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Feancesce Chalk in her studio

Maker in Focus - Francesca Chalk

Francesca Chalk’s artwork explores themes of nature and wildlife combining watercolour, collage and pochoir techniques and her images have a strong sense of design from her background in graphic design and children’s book illustration.

Fran also works in The Guild shop in Cheltenham two days a month.

We caught up with her to find out more about her art and practice.

collage print of crocus

How did you get into making cards and prints?

I originally studied graphic design and illustration at Central/St. Martins which lead to working in children’s book design. When I had my own children I needed work to be a bit more flexible so took the leap into freelance work. I was fortunate to get work through public and private commissions which were mostly textile based artworks such as hangings. It was around this time that I joined the Guild so also benefitted from selling cushions, bags and framed textiles in the Guild shop. Eventually I realised that what I most enjoyed (and what I was best at) was the making of the images and design ideas on paper rather than the many other processes involved in producing textile items.

What drew you to the medium?

I love working with shapes and colour and collage is perfect for this. There is lots of room for ‘happy accidents’ where something which wasn’t necessarily planned turns out to be just right. I have always painted with watercolour, which I was encouraged to do as a child, so it is my ‘go to’ method to produce detailed elements where I need a bit more control.

What inspires your work?

The usual! Nature, gardening, folk art and favourite makers/artists from all sorts of disciplines. I’m currently planning a trip to Milton Keynes to see the Saul Leiter photography exhibition. Like anyone, inspiration can come from anywhere if you’re in the right frame of mind!

What mediums to you use?

I mostly use collage and watercolour. My collage papers can come from old magazines where areas of colour have a ‘softness’ and irregularity due to the reproduction process. When I need a particular colour or shading I will paint it myself.

collaged image of pink tulips

How do you decide on the composition for your pieces?

The composition is largely dictated by how it will be reproduced. For instance, a greetings card can’t have a lot of detail because of the small scale, so simple shapes to draw in the viewer are good, with details to engage their attention. I am currently working on a commission which will include some circular pieces nearly 2 metres across. The composition will be more complex at this scale and allow it to include more elements, such as a small flock of birds rather than one or two. I think the overall effect will be quite different to the cards.

What is your newest piece? What do you like about it and why is it special?

My favourite piece is often the last one I did so it is always changing. At the moment I have new card, ‘Kestrel with Mouse’. I particularly like it because it tells a story in itself. If you look closely you can see the mouse hiding from the kestrel. While painting it I suddenly realised that it turned from an ‘image’ into a ‘story’ by adding a second character. They interact and the viewer can then interpret their own version. It’s probably a link back to my time working in children’s books!

Collage image of kestrel and mouse

What does being part of The Guild mean to you?

Over the years it has provided huge support and opportunities for me. The Guild is a union of different people with similar aims and ambitions for their own work and crafts in general. It is a great source of knowledge and experience in many areas and it provides a great sense of working together. This is really important for many of us who work alone most of the time. (I also enjoy helping with the window displays in the Guild shop which stretches my inventiveness and making skills to the max!)

artists workspace

Do you have any events or workshops coming up?

Unfortunately, I am too busy with a commission at the moment to run any workshops, but I hope to do lots more one-off craft events, stalls and exhibitions, in the autumn and winter.

What is on your wish list from The Guild shop?

There are so many lovely things. I particularly love Jenny Bicat’s textiles. Her silk scarves are lovely and this bedspread is a real work of art.

In contrast there are the very pared back ceramics of Robyn Hardyman which are so elegant. I’m also really taken with Rhian’s cosy woolly scarf.

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