Practitioner Focus: Joanna Walton

My work is inspired by places I visit, local landscapes (living in the Lakes it would be hard not to be affected by the environment) or just odd/unusual things I come across whilst out and about. I constantly take photos and enjoy using the ones with imperfections in my work. I also take photos from the car whilst travelling (as a passenger!) past the lake as I head in to Ambleside. It might be a particular light, cloud colours, or the blurred blackness of the trees  which then become a catalyst for some work. Selected photos are printed out very small on to clear film and then layered over a background of collaged papers. I have numerous heaps of paper and boxes of bits  which I have to rummage through to find the right combinations. At other times I draw quite quickly, often on a treated surface as it destroys that pristine page which I find hard to start work on.

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I collect sketchbooks: I just cannot resist buying them or unearthing old photo albums or note books in charity shops. I blame the sketchbook circle. I don’t do enough drawing though - hence I have many sketchbooks waiting to be used. My work is usually on a small scale, so A6 sketchbooks are about right for me. The process of layering and building up surfaces plays an important part of my work, so sketchbook/old book pages are quickly brushed with a bit of thin, white emulsion, swabbed with a wash of brusho, then rolled over with glimpses of acrylic paint. Bits of text might be added or left revealed on the page. I have a slight addiction to champagne gold, interference blue acrylic and edges. For backgrounds I use old graph/squared papers, brown paper, old envelopes (a legacy of the early TEA days; an art CPD course where we swapped envelopes, and participated in many other collaborative exchanges), old, unwanted, yellowing till rolls of paper I was given, tapes - I use micropore tape (it’s very cheap) or masking tape, (never sellotape though), soft, dark graphite pencils, white posca pens (thanks to James Nairne) or tippex pens and the odd inktense pencil or two. These are my basic drawing kit materials.

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Searching for creative inspiration is not easily explained, there are so many ways this may happen. My surroundings naturally play a huge part, places which trigger emotion, through experimenting with materials, visiting exhibitions galleries and museums for pleasure and perusal. An artist whose work I recently discovered is Ricardo Brey - I saw his exhibition in 2015 in Venice and was absorbed by his collections in boxes and zig zag books, all presented with such accuracy and so beautifully. Although not a neat and tidy worker myself, I was immediately drawn to his work. I secretly aspire to do something as carefully as he does, but don’t think I’ll ever have the patience for such accuracy and attention to detail. Two more artists I enjoy following - the photography of Juanan Requena: he puts his black and white images together in sepia stained books often with handwritten text, his diaries and hand finished books , and Elisabeth Couloigner, whose paint-stained pages of her book series ‘Carnets de travail’ has the great title ‘I’m searching. I-V’. Sadly I’ve only seen their work via a computer screen.


Best piece of creative advice I’ve ever been given? ‘To accept the unexpected and see where it takes you’. A very familiar phrase but really does form the ethos of how I work. The problem is I rarely discard anything and am in danger of being a hoarder. I even keep the card from the table top I work on - as sometimes interesting edges, marks and paint stains appear. Keri Smith writes about the importance of randomness and promotes ‘happenstance’ in her book The Wander Society, a great word for unplanned occurrences:

The beauty of happenstance. Of looking for one thing and finding something else. Of stumbling onto something when you were least expecting it......A combination of ‘happen’ and ‘circumstance’ . To come across or find by chance. Can only happen if we provide the opportunity for them to appear.

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Taking/making opportunities is so important, especially when your job can absorb every minute of your day, and when there other so many other commitments with daily life.  A paid-for trip to Venice many moons ago, with teachers and an artist, set off a chain of very unexpected, positive opportunities for me. It was on that trip I met a certain Susan Coles who had also applied to take part. That CPD led to so many connections and slowly re-discover my own practice. Through my link with Susan, a brilliant course on drawing, TEA: Thinking Expression Action helped me connect with like-minded art teachers/educators and which then led to other collaborative ventures. Participating in the Sketchbook Circle was, of course, one of those.

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I am currently involved with a collaborative project #beyondthewall initiated by Karen Shaw   (another TEA participant). In 2016 I worked on a postal project ‘dis:placed’ with Karen and other artists which inspired me so much I couldn’t turn down the opportunity to do something similar again. For dis:placed ( we responded to a personal location and chose our own few words to describe it. Dis:placed pushed me to make my first 3 minute film. I’m now trying to create a few more with those blurry landscapes I keep taking. Karen’s own words:

Collaboration on sense of place; a blind narrative.

Artists receive an object selected from the site of disused ironworks Riverside House in Stourbridge – each object will have four descriptive words to accompany it and these have been selected for their material properties and association by the learners who are regenerating the site.

Artists will produce a response from what is received and ensure that the piece of work can be included in the post to the next artist in the group. The exchange will continue with artists posting at the end of each month to the same recipient in the chain until all six objects have been seen and responded to.

The body of work will be curated by the learners at the site once the collaborative work has been produced; it is intended that the work will be displayed in situ and at two gallery venues following its completion.

One every month, over a period of 6 months, a box will arrive. I am currently on my second box, and it’s proving difficult, but it is making me think hard about how to respond and put something meaningful together. I am due to send my work on at the end of June. I cannot reveal anymore. I’m still thinking and still searching. And I’m still hoping to discover where things will take me.

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