What are you inspired by?
I'm inspired a lot by the countryside around me on the Herts/Beds border, and the towns that are near me, especially Cambridge. I have lived here since the early 1990's but originally come from a village just near Salisbury in Wiltshire. I love exploring, by car or lots of walking.... finding wide open vistas or tucked away interesting buildings. England is so varied, that its fantastic to just head out and see what you can find on your doorstep! You can see where I go and what I get up to on my Vanessa Stone's Blog.
I'm inspired by all sorts of artists too, from Sassieta and Giotto for their stillness, to the posters of Mucha and the Beggarstaffs. I love the bas reliefs of Ben Nicholson and the glorious joyful colour and fluidity of Raoul Dufy. I look too to contemporary paper artists such as Peter Callesen, Helen Musselwhiteand my friend Tim Budden.
What do you like about paper?
It has a wonderful coolness and warmth. It makes me want to touch it, smooth the surface with my hand. It has a sensuous loveliness to it. It can be such a humble material that is at the core of our everyday lives, from the mundanity of bills to the intimacy of a love letter. I love cutting it with either a knife or scissors. There is boldness to cutting away, definiteness to it. And it rewards you by what it gives back. I know that sounds daft.
How did you get to work with paper?
I started cutting into paper back in 2006, after years of specialising in textiles. Until 2006 I worked freelance, designing anything I could from surface pattern for stationery and fabrics, to being involved in making ecclesiastical textiles for The Sarum Group. I did in-house designing for the handmade rug industry, made a large hanging for St. Botolph's Church, Aldgate and exhibited banners and embroideries in mixed and solo shows, as well as running workshops for children.
I had always been on the quest for a sharper line, a more clean composition a flatter surface.....a new way of working that was cutting away rather than adding layer by layer as textiles often is. I felt textiled out too and unable to get to that very accurate line I was after in any textile medium. I had always been inspired by Matisse’s’ cut outs for the dynamism and life that is so inherent in them but I was also increasingly aware of the work of artists such as Rob Ryan and Beatrice Coron. Their work inspired me, but also experimenting with stencils did too. In 2006, I cut some stencils to push paint though onto linen but found I loved the stencil more than the textiles! The penny dropped about paper cutting and so the journey started.
Why landscapes and buildings?
I love Cambridge. It reminds me of my home town Salisbury as that is too many miles away to just visit sadly. Its a bustling, alive city full of people and gorgeous views. And the buildings there are very beautiful, from the large and important like Senate House and Kings College, so the small domestic terrace houses on the back streets. I get withdrawal if I haven't been for long, so have to get the train or drive and visit the mother ship!
I have always loved the countryside too though. I was brought up in a village so it feels very natural to be surrounded by nature, so that love has always been there. Landscapes inspire me because of their eternality. Nature always finds a way through. It’s relentless in its burgeoning, growing force. And when I draw or make art I plug into it at a very deep level. I love how geologists talk of “deep time”. I plug into my “deep time” of who I am and who I am in the context of my family and those who have passed on.
Where do you work?
I work in my studio in the garden. The window looks east, to the morning sun and it really does stream in. I live in a house that has a very long thin garden and so my view is across the gardens and then to the landscape beyond. I can see the turret of Fairfield Hall, what was Three Counties Hospital. It’s like looking over to a Bavarian fairy castle! I have lived in this area for a long time - about 25 years! but grew up in Winterslow, Wiltshire.
What tools do you use?
For the paper cutting I use a Swann Morten scalpel and generally No 11 blades, or sometimes 10a’s. I use an A3 or A2 cutting mat. Pencil wise I use 2b’s and 4b’s and hard rubbers which I often cut into teeny slivers to remove pencil markings. I never use rulers. A hand cut line is always better as it has more life and vitality.
What papers do you use?
I work with the best papers I can get. Generally these are Canson black paper, Canford coloured papers and Ingres pastel paper. I use hand printed Japanese papers and occasionally artist made marbled papers. Sometimes too I use dolls house papers for textured patterns as well as papers from old ledgers that I hunt car boots/antiques markets for.
Do you use sketches for cut paper pieces? Yes and no. When I am outdoors sketching then I rarely use these as cuts. This is often my gym time to make my hand and eye work better. Being in that zone of drawing, it frees your mind and connects those synapses to think of images and ways to translate something into cut paper or as a painted stamp.
Do you use photography?
Yes, I love photography BUT I don’t use photography to simply print an image onto a sheet of paper and then cut it away to make a paper piece. I use photos to remind me of views, use my camera as a visual notebook but I don't just copy photos.
What's your process?
I make my pieces using several layers, working from the front to the back. I use a Swann-Morten scalpel. I generally cut the top layer in black first, sometimes all at once, sometimes not depending on the type of image I want to make. I layer from BEHIND and then cut again into that layer. Its a process of cutting away to bring form forward. Its an intellectual challenge often, a kind of rub your tummy tap your head process.
What role does drawing have in your work?
I do a lot of drawing in preparation for a piece. First it will be sketches and then a more detailed drawing on which I based the layered collage. Sometimes though I don't do much prep drawing at all and just dive in with the blade. I have done a lot of paper cutting so the scalpel feels very natural in my hand and a an extension of my eye really, so there is less need to draw its all out. I do lots of general sketchbook drawing too, things that will never become layered collages. They are my version of going to the gym as they tune my hand and eye to work together!
What’s your favourite bit of the process?
Hmmmn, tricky. I love and hate the cutting away. It’s very addictive - each little piece cut away pushes you on! But when I am trying to translate something into cut paper that’s complex, say the way the leaves are on a tree, or the interweaving of branches or stems, or bike spokes – there are times when it isn’t at all easy and involves a lot of mental and physical discipline, I have to cut away small areas carefully and feel my way.
One thing that’s noticeably lovely, is when I make a commissioned piece, or when something is sold. The tussle of the making and the engagement of my head and heart in that particular piece of paper is all over, it’s wonderful to let it go and let it exist out there in the world on its own terms.
Where did you go to college?
I went to Salisbury College of Art for my Foundation Course and the to Kidderminster College and Wolverhampton University ( then Wolves Poly) to study on the four year BA(Hons) Design Of Carpets and Related Textiles course there. After that I did two post grad diplomas at Anglia Ruskin University in Cambridge – Diploma of Credit/Artists in Schools Secondary and Diploma of Credit/ Primary. After graduating from Wolverhampton, I won the New Designer of the Year Award for Floorcoverings.