What’s on at The Craft Centre and Design Gallery?
The Craft Centre and Design Gallery in Leeds always have a bustling programme of exhibitions and events, so we wanted to chat with a few exhibiting makers of theirs to get to know their craft.
The Own Art scheme isn’t just for paintings – you can take out a 0% interest loan for more or less anything you want, from paintings, prints, drawings and sculpture, to glassware, ceramics, jewellery, furniture and textiles, at all of our member galleries.
Currently exhibiting at The Craft Centre and Design Gallery, Leeds, is Drew Caines and his Ceramic Showcase, and Lesley Birch’s solo print exhibition ‘Remote’.
What is your current exhibition?
Drew Caines: My exhibition is called “English Dreamtime” and is the current ceramics showcase at the Craft Centre and Design Gallery in Leeds. The exhibition is a series of ceramic animal heads of iconic British Wildlife: the hare, the fox and the stag. The exhibition explores our ambiguous relationship with other animals and the wider natural world. The fox, the hare and the stag are some of the most persecuted of our native wildlife but are also deeply entwined with our folklore and history. As such they stand as symbols of the wider ecological disaster that is threatening our world and our conflicted relationship with our environment. On one hand, we cherish and revere nature whilst simultaneously exploiting and destroying it.
Lesley Birch: Remote: From Islay to Ireland – Interpretations of Wild Shores and Mysterious Forests
What is your background?
DC: After studying I sort of fell into working as a freelance designer, illustrator and web designer. I designed about everything you can think of from interactive CD Roms to T-shirts, leaflets, even the odd tattoo. I did this for about 15 years before changing track and getting a job as a Studio Assistant at Hive in Shipley. Hive is a community arts space with excellent pottery which I helped to run for a couple of years. I really enjoyed working at Hive but my wife and I had twins and then within 19 months another daughter. I became a stay at home dad for the next 6 years and literally did no art at all during this time except a bit of playdough. Eventually, with my children at school, I decided to get a studio space with East Street Arts in Leeds in their ceramics facility at Barkston House. This was a few years ago and I’ve never looked back. Over the last couple of years, I have begun seriously exhibiting and selling my work with some success.
LB: MA English Literature then a musician, teacher, now an artist
How did you come to be so entwined with your craft?
DC: As a child, I was always playing obsessively with plasticine as well as painting and drawing but when I went to secondary school things went seriously awry. I had one art lesson then my teacher died and we never got another one … so that was the end of my art career … at least for a few years. I went to university and studied Computer Science and Economics and later did a Masters but during this time I kept up my art and began freelancing as an illustrator. Later when I was around 25 I started doing an evening course in GCSE art just for fun and the teacher Rob, happened to do a pottery evening class too, which he suggested I might like. I found I really loved ceramics, all the fun of playing with Plasticine as a child came flooding back and I realised I wanted to take it further. Luckily (this was the mid-90s) there was a ceramics degree you could study part-time at the School of Art at Wolverhampton University so I went there and studied for a few years. Life intervened and I became distracted into working in commercial art but I always kept going to night classes for access to kilns and other facilities and I always kept making, usually just for the sheer pleasure of it.
LB: I came across printmaking when some art teacher friends took me to the Curwen Studio near Cambridge for a weekend collagraph session and I became entranced by it. Later I learned woodcut, monoprint and drypoint at Harrogate College and now I have my own press in my home studio. I just love the varying types of marks you can get, the selection of papers, their effects and the surprise at the pull of each print.
What inspires your work?
DC: My main inspiration is all the generations of makers and artists who have come before me, whatever their medium. When I was studying for a Masters at the London School of Economics I used to spend every lunchtime at the British Museum (which is just around the corner). It was great to have the luxury of looking at just one case of artefacts for an hour each day and I became steeped in the art of many times and places. I also love most sorts of contemporary and historical art, craft and design and recently I have been very inspired by discovering the thriving community of Ceramists and other artists on Instagram … never before have you been able to have such direct contact with other artists. My Instagram is @drewcainesceramics, I post a lot of finished work but also experiments and work in progress, its a great way to connect with other artists and art lovers.
LB: The landscape inspires me – what I see, feel and hear around me. My parents are a huge inspiration too – Mum painted and Dad was an architect. I loved his beautiful calligraphic handwriting and he was very skilful with pen and ink.
What advice would you give to someone interested in starting a craft like yours?
DC: As with most things … “just do it”. Two things make ceramics a little bit more tricky to get started with than other arts or crafts. Firstly it is quite technical, there is a lot to learn about firings, glazes etc. and secondly you need access to specialist equipment like kilns etc. For these two reasons I would totally recommend you start by attending a course of some kind. It’s not rocket science, but a knowledgeable teacher and some decent facilities will make it so much easier. Wherever you live there will be a further education college that does evening classes in pottery or ceramics. Increasingly there are also “Ceramic gyms” where you can rent shelf space, access facilities and expertise.
LB: Find a course somewhere like the West Yorkshire Print Workshop or The Curwen near Cambridge where I began my journey. Otherwise, there is lots of advice on YouTube! For me it’s the subject matter that is important – you have to choose the right printmaking technique to suit your subject. I love expressive, loose marks and so monotype and hints of drypoint work for me for my landscapes. Recently I was in Spain learning Mokulito – a wood lithography technique – which is going to be perfect for my next body of landscape work.
” Schemes like Own Art are very valuable because many people could not afford to buy work outright. “Drew Caines
What are some of the main challenges of the current art market in Leeds?
DC: For me, the main challenge is to make a name for myself. Craft and art are not cheap because it takes so long to make and involves a lot of skill and patience, so it’s vital to establish yourself as a maker of high-quality work. There are not that many places to exhibit in Leeds, so it’s vital to seize your opportunities when they come along with your absolute best work. Schemes like Own Art are very valuable because many people could not afford to buy work outright. The current economic uncertainty is also a challenge, buying art is a luxury and one of the first things to be economised on when times are hard are uncertain.
LB: I’ve no idea
Based on your relationship as a maker with Craft Centre Leeds, how important do you think it is for artists to maintain a relationship with a gallery?
DC: It’s totally vital, I’ve exhibited in quite a few galleries now and you can really notice the difference between those like the Craft Centre that know their audience and promote your work well and others that are not so proactive. Having a relationship with a good gallery opens up opportunities, provides a platform and helps build your profile.
LB: For me, the relationship is of the utmost importance. It’s a two-way process. I want to be able to work with a gallery who are supportive of my artistic development and who are interested and enthusiastic about their gallery and my place in it. In terms of this recent show, I’ve enjoyed a really positive time with the gallery team at Craft Centre Leeds. Their deadlines are all clear, organization is second to none and curating of the show and social media support is all there. I couldn’t be happier. Plus they are a really nice, happy bunch.
“Having a relationship with a good gallery opens up opportunities”
Both Drew Caines’ and Lesley Birch’s exhibitions are on view until 26th October 2019.
Have a look at what’s on at The Craft Centre and Design Gallery here.