Eliza Southwood is a former architect and now full time artist, specialising in printmaking, painting and illustration.
She has regular commissions and her recent clients include Rapha, Magma, Bloomsbury, Laurence King Publishing, Sustrans and the V&A Museum. She exhibits frequently at the Affordable Art Fair with East London Printmakers and Gas Gallery, and her work will also be on display at the upcoming London Illustration Fair.
What is your earliest memory of an artwork and who was it by?
It was ‘Blue Horse’ by Franz Marc. My parents had it on a postcard. I loved it and tried to copy it several times as a child.
What is your favourite time of day to be in your studio?
Early morning – I’m definitely a morning person. Also it’s nice if the studio’s tidy and not freezing cold, which is often the case in winter.
|Echelon, 2013, Eliza Southwood||Peloton, 2013, Eliza Southwood|
Talk us through a day in the life of Eliza Southwood - What does a day in your life look like?
I start off early in the morning by answering email enquiries and dealing with admin. It’s a bigger part of my life than I would like it to be but that’s the way it is if you are freelance. I try and get it over and done with asap and then I head off to my studio with my little dog, Sunny. I share the studio with a graphic designer and a children’s book illustrator. We’re all in there most days.
At the studio I often have to package and post prints, so I get that done. A short walk to Broadway Market post office with the dog follows, and then I sit down and do some drawing. This will either be an illustration commission or a design for a new print. I get new commissions on a fairly regular basis and I handle them myself – I’m not with an agency. In between commissions I work on my own thing which is always more rewarding as there is no specific agenda and I can just do what I want.
I leave the studio around 5 or when it gets too cold – whichever comes first. Then I come home to my teenagers who just seem to like having me around – I get a phone call asking where I am if I’m working late. I usually have some digital work to do on the computer most evenings – applying colour schemes to print designs (which will then be screen printed) or working on illustrations.
On Mondays and Tuesdays I usually spend the afternoon at the printing studio. It’s called East London Printmakers and it’s an artist collective. There are 40 of us that run the studio, which has a huge array of specialised equipment such as printing presses and screen printing beds. We all have a key to come and go when we want, and we all take part in maintaining the studio. I do all my own printing, although if I’m really busy I sometimes outsource the actual printing. It’s a long, fairly arduous process because each colour layer is put on separately.
How would you sum up your practice in 5 words?
I choose the best colours.
|Mountain, 2015, Eliza Southwood||Helping Hand, 2013, Eliza Southwood|
You regularly paint en plein air. What attracts you to the scenes you paint? Do you plan your painting locations or are the specific vistas happened upon?
Picasso once said that he just gets to work on an empty canvas without any forward planning. I do the complete opposite. Everything I do gets planned in my head first. I need a framework to operate around. So if I do any open air sketching, I have a pretty good idea of what I’m going to be sketching. Landscapes that catch my eye get photographed for revisiting at a later date if I can’t sit down and sketch them straight away.
Years ago on a study trip to New York I decided to go without a camera and only record my experience in sketches. I went to the top of the World Trade Centre and sketched the view from the top. I still have the notebook with the ticket stuck on next to my drawing, which is all the more poignant now the towers gone.
How did you find the experience of teaching a screenprinting workshop with Bridgeman Studio at Wilderness festival in 2015?
Pretty intense, although it was really good fun to be there. I just wanted everyone to go home satisfied and happy with their prints. With screen printing, so many things can go wrong, so it was nice to see it working out for most people. I don’t really get stressed, although sometimes I can feel a bit overwhelmed. Years ago I used to work with Arab horses in Italy before I went to university. They were very flighty and nervous animals. If you panicked in a situation with them you were done for. It was probably good training for later in life.
|Lookout, 2014, Eliza Southwood||Container, 2014, Eliza Southwood|
How does your architectural training influence the way you now work? Do you find that your draughtsmen skills help your work and expressing yourself creatively?
I am very glad I studied architecture, even though I no longer am in practice. It was wonderful to actually be asked to draw stuff, which is my favourite thing anyway. On the architectural course, drawings were supposed to be representational for the most part, there was no wandering off and being ‘interpretive’, even if you were designing a wacky building. This suited me down to the ground, as I am a draughtsman by nature. Drawing is a wonderful and enriching practice. Every so often I do some life drawing to keep going on the human figure, as a lot of my work features human beings. I am glad I didn’t study art, because I would have been subject to the vagaries of fashion and whatever direction the tutor favoured. It is hard to go your own way when you’re a youngster at college.
What has been your most rewarding commission to date?
In terms of illustration, although there have been a few stinkers, there have been several that I have really enjoyed – both because of the actual artwork coming out well and the client being really happy with it. Recently I designed a wine label for a big company which went really well. The client was lovely and wrote a really good brief, which makes a difference. The wine will be launched before the summer.
Also I have a cyclist’s ‘Bucket List Journal’ coming out this summer with Laurence King Publishing. It’s a journal you can write in, but every few pages there is a question accompanied with one of my illustrations. I did 28 original illustrations for it and also wrote all the questions. Hopefully it will be a nice gift for the discerning cyclist!
Painting-wise, I started off doing portrait commissions a few years ago but found it pretty stressful as you have to get your subject exactly right. I do more printing than painting these days. I have a regular client who commissions a bespoke print every year to commemorate a big cycling event that he and his friends take part in. I love the fact that he comes back every year for a new design.
|Campagnolo Team Car, 2013, Eliza Southwood||Uphill, 2012, Eliza Southwood|
What convinced you to join Bridgeman Studio for licensing, and what are your hopes for working as a Bridgeman Studio artist?
Like I said, I like having frameworks to operate around, and Bridgeman is pretty unique in providing their licensing service for artists, which suits me as it is good to have someone deal with the licensing side of things. It takes some of the pressure off me. Bridgeman isn’t an illustration agency either, and I like it that way as I prefer to have a degree of independence. I just feel very hopeful for the future. I love what I do and I look forward to producing lots more interesting work as a Bridgeman artist.
What would you most like to see your images licensed for?
As anything tasteful! I don’t really mind that much – I haven’t given it a lot of thought. In some ways, it might be quite interesting to have an ‘Eliza Southwood’ toilet seat.
Rioters, 2014, Eliza Southwood
If you could pick 5 artists, dead or alive, to have dinner with who would they be and why?
This is hard so I’m going to cheat and make it 9. I have too many favourite artists. This is a small selection.
Velazquez – he was a genius, and we could speak Spanish together. Goya could come along too and chat to Velazquez while I was dealing with my other guests. The likes of Velazquez and Goya makes you wonder whether the great artistic genius is a thing of the past. Anyone trying to paint in their style nowadays would look mawkish. While we’re on the big hitters, I’d bring Picasso in too. He was a frustrating genius for me – I love his etchings but dislike his late work.
Adrian Berg – one of my favourite artists. We could paint trees together the next day.
Ben Nicholson – another of my favourite artists. Barbara Hepworth could come too. These two could have a catch up as well as they were on the same scene. I love their work.
Agnes Martin – I saw her retrospective at the Tate and was overwhelmed by how brilliant she was. I would provide her with a quiet room if she felt overwhelmed at the dinner party. Her paintings resonate with quietness and self reflection.
Bernd and Hiller Becher – there would be a slight language problem as I don’t speak German, but I’ve been fascinated by their photography ever since I was an architectural student. I love their typologies. I could just tell them how wonderful their work is.
Find out More