I caught up with Jen Howarth just after she’d dropped her work off for an exhibition she’s currently in with Synecdoche Art Collective – a group show by recent graduates and current students of Drawing and Applied Arts at UWE – at the Christmas Steps Gallery. (It’s pronounced si-nek-duh-kee in case you were wondering). In the gallery Jen is exhibiting Jetty [above] (and the original etching print inc. metallic spray paint water is every bit as beautiful in the flesh), while in the Synecdoche pop up shop area Jen has prints, badges and t-shirts for sale. I kind of want to own all of her work.
Tell us about your background, how did you get into printmaking?
I was working full time at Simon on the Streets, a homeless charity in Leeds. I realised I needed to do something creative as a balance and signed up for a short evening course in silver-work jewellery making and then in life drawing. I loved these classes and it gave me a taste for being more arty, and led to me applying to do a degree. I tried everything in my first year in Drawing and Applied Arts – animatronics, casting, metal work, stop motion – it was only towards the end of my second year when I found that printmaking was the medium I wanted to develop most, it seems to fit with the way I like working, being able to play around with one image, re-working it. Perhaps because I’m a bit precious about my drawings, in enables me to have multiple versions so I can be more experimental.
If you could give your younger self one piece of advice what would it be?
I still feel quite young (especially in my art practice) and I’m not sure I’m wise enough to give my younger self advice!
What has felt important in the last few years is to remember to follow my intuition which comes from my ‘centre’ and make decisions from this place. It also is so important to have belief in myself and what I’m doing. I stopped making art after AS level for about 7 years as I didn’t think I was good enough. Also, I find it really relieving to remember that it’s ok to make mistakes, not everything has to be perfect the first time around, and to just keep making work. This gives me much more permission for error and being more relaxed when things don’t go as planned (most days) which definitely helps with creativity. Weirdly my creativity seems to flow better when I spend at least 50% of my time doing something else other than art projects!
So can you talk us through an ordinary ‘day in the office’ for you.
[Haha!] No day is quite the same. I might get into the studio (at Bower Ashton) around 9.30. I’ll sit and make a list of what I want to do and remember where I left off. I’m likely to then be in the etching room working on a plate or printing, perhaps using aquatint, open bite and sugarlift methods. Printing often takes longer than I anticipate. I may spend some time drawing or cutting up and photocopying images, playing around with scale, colour and medium. I definitely spend time reflecting on what I’ve made and where I want to take the work next. I also seek discussion from other students about work, and advice from technical staff. I may do some research in the library around a technical print process or for inspiration from other artists.
What are you currently working on?
For the last year I’ve been working on a body of work about sensations and emotions in the body. I start by making quick drawings that are representations of how and what I am feeling in that exact moment. I then develop some of the drawings into etchings, adding gouache and sometimes chine colle, and play with scaling up the images. There is a theme of acknowledging subjects that have been repressed in my experience such as anger, sexuality and menstruation. The drawings act as catharsis as well as a practice to become more in tune with my body and mind in the present moment. I also like to keep up the observational work and I’ve just finished working on quite a long process to make an aquatint etching of a Jetty with variations that include gold spray paint! I have just started making observational pencil drawings again, as it helps keeps my eye tuned in to seeing detail and helps with mark-making.
I’m currently in a show and pop up shop at the Christmas Steps Gallery in Bristol which has been taken over by a collective called Synecdoche Art Collective. There are lots of printmakers, sculptors and painters showing work, it’s very exciting to be involved in and it’s open until the 23rd December!
What is your work desk like?
Hectic and messy! But all the useful things are there… Somewhere.
And your favourite piece of equipment?
I really like push-pencils.
Where’s your favourite art space in Bristol?
I’m actually really rubbish at going to galleries. I really like a lot of the artists that Antlers nomadic gallery host – but I’ve only been to one or two of their shows, mostly I browse their website. I think Artspace Lifespace are a fantastic organisation, they take over unused buildings and create amazing multi-disciplinary arts venues with studios and performance spaces, which give a huge amount to the people and culture of Bristol.
Some young artists find it difficult to talk about their work. Have you ever had a similar experience – do you have any advice?
Yes I have had that experience and it is hard! I think for some people it can take a long time to get to really know what your own practice is about. My experience is that when I started making work that was more personal and that really resonated with me on a deeper level, as well as slowly developing more confidence technically, then I had a stronger sense of the identity of my work (or as myself as an artist) and this made it easier to talk about my work.
What is your relationship with social media like – is it good, bad or ugly?
Somewhere in the middle! I have a website and a Facebook blog … I tried setting up a WordPress one but I wasn’t happy with the aesthetic, I found it difficult to get the look I wanted. I don’t use twitter. I get told I should do all these things. However I don’t really enjoy learning how to do things on computers. And I don’t think to be successful you have to be on social media all the time. It goes back to choosing to following my intuition and trusting that it will get me to where I need to be.
Thanks so much Jen, your work flows seamlessly form drawing to print, I’m really excited to see what work you produce in your final year in Drawing and Applied Arts. Find more of Jen’s prints and drawings on her Website and Facebook Blog.