An Interview with Su France: On Immersing Yourself in Inspiration, and Enjoying Your Work.
Su France – Artists Feature – VAA Member of the Month April 2023
Professional artist and maker, Su France, explores the ways in which 30 years of creating has shaped her journey to becoming a full time artist, and everything she continues to learn whilst running her own business. With a current focus on being environmentally conscious, Su creates beautiful botanical inspired pieces, surrounded by the constant inspiration of a rural environment, on a working farm, where her studio sits within fields, near to woodlands.
Her practice is rooted & grounded on an engagement with life cycles, natural form, having sustainability at its heart. She seeks out the often-overlooked unique details, spending time to prepare & press, long before committing to print. Su employs a range of printing techniques, collagraph, solar plate, intaglio and monoprint within her work, experimenting with debossing to add depth. In 2022, Su gained a prestigious grant award from Arts Council England to develop this within her creative practice. She has also exhibited nationally, most recently at the Stamford Arts Centre and at a solo showcase in Ironbridge- exhibiting her work at the Gunning Press Gallery.
‘Think about all the possibilities of practicing, learning, trying, making mistakes, and learning from them.’
What does a day in your life look like?
My days are very varied. Being a member of VAA has taught me that there are many diverse aspects to this creative career, which I need to become conversant in, so networking, updating the SEO on my website, taking product shots, writing newsletters, sourcing materials all have their place in my week. I’m quite fluid with which days I print.
I wake up early and start work early too. Some days I complete commission work for the silver jewellery part of my business, but on other days I put my well used hammers and torch down, to focus on print and all things inky. Running a creative business is not simply about the make days, so I have become much more adept at juggling all the necessary and lengthy tasks on my ‘to do’ list, although it is something I am still refining!
Describe your creative process, from the first spark of inspiration to the finished product
Inspiration begins with embracing the beauty of nature. I often say that I enjoy nature’s full cycles from ‘the first bud to the beauty I see in decay’. I go with what I find- for example recently I can across a huge fallen tree, where beetle larva had created their own masterpiece, ancient script-like marks adorned the trunk and examining the naturally engraved details helped form an inspiration for a new solar plate print, which is currently at the mental sketching stage as I take time to sit with an idea, letting it germinate.
Once I have an idea- such as showing the fragility, beauty and strength of the skeletal leaf, and the decline of small leaved lime protected woodlands near my home, I go through quite a lengthily process. I begin with collecting leaves.
The process of turning leaves into skeletons, involves removing the soft tissue and leaving only the vascular system, veins, and midribs. Once the leaves have been turned into skeletons, they are preserved, then transformed into prints illustrating their delicate, intricate beauty.
I like an area of discord in some prints, a contrast. In the print I’m describing the process of, this took the form of a single, isolated gold leaf, which rather than printing I decided on collaging with the original botanical. I was reflecting in this piece on how some humans seem to value the gilded, over the seemingly mundane. Printmaking is unpredictable and that’s why sometimes it can be frustrating, but it’s also the reveal moment that keeps me coming back and the moment I never tire of.
Sharing elements of the print making process on socials has grown my audience, not just of interested admirers, but it was from here that the manufactures of my Gunning press noticed my artwork and artistic voice, inviting me to create pieces for my very first solo exhibition, at their gallery space in Ironbridge, Shropshire. This will be their Spring, fine arts exhibition, running from 1st March until the 25th of May 2023. The gallery was founded to be a hub for art lovers and enthusiasts, and I am excited that they have welcomed me to be a part of their story.
‘Remember the importance of play.’
I appreciate relationships between the specimens I print with, my walks through woodlands and fields, near water and the printing process, considering where on the page the image captures a moment. I carry my camera on nearly every walk, I have found that this can be my sketchbook, where ideas are sparked, developed, linked, internalised, changed.
Some days I don’t photograph anything, yet at other times I will excitedly and prolifically bend to plant level then capture plants, rooted in place. It’s important for me that my starting point isn’t forced. The idea of ‘rooted in place’ extends to commissions I have had, meaning that for me if a customer wants to capture an essence of place, somewhere that is meaningful to them, I need to discuss in depth, or visit the location myself.
Do you have a particular outlook that guides you?
What piece of advice has helped you most in your career?
Remember the importance of play. Some aspects of how I print are controlled, others not so. A friend recognised that I work long hours, so need to acknowledge time to relax and breathe. As an artist, play is also important to my work because it allows for exploration, experimentation, and free-thinking. Play provides a break from my routine and structure of daily life and gives my mind the space to wander and generate new ideas.
By incorporating play into my creative process, I can tap into my imagination, find new perspectives, and develop my craft. I find that play can help to reduce stress and improve mental health, leading to a more positive and productive creative experience. Ultimately, I see play is a crucial component of my artistic growth and development
Finally, is there anything you would like to say to the artist you were a year ago?
Don’t be tentative. Be BOLD. Apply for bursaries and grants, contact galleries and fairs, be confident. It’s not terrifying to take that leap. It’s not unknown, it’s new and different. You’ll find out that the people will buy your art, some will become collectors and your work is that good. Be gorgeous with praise for yourself and remember that, yes, change is daunting, but change is also life affirming.
Think about all the possibilities of practicing, learning, trying, making mistakes, and learning from them. Risk taking will be the new norm, as is having patience and persistence. Be inspired of what YOU can achieve. Know that you can and will be.