Lisa Marie Davies is an illustrator and textile artist living and working in Bristol. In her work – often featuring curious characters reminiscent of those one can find in traditional folk tales – she skillfully combines drawing, printmaking and embroidery in order to explore and come to terms with contemporary themes of morality and cultural values. We caught up with Lisa at her home in Bedminster to have a chat about her journey into art and her involvement with Bristol Print Collective, and later on we headed to Jacky Puzey’s embroidery studio in Easton, where Lisa gave us an insight into her creative process and showed us how she makes her work using digital technology.
For people who are not yet familiar with your work – who is Lisa Davies?
I am an illustrator and textile artist based in Bristol. I moved here four years ago from Leeds to study the Multi-disciplinary Printmaking MA at the University of the West of England, which I graduated from last year. I also work as an art technician in both Clifton High School and St. Brendan’s Sixth Form College. My work often features curious characters reminiscent to those you would find in traditional folk tales. Expect to see a lot of witches, demons, animals and other mysterious creatures creeping through moody landscapes. The nature of folk tales is to explore and come to terms with themes of morality and cultural values – to make sense of the world around us. In this way I use these characters to explore the world as I experience it, as well as processing larger issues that affect us all. My dreams often find their way into my work as well, they are vivid and usually very strange. I think they sometimes follow the same structure as a fairy tale, with surreal landscapes, symbolic objects and creatures.
What is your most vivid childhood memory?
This is a tough one, for some reason a memory that keeps returning to me is one where I am lying across a climbing frame in a playground located in the middle of a circle of tower blocks in Germany (where I was born). It was a really hot day, and I was watching a huge fly intently as it sunbathed. I can remember every detail of the fly, and being quite content.
How did you get into illustration and textiles? What or who inspired you to pursue an artistic career?
Drawing and making has always been a natural part of my life, and I am lucky that my family have always supported my interests. Pursuing an artistic career wasn’t something I had to get into, it just was and has always been what I am going to do. Except if you catch me having a bad day, then I find myself considering starting over as a food historian. My Gran was a big influence on my interest in textiles, as whenever I visited her as a child, she had a new craft project for me and my cousins to do. For a while she was a member of the Embroiderers’ Guild, and used to take us to their meetings and get us involved in projects there. Interestingly, as I grew up I lost interest in sewing, and it has only been the past few years that my passion for it has resurfaced.
In your work, you combine drawing, printmaking and embroidery. How do you strike the balance between these mediums and which one do you feel closest to?
I would say drawing is what I feel closest to, as that is how everything starts. I can make a simple line drawing and take it anywhere. I find that I usually lean more towards either printmaking or embroidery depending on the project at hand. The medium can amplify the message, for example embroidery is seen as instinctively domestic, which I think lends itself well to storytelling. In both processes there are fast and slow techniques and plenty of room for experimentation, so I might start with creating relief printed shapes and hand stitch on top, or use a digital embroidery machine to create large dense areas of stitched landscapes, and then finish with hand embroidery techniques that the machine can’t do. I work intuitively, and find balance that way, so each outcome is slightly different.
How do you go about developing an idea for a new work? How do you prepare for it?
As I mentioned above, it always begins with drawing. My drawings always start off a bit awkward and forced, especially if I need to draw something specific, so I will keep drawing until I loosen up and can make it my own. If I am working to a brief, I will pick out aspects of it and think about how I can visualise them, researching subject matter and techniques that I think will complement each other. I find I often revisit old work and sketchbooks, looking for loose drawings that I think will help me. Then depending on what the outcome intends to be, the process varies considerably. I have made books, wall hangings, tents, accessories, printed fabrics patterns and more, all using a variety of printmaking, embroidery and digital processing techniques so each thing needs a different approach. It certainly keeps things interesting. In between external projects, I have a lot of smaller non-urgent projects that I return to and work on at my own pace. Being able to tinker with these things without pressure helps me to experiment and come up with new ideas.
What would you like a viewer to walk away with from your work?
