Take five with… printmaker Janet French

This week, the Artworks blog has a ‘take five’ chat with artist printmaker Janet French. Janet’s artistic process & practice is concerned with nature and the environment:

‘My work explores the fragile symbiotic relationship between man and the natural environment. I work in tune with nature to create work that is testimony to my interaction with materials, conditions, seasons and weather.’

Janet French, Fagus Diptych – Part One, 62cm x 62cm

Nature, landscape and the environment seems to be a strong theme in much contemporary art. In your own work, you use natural materials such as beech leaves to create handmade paper which you then use to print on.

Are there any contemporary artists that you particularly admire?
Environmental artists like Chris Drury, Richard Long and David Nash most interest me because I share the desire to work with the available materials in the environment.

Chris Drury, Mushroom Circle, 1995 © Chris Drury
How do you generate or develop ideas for your own art?
My ideas often come from unexpected sources. A few years ago I joined a group of London artists in an exhibition in Bethnal Green. The common theme among the group was ‘earth’ and I decided to look at satellite images to see what earth could be seen in the area of the gallery. This sparked a continuing fascination with aerial views. Other ideas simmer away for years, occasionally rising to the surface but never quite resolving in to finished work.

Janet French,  Bethnal Green, 54cm x 56cm

Could you describe your art studio?
My studio space is a converted garage. It is full of bags and buckets of leaves and fibres in various stages of papermaking production. I have a small table top printing press which is good for small work and for working through ideas. For larger work I go to Gainsborough’s House Print Workshop which has a wonderful range of printing presses. I like to plan a piece of work and make the paper in my studio at home and then produce the finished print at Gainsborough’s House.

What do you listen to while working in your studio?
Turning the radio on to Radio 4 is part of the ritual I go through as soon as I enter my studio, along with lights, heater, overall etc. Whether or not it stays on depends on what I’m doing. If I’m preparing paper or clearing up ink I like to listen but as soon as I’m doing something creative I turn the radio off. In a typical day I never seem to hear a whole programme.

What time in the day are you at your most creative?  
I am always up early and most creative in the morning. If I get off to a good start early, I can keep going until about 5pm but I can never work in the evening.

What’s in your current sketchbook?  
My present sketchbook has become a great unwieldy heap of drawings, photos and notes on scraps of paper, all of which relate to my present obsession of light seen through trees.

If you had to choose between using a pen or a pencil to draw with – which one and why?  
I prefer pen to pencil and particularly like water soluble ink pens with watercolour paper. I like to draw quickly, add some water, and when it is dry work back into the drawing with pen.

What do you think is the role of an artist in contemporary society?
One of the by-products of creativity is the ability to see things in a different way and to present new ideas in a way that no one has seen before, as well as highlighting beauty and the expression of human emotions. In some cases, artists are in a position to reach multitudes of people by using their status to bring attention to a worthwhile cause or environmental issue. For example, Richard Long’s Africa Mud Maps, which Long has made for auctions and whose proceeds have contributed to aid for the developing world.

Richard Long, Africa Footprints 1986 © Richard long (collection TATE)

One of the most interesting things that artists can do is spur public conversation and in future I may find that I am able to draw attention to endangered species or threatened habitat through my own work. I am currently working on a collaborative print project with another printmaker Emma Buckmaster, and our aim is to produce a series of tree portrait etchings on related leaves.

Janet French, Into the Light, mixed media on beech leaves, 34cm x 32cm

Thank you Janet for sharing a little of your creative world with the Artworks blog!

Janet French has a BA (Hons) in Fine Art from Colchester School of Art. In addition to Artworks, Janet is currently Joint Chairperson of Gainsborough’s House Print Workshop, and is a member of the Essex Art Society and the collaborative artist group Nine Artists.

Originally from London, Janet French has lived in Essex for twenty five years. You can read more about Janet’s environmental artworks on her Artworks artist page and on her personal website.