Working in an art studio

 7 October 2015

Award-winning artist Rita Evans works where sculpture meets performance, but views drawing as the starting point. We spoke to her about how she developed her approach and what a typical day looks like for an artist in a studio.

Wool Matrix Rita Evans, performed at the Backstage Centre with Leslie Robinson & the Thurrock Knitters Circle. Photo: Rita Evans (2015)
Wool Matrix Rita Evans, performed at the Backstage Centre with Leslie Robinson & the Thurrock Knitters Circle. Photo: Rita Evans (2015)

Although she was born in Vancouver, Rita grew up in Brighton and attended a local school. It was during her A-levels, when she studied Art, Geography and Communications, that she realised how serious she was about pursuing art further.

“I decided that art was the most important thing for me and I wanted to put 100 per cent into it. I was always in the art room.”

Rita looks back with fondness at her “brilliant and dedicated teachers”, including one – a painter – who she is still in touch with.

“This A-level Art teacher opened our eyes to the contemporary art scene. She took us to visit shows in London where I found people were doing things I was into!

"I realised that pursuing art didn’t just mean painting or sculpture, but could be stretched, changed and challenged, with a wide variety of possible media and materials."

Completing a foundation degree

After her A-levels, Rita studied for a foundation degree at Brighton College of Technology, which pushed her to specialise in fine art. The teachers encouraged her to put in the ground work by honing different drawing skills: life drawing, architectural drawing, drawing to music, and so on.

I feel I’ve been on a journey which started with drawing.

The next step was a degree in Fine Art Painting – also in Brighton. “For my interview I created lots of huge paintings. My first portfolio page was a charcoal drawing of the inside of a church – I was interested in negative space and how to depict the volume of an interior.

“At degree-level you have to be self-motivated. You are on your own as an artist for the first time. When you come out of school, you’re used to being told what to do.

"I found it so valuable having mature artists, who are used to practising, coming to look at my work. But it was up to me to develop my own style."

From university to an artist's studio

After university, Rita left Brighton for London with a view to getting a studio, meeting other artists and exposing herself to exhibitions.

“I wanted to eventually do an MA. I got a day job in Tate Modern as a gallery assistant, which was brilliant as I met loads of artists, as well as people in other jobs like education and participation.  

“It led to other roles at the Tate: interpretation (multi-media guides), as well working in the information and film curatorial departments.

“I found it useful to get to grips with why people are making art and why it’s important to culture. Understanding why it's relevant has a role in helping you find your place.”

Moving on to a master's

Rita did get enrolled on the MA in the end, but not after a huge amount of research about where was the best fit.

I have different drawings spread around the studio so I can move between them. I like to cross-contaminate.

"Because my work is in mixed media, I decided on Chelsea College of Arts in London. The course encourages you to work across performance, sculpture, drawing and other mediums.

"I researched it over years by talking to artists, going to private views and going to MA shows.

"If I hadn’t done the MA I wouldn’t have met lots of people in close networks who support each other. You can build it in other ways, but that’s how I built my network."

Life as an artist

Since completing a master's, Rita’s work has centred on preparing and running shows with a network of other artists. After finding out about Acme, which provides affordable artists' spaces, she applied for a studio in Homerton.

“It was so important to have a safe space. I was able to continue building my portfolio, run my website and send my work off to great magazines and artists resources, like a-n.

“I’ve made the most of opportunities. I’ve been on international residency, helping to teach a Visual Arts course near Delhi in India. I’ve had film screenings in Mexico, Stockholm and lots of shows in London. I think it’s really important to go on international residencies if you can and expose yourself to different cultures and new ways of creating."

Thoughts on the nature of drawing

Rita had her first solo show in a friend’s project space in 2014. It had taken ten years for things to really take off after "lots of rejection along the way". 

Around the same time, she won the Acme Studios Cripps' Studio Award

“Stephen Cripps’ work involves plans/diagrams for possible performances. Our work is both based in sound and tends to start in diagramming and be performative, where one event triggers the next.

"I feel I’ve been on a journey which began with drawing. I’ve discovered who I am and what I’m comfortable making. Drawing is the starting point for me, but it can expand into any media.

"Most of my drawings are diagrams to show how one object can influence another. A drawing can be any of these things: a plan, a list or a test. It doesn’t have to depict.

"In sculpture, drawing is really important as you need to be able to test forms, shapes and ideas. The ‘thing’ may not get made – the drawing can be the work in itself.

"The Acme award budget, as well as the space in High House Production Park and the support I get, means I can turn my drawing into actuality on a big scale. Before I won this, it was difficult to manage.

"Being based at High House Production Park means I’ve got the opportunity to work with people from around Thurrock – the Royal Opera House community and The Backstage Centre have been part of the work."

An artist's working day

"I get up at 7.30am and spend the morning writing, thinking and drawing. I think about whether there are any materials I need to collect. If I need to buy anything, I do so on the way so I can have a clear day of working without distractions.

"I work on lots of different pieces at once. I’ll have drawings spread around the studio so I can move between one and the other. I like to cross-contaminate.

The space in High House Production Park and the support I get means I can turn my drawing into actuality on a big scale. 

"One day I might end up working with a huge range of materials: I’ll make microphones, I’ll do soldering, I’ll design machinery and I’ll make models for a sound sculpture. I’ll spend time doing emails and do lots of work organising an exhibition. I stay in the studio until about 6.30pm.

"It’s a varied and interesting day. I have to mark out time to experiment, be creative and think. It’s important to allow yourself to think as well as make. It’s about stepping back. 

"Research and reading are really important. Ideas don’t come from nowhere. Visit museums, go to the library and research the internet.

"I’m researching early instruments at the moment and I’m really interested in other artists that explore this area – it helps trigger the drawing. I’ll make copies of the research and have it in the room to inspire me."

Find out more about Rita's work by visiting her website

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