A Visit to Pica Studios

  • Damilola Ayo-Vaughan
There is a sense of community that is often associated with the arts and creative world, and this sense community is something that attracted me to Pica Studios. Teaming up again with A’naala, but this time with Eme Ukpong, I decided to explore the recently opened Pica Studios, an artist-led studio based in the heart of York.
Pica studios serves as both a space for creation and exhibition, housing a diverse range of creatives from artists and makers in the form of Lesley Birch, Jade Blood, Rebecca Carr, Mark Hearld, John Hollington, Penny Phillips, Evie Leach, Lu Mason, Lesley Seeger, Lesley Shaw, Emily Stubbs and Sam Swales-Snowden to writers, musicians and filmmakers in the form of Caleb Klaces, James Cave, Daisy Hildyard, Bethan Ellis and Emilie Flower.
Visiting with Eme I decided to interview some of the artists I found present at the studio.

ME: What art form do you practice and what led you to it?
LB: I do abstract and landscape. I really liked looking at abstract and landscape work, especially the work of the Scottish landscape painters, William Gillis in particular. I was drawn to it, and I think that was what I was trying to emulate when I started out. I just follow my intuition.
I think it’s important to do what you like. … generally you have to do what you like or there is no point really.
ME: Do you think it’s important for you as an artist to focus on doing what you like and creating what you like rather than creating what you think your audience would like?
LB: I think it’s important to do what you like. Sometimes an audience might be in the back of your mind if it’s to do with framing or for an exhibition. But, generally you have to do what you like or there is no point really. That’s what David Bowie says.
ME: You once belonged to a band, so you’ve always being into creative things then?
LB: Yes. Always. The thing about being a band is you are with other people, as an artist you are on your own, and that’s why being here at Pica studios is really good because I am not on my own. I’m jamming. (She muses)
ME: Do you find that being part of such a diverse creative community the works of others feeds into your own work?
LB: Absolutely. We’re bouncing off each other. It’s really good for that, that’s why I’ve chosen to be here.
ME: Do you think that it’s important for young artists to work in creative communities or do you think it’s important for you to grow first as your own person and artist before mixing with other artists?
LB: I don’t know. As a musician, I would be on my own when I was 8, 9, 10, 11, 12. Then I turned 13 writing songs with other friends, 14 joined a band, and then you’re sharing. I think there comes a point where you can’t be on your own. It would be a very lonely journey. Unless you’re a sort of hermit type of character. It does depend on your character.
ME: How did you find out about the Pica studios initiative?
LB: We all met at another studio space and all decided to move here and we all liked each other and got on well. We’ve really together made this happen, it’s been very special and is very special for us. It’s not easy to get a group of artists together, especially as many as this. There are 18 of us, so we are very lucky. We’ve worked pretty hard to make it happen.
ME: Do you think for you as an artist, having space where you can both create and showcase your work is important? People normally don’t get to see the creating process and so do you think to have a space where people can actually see you create and see the finished work adds value to it?
LB: I think people really enjoy watching us create. They come in and see Mark’s collage on the floor and are fascinated that this sense of order can come out of it. People like all of that. I like it. I like looking around artists’ studios. But at the same time, you don’t really always want to share it. Sometimes you just want them to go away, that’s why we are choosing when to be open. We don’t want the public walking in every day.
ME: So, for you then it’s important to keep the balance?
LB: Yes. I think it’s really important to keep the balance.
ME: What advice would you give to young people who are interested in making a career out of the arts?
LB: I would say to them; you really just have to work hard and do what you like to do. If there is a course that you want to pursue and you find the right teacher, go for it. You have to follow your gut. I don’t think you’ll always get a career in it cause it’s difficult to make money, so you might need to do a bit of teaching. It’s hard.
ME: I think that’s the biggest worry for young people interested in pursuing a career in the arts.
LB: If you want a steady income, then you need to realize you’re going to balance different things. You’re maybe going to have to do a bit of teaching, have several jobs. For quite a while I was teaching and doing the art. You can’t just go straight in and do art and earn enough. Unless you work for a company, and you get a paid, which would be ideal to walk into a job like that. But very rarely does that happen. Then again, there is loads of time. Things don’t happen overnight.
ME: What art form do you practice?
MH: I would say that my approach to work is largely a collage approach and this filters through all aspects of my art and design. But I work in the mediums of print and textile design. I also have designed and illustrated a children’s book for Walker Books called ‘The First Book of Nature’ which was a collaboration with the writer Nicola Davies. Over recent years my work has been slightly moving away from illustration and going back to being predominantly images to exhibit in galleries. Over the last year, I’ve had lots of exhibitions.
ME: What drew you to it?
MH: What I like about collage is that it’s an inherently abstract process, so when you actually cut a shape you create and external contour which holds the composition so it’s naturally a dynamic medium and if you’re using lots of mixed materials, collage holds its own and gives an image structure and I found the structural aspect of collage to be one that worked for me very well.
The key thing is to just hang in there and work at it and work for it. If you care about it and it’s important enough, you’ll make it work for you.
ME: What led you to join Pica Studios?
MH: I had a shared studio with one other person for five years and we both bought bigger houses and also our studio building was going to be sold, so at that point, we both stopped working together and went to our houses to do work. I worked like that for three years but during that time I never felt like I was doing my best work because I found it difficult just feeling isolated on a day to day basis. I fall into the realm of being a classic extrovert, in other words, I get topped up from interaction and so sometimes I mistook a feeling of uncreativeness with actually the problems to do with working in a solitary environment. But I also knew that I didn’t just want to share a studio with anybody. So when Rebecca Carr was looking for people to share a studio I thought I find you a creative person, I think it’d be interesting to share a space with you and I tried it out. I must say I was a little bit wary at first as to know whether it’d be a good thing to do cause I had a big house and I could have worked from home. I’ve found that being here has helped me pretty much from day one. I look forward to leaving the house and meeting other people. It provides a good contrast with home life. I feel energized by the process of being around other people.
ME: Being with such a diverse range of artists you find that energy feeds off your work and increases your productivity then?
MH: I think it definitely does. Even talking to them, or rather, especially talking to them about their work helps me feel good about what I am doing. Not quite sure how but it does.
ME: Were you ever worried about taking up art as a professional career?
MH: No, because it was what I was good at and luckily my parents were supportive. Obviously, it’s not the most straightforward of things. But then again to take anything to a high level and do well it’s not going to plain sailing, you’ve got to be prepared to put the hours in, and build up to it. I think if you’re doing it {a creative job} because you want it, you’re prepared, or at least I was prepared to have the sacrifices and not getting lots of money right from the outset. But I think creativity is a great skill, and you can apply it to many things, so even if you don’t end being a full-time artist the actual act of having to have studied something creative is going to stay with you for the rest of your life and will inform your approach to life.
ME: What advice would you give someone who wants to take up a career in the arts?
MH: I would say work hard, be self-motivated and self-disciplined, look to people that you admire, take a lead from them but don’t be daunted by the position that they are in because I think most people that are being successful in the arts have taken a time to get to that point. The key thing is to just hang in there and work at it and work for it. If you care about it and it’s important enough, you’ll make it work for you.
You can read more of the interviews with artist from Pica Studios here: http://www.lucidlemons.com/visit-pica-studios-ft-anaala/

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