Tuesday, 23 June 2009

7.1 / Lady in magenta / Sara Noble

What: Textile artist and scribbler
Where: London, United Kingdom
Website: saranoble.co.uk

Who is this lady Sara Noble?
There’s not one big thing that I do. Rather, I’m experimenting with different disciplines, mainly textiles. I love drawing with pink, Pilot pens and red markers, and sometimes with my sewing machine. I get excited by bright colours and keep my hands busy making things with different fibers, creating textures, patterns and structure.
Child’s play…
As a child I loved drawing. I would watch Top of the Pops and draw the singers and dancers – coming up with my own costumes for them was fun. I was very conscious of co-coordinating colours and really hated pink then. Ironic, because pink is one of my favourite colours now. I would create little displays of objects when I was little, making a tangle and mess of things. I did lots of dressing up, while listening to my parent’s music collection. Occasionally I would cut up my clothes in an attempt to make them better, much to my mother’s despair!


The land of academia…

At Winchester School of Art, my degree in textile art was a primarily conceptual course. We were pretty much left alone in our studio to develop our own work, with little structure or tuition, to push the boundaries of what textiles could be. My course mates and I often felt like the odd ones out because even though we weren’t producing textiles for a design industry, we weren’t fully accepted as fine artists either. My work at the time became very inward and emotive. I was constantly weighing up my spontaneous creativity against planned process.


The best things about the course were the great friends I made and a two-month study exchange to Kawashima School of Textiles in Kyoto. That fueled my obsession with Japanese aesthetics and showed me a different approach to making art and craft work together. With my language barrier the concept didn’t matter. This freed me up later to make more light-hearted work.

History’s not old news…
I have always been fascinated to discover new places and different cultures. I grew up with my dad in southeast London and was surrounded by a mix of people from all over the world. At the age of 10, I moved away with my mum and her partner, Tom, to a little village called
Ardley in Oxfordshire. Living there was great in my teens. There was a whole bunch of us, all around the same age. But I often felt frustrated that I'd seen more vibrant places, beyond the sticks. Tom often went on business trips and always sent postcards home of his exotic travels. This further inspired me and filled me with the desire to travel and see the world.


Before starting my degree, I took a year out to travel around Southeast Asia. And soon after graduating, with the travel bug still in me, I landed up in Thailand again, then went off to Australia. I spent a good seven months travelling around in a campervan. I didn’t completely stop making art but from large-scale installations in nice big white spaces using a variety of materials (which was what I did primarily during my degree) I had to re-evaluate what would be possible on the move. I went back to sketchbook drawing, took up knitting and started making small-scale accessories.


When I returned home, I was skint so I moved in to my dad’s house. At that stage, he'd moved up to Oxford. I held various part-time jobs while working at Modern Art Oxford as a gallery assistant for three years. I did pretty much anything they would give me or tell me to do, including refusing Tracey Emin a drink at a private view!

I assisted at a few children’s art workshops, which was fun and mainly invigilated the gallery spaces, which could be really boring at times. We weren’t allowed to read books on duty so I would often sneak in a sketchbook to draw the visitors and the artwork or a ball of wool up my sleeve to crochet small pieces.


Later on, after receiving a tax rebate and in need of a change, I left Oxford to travel to south India, on my own, for a few months. I’d always wanted to go to India. I studied Hinduism at A levels and wanted to discover more about my maternal roots in Goa. I came back with full sketchbooks, photography bursting with colour, various textiles and jewellery and generally felt more at peace and settled than I had felt in years.

Soon after that I got together with Matt and we moved to London. I started a jewellery making internship at Tatty Devine. It was a fantastic experience to see how they run their studio (a place where there are always lovely cakes at teatime!). After that I took up a full-time position managing a craft department in a large art materials store for a year. With that job I didn’t have any time to see Matt, my friends or family nor the energy to make any of my own work. I was fairly miserable so decided to go it alone as a freelance textile artist (a fairly open title as it encompasses a whole range of things that I’m currently doing).

I don’t often feel very confident about anything that I do! It might sound silly but, in order for me to feel happy, I have to do the things I love. If I feel inspired, I have the energy to get on with it and make things. Although I don't talk about it much these days, when I was 16 I spent a year in hospital undergoing chemotherapy for Hodgkin’s disease, which had a big impact on my life and how I see things, the decisions I make and my creativity.

