francis Towne at the British Museum, the massive nightmarish  canvases by Francis Bacon at Tate Liverpool and the Stanley Spencer exhibition at the Barbara Hepworth Gallery in Wakefield.

30th September, 2016

This month we’re meeting Annette Petch

Can you describe how and why your career as an artist began?

I have been drawing, making things and taking things apart since I was very young. I knew from an early age that I wanted to be an artist; I left school at 16 to do a two year foundation course at Northampton School of Art. In the first few weeks I discovered jewellery making, and knew that was what I wanted to specialise in. I enjoyed all the other disciplines we studied, especially sculpture, printmaking and textile design, but metal has always been my first love. I came to Sheffield to study for my degree in jewellery and silversmithing. After graduating, I set up my business designing and making jewellery, in a ‘little mesters’ workshop in the city centre. I ran my business for around five years then went into teaching, and had a family. In the new millennium I decided to go back to my first love and started making jewellery again.

What / who inspires you? Is there anyone specific that inspires you – either from the arts world, or on a personal level?

My inspiration comes from the natural environment, particularly gardens, woodland and the seashore. As well as a jeweller I am also a gardener, so I have a constantly changing source of inspiration, both from my garden at home and the flower meadows around my studio. I am fascinated by flowers, leaves, seed pods and shells, and usually have pockets full of interesting samples I have collected. When I am designing a new piece, I like to do observational drawings before I start, and I have lots of books on botany and gardening that I use for research, for example to check on the number of petals a particular flower has, or how the leaves grow from the stem. Other jewellers who inspire me are Junko Mori and Jacqueline Mina. They both produce intricate work with a very strong organic feel.

What’s your typical working environment?

I work from my eco studio, which is on the same site as the Tudor remains of Sheffield Manor Lodge, a café, and a working farm. It is on a hill just outside the city centre, and has a tranquil, peaceful feel, more like being in the countryside. I sometimes run courses from my studio, so it is quite big, with lots of workbenches; when I am working on my own I tend to spread out, using different benches for different processes, and usually listening to music as well. If I need a break I can wander over to the farmhouse to check for post, say hello to the animals, or buy some cake from the café! I do a lot of commission work, so its a lovely environment for clients to come for a chat, and see where their special piece will be made. There is a living wall full of plants just outside my studio, which never fails to delight visitors, and I am lucky enough to be able to see it from my bench.

How do you organise your time?

I very often work seven days a week, especially if I have a lot of deadlines looming, and in the run up to Christmas. I like to do my admin and paperwork in the mornings, then spend the afternoons and evenings making. I make a lot of bespoke wedding rings, as these have very fixed important deadlines these are the pieces that take priority! Other deadlines that can’t be moved are shows and exhibitions. These tend to involve producing a new collection, as well as more mundane tasks such as painting plinths, and organising items for display. I try to spend some time every day promoting my work via social media. I make to-do lists to remind my self to update my website, and my blog, but these are the things that tend to get pushed aside.   Open Up Sheffield, an artists open studio event, also takes up some of my time. I am a member of the Open Up committee, and one of my tasks is processing applications from artists and advertisers, so from October to January that keeps me pretty busy.

Do you attend exhibitions and shows? If so, what was the last show you attended?

I exhibit my work in a range of galleries around the country, and I do a few shows including the British Craft Trade Fair in Harrogate. In the past I have done some RHS shows at Tatton Park, Cornwall Design Fair, Handmade at Kew, and Top Drawer at Olympia, the last two as part of a group with Peak District Artisans. I have exhibited at the Great Dome Art Fair with PDA for the last three years, and this has been a great opportunity to get to know other members, and make new friends.  Most recently I designed a statement piece necklace for Art Out Loud at Chatsworth. This was a new show for me, 30 PDA members exhibiting in a marquee as part of the festival, it was a fantastic event. I also like to attend exhibitions and shows as a visitor, rather than an exhibitor, for the opportunity to see other artists work, and do a bit of networking! Exhibition openings are particularly enjoyable for this.

Where do you see yourself in the future?

