Artist Interview: Jenny Steele

Artist Interview: Jenny Steele

Jenny Steele is a Scottish artist currently based in Manchester, UK whose practice is motivated by 20th century architecture and design producing site-specific artwork, textiles, sculpture, printmaking and events. We are lucky enough to be able to see Jenny's work first-hand here in Blackpool,an iconic carpet design within local not-for-profit organisation and hotel Art B&B.(shown below) Within her practice, Jenny explores the cross-over between crafts, architecture, design and fine art wonderfully, producing striking pieces that define spaces.

Q: Can you tell us about your Artistic background/education?

From a very young age I really connected to the process of making. I was lucky to attend a creative preschool in a small village in the north of Scotland. I remember we would make large paintings on the floor and I can remember the incredible, empowering feeling of making these, even though I was very little in stature. Creative activities at school such as the sewing woman coming to do an activity once a month were really important to me, I loved it. I was pretty determined I wanted to study at art college as I so much enjoyed creative subjects at school. I went to the local high school to me and I didn’t feel pushed as I see high school students these days have to achieve certain grades, which I’m very grateful for. It generally felt like the teachers wanted you to learn for developing your own interests. I attended Duncan of Jordanstone College of Art and Design for a 4 year degree at the age of 17. I later undertook an MFA at Goldsmiths College in London. Both were widely different experiences, but hugely enjoyable and challenging. Being immersed in a place where all processes and techniques were available to you at all times was incredible.

Q. How has your creative journey evolved over the last 5 years?

The restrictions of Covid have altered my practice significantly. Pre Covid, I worked a lot by researching particular coastal or architectural sites and creating work in response to that environment and story. I really enjoyed this process and the opportunities that came my way.  During Covid travel was really restricted so I naturally was forced to work more in the studio. My research process has changed, and I’ve also learnt some new techniques, mostly craft based, that I’ve started to incorporate into sculptural work. I feel I’m still at the beginning of this, there’s still a lot to pull together, which is uncertain and exciting. 

The Seafront Carpet, Axminster Carpet, Art B&B Blackpool, 2019

Image: The Seafront Carpet, Axminster Carpet, Art B&B Blackpool, 2019

Q. Do you work in a studio or from home?

I’ve been very lucky to have a studio with Rogue Artist Studios in Manchester since I moved here 10 years ago. Rogue is a studio group that has been going for over 22 years with around 90 members. We are located in a former Victorian school in East Manchester, in partnership with Manchester City Council. I really like having a space outside the home, where the only motivation for that space is to make and I have all my tools and work around me. I spent a lot of time over the last year developing my space for maximum use and storage. For admin and writing, I tend to work from a desk at home, to avoid any sawing or banging from neighbours!

Q. Who are your Art Influencers? Inspirations?

Influence and inspiration comes from a very wide range of sources and it can also change due to the project or commission I’m working on. I often undertake in depth research which can involve working with local people, discussions, and detailed archival research. I often pick up on a particular story of a person. I would say connecting the past to the present is an important aspect in my work.              I identify with many makers and artists. I’ve been interested for a long time in artists that worked across art and design, particularly those from the inter war period, such as Marion Dorn, Barbara Hepworth etc. I’m inspired by creative people that have continued production despite popular opinion at the time to do their own thing (which is usually more interesting than popular opinion at the time!). More recently, I’ve become really interested in folk practices of weaving and other handmade forms.

Q. What helps you to create your work, music? quiet?

I really like listening to a wide range of music: I often make myself playlists for certain tasks in advance. It helps me feel motivated and supported knowing the music is there for starting. For writing tasks, I like quiet, my brain confuses the words in songs with my words on the page!

