We caught up with Eliza Southwood from Wychwood Art to learn about the artist behind ‘Mont Ventoux’, the artwork featured in our Battersea Spring Collection 2018 campaign. Read on to discover a bit about the inspiration behind her work and why she made the switch from architect to professional artist without looking back!
What was the inspiration behind the piece ‘Mont Ventoux’?
Mont Ventoux is a real challenge for cyclists. It is a desolate and treeless mountain landscape in the French Alps where the sun beats down relentlessly in summer. It’s one of the bigger challenges on the cyclist’s must-do list, and is a fixture in the Tour de France. The print first came about as an illustration in a book published by Laurence King ‘The Cyclist’s Bucket List’, which is a sort of illustrated journal for cyclists. I got so many people asking me about the illustrations in it that I chose three of them to work up into screen prints. Mont Ventoux (the print) is a six colour print. That means that each colour, starting with the lightest, is pulled onto the paper one by one in subsequent layers. I print all my editions myself.Cycling itself has always been an inspiration. I occasionally branch out into other sports - rowing and swimming, for instance - but always come back to cycling. You can incorporate landscapes from all over the world. There are so many variables and colours, and as I’m obsessed with colour, cycling offers up a huge number of possibilities.
Could you give us some insight into a typical day at your studio?
In winter, the first thing I do is put the heater on! My studio has great light but is freezing. I’m based over by London Fields. Depending on what I’m working on - mostly screen prints - I usually sit there and sketch out ideas from first pencil roughs to pen and ink detailed drawings. These will then have colour applied and are adapted for printing. My little dog, Sunny, keeps me company. I try and sneak her into all my designs when I can. Occasionally I’ll pin a big piece of paper to the wall and do a giant drawing. I paint and make collages as well. There are usually a few mundane things to do, like packaging and posting prints to clients, so I have to do those as well. When I’m not in my own studio, I’m at East London Printmakers, where I’m a key holder. It’s a cooperative of around 45 artists, and is a huge space in Mile End dedicated to printmaking of all types. There are some great facilities there so that’s where I do all my screen printing.
You were an architect for ten years. What made you decide to become an artist full-time?
Apart from studying architecture at college, I never really enjoyed it much as a career, but I felt all those years of study should be put into practice, so I kept at it for ages. I was always a frustrated artist (many architects are). I got quite far and ended up designing sports buildings, but the mundane reality of it was drawing up car parks, toilets and stair cores in international stadiums, or supervising other people doing the same thing. Also, I’m quite sloppy for an architect. There is probably some poor builder in Saudi Arabia or Singapore who discovered that my walls didn’t meet in real life. I don’t care enough about measurements. Which is kind of fatal to an architectural career. At one point I was asked to write a design guide to swimming pools. (I was an expert, apparently). All I could think about was the artwork I’d design for the front cover, which gives you an idea of why I made the change. Once I got going as an artist, I was on a roll. It was like a new lease of life.
What has been the highlight of your career so far?
There have been many highs (and a few lows too). I tend to forget the lows and move on. An early breakthrough for me was when a buyer from the V&A museum spotted my work and commissioned a print edition for the V&A shop, which then sold out quickly and led to more commissions. A more recent high point was being flown to Pamplona earlier this year to meet the cycling legend Miguel Indurain for inspiration. I spent the day with him - he was charming - and the artwork I subsequently produced was printed on a wine label for Cono Sur Wines. And I always love it when people write to me telling me how happy they are to have my work on their walls.
What is the biggest influence on your work?
The biggest influence over my work are the things I find inspiring: cityscapes, textures, lines, people, bikes and finding the perfect colour combinations to express what I want. There are several artists who I find inspiring and who have influenced me as well: Ravilious for his all round visual skill, Peter Doig for his colours, Adrian Berg for his trees, Hockney for his draughtsmanship, Vanessa Gardiner for her beautiful colours and lines, Bronwen Sleigh, Gail Brodholt…there are so many talented artists. I love seeing other artists’ work just to see how they express themselves visually.
What do you think are the main challenges faced by artists today?
Making a living out of art is hard and involves compromise. I am certainly not swanning around with a paintbrush all day waiting for inspiration. A huge chunk of my day is spent on admin, which is tedious but necessary. Really they should teach more business skills at art colleges just so artists emerge knowing how to talk to clients, how to market themselves and how to price their work. Lots of artists undersell themselves. You also need to ask yourself how far you will go to produce work that other people want, rather than work you want to produce yourself. Ideally there is a happy medium. I always find that if I like something I’ve made, others like it too.
Take a look at how Eliza's print 'Mount Ventoux' inspired the Battersea Spring Campaign, photographed by John Wright, below.
Header image provided by Eliza Southwood.
Artwork image: Eliza Southwood, Mont Ventoux, Screen print, 70 x 50cm, Edition of 50, Wychwood Art.
Spring campaign photography: John Wright.