A Visit to Pica Studios

A Visit to Pica Studios

There is a sense of community that is often associated with the arts and creative world, and this sense community is something that attracted me to Pica Studios. Teaming up again with A’naala, but this time with Eme Ukpong, I decided to explore the recently opened Pica Studios, an artist-led studio based in the heart of York.

Pica studios serves as both a space for creation and exhibition, housing a diverse range of creatives from artists and makers in the form of Lesley Birch, Jade Blood, Rebecca Carr, Mark Hearld, John Hollington, Penny Phillips, Evie Leach, Lu Mason, Lesley Seeger, Lesley Shaw, Emily Stubbs and Sam Swales-Snowden to writers, musicians and filmmakers in the form of Caleb Klaces, James Cave, Daisy Hildyard, Bethan Ellis and Emilie Flower.

Visiting with Eme I decided to interview some of the artists I found present at the studio.


 What art form do you practice and what led you to it?

LB: I do abstract and landscape. I really liked looking at abstract and landscape work, especially the work of the Scottish landscape painters, William Gillis in particular. I was drawn to it, and I think that was what I was trying to emulate when I started out. I just follow my intuition.

 Do you think it’s important for you as an artist to focus on doing what you like and creating what you like rather than creating what you think your audience would like?

LB: I think it’s important to do what you like. Sometimes an audience might be in the back of your mind if it’s to do with framing or for an exhibition. But, generally you have to do what you like or there is no point really. That’s what David Bowie says.

You once belonged to a band, so you’ve always being into creative things then?

LB: Yes. Always. The thing about being a band is you are with other people, as an artist you are on your own, and that’s why being here at Pica studios is really good because I am not on my own. I’m jamming. (She muses)

I think it’s important to do what you like. … generally you have to do what you like or there is no point really.

 Do you find that being part of such a diverse creative community the works of others feeds into your own work?

LB: Absolutely. We’re bouncing off each other. It’s really good for that, that’s why I’ve chosen to be here.

Do you think that it’s important for young artists to work in creative communities or do you think it’s important for you to grow first as your own person and artist before mixing with other artists?

LB: I don’t know. As a musician, I would be on my own when I was 8, 9, 10, 11, 12. Then I turned 13 writing songs with other friends, 14 joined a band, and then you’re sharing. I think there comes a point where you can’t be on your own. It would be a very lonely journey. Unless you’re a sort of hermit type of character. It does depend on your character.

How did you find out about the Pica studios initiative?

LB: We all met at another studio space and all decided to move here and we all liked each other and got on well. We’ve really together made this happen, it’s been very special and is very special for us. It’s not easy to get a group of artists together, especially as many as this. There are 18 of us, so we are very lucky. We’ve worked pretty hard to make it happen.

 Do you think for you as an artist, having space where you can both create and showcase your work is important? People normally don’t get to see the creating process and so do you think to have a space where people can actually see you create and see the finished work adds value to it?

LB: I think people really enjoy watching us create. They come in and see Mark’s collage on the floor and are fascinated that this sense of order can come out of it. People like all of that. I like it. I like looking around artists’ studios. But at the same time, you don’t really always want to share it. Sometimes you just want them to go away, that’s why we are choosing when to be open. We don’t want the public walking in every day.

I think people really enjoy watching us create. They come in and see Mark’s collage on the floor and are fascinated that this sense of order can come out of it.

 So, for you then it’s important to keep the balance?

LB: Yes. I think it’s really important to keep the balance.

What advice would you give to young people who are interested in making a career out of the arts?

LB: I would say to them; you really just have to work hard and do what you like to do. If there is a course that you want to pursue and you find the right teacher, go for it. You have to follow your gut. I don’t think you’ll always get a career in it cause it’s difficult to make money, so you might need to do a bit of teaching. It’s hard.

 I think that’s the biggest worry for young people interested in pursuing a career in the arts.

LB: If you want a steady income, then you need to realize you’re going to balance different things. You’re maybe going to have to do a bit of teaching, have several jobs. For quite a while I was teaching and doing the art. You can’t just go straight in and do art and earn enough. Unless you work for a company, and you get a paid, which would be ideal to walk into a job like that. But very rarely does that happen. Then again, there is loads of time. Things don’t happen overnight.



 What art form do you practice and what led you to it?

CK: I am a poet. I teach fiction, poetry and English Literature. Since I was very young my Dad wrote poetry, and I read as a teenager, and I suppose I had some success in publishing things and wrote for university and ended up doing a Masters in Creative Writing and have lived as a writer since then.

How did you find out about Pica Studios?

CK: I used to go to a café called Kiosk every day to get coffee and Becky, who’s the fashion designer, was setting up the studios and I got to know about it through her.

Do you think being part of a creative community is important for you?

CK: Yeah it is. Anything that makes me feel less lonely. (He laughs) It’s great, particularly being surrounded by visual artists, there’s a lot of healthy crossovers.

 So, being with such a diverse range of creatives, you find that their works feed into yours then?