The Maiden Voyage, pencil and watercolour on paper, Cabin, George's Dock Plaza, Liverpool, 2019

The Maiden Voyage, pencil and watercolour on paper, Cabin, George's Dock Plaza, Liverpool, 2019

Q. Do you keep a sketchbook? How often do you use it and do you travel with it?

I usually keep a sketchbook for a residency or a project, so I’ll use it for notes and sketches, ideas etc. I don’t tend to sketch out and about ‘en plein air’, I tend to use my camera more then as a research tool. I take a lot of photographs and short films which I later refer back to.

Q. Where does a piece of work begin for you? Can you describe your process?

I used to work from drawing, or perhaps an idea, in quite a traditionally sequential way to a more final work, using printing as a process. This was a way I was taught in education to work (I also taught this way when I used to teach, it’s easier to assess!). Ideas are coming in different sources for me at the moment. I’ve started doing a lot of writing over the last eighteen months and these have inspired ideas for pieces as a whole, so I will bypass the traditional development stage. I also find ideas come when I’m connecting to my subconscious and body through a range of practices I use.

Q. What are your most important artists tools?

As I work in a wide range of processes from weaving to printmaking, so I carry a range of tools at any one time. I really like learning new techniques so when funds allow I’m purchasing new equipment to carry that out.

Summer Crown, woven yarn, ferns, flowers and foliage, Cove Park residency, 2021

Summer Crown, woven yarn, ferns, flowers and foliage, Cove Park residency, 2021

Q What are your favourite materials/technique?

I’ve really enjoyed working with printmaking for a long time. I like the haphazard nature of it (although a lot of printmakers don’t work this way!) in that there is always an element of surprise as to what visual is achieved. I like using it in a painterly way. I like how printmaking can also be used as a way to draw, that I might then scan in and use in another format. I often use a scanner and digital editing at later stages particularly with public commissions. I’ve been enjoying learning new techniques since Covid as my practice has been very studio bound, so I’m most working with constructing new materials through weaving etc, rather than printing on surfaces. I’m sure I will be back to printmaking again soon. I have a small intaglio press in my studio and that was a great investment to use for lino, collograph and drypoint etc. It’s a fantastic resource.

Q. What is the best advice you were given early in your creative career?

I think it came from an architect who was 10 years older or so that I met on a boat trip one day when I was at art school in Dundee. I loved my time making at the art school in Dundee but we received very little input on life as a creative after graduation! This architect told me that I needed to have a lot of tenacity to be an artist. I didn’t know what that meant so I went to the library and looked it up in the big dictionary. Of course, it means you need to be determined and not be deterred by knockbacks. That is what a lot of it is, just keeping going where others might give up by rejections etc. I’ve usually found that no’s often develop into yes’s with something that might be more sympathetic to you anyway in the future.

 

Q. We have been following your journey @cove_park, in particular the weaving explorations. Can you tell us a little about this process and what you are working towards?

Yes, I’ve felt a pull to learn new techniques this year in more traditional craft techniques. I’ve relearnt aspects of weaving, and undertaken courses in Passementerie (weaving decorative textile forms) and basket weaving. I’ve also begun working with carved wood.  During my residencies at Cove Park last year, I developed a series of woven objects and sculptures using these techniques with live plant life such as grasses, flowers and foliage. I also worked with seaweed which I particularly loved as its very pliable and strong. The sculptures acted as a way to connect to and record the landscape and it’s a process I’ve continued to develop and scale up with new works in my studio.

Creels, Willow, seaweed, ropes, ribbons, yarns, various sizes, Cove Park residency, 2021

Creels, Willow, seaweed, ropes, ribbons, yarns, various sizes, Cove Park residency, 2021

Q. Where can we see more of your work online or in person?

I have a few exciting outcomes of last years work being made public in the first half of this year, which I will share news of on my Instagram @jennycsteele when I can. I also share weekly updates on there on research, making and public outcomes I have coming up. Past examples of projects and commissions can be viewed on my website www.jennysteele.co.uk Thanks for the questions, it’s been a pleasure thinking about and answering them.

Catherine Peters
Catherine Peters


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