Lucy Stuart-Clark is an illustrator from Cape Town who has completed her Bachelor of Fine Arts in printmaking and her Masters in illustration. In addition to this, she has accomplished a wide variety of things from publishing her first book, ‘Table Mountain’s Holiday’ to spending a year at an art centre in Venice called ‘ Scuola Internazionale di Grafica.’ Lucy enjoys collaging, using collected photographs including her own prints to transform a photo into a 3 dimensional image. She has also started ‘Lucy-made’ a label under which she makes ceramic pieces and hand-bound notebooks.
Please tell us about yourself and what you do:
I am a Cape Town based artist and free lance illustrator. I completed my BFA (specialising in printmaking) at Rhodes University in 2009 and I then I went on to do an MPhil VA in illustration at Stellenbosch University, graduating in 2012.
When did you start getting interested in printmaking and illustration? Do you prefer one over the other?
My parents both studied Fine Arts at Rhodes too and that was where they met. My mother had studied painting and my father printmaking. After art school my mother became a ceramicist and my dad worked in advertising. When I was very small, my dad bought a printing press with the pay cheque from a particularly big design job. This beautiful press sat around in every house we moved to – he never had time to get back into printmaking. Eventually he donated it to my high school … and the press became a storage shelf in one of the rooms in their art building too. In Grade 11, we got a new art teacher and she fixed up the press, taking it apart, lovingly oiling every joint and putting it back together. She designed a few projects around using the printing press and I was bitten by the printing bug! I spent every minute I could covered in ink in that printing room and I did the same at Rhodes!
I can’t say whether I prefer printmaking to illustration, because both can be either! When I applied for the illustration Masters course I didn’t intend to be an illustrator, I just felt that I needed to be exposed to more drawing skills. In just one year we did everything from scientific illustration (in particular plants, beetles and butterflies) to children’s book illustration (writing and illustrating) and book binding. It was wonderful! It also emphasised for me how arbitrary the distinction between ‘Fine Art’ and ‘Illustration’ is. After all, aren’t all artists simply trying to communicate ideas visually and isn’t the majority of Fine Art commercially intended these days? With this in mind, I did my final illustration Masters exhibition in large ceramic sculptures.
And yet I still find myself describing what I do as being an “artist and freelance illustrator”!
When illustrating, designing or making pieces for Lucy-Made, are there any similarities/differences in your work process?
I get great joy from experimenting with a variety of art media and I have always loved techniques that require attention for detail and processes – techniques that leave a lot of my friends and family wailing WHHHHYYY??? I find great peace in following the processes of a technique of which I feel I am beginning to conquer.
I think this is why I was drawn to printmaking during my undergraduate degree and ceramics during my postgraduate degree. Both mediums require one to follow certain processes carefully, but also allow one to get quite messy at the same time. In particular, they both have forced me to embrace the chance accidents that can happen after you have given up your control to whim of the process itself.
Could you tell us more about your art residency at the Scuola Internazionale di Grafica in Venice? What did you learn there?
In 2012 I was accepted for a residency at the Scuola Internazionale di Grafica, a wonderful and small, but well-equipped, art centre in Venice. Located around the corner from the BEST ice cream in the world, I spent that month working in the studio and exploring (getting lost with an ice cream in hand) the beautiful and often surreal city. I had heard they had a letterpress, so I went to the Scuola hoping to get back into printing. Unfortunately they did not have a staff member who could show me how to use the press and a month proved to be very short! So instead, I spent my time playing with old books and collage.
My favourite technique is, however, collage. Creating images from a variety of collected sources (old illustrated dictionaries, magazines, photographs, my own prints and gouache resist drawings), collage allows one to introduce the three dimensional into the two dimensional. The process of ‘collaging’ an image often makes me feel like I am both an artist and an archaeologist, sifting through time and two dimensional artefacts in order to tell my own visual histories. I am at my happiest with a pair of scissors and glue in my hands!
I arrived at the Scuola and found that the resident artists were just left to their own devices! At first it was disarming. I had spent six and a half years having to pass project ideas by lecturers and awaiting their final opinions to assess how ‘successful’ those projects had been. Having just left art school, I think one of the greatest things I learnt at the Scuola was to trust your own instinct about your artwork. If you enjoy making it, others will feel that when they look at your work. If you feel something is lacking or is not working in an artwork, then something is!
What influences or inspirations did you bring home from your trip to Europe?
While at the Scuola a friend and I bought a joint rail pass. Each Saturday we adventured to any Italian city that we could reach in a day and be back in Venice by the evening – Verona, Bologna, Padua. In each city, our first stop was always a bakery or ice cream shop and then the town’s archaeological museum. I went to Italy to get back into printmaking, and yet I kept finding myself drawn to the ceramics rooms, spending hours looking at Egyptian, Etruscan, Japanese and Chinese pottery. I travelled in Europe for a month after the residency – Istanbul, Greece, Prague, Amsterdam and London – and the same thing happened in each city. One of my favourite days was spent exploring the Ceramics Floor at the V&A in London – if I hadn’t been spotted by the guard at closing time I think I would have made a home for myself in one of the corners!
In my last week of travelling, I couldn’t wait to get home and back into my studio. Since then I have been experimenting with terracotta clay and painting with onglazes. I am also working on another children’s book based on all of the lion sculpture spotting I did in Venice.