CK: Yeah, I’ve collaborated with composers and video artists before, on various projects. This is all quite new, so nothing yet, but maybe, soon.

Do you think as a poet you were ever worried about following it up as a career when you were young?

CK: Totally, I mean it’s a massive question, isn’t it? Like how do you live? I suppose since leaving university I’ve been trying to resolve that question. I have supported myself in various ways through grants and money and awards from various bodies and teaching, but it’s difficult to get something stable. It’s daunting.

So, do you think by being with other people who are also making a career out of the arts it gives you a reassurance in what you’re doing?

CK: I suppose so. I mean I’d definitely be doing it anyway, but it’s nice to see other people also doing it here.

 What advice would you give to anyone who’s interested in making a career out of poetry?

CK: I would just say follow your interests. Read what you’re interested in. Go to readings, talk to people, tell people what you like. The nice thing about poetry is it’s quite a small world, you can get to know people and start having conversations really easily and everyone is pretty open.




What art form do you practice and what led you to it?

ES: I am a ceramicist, so I work with clay and I create ceramic vessels that are very painterly. I’ve always been interested in art. I studied art at college and I went from that to a foundation degree and specialized in clay. Graduated with a degree 10 years ago and have been doing this ever since.

Were you ever worried about making a career out of it?

ES: My dad is an artist so I’d always kind of realized that was where I was going to do. Didn’t really ever dawn on me that it might be quite hard a career to follow.

 What led you to join Pica Studios?

ES: I am one of the people who were at the School House Gallery, and we wanted to set up space we could use long term to have a creative space to work in and we decided on creating Pica.

 Do you think it’s important for you to be able to allow people to see the creative process behind your work?

ES: I think if you can see how something is made, especially ceramics, it adds to it. A lot of people don’t realize the amount of work that goes in to creating that finished object, so I think it’s really good, especially when we have open studios and the public can come and see how we make the work from scratch.

 Do you think to be with such a diverse range of creatives it feeds into your work?

ES: Definitely. You can already see everyone starting to feed off each other a little bit and inspire each other. I think that it’s really positive. If you’re just at home, working on your own, it can be quite isolating and you don’t really develop your work quickly as you perhaps would in this sort of environment. You can see that it’s already starting to trickle through people’s works developing and changing as we’re going.

What advice would you give to young people who are interested in making a career out of the arts?

ES: Stick at it really. It’s really hard to get going initially, so if you can get a studio or work from home, just keep making your work and have a part time job to support you and make sure you have enough to keep going. Keep producing work and keep approaching galleries to sell your work and you’ll get there eventually.



What art form do you practice and what led you to it?

PP: Ceramics. I initially did a degree in 3D design and specialized in ceramics and became a thrower, I was throwing domestic ware. Then I went on a residency to Japan for about 6 weeks, over there they have a very different view about ceramics, they sort of revere it a lot than they perhaps do in the UK and there’s a very open approach to clay and you can do anything with it. I came back with that enthusiasm and thought I’m going to try the sculpture and see how it goes and I’ve never looked back.

What led you to join Pica Studios?

PP: I was in the same situation as Emily. I was at Ice, and there was 8 of us and we were looking for another space and you actually needed a group in order to do something like this, because financially you wouldn’t be able to do it with just 2 people. We started off with 8 and it sort built off from there.

Do you enjoy being part of a creative community?

PP: Yeah, it’s lovely, I had my own studio in York, which I shared with two other people, but I had my own room with a door, and that has its advantages, but I think the communal aspect of this means that you are working with people who are working with all sorts of different mediums so you can bring those mediums into your own work even if it isn’t what you’re actually working in. For example, Mark works in animals but he’s doing collage, so still using the same subject matter but in completely different way.

So, for you then the energy from such a diverse group of people just bounces all around.

PP: Yeah, I mean it’s very early days at the moment, but it’s just so exciting and every time you come in someone is doing something different and there are new people. Nobody is really here on the whole at the same time, so you still get plenty of work done, which is really good.

I think the communal aspect of this {Pica Studios} means that you are working with people who are working with all sorts of different mediums so you can bring those mediums into your own work even if it isn’t what you’re actually working in.

When you started out being interested in art, were you ever worried about making a career out of it?

PP: Yeah, desperately. (she laughs) I was doing it with 3 young children, and it was difficult without a doubt, but I think the most important thing is that you don’t give up because it’s never going to be easy. If you choose that route, unless you’re extraordinarily lucky it’s never going to be easy. I think practically you have to think it’s going to be a bit of battle, but if I want to do it I’ll pursue it. I’m still here 10, 12 years later doing it.

 So, for you then the most important thing is being passionate?

PP: Yeah definitely, not giving up. Constantly looking for new outlets. I’m a very strong advocate for residencies in different countries because you sometimes get subsidies and it broadens your experience, and you learn a lot.



 What art form do you practice and what led you to it?

JH: Product design. It’s something that I had always been interested in, and I had the opportunity to study it as a mature student at York St. John. I had always been interested in design and when the opportunity arose it was too good to miss. I’ve enjoyed it since. I had a 30-year career in engineering, which had gone stale.

