Jenny Smith Visual Artist - Edinburgh, Scotland

Discuss what lead you to use hand written answers in your artwork?

I work in a number of different mediums: drawing, print, film, installation and artist books. In my large scale installed drawings and limited edition prints I ask the same question to a number of different people and create what I call writing – drawings, from their answers. I see writing as a form of drawing that we do naturally and spontaneously. I have always been interested in the relationship between writing and drawing. I think this is influenced by the fact I obtained a degree in Literature before I studied Drawing and Painting. I also find it interesting that in the Scottish Art Colleges, Fine Art used to be called Drawing and Painting. I see myself as an artist who draws with paint, light, laser cutting and sometimes film. I guess there is also an interesting link with pencils: I wrote with a pencil as a child and drew with a pencil, before I got into charcoal, ink and laser cutters as drawing mediums.

I am also interested in the hand-written because in this digital age, we do it less often; texts and emails are replacing hand written notes and letters. I find new technology fascinating and art has always been a product of the time in which it is made. But even more interesting for me, is the edge where tradition meets new technology.


Discuss the scale of your current work?

I work in a range of scales. I love the intimacy of the artist book format (6cm upwards) the accessibility of domestic scale prints (38 – 100 cm) and the monumentality of my large scale installed drawings (3m high or long). I have always been interested in the physical relationship between the viewer and the piece. I make work with detail that draws you in, and monumentality that makes you want to step back and see the bigger picture. It is  a metaphor for life.

#2You also work on commissions; can you take one particular commission and discuss how it evolved?

The Noble Creative, a company in Edinburgh, commissioned, What is the key to happiness? What is the best advice you have been given? Had been exited in the Society of Scottish Artists Annual Exhibition at the Royal Scottish Academy (an open exhibition which artists from all over the world can apply for). I created a limited edition artist book to accompany this piece. A friend of Denise Borland, the Director of the Noble Creative saw the piece in the RSA and gave her one of the artist books. Denise contacted me to ask if I would be interested in creating a piece for their headquarters. As a company they work with groups of people in creative ways, so the way I work and the way The Noble Creative works was complimentary. I find Open Submission Exhibitions are a great way to introduce my work to new audiences and have often led to future sales or commissions.


On winning the Scottish Arts Council Research and Development award how did you use this award to advance your career?

It was great to receive an award from the Scottish Arts Council for a number of reasons. On a practical level it enabled me to continue to develop my research into using laser cutting as a drawing medium, when I had no access to a laser cutter in Edinburgh. (I do now have one in my studio and run courses and an editioning service for other artists and creative professionals). Amongst other things, it enabled me to research a new body of work through an AA2A Residency at Loughborough University that I happened to be awarded at the same time and to exhibit at IMPACT, an international Print Symposium held in Bristol in 2009. Prizes and awards are always great because they relieve your financial worries and enable you to develop both new work and the conceptual elements of your practice. It is also very affirming.


You have also had a Residency in Japan, discuss the influence Japan and Japanese printmakers have had on your work?

Japanese printmaking influenced me from the very early stages of my career, when I was creating drawings and paintings and not working in the medium of print at all. I really like the asymmetrical spaciousness evident in a lot of Japanese art, as well as its delicacy and elegance. I found very early on in my career that Japanese aesthetics just made more sense to my than western aesthetics. When I won the Friends of The Royal Scottish Academy Artist’s Bursary, I was able to undertake a research trip to Japan, which really consolidated this influence. I am also very interested in Zen. When I returned form Japan I made a series of very pared down paintings inspired by my experience of Zen gardens. I often create processes in my work that are inspired by a particular place or memory of a moment in time.


Can you expand on the modern techniques and how they are changing contemporary printmaking?

We are living through a technological revolution and art has always reflected social, economic, political and technical changes in society. As well as laser cutting I also like to use social media in the realisation of my work.

Have you used or thought of using 3D printing?

I lot of people ask me that question. I have never had any interest in 3D printing. Laser cutting is so fascinating and offers so many creative possibilities to explore; I haven’t got time for 3D printing too. I guess it is also relevant to say that I am not interested in new technology for the sake of new technology. New Technology is seductive, but only as good as the artist that is using it. For me laser cutting is just a medium, an alternative to pencil, pen, charcoal, or ink. It is also only one of the mediums I use.

Discuss the difference between creative laser cutting and manufacturing laser cutting?

At the Edinburgh Laser Cutting Studio I run courses and summer schools that teach people how to use the laser cutter and find their own creative language with laser cutting. I have artists come form all over the world to work with me and am hoping to start a Residency Programme soon. Traditionally, laser cutting was used in industry for fast repetitive cutting. Creative laser cutting is about pushing the boundaries of the medium in creative ways. It is different for every creative person who uses it, which is what I love about teaching /working with other artists.


Please expand on your involvement with the Dance School of Scotland?

The Dance School of Scotland is Scotland’s leading dance school for gifted young dancers. They contacted me as they decided to take 6 Contemporary Scottish artists work as the starting point for their final show this year. They loved, What is the best advice you have been given? And created and performed a piece based on the best advice the young dancers had been given. It was a lovely piece and I was delighted to see how my work could be the starting point for such an interesting work in a different medium.


Photograph ©Andy Ross

Discuss the fragility of your work in the light of the collector?

I am really interested in making work that is strong and fragile at the same time (a bit like the human body). I use very thick, archival paper and high quality screen printing inks, to ensure the quality and longevity of the work I sell. This is important because my work is held in a many private and public collections.


Contact details.

Jenny Smith, Edinburgh, Scotland

Interview by Deborah Blakeley, November, 2015