We’ve always been fascinated by print here at The Holborn, after all we began this journey many years ago with the dream of running a print magazine. From the smell of ink & paper combined (who doesn’t sniff books & magazines, right?) to the texture and how the ink sits on the paper there is a lot to be fascinated by. So it was a joy when an email landed in our inbox telling us all about Sophie Layton and her work with paper & ink.
Sophie Layton is an artist printmaker working in South London. She is known and widely collected for her haunting, beautiful monoprints of intense hues and shifting light; her work is a wonderful homage to colour and light. Her time is divided between sketching in the attic space of her home in South London and creating in the print workshop at her studio in Brixton, so we headed south of the river to catch her between the two and find out more about her and her work.
How did you develop an interest in printmaking as a medium for your work?
In 2006, whilst on my foundation year at Camberwell School of Art I discovered the print workshop and fell in love with printmaking pretty much immediately. I then spent three wonderful years in the Print Department at Brighton University, immersing myself in the process of expressing my ideas of creating interior spaces, and light, through mono printing. My final degree show attracted a lot of positive comment and several sales, which was a lovely surprise; it is encouraging when your work is appreciated. In 2012 I was awarded a scholarship for a residency at Scuola di Graphic in Venice. Working in that amazing location with its extraordinary light was very inspiring. The gallery with whom I have worked since graduating, Eames Fine Art, part funded this residency, hosted my first solo show in 2013 and are hosting my second in 2016.
In terms of process and craft what do you like about working with print? What inks and equipment do you use?
I love the physical and intellectual process of printmaking; the way results build up and ideas emerge onto paper, demanding constant decision-making. I enjoy the process of mono printing, which is very much like painting on the press – it’s very organic and intuitive.
I use a broad range of tools and techniques including Photoshop to dissect and re-assemble photographs and drawing in graphite pencil as well as including digital transfers into my prints. I often work on a large etching press when printing my photo-etchings and Collagraph prints. I seem to naturally work on quite a large scale 60 x 70cm plus so a large press is crucial to allow me to do this. But my colourful monotypes are mainly done on a large 1930’s motorised direct lithography press. I enjoy the fact that I just have to pull a leaver and press a button instead of turning the big wheel of the etching press!
Part of your new exhibition was inspired by a trip to Japan – can you tell us more?
I visited Japan last year on a research trip, travelling around the country for one month. I was really amazed by the buildings. Particularly the work of the architect Tadeo Ando who is considered a national treasure. I visited the island of Naoshima which is like an artists’ mecca created by Ando – he designed many of the art museums on the island. I was particularly interested in the interior spaces he creates; they almost seem distorted. Also the way he creates spaces to allow light to fill the room. It is very considered.
The second half of your exhibition uses Carborundum printing techniques – for the non-print geeks amongst us can you tell us what this means and about the work in the exhibition that use these techniques?
I have made a collection of Collagraph prints – the process of collagraph works in the opposite way to etching or woodcut. Instead of creating your image through removing or distressing the surface of your plate; with collagraph you add the surface. I paint with a fiberglass ‘glue’ and pour finely ground metal (called carborundum) over the marks I’ve created. The fiberglass ‘glue’ dries a bit like cement, which holds ink which become the marks on my paper. It’s a very fast and spontaneous process – I think this shows in the quality of mark making in my prints. The ground metal (carborundum) is used widely amongst makers across lots of disciplines. My boyfriend, the glass artist Tim Rawlinson, uses it to grind down, carve and shape his glass sculptures. It’s great because when I want to create a new set of plates for an image I’m working on; I just ask him to bring home a jar of carborundum from his studio.
During 2015 I began to introduce the figure into my work, using the technique of Carborundum; a huge shift in my practice, which I want to continue to explore further. I am enjoying experimenting with this new process, taking risks and finding my own way of approaching the complex theme of the human figure. Lately I have been inspired by David Hockney, particularly the coloured crayon, pencil drawings he made in the 70’s, of friends and family. I am attracted to the composition of these drawings. The way he places the subject matter within the parameters of the paper. Also the way some areas of the drawing are heavily worked and other areas contain merely suggested form with just a simple line. I am influenced by this in my still life drawings of a plant, however I have added mono print to my drawing.
What are your major influences with your work? Travel, home, other creative people?
I suppose photography is a major influence in my work. Not so much in the sense of looking at photography to inspire me; however I did recently see an incredible exhibition of photographs by Saul Leiter at the Photographers Gallery. Most of my work stems from my own photographs, which are almost like preparatory sketches, helping me to realise my ideas. I have recently been working with old family snaps, which I found in a box when my parents were moving house. I often work with photos I’ve taken myself on my phone. Sometimes I collage photos I’ve taken with old snaps using photoshop. Many of my prints have been made though constructing an image out of several photographs which I then work into a collagraph print.
What is on the horizon for you? What projects are you working on, what things would you love to look into doing?
One dream is to be given a commission to make a really enormous carborundum print perhaps for a specific public space. I know I could just make a very large print on my own but the cost of materials needed in order to create such an ambitious artwork would be so high, I don’t feel I could justify it. I would love it if I was funded to created a monumental piece – it would allow me to go back and work with the master printmaker Nigel Oxley who first taught me how to make a carborundum print in April 2015. Nigel worked at Kelpra Print Studios in the 1970’s and worked closely with artists such as Paolozzi, Piper, Jones, Frink, Passmore, Kitaj etc. So it’s a real experience working in the print workshop at his home. He has lots prints by these artists and a story behind each one – how he helped them create the work.
Another idea I have been thinking about for quite a long time now, is collaborating with another artist. This would be new territory for me but one that is very exciting. The artist I would like to join forces with works in a very different way to me and I think if we could work together it could be very exciting. I want to complete my solo show successfully first before starting the next project. Although I know I need to ask him soon just to set the seed.
I have been approached by the editor of a food and lifestyle magazine to create an artwork for the front cover of the magazine. The editor and founder of the annual magazine is a collector of my work and she wants to include a feature within the magazine about my work. I feel very honoured to have been asked. It’s a very exciting project; I have never worked to a brief before and have to think like a graphic designer. Making the artwork and taking into account where the text and title of the magazine will need to go.
Find out more about Sophie’s latest exhibitions and work at: sophielayton.com
Interview by Morgan Hamilton-Griffin