Practitioner Focus: Karen Wicks

Tell us a bit about yourself.

I am a mother of two and have been an art teacher/head of art for sixteen years in various schools in the U.K. Last year I did the Artist Teacher Scheme at Birmingham University which led me to change direction in my career and go into working in inclusion; I am currently setting up an inclusion space at an inner city school and work with disaffected teenagers.  

What kind of art do you make?

My work is quite experimental and is often a response to 'place' and the residue left by our interaction with it. I like to push my use of drawing beyond the traditional mark making media and have used shadow, thread, projection and ice to create pieces of work that are intended to be temporary. 

What inspires you?

I am inspired by the ordinary, the marks that people don't always 'see'.....eroded walls, road markings, rust, shadows. The direction of my work is also fuelled by collaboration with others, this interaction gives me a push into the 'unknown' and will often steer the way that I respond to an idea. 

I have been involved in the Sketchbook Circle since 2012 and it is interesting that my first collaboration with Elinor Brass is still feeding my preoccupation with making a response to 'place'. I also like to make work that can be left in situ to be found, so have regularly made pieces of work for #freeartfriday to be discovered and taken home by a stranger. I like the idea of using art to make the unnoticed noticed.  

What materials can you not live without?

As a screen printing graduate I am always drawn back to using print in my work, so the answer to this would partly be printmaking ink. However the direction of my most recent work has become more digital so I would also have to add my IPad to that list! 

The tool that I use most though is my iPhone, for capturing initial images to projecting using a mini projector and also, most importantly, in sharing and finding ideas with others using social media.

When do you find time to make?

This is tricky as I work full time and family takes up most of my time outside of work. I used to make art at school in my lunch break when working as an art teacher. I found the Sketchbook Circle model worked for me as I would often 'hold' the dialogue in my head until there was an opportunity to make work. So producing work then, and now, often happens in intense snatched periods of half an hour here and half an hour there. I have found that this has also had an impact on how my own work has developed as I cannot use lengthy processes due to the time restraints. My children are quite often my art 'sidekicks' and will come along when I drop work to be found, or when I am drawing they will join in! 

Where do you do your making? 

At the moment either in my garage or if it is digital drawing, in bed last thing at night! I did rent a studio for a short spell of time but found that I didn't get time to go often enough to make it worthwhile. 

What is the best piece of creative advice you've been given?

I tend to be quite prolific and full of ideas and in talking to another artist prior to doing the Artist Teacher Scheme, he told me to 'cast my stone and follow where it rolls'. When I was on the course I think I was hoping to find a definite 'answer' to what my work is, but I've come to realise that actually there is not one fixed answer. So I follow the advice in that I let the journey unfold whilst being mindful of my gut instinct when making a response. Also, having other critical friends who understand your artistic intentions and preoccupations is invaluable to the process of making art and that keeps me steered in a more focussed direction as well. 

What's your next project?

At the moment I am finishing a project called 'Brindley Village' which is about a derelict village site which is now forest. I have used a bursary from AN Artists to work with artist Bo Jones in developing projection drawing and am currently in conversation with a former resident of the village about co-curating an exhibition about the place. 

My next project will be informed by collaboration in the digital Sketchbook Circle; I am currently using digital drawing to capture the process of working with pupils who have SEMH and Attachment Disorder  and the emotional residue that is created through the projection and 'containment' of strong feelings. I am looking forward to sharing work with the talented Louise Clazey and Claire Kennedy. 

I am also planning to be involved with a group of artists I worked with last year in a project called #dis:placed in co-editing a newspaper publication about experimental drawing practice. This will be another exciting opportunity to collaborate with David Smith, Stephen Carley and Sarah Wills Brown. So, altogether an exciting year ahead!