In the first week of chemo, I lost a stone. I didn’t lose my hair but was on 24 different pills – three that were kept in the fridge, some I had to take at exactly the same time every day, steroids (which made my face bloated and, with the weight loss elsewhere, created a ‘lollipop’ effect) and anti-sickness pills (which they forgot to give me on my 1st day of treatment!).


I didn't want to feel isolated when I was ill and wanted to be with my friends. So, I kept going to school and put on a brave face. I think some people didn’t realise that I was that seriously ill with cancer – it's not as if I was bald! Some, who did know, thought it must have been the worst time of my life, but in many ways it was a very positive time – I was living every day to the full, focusing on my exams and then had a summer of live music, which got me through the rough chemo.


When I feel low and weak, I remember I’ve been given a second chance – I've been through worse and remembering that I was able to get through it makes me realise there’s more to life than doing a job I don’t want to do or being in a situation that makes me miserable.

After the treatments, I didn’t really stop and reflect. I went straight to A levels and then on to do my art foundation course, which were two very busy years. It was only at university that I had time to stop and think. And when I did just pause and do nothing I felt traumatised by the experience of being ill and went through what I can only explain now as post-traumatic syndrome. I was panicky and nervous a lot of the time.

But the experience also gave me something to explore. In my degree work, I explored the ideas of identity, DNA and ideas of confusion. I had five blood transfusions while I was ill and at university I questioned who I was with all these different, anonymous donors’ blood running through my veins and wondered how it all affected who I was.
Currently, she is…
I teach knitting and crochet to groups of adults and children in Crouch End and Tottenham libraries. I’ve crocheted my way into working for the Crafts Council, helping sew together an exhibition at the Hayward Gallery, then further on tour with The Knitting and Stitch Show. I’ve upholstered and sewn props for art installations at the Southbank Centre. I am a member of the Print Club, where I am developing my sketchbook drawings as screen-printed designs to make accessories and other items. And my printed-felt cat brooches are now being stocked in a children’s boutique, Olive Loves Alfie, in Stoke Newington.


Along with the groups I teach, I also go to a weekly knitting group in Hoxton. People think knitting and crochet is for old grannies, or worse than that, a passing trendy fad, but I’ve met some really cool, interesting people who are very talented at these craft forms.

Selling points…
I can and do knit, but get bored of it fairly quickly compared to crochet. Although knitting produces an elasticated fabric, I find the structure of making the fabric rigid, just going back and forth. With crochet, even though the fabric produced is more rigid in its form, I’m only dealing with one loop on the hook at a time so I can be a lot more liberal in my approach and direction. Creating a chain of crochet is like a line drawing but it's three-dimensional and can create sculptural pieces.

Home schooling…
Deedie (my grandmother) taught me to knit when I was seven, while I was at home with chicken pox. I didn’t really take it up again until art school, using the ends of two paint brushes to knit a piece copper wire. Even my best attempts were still really mangled back then.

My aunt Liz showed me how to crochet a few years ago. Since then, I’ve been teaching other people to knit and crochet and I’ve been making an effort to learn all the proper stitches rather than making it up as I go along. Although I don’t follow patterns, I can read them to help other people with their projects.

There’s a lot of stuff on the internet but all the groups and projects I’ve gotten involved with have been result of word of mouth. Although I mainly work alone, I find it important to get together with other people so I don’t go round in circles or start feeling stale. Through Parusha and Anita, I got involved with A Little Bazaar who put on craft markets along with gig nights and events.
Inspiring places…
I should go to the V&A more… Dalston Mill Fabrics, in Ridley Road Market is one of my recent finds. Being in there is like being in a sweet shop – besides all the usual fabric shop stuff, it’s crammed from floor to ceiling with what seems to be out of print/end of line fabrics and alcoves of haberdashery, which make my mouth water!

Fun on the side…
My first freelance job was as a visiting artist running a lantern-making project in a primary school in Oxford. Thrown in the deep end with a full class. I was really scared because I don’t feel like I’m a natural leader. But most of the students were inspired, loved my ideas and really got stuck into the work. They made paper and fabric lanterns lit by glow sticks. We paraded them through the city centre as part of a procession of 'winter dreams' with other schools. The second part of the project was a theatre performance, where I designed, and helped them make white costumes and a stage set to glow in UV light! The group’s excitement and energy during those events was incredible.
The fam’ly…
My mum went to art school but never followed it up. She became pregnant with me and hasn’t drawn or sculpted since. But, she’s always encouraged me to be creative. She once worked for Phaidon so we had lots of stunning art books at home.


