Stewart, how did you come up with the idea for spacecraft studio?
Well, my previous studio, London Printworks, was heavily dependent on statutory funding, lots of people to report to and the funding raised for projects three years in advance. I wanted to move from that model to something more responsive.
I think the idea, the vision, I had in the beginning is just about what we see today, the mixture of contemporary art and design projects, and the quality of the collaborations and partners. But obviously the past nine years has seen some forays down dead ends & about turns to get to this point.
I suppose above all I want spacecraft studio to continue to be adaptable, light on our feet, constantly challenging ourselves to invent new ways of doing things. We specialise, but the design and printing processes are fluid, anything can happen, be changed or modified.
On a craft level, I mean the production values seem to have gone to another level over the last year or so, the new botanical paintings look incredibly technical.
Yes, I glad you’ve noticed. I’m happy using the word craft ( laughs ). For me the craft or production values have to suit the idea. I’ll use paper stencils if it suits the idea, the Jon Campbell work for example. But then for a Brook Andrew project I wanted to invent a new half tone dot system. No technique is good or bad it either appropriate or not.
The other critical factor is attracting the right people. We’ve been striving for a studio that is really smart, passionate and technically innovative and Clara Gladstone and Marina Breit provide that for us.
Clara Gladstone brings a creative approach to any situation. She’s in her element working with artists, imagining solutions to technical problems. The virtuosity of the recent botanical paintings is down to Clara’s technical research and work with silver leaf.
Marina Breit is an artist with a wealth of experience in textile printing. Previously working with Signature in Sydney printing the Florence Broadhurst Collection, Marina creates the production methodologies that turn ideas into reality. A good example is figuring out how to produce my Artplay 3D series.
I find it hard to explain to other people what you are, artist, designer, printer… how do you describe yourself?
People always say I’m hard to classify and I’ve grown to love that tag, makes me feel that I’m doing something right.
Actually I consciously look to expand the breadth of creative projects I work on. From fashion to art projects, I’ve never felt the need or the desire for a hierarchy when it comes to ( my own ) artistic output or my creative influences.
So maybe the classification issue will be the defining characteristic. At the moment I think I’m much more likely to be influenced by lyrics from a song or a football strip than from reading cultural theory, but that changes too.
Stewart your background is in contemporary art, I’m interested in how you acquired your textile printing skills?
Well it started at art college, the course was quite radical, we had all the traditional art college disciplines with a theory department at the core. We had access to whichever department, practical equipment and expertise we wanted to work with as long as we could convince the theory department that our approach to the brief or project was valid.
So when the parameters of the printmaking department, precluded me from printing onto surfaces other than paper I simply went to the textiles department and printed there. I think that was the start of it.
Later that rudimentary understanding of textile printing aligned with the boldness of youth and the foresight of Barbara Sansoni saw me set up my first print studio in Sri Lanka.
Earlier you talked about needing to be adaptable, how does this attitude manifest itself in the design of the studio?
Well we expose and develop our own screens so I’ve chosen to use a very wide variety of screen meshes which enables us to print on any surface that attracts our attention, fabrics, concrete, wood, paper, glass
We create all our own colour, mixing pigments with a variety of water based mediums to carry the colour.
That reminds me, another important decision has been to collaborate technically on the production of artist’s ideas. You find that working in the same environment every day means subconsciously you operate within the boundaries set by the studio as it exists and the abilities and services provided by your suppliers.
So when artists come to the studio they ask for things outside the established range. For example Brook Andrew brought in some images, we were talking through how we might approach the printing and the he drops in that he wants to print them 3m x 2.5m. Well that’s a very large screen print indeed and well outside the sizes of films and screens we had suppliers for. So in solving that particular problem, we found new suppliers and gained valuable experience printing that work.
How does the design of spacecraft studio reflect your attitude to environmental issues?
Since the first studio I set up for Barbara Sansoni in Sri Lanka, I’ve been committed to pigment printing, which limits the amount of water we have to use and stops chemicals being introduced into the systems. Another great thing about pigment printing is that whatever ink your left with goes back in the tub. The only problem was the studio used a lot of water to clean screens. We have these enormous roof planes that are perfect for catching water, so we’re in the process of converting the studio and the gardens to tank water.
I remember you explaining how you consider the environmental suitability of a design or project at a very early stage.
Yes, for me environmental decisions start with the design process, one of your first considerations when I’m thinking about a new product or a design for a textile print would be ‘how will this be produced’. I think designers are far too distant, often physically, from the production process and I find their understanding of production is, in many cases, almost non existent.
I strongly believe designers ought to work more closely with the producers. I’m concerned the trend towards designing on one side of the world and producing on the other limits the designers understanding of the processes involved and ultimately their ability to take responsibility for the environmental impact their design will have.
To begin with I thought spacecraft might be a design studio, only printing to produce samples but I soon realised that everything was heading off shore, so I decided to swim against the tide and print everything ourselves, in-house. This decision meant the production runs would remain quite small and this would subsequently affect how we approached the growth of the studio, but I just needed to know that all the production and printing processes would be our own decisions.