Claire Hankey and Shilpa Agashe - Summer 2023
In this blog post we answer some of the key questions that we've been asked about regarding our collaborative art project.
How did the project come about?
Claire: Initially, I got in touch with Shilpa as I love her work and I know we have a similar interest in working with plants and nature. Shilpa explained her blog was inactive; she suggested we collaborate in another way via the actual artwork. I jumped at the idea and we talked it through settling on a botanical postcard project which we coined Summer Nature Postcards.
Shilpa: If I remember correctly, Claire messaged me on Instagram with an idea about a blog post. However, since my blog is currently inactive I thought collaborating on a project might work better. In the past I worked on a sketchbook collaboration with Tara Leaver that really stretched me as an artist. Subconsciously I was primed for another collaboration and this came about at the perfect time! We brainstormed a few ideas and botanical postcards stuck.
Did you decide on a theme for this project?
Claire: Our mutual love of plant forms and nature was an obvious theme for us to explore. We selected a postcard format as they would be easy to post and practical for working in different spots - outdoors and even on travels! My art studio has been a little out of action recently, it’s based in my garden which has been redesigned so it’s been wonderful working on small work on the kitchen table!
Shilpa: Very loosely. We are both inspired by nature, plants in particular and it seemed an easy fit to work on a botanical theme.
Did you have any specific outcomes that you wanted from the collaboration?
Claire: I didn't think of outcomes at all when we embarked on the project. We both felt it was important to say there was no pressure and we would just see what happens! Shilpa’s drawings and brush work is beautiful and I was secretly hoping she would come up with some sensitive line drawings for me to respond to, which she did! I was thrilled to receive the set of cards, the details were exquisite.
Shilpa: Not really. Honestly, we talked about this at the beginning of summer and summer holidays is such a busy time of the year for me that I didn’t really want to tie myself down to any specific outcomes. Claire’s work is absolutely gorgeous, particularly in the way she creates her layered images. I was really looking forward to the opportunity to view her work closely and be inspired by it. I was hoping it would prompt me to work in ways I hadn’t considered before and that’s exactly what happened.
What mediums and materials did you decide to use for this project and why?
Claire: I used a set of watercolour cards I had already. They were unusual in that they had curved edges- which I have a thing about! I also used this shape to draw around and cut out cards from heavy watercolour paper. We had already discussed our materials and that we would be open to collage and water based paint and mediums.
Shilpa: I work on paper, mainly with ink and watercolours, so that’s what I decided to go with. Over the years I have collected some beautiful papers and I used a variety of them for Claire to work on. Some were heavy-weight papers that I thought she could layer on further if she wished to. Others were lighter, textured handmade papers that I thought she could use for collage.
What was your process for this project?
Claire: I started some of the postcards using actual plants as brushes and drawing tools. Using ink and fluid acrylics, I worked on the backgrounds in layers, building up the surface. A couple of the cards I left very minimal to mix things up- some were very dark too which I hoped Shilpa would like! Honestly, I didn't think too much about this stage, just enjoyed it and kept it quite free and loose.
Shilpa: When I worked on my first set of postcards I thought I would focus on botanical inspiration that was immediate. I used my little garden and flowers that were in season at that point to create a bunch of ink,watercolour and pencil drawings. Since Claire’s work is very painterly I thought the drawings would be a good counterpoint to her style as well as allowing her to cut them and layer them if she so wished.
I wanted to share my view of the botanical world with her and I kept asking myself as I chose different plants why I wanted to share those with Claire or what specific thing about the plant I wanted to share. These questions in turn informed the drawings I was making.
Was there anything different in how you approached the first set of postcards which started with your work and then the second set where you worked on each other's postcards?
Claire: The second set was much more challenging, having to respond to the drawing and painting over it was quite nerve wracking. I kept the paint fairly watered down so the drawing could still be seen through, like a veil. For a while I just put the cards out on the table and thought about how I could make this work, then there was a lot of rummaging through collage materials and playing with photocopies to test out ideas. Technology can be a saviour and it really helped with this project- scanning, photocopying and photographing to help with ideas!
Shilpa: Yes, there definitely was. In the first set a part of me was conscious in making sure the postcards had enough for Claire to work with or to respond to.
The second iteration where I worked on the postcards Claire sent me was more free. I had to only focus on responding to what was in front me ( which was fabulous! ). This is where I think I challenged myself more to make braver choices in terms of how I was responding.
Did you make any conscious effort to harmonise while working on each other's postcards?
Claire: I didn’t think about harmonising the work, but I did think about trying to bring each postcard to a point of completion. Also didn’t want to completely lose anything that Shilpa had already created, there was a balance that needed to be considered.
Shilpa: No, I think right from the beginning we gave ourselves the freedom to do whatever we wished with the postcards. It’s possible when we work together in the future we might work consciously towards harmonising on a particular piece of work but since this was our first project together it helped to not have any restrictions and to just go with our own creative flows.
What were the best parts of this project?
Claire: Connecting with Shilpa and witnessing her drawings first hand, they are so sensitive and also playful. The project also gave me a focus during the Summer whilst my studio was out of action, there was a commitment there which was underlying and I’m very grateful for that.
Shilpa: Seeing Claire’s beautiful and thoughtful work up close was definitely one of the best parts. It’s one thing to see an image on Instagram but to see it in person is a different kind of joy. I also loved the opportunity to problem solve creatively while responding to the different postcards.
Where did you feel challenged?
Claire: I found painting on top of Shilpa’s drawings quite challenging. Normally I work on canvas or board and am able to put an isolation coat in between layers- this makes it easy to wipe off. It’s different on paper, also it’s more likely to buckle so I had to be aware of that. In the end I just took a deep breath and went for it- Shilpa said ‘It’s only paper’ , so I had that in the back of my mind.
Shilpa: Some of the darker postcards that Claire sent me felt like a challenge. I didn’t want to go down the obvious way of putting a white or light coloured drawing on top of all of them. So that was a good challenge in terms of creative thinking. On some of those darker postcards I have used black ink and actually gone darker.
What do you think makes for a successful collaboration?
Claire: A sense of humour, being open to ideas and respecting each other’s time constraints are essential. I totally agree with Shilpa’s point on not having too many rules, this allows for creative freedom and also, it’s more exciting!
Shilpa: I think first of all there has to be something exciting about the idea that you are collaborating on. If it doesn’t make you want to jump up every day and keep working on it, it’s probably not worth it. In our case not having too many rules gave us a good start to the collaboration. Since we were working together for the first time it was important for us to have the freedom to work in a way that suited us best but also challenged us at the same time.
Trusting your creative partner is a big aspect of a successful collaboration in my mind. Being open in our communication and respecting each other’s time helped to develop that trust.
You can follow our progress on Instagram under the hashtag #summernaturepostcards.
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