My dad is a freelance writer and editor and I think he’s worked for most publishers out there. He’s an aspiring artist and one of those people who can pick up any musical instrument and just play it by ear! He works from home and is surrounded by his things he’s collected and is open to new experiences and influences. That’s what I’ve grown up around and his way of being has definitely influenced the way I am when it comes to being open and to being a hoader!


There are a few writers, musicians and artists in my extended family although it’s not something I was fully aware of when I was growing up. My early fashion drawings were inspired after a weekend spent drawing with my cousin, Danny, when I was eight and she was 10. It’s interesting now to get know my family on a personal level and through their creative work rather than just because we’re related. My grandfather Charlie attended evening classes at St Martins when he was 15 and, in his late 80’s, he sat his A level art exams the same time I did!
Stumbling blocks…
My biggest problem is decision making and getting over the inertia to start a new project. Saying that, I’m also notoriously bad at not finishing one project before starting another. I find it very hard to stick to one thing and not go off on tangents. This is why so far I haven’t specialised in one area. I don’t ever feel like saying ‘right, I’m going to be a knitter’ because then I’ll end up going off to do screen printing or start editing a short film/animation or make jewellery or maybe start painting again… I choose different media to express the different ideas I have at different times.
Things she’s learnt along the way…
I don’t have a constant flow of creativity so I have to just catch it when it’s there. Sometimes I can feel completely flat and withdrawn and at other times I go through phases of insomnia where I just have to get up and make things, draw, get stuff down on paper and make the most of the ideas before they pass.

Hoarding in the cupboard…
I love fabrics, garments and textiles that are full of colour, detail and texture. From every place that I’ve traveled to, I’ve picked up a sari or a kimono (or two). I’m actually quite good these days and am being very restrained when it comes to making purchases. I don’t want to turn into my dad and be a complete hoarder! I used to spend hours wondering around markets and charity and vintage shops trying to find unusual items. I haven’t necessarily worn those things outside in real life but I love them for dressing up at home!


I’ve inherited my grandma’s collection of buttons, ribbons, lace, knitting needles, fabric remnants, yarns, crochet squares and handmade garments. I also love collecting a lot of useless stuff like colourful drinking straws that come in packs of 200 from the pound shop and anything bright and plastic. I know one day I will do something with it all!

Where the magic happens…
Most of the drawing I do is on buses and trains. I love people watching. There’s always something unexpected to see while traveling on a bus. At the moment, I’m really enjoying having my own place. After years of living out of a backpack (on and off) and juggling two or three different homes to stay at, it’s so great to feel settled and use my flat as a studio to make stuff.

Any regrets…
During my foundation year, I was so caught up with the excitement and intensity of trying so many new art forms, which I hadn’t been exposed to before. But in the excitement I clean forgot about the only thing I ever wanted to do from the age of eight – to be a fashion designer. I guess I’ve always wondered where I would be now if I'd taken a fashion degree instead of the roundabout route I seem to be on now.
Inspirational folks…
Louise Bourgeois’ insomnia drawings, which I discovered after doing my own insomnia drawings are amazing. It made me feel happy that there was someone out there who did what I did when they had insomnia. And I was happy to see that her work was similar to what I was doing – the red lines and women who were tree-like structures. Yayoi Kusama is another inspiring lady that I admire.

Both of them are obsessed with repetition, colour and form, yet are not constrained by working in any one art form, crossing over from soft and hard sculpture to painting, fashion, drawing and installation. Both have continued to make new work throughout there long lives too.


My friends also inspire me. I can see their progression and their struggles with their everyday lives, yet they’re able to make time to create something for the love of it, whether it’s a drawing, making music or knitting.

Nice things…
Discovering new music is something I am really passionate about. I spend a lot of time at home listening to 6 Music and love going to gigs, especially if I can dance lots. In the last year, I’ve seen some unbelievable performances by Bjork, Squarepusher, Battles, Lighting Bolt, Acoustic Ladyland and Holy Fuck. I’ve been to a few of All Tomorrow’s Parties events and like their approach to music. Oxford has an interesting music scene too and I’ve seen some amazing bands in small venues, like the Cellar, before they got big.
I’m enjoying getting to go through Matt’s collection of indie comics and graphic novels. I’ve read a few but have hardly scratched the surface! His graphic novels have inspired me to use sequential art as a means of expressing myself. It’s inspired a new form of expression and I want to experiment with that.


cherie... said...

so nice to find out more about you!

Soobird said...

WOW Sara... what a fantastic interview, I love the photos.

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