Open Studios Interview with Lizzie Perkins
Lizzie Perkins has had a varied career in art: from her time at Art College in the 1960s, to teaching art at St Barts School in Newbury, and running an art shop in Wallingford for 25 years. Now at a time in life when others may be taking it easy in retirement, Lizzie’s passion for art still burns strongly and there aren’t enough hours in the day to do the work that she loves: screen printing and painting watercolours.
The common theme in all of Lizzie’s work is nature, and more specifically animals. She loves to take hundreds of photographs of animals – preferably in their natural setting, such as at the Wildfowl & Wetlands Trust centres for native bird species – but also at places like the Cotswold Wildlife Park, for more exotic animals. Her photographs then form the basis of many of her prints and paintings, but she enjoys using a computer to construct the optimum composition from which to work. Lizzie retrained in screen printing after a long break and learnt new techniques which she has readily adopted. She took me through the painstaking process of making one image, and she has created picture boards to illustrate the way she works which will be available for visitors to her studio in May.
Each screen print is built up of 12 to 15 layers of colour delivered through a series of stencils, starting with the palest tone and overlapping colours until the final darkest layer is added. For each layer she cuts out a separate part of the design on a sheet of newsprint; the tiny holes create a lace-like perforated sheet that is then placed carefully onto the paper that covers the board under the screen itself. Ink is then passed through the screen with a squeegee, using just the right amount of pressure to leave the pattern desired on the paper beneath and not to smudge. Lizzie must have done this thousands of times to be able to create her detailed and delicate images, such as the one she showed me of swans on a sun-speckled lake with wind-ruffled feathers. Great care goes into capturing the play of light on surfaces and capturing the subtle tones of colours. Lizzie can make up to 40 prints of each image, each time taking care that the ink is not overloaded and nothing splashes or smudges. Unsurprisingly the whole process for one screen print takes several weeks.
Lizzie’s watercolours share a similar subject matter, but also include beautiful paintings of plants and flowers. She uses masking techniques to enable her to freely paint the background, sometimes on wet paper, which gives a lovely contrast to the much more controlled painting of her animal and bird subjects. Lizzie is always pushing herself to improve, and to try new techniques – most recently she has decided to leave more empty space in her pictures, to contrast with the colours and to give depth. Each picture has a new challenge, particularly with the screen prints as she considers how best to represent difficult aspects such as ripples on water.
In addition to her watercolours and prints, Lizzie sells many of her images as greetings cards and notelets. You can visit Lizzie’s garden studio in Upper Basildon during Open Studios in May. Full details of her opening times will be in the Open Studios directory available widely from 3 April. Her work will also be on show in May in the café at John Lewis in Reading, along with that of several other Open Studio artists.
The Open Studios Directory of Artists is out now with full details of all the artists exhibiting and their opening times. You can get a free copy in public libraries, the Corn Exchange and other local venues and the artists themselves. Or you can download a copy of the Directory.
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