What inspired your book “Table Mountain’s Holiday”? How long did it take to write, illustrate and publish?
Table Mountain’s Holiday was written and illustrated during my illustration Masters course in 2010 and it was published by Bumble books (www.printmatters.co.za) at the end of last year. The story follows the journey of Table Mountain, an almost fossilized dinosaur, who one day, tired of being covered by a cold and cloudy blanket, goes on holiday. He visits local tourist sites and writes postcards to his friend Lion’s Head.
I was born and spent my first nine years in Johannesburg, a city which is often described as being the engine room of South Africa. Our family holidays were spent visiting my grandparents who lived in the sleepier city of Cape Town. My clearest memories of those early holidays are of the 10 hour drive between those two cities spent trying not to squabble with my sisters, playing ‘I spy with my little eye’ and watching the endless South African landscape whizz past our car windows. It was on these journeys that my elder sister and I used to speculate as to whether the towering and prehistoric mountains could have been dinosaurs once upon a time.
I grew up in Cape Town and attended a school in the city bowl, on the feet of Table Mountain and with a glorious view of Lion’s Head. Therefore these two landmarks have always played a significant role in my memories. Having an appalling sense of direction Table Mountain has, however, also provided me with a giant visual landmark by which I can navigate my way around a city. I often wonder what I would do without it, if it were to one day disappear. Table Mountain’s Holiday is thus a story inspired largely by childhood memories and finding my way home.
The storyline is deliberately very simple. My favourite books as a child were those with busy and full illustrations that gave me the space to make up my own stories when I did not have an adult to read the book to me. Although there is no intended moral behind Table Mountain’s Holiday, I hope that my book will encourage young readers to look at familiar objects, landmarks or histories through new and imaginative eyes.
How did it feel being part of Bologna Children’s Bookfair’s 50th Anniversary Illustrators Exhibition?
It was the most wonderful and unexpected news. I had submitted work unsuccessfully the previous year, so I posted off my Table Mountain’s Holiday submission with smaller hopes and then forgot all about it. I only heard that I had been selected because a friend phoned to congratulate me! She had just happened to check the list of selected artists for 2013. I later found out that, out of over 3000 entrants to the competition, I was the only Illustrator to have been selected from the African continent that year … which just shows how slim the chances of my having been selected were. What a great honour to have my work exhibited (in both Italy and Japan) alongside that of 71 incredibly talented international illustrators.
What inspired you to start Lucy-Made? Can you share the influences behind your ceramic pieces and notebooks?
I am a great procrastinator and most of my Lucy-made products have been born while I should have been working on something else! For example, while I should have been finishing off my Table Mountain illustrations, I started binding little sketchbooks from my paper off cuts! I didn’t make them with the intention to sell them, but simply wanted to practice my bookbinding skills. I am a bit of a hoarder of odd things, so my note/sketchbooks have been a wonderful way of using up these collections – old navy and road maps, envelopes and postage stamps.
While I should have been working on my Masters sculptures, a family friend gave me some deliciously naff plastic buttons from a bazaar in Johannesburg. I thought they would make lovely earrings so I pressed them in clay. Ever since then, if I find an object that I think would make a lovely brooch, I make a mould – plastic animals, old lace, old baking weights, biscuits …!
Since leaving art school I have been trying to find away to financially support myself without having to teach or lecture art. These are jobs I would love to have at some point, but I feel that I need experience as a working artist first. Amongst friends and family, my Lucy-made products – books and brooches – were received with such enthusiasm that I realised this might be my way of generating an income on the side.
My new Lucy-made range of cutlery is this first product I made with the intention to sell from the start and I was so lucky to have been able to launch it at the Design Indaba last month. I have always loved those old silver plated cutlery sets, but have always hated the yellowed mock bone handles. I started playing with re-handling the cutlery with ceramics and I loved the effect. My terracotta cutlery and brooches are definitely inspired by my European museum adventures!
What do you enjoy doing in your free time?
During my illustration Masters I made the most wonderful friends with a group of very talented girls from my course. There is no better way to put all freelancing woes aside than to have a tea party with these lovely ladies, swapping art and children’s books while drinking tea and chatting madly!
What’s next for you?
Far too much! I wish I had a herd of mini-Lucys that I could put to work on each of my project desires!
I would love to have an exhibition of my collaged book dioramas (I am calling them Lucy Museums for want of a better name at the moment) and I am continuing to work on them with this in mind.
As mentioned above, I am also working on another children’s book based on my adventures with lions in Venice.
I would like to develop my Lucy-made cutlery further and would love to work on a commission for a whole set! I would also love to be able to do a jewellery course so that I can start making better lasting settings for my brooches and start setting the ceramic pieces for rings, earrings and pendants.
I have also been asked by my Table Mountain’s Holiday publisher to illustrate an anthology of letters from the 1960s written between Sita and Eve Palmer. In the 1960s, Eve Palmer wrote The Plains of Camdeboo, a wonderful book about her family’s Karoo farm and the history of the Camdeboo area. Eve’s brother had taken over the farm and his wife, Sita made many exciting scientific discoveries on the property – new plants, new insects, prehistoric bones and fossils. A lot of these discoveries form the basis of Eve’s books so this anthology of letters is like a treasure trove! I am very honoured to be involved in the project and I am itching to start drawing!
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