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Interview with Sarah Hamilton

Can you tell me about your background and when your interest in art started?

I can’t remember a time when I wasn’t painting, cutting, gluing and generally making a mess in the name of creativity. As a child, I’d drive my parents crazy by scribbling on newspapers, envelopes, phone books (remember them?!) – any scrap of paper I could lay my hands on. Fortunately, in my teens, I upgraded to sketchbooks in and have used them ever since. I’m lucky – I knew I wanted to be an artist and designer early on, so after an art foundation course in Southampton I moved to Manchester to do a Fine Art degree. The plan was to seek inspiration from gritty grey urban landscapes – which is ironic as nowadays most of my work is about my passion for nature and colour.

Following a move to London and an MA in Printmaking at Camberwell, I began my career making handmade cards, which sold in stores including The Conran Shop, Paperchase and Designers Guild. Their success enabled me to design ranges of homewares, whilst also creating artwork for exhibitions and private commissions, which is what I mostly concentrate on these days.

Which artists have inspired your work?

That’s always a tough one as so much beyond simply artists inspire me: music, architecture, natural forms – the list is endless. I’d imagine similar to the inspirations of some of my favourite artists: Paul Klee, Milton Avery, Ben Nicholson, Frida Kahlo, Barbara Hepworth, Terry Frost, Georges Braque, to name a few. 

Describe the way you work and how you create your images.

All my work begins in a sketchbook – just a blank sheet of paper and a range of pencils. Of late, I’ve been working much more directly, making paintings and drawings. I have, over the years, used a computer to process my imagery though nowadays I simply love painting – it’s so much more sensitive. I work on many paintings at once – they’re more like studies – the edge of a leaf or the detail and texture of a pebble for instance, adding a shape, a piece of drawing as I go. I create lots of coloured paper pieces and shapes and almost build my work as I’m very exacting – nothing for me is ever a simple A to B. 

Where do you exhibit your work?

I often take part in shows, both in the UK and abroad, plus also doing design work. Currently I’m part of a group show in Brighton curated by Jehane Boden Spiers who I met when she wrote a chapter about art licensing for my book House of Cards. That’s the fun of being an artist – you never know where things will lead. 

What do you like about living in South East London?

That it’s not North London. Just kidding – I like North London – but I love South London. I love the glorious city views, the woods, parks and commons and the sense of space – the city and the country – the best of both worlds. 

Can you tell us about your collaboration with other artists and designers?

Collaborating with others is one of life’s greatest pleasures and I do it often, be it on design briefs, at exhibitions or in wider ways. Being an artist can be a solitary pursuit so it’s such a joy to learn, laugh and share whilst working towards a common goal. That the Just A Card campaign is making such an impact is down to the fantastic team and broader network of partnerships which we’ve built. I love sharing my Open House with others, and this year I’m joined by fellow artists and good friends Gabriela Szulman and Snowden Flood – pooling resources, sharing the workload and experiences always makes it far more fun and enjoyable. 

Can you tell us about your Just A Card campaign?

The Just A Card campaign started when I read the quote: ‘If everyone who’d complimented our beautiful gallery had bought ‘just a card’ we’d still be open’ by storekeepers who’d recently shut up shop. This really got me thinking. If people want to see independent shops, artists, designers and makers thrive, as so many say they do, then they need to vote with their wallets. Creativity is about passion, originality and diversity way more than it is about money – but everyone needs to pay the bills. Every sale, however small, even just a card, adds up and makes such a difference.

In the three years since we’ve been running the campaign, shops, artists and makers tell us that it’s making a big impact. It’s raising awareness and actively generating sales and support for creatives. So if you’re visiting artists during the festival, remember that your support is hugely valued. Compliments mean the world, don’t get me wrong – they make life a sunnier place – but if you love an artist’s work and are in a position to do so, then please remember that buying something, however small, means so much. You get that extra special treasure, made with love and passion, and you’ll enable creatives to continue doing what they love most. Win win – happy dance all round!

You have been involved in the Artists’ Open House for many years, what do you like about being part of it?

Open House is one of the highlights of my year. It’s such a pleasure to welcome visitors to my home and studio and share my work. It’s so sociable too – people always say they love seeing where artists live, as the houses are always fascinating. It’s true that my house does reflect and inspire my work. Open Houses/Studios are such a great way for people to discover and appreciate what goes into making artwork – it’s wonderful that people enjoy visiting them so much and are so interested and supportive. 

What are you going to be showing for this year’s Artists’ Open House?

A new series of watercolours, alongside a range of homewares, prints and stationery. The watercolour paintings are deceptively simple – just a single leaf, pebble or detail. I’ve spent months working on these and I’m loving that they’re taking my work in a new direction. I hope people like them as much as I’ve enjoyed working on them. I’ll also be signing copies of my book House of Cards. Do come and say hello! 

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