As part of a new end-of-the-year series we are launching, The Verse’s Alice Pierre had the opportunity to interview (via email of course, we didn’t break any social distancing rule) a few students who graduated this June 2020 from some of Brighton University’s arts programs. Today, we are talking with Sophie Walker, who graduated with a BA (Hons) in Illustration and accepted to talk to us about her time at Brighton University and her art.
The Verse: Tell us a little bit about yourself. Where are you from, your interests, how you got into illustration?
Sophie: I’m a Brightonian born and bred. I grew up in Saltdean, a small coastal village sat on the chalk cliffs, about a 20-minute drive away from the centre of town. I now live in Hove and have just finished my bachelor’s degree in Illustration at the University of Brighton. The decision to stay in Brighton was an easy one. It is often referred to the Art Capital of the UK and it certainly does live up to its reputation (note from the editor: the University of Brighton’s art and design departments are ranked 8th in the UK by the QS World University Rankings, as of 2020).
It is always so vibrant and colourful. I often reflect and think that if I wasn’t born here, I would have naturally gravitated towards Brighton to study art. I’m a great lover of nature, and the rich natural surroundings of the city make me spoilt for inspiration. A lot of my work has been directly inspired by the abstract forms of the sea and rolling landscapes of the south downs. I also owe a lot of my creative practice to my passion for exploring different cultures. I’m proud of my Egyptian heritage and often get inspired by the ancient artforms of Egypt, North Africa and Asia.
The Verse: What can you tell us about your time at the University of Brighton?
Sophie: I have found my time here at Brighton studying a BA in Illustration very pivotal in my development as a creative person. Looking back at my mindset when I first began the course in September 2017, I felt afraid to jump into anything too technical or complex. I wanted all of my work to look aesthetically pleasing. I was afraid of imperfection, as it knocked my confidence to carry on and finish a project. I am grateful to my former-self for having these flaws as a creative person and for my current-self for overcoming and continuously working on them. University was a driving force behind this positive shift.
The Verse: What can you tell us about your practice? Where do you get your inspiration from ? What themes do you work around?
Sophie: When looking at my portfolio, it’s a very mixed bag. I tend to pride myself on my versatility over a variety of mediums. My older projects focus on the use of traditional raw materials such as painting, and oil pastel drawings. My newer works take on a more photographic approach. My final year of my degree was the year where I really pushed my boundaries in my practice. The thought of anything technical and software-based certainly frightened me when choosing a media for projects. Now at the end of my degree, I view photography as my primary source of visually communicating. However, I understand now that each project is different. I have now adopted a mindset which enables me to be open to making specific design decisions based on different briefs.
I continue to be influenced by my love for art history in my work. Whether it be the masters of the Italian Renaissance or the Abstract Expressionist movement in the mid 20th century, I always find myself reaching for the art history books to seek inspiration. I credit my passion for nature and world cultures for also having a prominent influence on my work. In January 2020, I wrote my dissertation on Minimalism in Design. I explored how our lives could be better with having less. I’ve previously drawn parallels with this investigation in my studio practice by exploring Japanese Zen art and spontaneous mark-making.
The Verse: Could you tell us about your work for the Graduation show, and what you have worked on this past year?
Sophie: The project featured in the online graduate show is an Album Concept Project for Bonobo’s “Black Sands”. Photo-collaging layered with my Chinese-Brush paintings gives the record a whole new aesthetic. The careful consideration of the visual components of these designs was made by studying Bonobo’s original influence for the album, which centred on global travel and appreciation of Earth. I chose to exhibit this project as there was a 5-image limit on the online submissions.
However, another project that I worked on alongside this was “Inside, Looking Out”. Which has gained a great response from the public and even a bit of local publicity. The idea behind it was for it to be crowd sourced imagery from all of the world. In April, I took to social media and asked people to send me images of their lockdown windows with any accompanying quotes to narrate their thoughts and feelings during the pandemic crisis. Overall, I collected around 100 submissions, with some stretching as far as Bermuda, Thailand and Australia. I believe this project was successful in that it provided a sense of togetherness and community from people celebrating what they all have in common at the time; a window to look out onto the paused world throughout times of loneliness and isolation.
The Verse: I think we can all agree this year has been quite strange, with the strikes and mainly lockdown, which resulted in online classes, as well as Graduation shows, and ceremonies being cancelled. What has it been like for you?
Sophie: Like most of the class of 2020, I couldn’t help feeling a sense of disappointment at the end of my final year. Being told that due to COVID-19, we were no longer to have a graduation in the summer, a graduate show exhibition and simply no access to the university’s resources was extremely difficult to take in at first. This year was supposed to be amazing for us as graduates, with the celebration of three years of hard work in the summer and then the excitement of new career paths beginning to take shape.
Suddenly it felt that it was all taken away from us at the click of a finger. Not only will we not be able to throw our caps in the air this year, we are also virtually graduating in the age of a recession with limitation on careers and a lot of financial anxiety. For this, my heart goes out to the young people of today, I really hope this doesn’t knock back the newest generation of creatives and that we can get through the hardship and come out stronger. Doom and gloom aside, we should all be incredibly proud that we finished our degree in the middle of a pandemic and global turmoil.
The Verse: So, what’s next?
Sophie: In September 2020, I will begin my teacher training year by studying for a PGCE in Secondary Art & Design at University of Brighton. This career path also allows me to build my personal practice along-side my professional development as a teacher.
Here are the links to follow Sophie on Instagram:
Sophie’s website: https://www.sophiewalkerart.co.uk/insidelookingout
“Inside Looking Out” press coverage: https://www.theargus.co.uk/news/18437590.brighton-photographer-sophie-walkers-project-inside-looking/?fbclid=IwAR0CX43wWPAUUEcyRhoZyTsn5sr_HfkHhkBDkWCuUNPdCrhtUrYvbgQTo34
Sophie’s Graduation Show on the University of Brighton’s website:
All pictures courtesy of Sophie Walker.