The Working Process of Sarah Bale March 9, 2018

Fine artist Sarah Bale creates work right next to the Pop My Mind office (lucky us!) since we are both part of the creative business and artist space the Waterfront Studios in Ipswich. In this interview, Sarah takes us behind the scenes into her inspiring creative process, working space and curation experience.

What do you like most about working in a studio space?

I can get very messy. After five minutes in my studio, I am usually covered in ink or paint! I love working in my studio space as it gives me the freedom to experiment on a much larger scale than in my home studio and it does not matter so much if I cover the floor in paint splashes!

What kind of work do you create in your space?

I mostly work in ink on paper but recently I’ve started using acrylic and oils again. ‘Girl in Edinburgh’ is a new piece I have created using acrylic. It has been great to experiment with colours and textures again.

Girl in Edinburgh (acrylic on board)

When do you use your space and what is your normal routine when you come in to work?

I try to get into my studio around 10am, and the first thing I do is pop the radio on. I struggle to work in silence so the radio has to go on – my favourite station is BBC Radio 6 and I always listen to Women’s hour on BBC Radio 4.

Once the silence has been broken, I start the process of making a drawing or painting. Listening to music or the gentle hum of voices really helps me start a piece of art. There is a rhythm found in both music and the voice and this is the same rhythm when making marks on a surface. The sound helps create the rhythmic flow as the brush moves across a canvas.

Around 12pm, I go for lunch with Julie who is an artist I share my studio with. Coffee Cat on the Waterfront is our favourite place to eat (I really recommend the toast with Marmalade)! My studio days are filled with lots of chatting and laughter with Julie, this is great because being an artist can be a solitary occupation.

In your piece ‘Working Process’ you said: “Drawing in sketchbooks and on paper is the way I explore ideas before moving on to a final piece of work.” How do one of your ideas eventually become a final piece? 

When I am starting a piece of work, I have an image planned in my mind. It might be inspired from a photograph or a film I have seen, books and poetry can also spark my imagination when creating work. It is from this starting point I make preliminary drawings.  

One of my first decisions is always, “do I want a monochromatic image or use colour”? I feel colour choice is very important because that is integral to creating the mood of the painting, so selecting the right colour combination, to me, is essential. I also like to look at how other artists use colour or set up a scene. It is good to always be inspired by others and continuously learn and experiment with new styles and techniques. Once I have decided on my colour scheme and set up – I am ready to paint.

A painting in progress in Sarah’s studio

What is your favourite subject to explore in your work?

People, and almost always woman. When I paint a face or a pose I am exploring the vulnerability, aggression and love of a person. All the complexities of the human condition. Painting and drawing are my language, I try and make each stroke and mark a clue to what is hidden beneath, to tell a story. My piece titled ‘Isobel’s Silence’ is an example where I have tried to evoke the intensity of an emotion through the ink marks I have made on her face. Everyone has a public persona but I am trying to reveal what is real.  

Isobel’s Silence (ink on paper)

“Painting and drawing are my language, I try and make each stroke and mark a clue to what is hidden beneath, to tell a story.”

A lot of your pieces are inspired by film stills. What do you find appealing about this source material?

Watching cinematic stories of people and places with music and colours often prompts me to make a painting. For a couple of hours when you watch a film you can escape into a different world. I love to fully involve myself into the film by becoming the character on the screen and feeling the pleasure and pain of their life. You can become part of the story.

The image I make from film stills on the screen can often be distorted and look nothing like the original scene in my final piece. I want my work to be an echo of an image I have seen but something new we can all experience. I want the viewer to connect with my art and feel the intense emotion of the person in my picture, again it is about stripping back what is hidden.

My ink painting ‘Spin’ evolved from watching Alfred Hitchcock’s film The Birds. I looked at each frame in the scene where Tippi Hedren is attacked by birds inside a house. I studied each single frame until I found an image that captured the intensity, fear and movement of that sequence in the film. I then made a charcoal drawing onto paper before adding ink. I wanted to keep my style very free so not to lose the movement of her hands and the wings of the birds flying around her.

Spin (ink on paper)

Do you think being part of the Waterfront Studios has given you any opportunities or benefits you wouldn’t have had otherwise?

Lots of opportunities have arisen from being part of the studio. The biggest opportunity is meeting other artists and this has led to us collaborating in future exhibitions. Connecting with various creative people from different areas of the arts is incredibly motivating as well as beneficial. We exchange ideas and discuss future possibilities. I am close to some of the other female artists there and we always support and encourage each other!

So far this year I have two exhibitions with three other artists from the studio planned. I will be exhibiting at Ipswich Tourist Centre with other Waterfront Studios artists. This is a very exciting venue as it is a beautiful medieval church building right in the town’s centre. The show is called Street Spirits and opens on May 21st for a week. The second exhibition I’m involved in is called Breaking Glass. This show is at the Pond Gallery in beautiful Snape. The exhibition opens on August 9th until 15th – so keep an eye out!

Last summer, you curated the Echo Exhibition – a selection of artwork from the Waterfront Studios to be displayed for 6 months at Prettys Solicitors. How did you find collaborating with a local business?

Working with Prettys was a really fantastic experience. It is so encouraging that Prettys, who are in an industry that stereotypically not known for its creativity, are supportive towards the Arts. Working with the solicitors gave us the opportunity to present our contemporary art to a market of people who would not usually go to exhibitions. We sold a lot of work but more importantly, the feedback we received was extremely positive.

How do you think Pretty’s benefited from having this exhibition in their building?

Prettys had a variety of artwork filling their walls. There was an incredible range of different styles and work, which I think was stimulating for staff and clients alike. Artwork sparks the imagination and creates conversations. Connections can be made when people see a piece of art. One of the paintings displayed in the exhibition, a vibrant yellow painted Suffolk landscape, was sold to a buyer who described how they connected with the art – memories suddenly came alive when he saw the painting and I think that is brilliant that a piece of art can incite such an emotional response.

“Artwork sparks the imagination and creates conversations. Connections can be made when people see a piece of art.”

Do you think curating work gives you personally a better understanding or appreciation of art?

It has definitely given me an understanding of the work and commitment involved in putting a large exhibition together – it took a lot of hard work, early starts and a lot of help from my friends hanging pictures! I now have confidence and knowledge of what needed to organise future exhibitions.

Why do you think artists should get involved in opportunities like exhibitions?

Exhibitions raise your profile. You get to meet a variety of people who share your love of art. It is also helpful to hear other people’s opinions, good or bad. On many occasions, someone has seen things in my work that I do not. It is always interesting to hear other people’s ideas and opinions.

I have always been a believer in saying yes to opportunities, you never know what they will lead to!

Sarah at work in her studio

See more of Sarah’s expressive artwork and keep up to date on her website, her Instagram page and her Pop My Mind profile.