Loving this recent interview with Sarah Woodburn who talks about carving out her own path after earning her BFA, rather than continuing right on into a Masters program. She chats about developing consistency in her practice, holding onto paintings that didn’t work out quite right the first time, and listening to 80s radio. More at the links below!
Can you tell me a little bit about you?
I was lucky enough to do two separate A-levels in sculpture and painting. After that I went on to do a year of foundation studies at Wimbledon School of Art and then four years at Newcastle University. I applied straight after to do an MA at various places and didn’t get into any. At the time I was gutted, but looking back now, it was for the best. I think, in part, I applied for an MA as it seemed like the next logical step to pursue my art, but also because I had no idea how I was going to make a living. It’s taken ten years to really develop my practice, and I have no doubt that had I studied for an MA straight after my degree it would have been wasted. If anything now would be a great time to do one but the fees are extortionate, plus I love my studio in Bow!
Fun fact : I always listen to Heart 80’s FM whilst I work. Maybe it’s because I was born in the 80’s so I feel a connection to it.
When did you first discover art, or realize you wanted to make it yourself?
I used to draw portraits, sketches of friends, family, etc. and I could always get a resemblance. At school the fact I could draw was recognised by my teachers. When you discover you can do something quite naturally from a young age it makes you feel good and gives you a strength. From then on, despite being indecisive in so many ways, art was the one thing I didn’t have to think about, I just knew I would pursue it. It wasn’t just the drawing though, it was more a way of looking at things. That’s how it was for me anyway. I used to copy people’s handwriting at school. The way someone’s character came out from how they wrote their name really interested me. My own artistic language has only begun to show in the last few years. There were hints of it from way back at uni when I was in the throes of painting everyday, but as a whole, an art practice needs time to develop and build consistency. I’m excited to see what I’ll be making when I’m old – that’s if I’m lucky enough to live that long.
What ideas are you exploring in your practice?
Things I can control and things I cannot, and learning to accept this. Also, to be in the moment, because that is all we have. I try and channel this when I paint or draw or whatever. The paintings seem to evolve as the years go on, usually quite organically – so long as I consistently go to my studio.
What is your process like?
I am most excited and inspired by a clear-primed empty canvas and tubes of fresh paint. I always have my works on paper spread out around me, including print outs of images that interest me in some way. Often elements of my drawings end up in the paintings in some way, shape, form or colour.
Each work is started in much the same way – seeking out the ‘perfect’ surface by covering imperfections left behind from stretching raw canvas on a studio floor, with paint. Whilst many of the marks, gestures and lines have an accidental and whimsical quality to them, as a whole they work together with confidence and purpose. Unless they don’t, in which case I take them off and scrunch them up. I quite like the idea of having a pile of scrunched up paintings in the corner of the studio a bit like a giant waste paper bin. They might be used for something one day.
I usually work on a few at one time. Sometimes they take a few weeks, other times I leave them and go back to them at different points once I’ve had time to work out what they need. Every decision, from start to finish, feels like a compositional balancing act. Each action informs the next, dictating the direction, mood and tempo of the work. Painting, if you like, as a game of chess.
Do you have a mentor, or a piece of advice, which has influenced your practice?
I don’t have a mentor, but I do have some advice – be consistent with your practice. That’s when things happen and progress, even if you don’t think it at the time. Something can come from nothing. As long as you turn up at the studio, even if you have a bit of a block, that is when there aren’t any expectations and you might choose to go off on a curious tangent. It seems to work for me anyway. Creative frustration is quite an important ingredient in my own process so I just try and work with it.
What is your studio like?
A bit mouldy on one side but I absolutely love it.
What do you find most daunting, challenging, or frustrating about pursuing art?
I always have a lingering niggle that I won’t be able to continue making work. Whether from financial concerns or if I choose to finally have children (I’m 35 – if I could wait another 10 years, I would). Even though I’ve being making art since forever it’s still something I think about. Especially as my aim is to still be making paintings until I’m old and unable.
What are three words you would use to describe your work?
Playful. Honest. Optimistic.
What are you working on right now?
A bomber jacket for my wedding made from one of my paintings.
Anything else you would like to add?
Everyone can draw. You just need to do three things…embrace your inner child and be fearless and unselfconscious. When a person learns to write, the way they write and the mark they make, how heavy, light, sensitive, curvy or scratchy the line is, will be unique to that person. This key ingredient is authenticity.