Q&A: KEZIAH PHILIPPS
Q. We’re here today talking to printmaker Keziah Philipps. Tell me how it all started?
A. I went to University to do Illustration & Animation. It took me ages to decide whether I should do Science or Art at Uni and then I decided to do Animation at Kingston in South London. We got taster sessions of printmaking, but I didn’t really do printmaking until my third year when I studied abroad in America and I went to Michigan. It was studying abroad for an extra year, and my tutors here said I could do what I wanted, I didn’t like the animation class very much so I took printmaking for fun because in America you just choose what you want to take, so I took printmaking and loads of other stuff like ceramics and life drawing.
So I did printmaking for fun, and I had a brilliant Professsor, Dellas Henke. It was so much fun I did it all the time for a whole year and I didn’t hardly do any animation, but I did animated prints instead.
Q. How did you hear you’d won the Inaugural Assembly House Prize?
A. This is funny! I applied just thinking I guess I will, but I was on holiday in Brazil travelling around and I got the email saying: ‘Congratulations! Can you come in on Monday?’ and I was like, probably not! So I was really surprised, but I was away in Brazil for a few weeks which was actually really frustrating as I super excited about starting and I wanted to draw Norfolk, but I was in Brazil and thought I should appreciate it while I’m here. So it was quite funny and quite a surprise.
Q. Can you tell me a bit about the Assembly House Prize?
A. It’s like being commissioned to make 12 to 15 prints. Any Norfolk based print-maker can apply and it’s an ‘emerging artist’ prize. So I was in a perfect position as I’d just come back to Norfolk from London and I think I know Norfolk quite well. Basically I’m making 12 copper etchings for a show that will be in the Assembly House from 6th July. I also won a spot in the Norwich Print Fair, so I’m going to have a little stand there which is super exciting and I’m going to make extra work for that.
Q. I saw that you’d done animation and ceramics; can you tell me a little bit about those?
A. My degree was actually in animation, so all my final projects in London were all animation ones. I couldn’t say ‘here’s a print’, but the course was quite free so you could do stuff like installation. I could have changed to Illustration half-way, but Animation was important to me and I really like doing it, so I ended up doing for my final project, a huge zinc etching (because Kingston had a really big press so I could do really big). I drew each part of the animation on it, of things morphing into the next thing. And I drew that free hand and then printed it, so I couldn’t really test it because I had to draw it all first. When I printed it I photographed it using Dragonframe, it shows you the previous photo you took. So the little thing it starts with, I would centre that in the middle (but you could see the other ones on the side) and then I would shift it along so it matched the middle position, and it morphed that way. Then I put recordings of me print-making as the sound track.
Q. And what did you do with ceramics?
A. In ceramics I’d studied that in America for just one semester but I really liked it and I want to do more of it. My professor (Dellas) has it now as is bird bath, but one thing I made was supposed to be a cake platter, I didn’t really want to make one, but the teacher was really chilled out about it because he knew I would work hard. I made a zoetrope cake platter where there’s a frog that jumps from the middle to the outside in a spiral shape, so that as you rotate it you see the frog coming towards you.
Q. How did you hear about Print to the People?
A. I graduated from London and then I realised I’d spent all my time on the final project and hadn’t organised what I was going to do when I finished. So I started applying for loads of things but my tenancy agreement ran out and I didn’t want to renew it before I had a job so I came back home to live with my mum for a bit while I applied for stuff. Then I applied for so many different things and I was searching for print stuff and animation stuff and searched ‘Print Norwich’ or something like that. Print to the People’s site page came up and I thought ‘Oh my God, there’s a print place in Norwich!’ which I didn’t know about as the last time I was properly in Norwich was four years ago and also I didn’t know I liked printmaking then. Now I did, so I decided to volunteer. I went on the website and saw there was a Halloween event coming up and I emailed about volunteering for that and it happened to be the next weekend so it was perfect! I came to that and it was really cool and I loved it. So as soon as I heard that I thought, ‘This is the place’.
Q. What are you working on right now?
A. I’m working on the 12 etchings.
Q. And these are the big ones?
A. They’re all varying sizes. Like the one upstairs is my biggest one and that will be a map of Norfolk and then there’s one that’s slightly smaller that’s a map of Norwich. The others vary in size completely. One is five by five centimetres roughly and some are ten by ten or something. And there’s a moth and a newt. I always end up drawing curled up lizard things at least once in every project.
Q. I guess you have a particular interest in maps?
A. Yes. At least two of the etchings I want to do are maps. One of Norfolk and one of Norwich, because I think when you make a map you see a place in a new way and you understand it differently. I really like that process. I also think when someone sees a map you’ve made they slightly understand the way you see the place when you made the map. So I like making maps that make people look at a place differently, not just a really accurate to scale map but a map of the feeling of being there or the impression you get when you’re there. So when people look at it they can say ‘I know where that is' because it’s a drawing of the building, not just a floor plan or rectangle shape, something people can recognise. So you can see where something is in relation to something else.
Q. Like a Mind Map?
A. Yes. I do loads of mind maps. I’ve brought my sketch book that has loads in. I like mind maps because when you write about something you’re thinking about it bumps into something else and you can join something to something and realise that they’re somehow connected. I use them for everything.
Q. What inspires you?
A. That is a great question, but I never know the answer to this. I think travelling a lot or new experiences or trying to experience the same thing in a new way. That’s what I like about maps, especially when I’m making one. I remember making one of London, but I’d always caught the tube everywhere, where everywhere is a little dot. Then for this map I started connecting them all and discovering some of them I’d assumed were miles away but you could easily walk between them. So I think travelling and experiencing new things is really important to me. I also really like nature. I feel like that’s such a classic, boring answer because everyone says it, but I don’t know, I just find it really inspiring. I think books as well. I really like reading travel books. Robert MacFarlane’s and Roger Deakin’s books are so good. I want my work to be what their books do but as drawings and animations.
