In conversation with Hove based @butternutcollage.
Can you talk about your journey into or interest the arts?
I started at school aged about 15, and found a way into collage pretty much straight away as a diversion tactic from painting which I hated. I did the usual GCSE/A level/art degree route, but weirdly it was never collage that featured in this, at least not majorly – this was always in my spare time. After university I was a writer for about ten years but I grew tired of that and came back to art, initially in the form of relief printing. But collage called me back, and I’ve been the most content doing that ever since.
Do you use a sketchbook or journal within your process?
I thought you might ask this and I’ve been trying to work out whether I actually do or not. I think the best answer is that everything I do is a sketchbook. I certainly work in sketchbooks and they pile up in my studio as I complete each one, and about half of these pages I’d call ‘usable’, but maybe the other half ‘trials that did or didn’t work’.
Your work often references or uses nostalgic elements, can you talk about your influences and interests?
It’s all down to the source material really. I only ever use original ephemera and never print-outs as some collage artists do, so I’m at the mercy of what I can find online or buy in charity shops which brings some nice restrictions, but also contrast and common themes to my stuff.
I initially started out using material from the 1980s, which is a different kind of nostalgia entirely to the 40s and 50s material I’m cutting up these days. It’s funny how the two rarely work together that well. Maybe it’s something to do with printing techniques or colours.
As far as interests go, it’s the usual mish-mash of humour and music and a little bit of the graphic edge. Contrasts and chuckle-some pay-offs. But there’s another side to my work, which is way more abstract, that I really enjoy, just using scraps and minimal flashes of remnants, with little fragments of things that stand out. Sometimes I’ll work solely from pieces from my off-cuts bin and the process feels much more involved and telepathic, less off the cuff. Often these stay in the sketchbooks for no one to see, but if they work, it’s such a buzz.
And on the flipside, Instagram often shows me what I definitely don’t want to do.
Can you talk about your process of working. How do you work, how often?
I work in a studio that’s an old stable in Hove, and I work every day. If I don’t, I feel kind of claustrophobic. I have an admittedly high production rate but only about 50% are what I’d say I’m satisfied with. I constantly have about 50 or 60 collages on my phone that I’m sort of mulling over before putting online anywhere, and these can get deleted over time if I fall out of love with them.
I can make up to 10 collages a day. What currently concerns me though is the consistently small scale of my work – A3 at the largest – so I’d like to move into larger pieces in future.
In the studio I have 90% of my source material. It’s come from everywhere over the years, libraries and ebay and charity shops and boot sales. People send me stuff too. I never keep the actual books, I cut all the good stuff out and file them in folders to save space.
You have been creating collages for many years, has your process changed over this time? Or indeed has then means for showing them changed?
The process is pretty much the same. Nowadays I have a larger archive of ‘gubbins’ to pick from, but it’s basically still me looking through folders until something grabs me, or two things grab me, and off we go… it could be a colour or a shape or a piece of text. It’s random in the extreme, which is a joy.
I never showed my collage work to others, up until instagram, to be honest. I’ve exhibited since in a gallery, which was a tricky experience. But Insta is very immediate. I realise the danger of chasing likes, and hate it as much as anyone when something you are so proud of gets fewer likes than something that was an end of the day five minute job, but it’s a new perspective I guess. It’s a great leveller.
Do you find the process of collaging relaxing or therapeutic?
Definitely. It’s a preventative thing for me, it’s the closest I can get to mindfulness. Other art forms I’ve tried have always left me frustrated, but with collage – as it can be a very fast process – if something doesn’t work, you move on. Also, it’s a gradual way of creating. If you don’t glue anything down, you can reposition and reposition until something appears just right, which is extremely satisfying as well as time consuming.
If I can get that feeling of absolute satisfaction from one collage every few months or so, that’s enough to get me over my occasionally crippling inferiority complex and also to punch through the anxiety, notions of imposter syndrome, artistic jealousy and inadequacy that plague me the rest of the time.
You have just posted your 1000th collage, do you keep and reflect upon these, or do you create and then not look back over these?
Anything that hasn’t sold gets stacked up in sketchbooks which I sometimes have to look back through whenever someone does buy an older one. My filing system is atrocious.
So occasionally I look back, but on the whole, as soon as I turn the page, I don’t physically look at a collage again. I have one framed at home, but just one. Some older pieces are more embarrassing than others, and my technique has improved over the years, I can see that. The other side of that is that sometimes you’ll be flicking through and see something you’ve forgotten, and it surprises you in a good way. There might be an idea there that you didn’t quite process at the time, and that means you can push on with it, take it further in the present day. It’s like stealing from yourself. I don’t think you’d get that if you didn’t look back.
Obviously I see them all collected on my Instagram feed too, and sometimes they look like a good body of work together held together, other times less so. It depends what kind of mood I’m in. It’s a cliché but it really is all about the process, the doing rather than the finalising.