So, for you then there’s no age where you can’t pick up an art form?

JH: No, I think the more mature you are, the greater the advantage. You have more experience, you’ve seen more, had more influences. Although it may lead you to be quite safe and do exactly what you want. You’re not as easily influenced by tutors at the university as you might be if you are younger.

What led you design lights?

JH: I wanted to be a designer maker, and with lighting, it required less space to make, store and sell and it’s more sculptural than a lot of design.

What led you to join Pica Studios?

JH: I was part of the guy who took space at the School House Gallery which didn’t work out, so we decided to take the lease in this building and the rest is what you see here today.

What drew you to being part of a creative community rather than work on your own?

JH: I much prefer it this way, the alternative is you work from home and it’s not as productive, working from home by yourself. There’s so much energy created by working with a group of people and you can feed off that, and you learn from each other.

 So, you’re always learning and growing?

JH: Yes, you see other people’s work and you can pick up from it. It’s great. We all have a similar aesthetic, or rather direction and that really helps.

Studying as a mature person you already had a career behind you before you pursued a career in the arts. Do you think for someone who wants to pursue a career in product design from the start there might be a worry?

JH: Some of the graduates from my university have either gone on to study Masters at the Royal College, most have gone into industry, working for companies rather than the more creative design, which you can only do if you’re designing for yourself. So, there are different pathways to take with it.

Do you enjoy designing for yourself?

JH: It’s much more enjoyable for me. I love it. You’ve got to love what you do. Your own tastes, preferences come to the fore when you design for self. You just have to design for yourself and hope people like it and appreciate it and understand it.

You just have to design for yourself and hope people like it, appreciate it and understand it.



What art form do you practice?

MH: I would say that my approach to work is largely a collage approach and this filters through all aspects of my art and design. But I work in the mediums of print and textile design. I also have designed and illustrated a children’s book for Walker Books called ‘The First Book of Nature’ which was a collaboration with the writer Nicola Davies. Over recent years my work has been slightly moving away from illustration and going back to being predominantly images to exhibit in galleries. Over the last year, I’ve had lots of exhibitions.

What drew you to it?

MH: What I like about collage is that it’s an inherently abstract process, so when you actually cut a shape you create and external contour which holds the composition so it’s naturally a dynamic medium and if you’re using lots of mixed materials, collage holds its own and gives an image structure and I found the structural aspect of collage to be one that worked for me very well.

What led you to join Pica Studios?

MH: I had a shared studio with one other person for five years and we both bought bigger houses and also our studio building was going to be sold, so at that point, we both stopped working together and went to our houses to do work. I worked like that for three years but during that time I never felt like I was doing my best work because I found it difficult just feeling isolated on a day to day basis. I fall into the realm of being a classic extrovert, in other words, I get topped up from interaction and so sometimes I mistook a feeling of uncreativeness with actually the problems to do with working in a solitary environment. But I also knew that I didn’t just want to share a studio with anybody. So when Rebecca Carr was looking for people to share a studio I thought I find you a creative person, I think it’d be interesting to share a space with you and I tried it out. I must say I was a little bit wary at first as to know whether it’d be a good thing to do cause I had a big house and I could have worked from home. I’ve found that being here has helped me pretty much from day one. I look forward to leaving the house and meeting other people. It provides a good contrast with home life. I feel energized by the process of being around other people.

 Being with such a diverse range of artists you find that energy feeds off your work and increases your productivity then?

MH: I think it definitely does. Even talking to them, or rather, especially talking to them about their work helps me feel good about what I am doing. Not quite sure how but it does.

Were you ever worried about taking up art as a professional career?

MH: No, because it was what I was good at and luckily my parents were supportive. Obviously, it’s not the most straightforward of things. But then again to take anything to a high level and do well it’s not going to plain sailing, you’ve got to be prepared to put the hours in, and build up to it. I think if you’re doing it {a creative job} because you want it, you’re prepared, or at least I was prepared to have the sacrifices and not getting lots of money right from the outset. But I think creativity is a great skill, and you can apply it to many things, so even if you don’t end being a full-time artist the actual act of having to have studied something creative is going to stay with you for the rest of your life and will inform your approach to life.

What advice would you give someone who wants to take up a career in the arts?

MH: I would say work hard, be self-motivated and self-disciplined, look to people that you admire, take a lead from them but don’t be daunted by the position that they are in because I think most people that are being successful in the arts have taken a time to get to that point. The key thing is to just hang in there and work at it and work for it. If you care about it and it’s important enough, you’ll make it work for you.



Lesley Shaw


Lesley Shaw at work


Lu Mason


Jade Blood


Watching the artists at Pica interact, it is clear that they all share a connection, appreciation, and respect for each other and their work, something that only bodes well for the future of Pica. The studios open for public viewing, subject to appointment, and if you happen to be anywhere in the North, I highly recommend you pay it a visit. Pica may only be in its infancy but the early signs suggest it is well capable of growing into something great. It is definitely a studio to keep an eye out for.

For Eme’s perspective check out her post here.

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