I love what I do, and have no intention of retiring, but I would like to have the occasional day off! I have started cutting down on the number of craft fairs I do, as I seem to be getting more and more commissions. I really love the interaction with the clients, and designing and making something special for them. Often I reuse gold from family pieces, which is a lovely way to remember relatives, and I hope to continue doing this. For the last few years I have been working with Argentium silver, which has lots of exciting properties, and I would like to continue to experiment with this, and keep pushing the boundaries of what I can do with it. I am about to embark on the Argentium Instructor Certification, and will be running an Argentium workshop in October.

19th August, 2016

This month we’re meeting Sarah Sharpe

Where are you from/based now?

I'm from and still live in Sheffield.

Tell us about your work

I am a painter and printmaker.

Can you describe how and why your career as an artist began?

As a child, I was always at my happiest making and creating, be that painting, sewing or cooking, I have always felt that I was  a ‘maker’ of things. When I was very young, our next door neighbour, Nellie, let me use her oil paints and I remember being totally absorbed in the alchemy of it. I was in awe of  the little bottles of potions and vivid pigments. I went to an art club at the Graves Gallery in Sheffield up to the age of 11 and remember loving the atmosphere of this world, however I  didn't study art at college until I was in my late 30’s and by that time I had qualified as a Nurse and a Counsellor and had three children. It was during my counselling years  that I began to realise that I needed to become an artist. I had never stopped making and creating during my 20’s and 30’s but didn't have the confidence to think that I could actually be an artist. A Sheffield based artist, Margaret Young, gave me that confidence to go ahead and study fine art after I had spent a year attending her watercolour classes. Whilst at college, it was Peter York, a Sheffield Printmaker who introduced to me the wonderful world of fine art  printmaking.

What / who inspires you? Is there anyone specific that inspires you – either from the arts world, or on a personal level?

I’ve given up trying to think what inspires me….I could just repeat my carefully worded artist statement to you, but I won’t! People inspire me....their personal stories. Sometimes it can be just a quick by chance conversation with a stranger, or it could be a poem that touches the soul or a painting in a gallery that for some reason I am just drawn to.  If I look back at my work, I think I try to capture contemplative moments in past and present lives, of predominately women, because women’s stories inspire me.  I love to imagine what a character might have felt, or looked like. I have to work with my imagination and try and work from my own understanding of emotion. What has become apparent over the years, is the significance of the gaze in my work. I have to make sure I get the gaze right almost as if the eyes are telling the story. I try to capture that ‘stillpoint’ moment that we can all experience. Nature also  plays a huge part and informs my work in an indirect way. I have also learnt to respect my intuition and I like nothing more than trying to let my mind go blank and trust that something is going to emerge.

What's your typical working environment?

I am presently  half way through a year long project called ‘Analysis of the Woods’ which fellow artist Kay Aitch and I are immersed in. We spend at least one full day a week in Ecclesall Woods, Sheffield, working. This week I was casting faces;  digging into the earth to create the image and pouring plaster of paris into the earth mould. I’m not sure if I will directly use the cast faces, but I do know that I will be informed by them and therefore they will be used indirectly…or maybe they will be used directly. If I am not in the woods I am in my messy studio and invariably taking over the whole house, often cooking along-side my art making. Somehow these two activities seem to work together....

Do you attend exhibitions? when was the last one you attended?

I love going to exhibitions and shows and try to see as many as I can. I was in Manchester  recently dropping off a painting and called into the Manchester Art Gallery. There was an exhibition called ‘Goodbye To All That’, a display of First World War Art, I was very moved by the whole exhibition, but the Lithographs of Eric Kennington particularly caught my attention. I love it when after you have been to an exhibition, or you have been drawn into a particular work,  the memory of it stays with you for a good while.

As an artist, what challenges do you face, and how do you overcome them?

I feel very led by the creative spirit, it is just something that I have to do...it informs my life really. It took me many years to get to this point, to allow myself to do what I do. Creating art is such a personal, solitary experience, which I could easily do all day, every day, however, there is another side, the business side to it, something that I am not particularly good at! At home, I am also the carer of my now adult middle child who is  brain injured. Whilst this has been a huge personal challenge  over the years, it has also been instrumental in my becoming an artist and has made me live in a world that I would not have freely chosen, but that has given me so many riches  and so  I feel very blessed. Without doubt , this has influenced my work over the years.

How would others describe you?

In another world.