Q. And Wainwright, who illustrated the Peak District?
A. I love him, he’s so great. He’s brilliant. I discovered him on a TV show and I thought ‘this is the man’!
Q. You live in the countryside now, don’t you?
A. Yeah, at the moment, properly in the sticks, but when I was in London it was four years in a city. I like the city as well, just differently.
Q. What artists do you admire or get inspiration from?
A. It’s difficult because I do printmaking and animation, so I have different ones.
Q. You still do Animation?
A. Yeah, I still do it. I did a short internship at an animation studio before I went to Brazil. My favourite animators are Don Hertzfeldt. He made ‘My Spoon is too big’ /vimeo.com/ondemand/rejected And he made some other really good ones like ‘The World of Tomorrow’ vimeo.com/ondemand/worldoftomorrow/ and stuff. So I really like him and Caleb Wood is another animator I really like. No one knows his films, but they’re really good. Like ‘Goodbye Rabbit Hop Hop’ vimeo.com/83107957 Yeah, those two are probably my favourite animators. Caleb Wood is more similar to my style, Don Hertzfeldt is more funny.
Q. And Artists?
A. I really like Brodsky and Utkin. They were Russian architects and they weren’t allowed to make the buildings they wanted to make. So they made paper architecture and they made etchings of impossible places and buildings. I stumbled on them in a free exhibition at the Tate once and thought this is the best place I’ve been in my life. And it was just a random room. I saw it all for real the first time, the massive etchings.
Brodsky & Utkin: A Glass Tower 1984-1990
I also like Tove Jansson. She made The Moomins. I love her drawing. Not especially the comics so much as her little inky paintings and stuff she’s done. They’re really really nice.
Illustration: Tove Jansson
Q. How do you get past creative blocks?
A. That’s really hard. I normally try and switch what I’m doing. Because I think with my etchings if I’m not in the right mood it can go really badly wrong. I feel in animation you just slip to a different part of the film that you’re making and you normally know the whole film so it’s alright. I think task switching is why I like doing both animation and printmaking, every time I get stuck on one I can switch around. And I’ll try and do something else completely, so the other day I was really stuck. I was really annoyed with myself because my plate went a bit wrong so I knew I had to start it again. So I went inside and replied to all the emails I knew I had to reply to and then played a bit of Jak and Daxter and then went back outside feeling a little bit fresher. I’ll often go off on a bike ride and do something completely different, or something else I need to do that’s good for me and then come back and try again.
Q. Let’s talk about your process, how do you create something?
A. I always have a sketch book, all the time, because the problem I have is I get inspired by like a hundred things a day and ‘think oh my God that’s so good’ and if I don’t write it down it will be gone forever. So normally with a project like this, when I know I have to make something, I try and to go out and draw things ‘for real’ first of all. So the first thing I did was go on a cycle ride just to get out and see. It’s about Norfolk, so I should be seeing as much of Norfolk as I can. And then I’ll try and draw things from life, because it gives you a place to start. Then I’ll get, normally, one sketch book for a project so I have one specific one. Then I’ll try and draw things that I see that’s really interesting or I want that for a print. And sometimes it will just be a shape. For maps I want a symbol and I see something and think that might be a symbol. So I go out and draw something. Then I come home and do drawings from the drawings, or start a mind map to collect my ideas together and see that I want to do a print about a bike ride and I want to do a print about puddles, maybe those two should be the same thing. And then I can do one etching about cycling in the rain or something like that. A mind map helps me join things. I feel like when things join together I get a good idea out of it. The cross section is the bit to work on.
Q. Do you know how long one of those big etchings will take?
A. I never know. So with the Norfolk one, rather than sitting down and doing it in one go I’ll do a bit every day. Or I’ll go on a bike ride and I’ll say ‘I want this thing to be on it’. It’s quite important to me that I can draw as soon as I think of something.
Q. On to the etching plate?
A. Yeah. I never draw out of the plate first. I always draw straight on the plate. I don’t like drawing a drawing twice. When I was in America people would draw a drawing they wanted on the plate and then copy it on the plate, but I find it loses a lot. Especially in my work, some people’s work is more finessed but my work is more immediate. I think the quality of the line loses a lot if you’re just copying it from a drawing you’ve done before. I want my print to be ‘the work’, not the drawing and then the print is a print so I can have multiple copies of the drawing. Sometimes in my sketchbook I’ll have things and I’ll bring them together in a print and know I want to include them, but normally it won’t ever just be a copy.
Q. Do you collect anything?
A. I think I probably collect travel books, but not intentionally. Like Michael Palin ‘Around the World in Eighty Days’, that’s one of my favourite ones, and I like photo books of stuff. I never intentionally think ‘oh, I’ll add that to my collection’, but I do think ‘I have to have that book about the Clangers!’ I also have a massive list of films I want to watch that’s 2000 films long and I don’t suppose I collect the physical film but I’m like a collector of viewing them. Then I tick them off on my list and rate them. So I guess I collect the experience of viewing them.
Q. Where do you sell your work?
A. I don’t really know that yet. I only graduated last year and when we had our final show we had a shop so I sold stuff there. I don’t really sell any of it online, just because I’m never around enough to be sure I can send it to people. So I guess it’s just any opportunity. Like if I’ve got a show or am doing a craft fair.
Q. What is your favourite Bowie song?
A. I thought about this for ages. Let’s Dance.
Interview: Paul McNeill Editor: Yasmin Keyani