I would like viewers to come away with a smile on their face, and to experience something they weren’t expecting. I have a silly sense of humour and a vivid imagination, and I want people to enjoy themselves.
What’s the most memorable moment you’ve had related to your art?
Probably the month long residency I did with the Bristol Print Collective ladies in August 2017 at Funen Print Studio in Odense, Denmark. It was such a luxury to be able to focus on making work without anything but Danish pastries and sunny bike rides to distract you. I learnt a lot about my practice and my method of working, and met so many lovely and inspiring people.
What circuit connects what you’re doing to how you would like to change the world?
I recently made a couple of pieces that have looked at environmental issues, which I am sure most people are finding hard to ignore. The more I find out, the more complicated it gets, so perhaps my work might conjure up some discussions about that, or getting people thinking about their actions towards a more sustainable future. Aside from this, I am not sure if a lot of my work is about changing the world, it’s probably more about exploring it as it is happening now. The use of archetypal figures such as the witch provides a space to embody basic human experience on a universal level, and can reach us in a way we might not be consciously aware of.
Tell us a bit about your work with Bristol Print Collective. Could you give us some insight into the collaborative working process that lies at the heart of this initiative?
Bristol Print Collective started through a mutual love of printmaking and the desire to share this craft with people who don’t necessarily have access to creative outlets. I met Vicky Willmott and Jemma Gunning on the MA Print course, and we realised quickly that we wanted to work together. We wanted to share the joy of printmaking with everyone, and show that it isn’t just for people with money and access to facilities. So we started doing pop-up workshops in various locations around Bristol, specialising in lo-fi printmaking techniques. We all have our own personal practices that differ wildly from one another, which I think helped keep things fresh and inspiring.
What can we expect from the collective in the near future and how can people get involved in your project?
I have actually taken a step back from the collective, which was really hard to do, but I felt I needed more time to focus on my own practice. Of course I am still close friends with Jemma and Vicky and the workshops are continuing regularly. I won’t say too much, but they have mentioned guest artist workshops might be in the pipeline, so keep an eye out for those. As for getting involved, Bristol Print Collective are always interested in community projects, festivals and finding out about new locations to deliver workshops, so if you have an idea, don’t hesitate to send an email.
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve been given?
When it comes to art, I often think back to a talk Frea Buckler gave to the MA Print students about her journey as an artist. She mentioned about being in it for the long run, and that no matter what happens, she would always be making. I find that is something I need to remind myself sometimes, when I get unnecessarily bogged down by the idea of being ‘successful’. That’s not what is important. She also spoke about trusting your instincts, and that all your inspirations and interests will shine through naturally, so don’t try too hard!
What are three questions you don’t have an answer for?
What are dreams for?
In thousands of years time, will the future generation of archeologists be digging up old iPads like ancient pottery and trying to figure out the mysteries of our life time?
Can we actually become truly plastic free?
What is inspiring you right now, and how do you emulate it through your current work?
I like merging traditional techniques with new technologies, so I often find myself looking at vintage 60’s and 70’s craft books and wondering how I can create something that references that nostalgia but is still contemporary. I have also been looking at costume and fashion reference books from the same era, you know the ones that are just page after page of simple line drawings of clothes. I love the shapes and silhouettes, and I am obsessed with drawing shoes and hats.
Where can we see your work in 2019?
The Bristol Print Collective girls and I have been invited back to Odense in Denmark to exhibit work we have made since our residency at Funen Print Studio in 2017. We will be exhibiting with Gry Holst, a studio member there, who did a six week residency with us here in Bristol last summer. It’s a celebration of the connections we have made and how this exchange of cultures has inspired our work since. It is called “Exchange” and is open between 1 and 25 June. We are all flying over to visit too, I can’t wait!
And finally, what are your dreams and aspirations for the future?
I want my work to become more interactive and more of an experience for the viewer. For my degree show, I incorporated Arduino coded LED sequins into an embroidered tapestry that glowed and flickered, which was really exciting. I want to do more of this, more lights, maybe motion sensitive, maybe wearable! Watch this space.