It’s noon, the sun is out and the door to my studio is propped open with an old shoe. I can see a small gathering outside in the courtyard as artists perch on the communal chairs to catch a few rays and enjoy a welcome break. For me the chance to mix with other artists is one of the perks of working at Bloc Studios, one of Sheffield’s busiest art spaces, managed by Richard Bartle. Four artists I’ve met at Bloc will be exhibiting with me at Sheffield’s Art in the Gardens this September. Together we’ve spoken about the importance of studio life, so I want to know what we all think of being a Bloc artist.
Saskia Palmer works opposite me. We both work 5-7 days a week and, much like me, she admits to thriving under pressure. Her work possesses a fascination for the minutiae of everyday life and her studio is an organised mix of artwork and homely qualities. There are mugs of tea, a fitted sink (her own addition) and a wooden table for printing. “I love that my studio is self-contained,” Saskia says. “It has beautiful old double doors and a large window which lets in loads of natural light. I also love its location by the Eyre Lane entrance. I’m ideally placed to get lots of visitors, so I never feel lonely or isolated but can shut my door when I want to be alone.”
My own work is varied and I use different media depending on my idea. At the moment I’m painting a lot of wild birds in different contexts – with people, in the city and amongst wild plant life. But I’ve always been fascinated by creating environments and in this respect my work shares links with Sarah Jane Palmer. Sarah has a Portakabin-style studio next to mine and uses videography, editing, furniture making, printmaking and animation to explore alternative spaces. She describes her studio as warm and cosy during the winter months. With the August sun streaming onto my desk it’s hard to imagine that now, but having occupied a number of warehouse studios I know how impossible it is to make anything when your hands have frozen into claw-shaped icicles.
Since the recession, the increasing use of emptybuildings across Sheffield has illuminated its DIY ethos. Sheffield artists seem to get on and do what they like doing, despite the obvious lack of financial support. Frances Lewis expresses the more challenging aspects of working at Bloc. “Sheffield is a good place to be creative, but there are lots of artists and limited opportunities to see their work. Diversity is what I value in an art scene. For this to happen in the market place there has to be wealth and Sheffield is not a wealthy city.” Despite this view Frances defends the choices she makes about her own printmaking, a dreamlike exploration of places, creatures and people. “I’m certainly not going to change the type of artist I am to fit into an art scene just so I can sell a few pictures. I enjoy what I am doing too much.”
One thing that drew me to Bloc was its mix of urban and natural space. This appreciation is shared with Faunagraphic, a prolific street artist who I met at one of Saskia’s recent studio-run lino printing workshops. Faunagraphic’s work can be seen on buildings around the city, her trademark style fusing exotic wildlife with urban landscapes. Bloc is an integral part of her working practice. “We typically travel with two sets of ladders, various emulsion and over 40 cans of spray paint in tow, so being able to park right at our studio is important.” And what does she like about working at Bloc? “It’s central, it’s warm in winter, people are friendly and the guy who runs it is a pretty cool yogi. He can put his leg behind his head and everything.”
I have to say, I completely agree. Bloc is part of Sheffield’s industrial heritage and although no longer part of the steel industry, the city is a hive of making and creativity. Looking across the courtyard I can see that everyone has disappeared back into the labyrinth of studios to continue their graft. I wander over to my table and pick up a paintbrush. Now comes the best part of being a Bloc artist: making art.
Come and say hello to Bloc Artists at Art in the Gardens, Sheffield Botanical Gardens, Saturday 6 and Sunday 7 September.