Sarah Fennell - Studio Tour
Words: Jo Dowsett
Photography: Carolyn Carter
Sarah’s studio is situated quite literally on the door step of Wolverhampton Art Gallery. The leafy surroundings and imposing gothic architecture are at a contrast to Sarah’s light, bright and calm studio. Her front door enters onto a lovely exhibit area where you are instantly grabbed by Sarah’s eye for colour and form. An enormous wall hanging sits magnificently amongst her upholstered mid century statement piece armchairs, scattered with her modern contemporary cushions. The vibrancy and boldness of her work is right there for you to admire as you step foot into her studio. Oversized pattern, intricate details, abstracted motifs, texture, depth, colour and vibrancy are all inherent properties of Sarah’s work and these details are showcased in a delightful riot of colour and shape throughout her entire body of work. It is uplifting, bright, zingy and happy - just like Sarah herself who welcomed us into her studio with open arms. Her work makes you smile. It demands your attention, invites you to touch and allows you to wallow in the glorious tones and depths of colour.
Sarah’s studio is split into two zones. On the opposite side to her exhibit space is a large sink for washing her screens and a shelf full of an entire spectrum of different pigments. Neons, pastels and everything in between are at Sarah’s disposal for her to choose and experiment with.
Moving on through to the second white, light-filled space, it is dominated by her large printing table. Here, is a sense of order and calm. The room is simply broken up by an eye level horizontal display of work-in-progress collages, demonstrating the journey Sarah’s work takes from inception to completion.
Sarah graduated in 2015 having studied Textile Design for Fashion and Interiors at Bath University. Her route toacquiring her studio started when she realised she would need a space big enough to house her printing table. And at 3m long, many other options fell by the wayside. It was an encounter with one of her peers on the prestigious Hothouse Programme run by the Craft Council that introduced her to the very studio that she now works from. The remit of the Hothouse programme is to support talented new makers at the start of their career. This endorsement by the Craft Council is impressive and convincing and confirms Sarah’s unique creative ability. Sarah also lectures at Birmingham University on the Textiles course.
Have you always been artistic?
‘I have always loved drawing and art was my favourite subjects.’ When Sarah was at school, she started experimenting with textiles and creating textures directly onto fabrics using a sewing machine. This was the start of her appreciation of the ‘tangible application’ of design and she went on to study an art foundation degree. She concentrated on textile design and discovered a love of design and how ‘it creates a relationship with someone or something else in the room.’ She respects how an ‘object can respond to other pieces in a room and how a conversation can be created’ with design.
Describe you work in three words.
‘Oversized. Joyful. Colourful.’
Is you work designed in isolation or are pieces grouped together to form a series?
Sarah acknowledges that everything she designs is a ‘prototype’ and each finished piece follows on naturally from her previous work. She has ‘learned not to be scared of summing myself up in one single, unique piece’ and subsequently feels that the next piece will be informed. She doesn’t want to be defined by one single composition and looks at her whole body of work. ‘I think of my work as a whole and enjoy the textiles having the ability to talk to each other.’
Your work is very bright and abstract. Has this always been the case or did it happen organically?
Sarah discovered these characteristics in her third year at university, having spent time exploring different design styles in her previous undergraduate years. She experienced a number of placements in London and ‘started seeing things as shape and colour.’ Sarah felt a shift in how she consciously perceived things and began to ‘abstract out floral motifs and architecture’. Sarah uses these elements to form compositions to eye-catching effect using shapes, colours, and textures.
What is your design process? Which do you prefer; shapes or colour?
‘Everything starts with a collage. Not necessarily colours but shapes and how they interact within a space.’ Sarah cuts out shapes free hand using scissors and coloured paper early on in the design process and looks at their ‘spacial interaction.’ She loves ‘how shapes interact and butt up against and over each other.’ She consciously leaves colour choices until later because ‘shape informs the whole piece but colour defines it.’ Sarah loves the final application of colour because that is when the design ‘pops.’
The intricacies of Sarah’s work all start life as small collaged pieces utilising abstracted motifs, shapes and lines. They are all pieced together with delicacy, respect and understanding.
Where do you draw most of your inspiration from?
‘All different sources. Object based observation, architecture and sometimes other designers, particularly Marimekko.’ Some of Sarah’s motifs are inspired from nature such as her abstract forms of flora but others come to life simply by playing around with different everyday objects and arranging them to understand how they work together as a whole. Sarah was recently working on a composition using a bowl, some oranges, corrugated cardboard and a fabric bag from Hay. Although the items she used are three dimensional, she breaks them down into two dimensional shapes and explores the relationship they have with each other and how they interact within a space.
How long have you been in this studio space? What do you love about it?
‘I love the height of the ceilings and how everything fits in perfectly. There is enough space to carry out my work and I like the zoned areas.’ Sarah feels that now she has been in the studio for a year, it has a ‘lived in’ feel and she finds it really helpful to display works in progress and take a step back to absorb how the colours and shapes work in harmony with each other. ’It was an active decision to display the works in progress at eye level. A lot of decisions are made on colour choice when the collaged pieces are on the wall.’ Sarah also finds it important to look down on a piece of work because a finished designed item is held, turned over and observed from all angles. She has been known to ‘stand on a chair or even on the table’ to make sure the combination of elements resonate with each other.
How does your studio make you feel?
‘Proud.’ Sarah loves entering the studio when all the hard work is done and her finished print is laid out on the table, ready for the next move on it’s journey.
What is the most challenging aspect of being an artist?
Believing in the ‘inner conversation I have with myself when you’re the only person to tell you to do this.’
We believe in Sarah because her artistic endeavours make our world a little bit more colourful and a little bit more joyful. And that is something we can all be incredibly thankful to her for.