Claire Leach recently completed her MA in Fine Art at Winchester School of Art. We talk forests, pens, chalkboards and memories…

Claire Leach - Chalkboard Drawing

  Claire working on a chalk drawing for her MA show at Winchester School of Art.

There’s a magical quality to your forest drawings – what do forests mean to you?

I’ve always been drawn to forests and trees. When I was little my parents would take me and my little brother to the Forest of Dean in Gloucestershire for camping holidays. They’d pack the car on a Friday after work and we’d spend weekends up there, exploring the woods. There’s something peaceful but also quite sinister about being deep in the forest. I find being alone in the forest quite scary, it takes me right back to being a small child, feeling overwhelmed by the huge and seemingly infinite number of trees.

Clair Leach Woodland I  pen on paper 2014

  Clair Leach – Woodland I. Pen on paper, 2014.

Gaining inspiration from ‘childhood memories, landscapes, travel and nostalgic postcards’ in what ways do your childhood memories impact your work today?

My work was based on childhood memories for a number of years. It started when I did a research and documentation module on my BA. I decided to revisit places I’d been when I was a child but had forgotten about over the years. I found old photographs, postcards and souvenirs and went back to the places they were from. The driving force was to help reawaken these lost memories. My parents separated when I was seven and when I realised that I didn’t have many memories of my family as a whole I thought I’d use my art as a kind of therapy, to deal with my parents separation and to recover happy memories. I moved away from these themes while on my MA but it’s something I’m sure to re-visit.

Claire Leach - Pathway II

  Claire Leach – Pathway II, Pen on paper

You’ve talked about your work exploring connections between memory and place. I like how some of your drawings include evocative, written memories of the place depicted. Are the words a further tool to connect a place to your memory of it?

I like storytelling and aesthetically I think writing within artwork can be very beautiful. My writing is very small and controlled, some of the things I write are quite personal and you have to strain your eyes to see it. It’s like looking into my private journals. Tracey Emin is an artist that I immediately think of when I’m writing, her writing is quick and scratchy, the opposite to mine but I think our handwriting is a reflection of our personality.

Claire Leach - Cambodia Postcard

  Cambodia postcard with a drawing of a tree found at Angkor Wat.

I’m rarely far from a black fibre tip pen and a moleskine so you have a fine taste in materials! Do you use more than one size of pen for your drawings, if so which pens do you use and what’s your moleskine of choice?

I started with a fine liner that I found in the university shop when I decided to move from pencil to pen, I loved making the drawing so much that I continued in pen but I didn’t really think about the materials I was using. I noticed that an artist whose work I follow was using a unipin 0.05 to create super detailed work so I started using the same and I haven’t looked back. I love moleskine books, I carried two moleskine journals with me on my eight month travels and all my little notes go into a moleskine notebook, I’ve also got a concertina moleskine drawing in progress.

Clair Leach - Woodland III

  Clair Leach – Woodland III. Pen on paper, 2014.

After drawing with tiny circles myself (thought I invented it until I saw your work!) I wondered if you enjoy the repetitive process of the technique or is it a means to an end to get to that final image?

The repetitive process is like a meditation for me, I started working like this during my childhood memory project as while making the work I was daydreaming about the place I was drawing trying hard to remember things about it. I’ve continued to use the method as it’s the only way I know how to draw and I really enjoy building an image from tiny marks and details.

Claire Leach - Pathway III

  Claire Leach – Pathway III, Pen on paper

What you leave out seems almost as important as what’s depicted in your work. Is it difficult to know what to leave out and what to portray?

When I made my first Pathway drawing I left the path clear of marks as aesthetically I thought it made the image more interesting, then I did the same with the next three drawings. A friend reminded me of paintings I made on my BA where I had left spaces clear of colour and marks. I seem to have an obsession with negative space but I’m not sure where it stems from.

Claire Leach - Chalkboard drawings

  Claire Leach – Chalkboard drawings from Winchester School of Art MA show.

I really liked your chalkboard drawings. Can you talk about how that came about and what it was like to draw in reverse on such a big scale?

In the final semester of my MA I decided to make work in response to the exhibition space that I chose which overlooked the River Itchen and trees. The view was so beautiful that I commented that I could never make anything as beautiful as the view out of the window, I joked with my tutor that I should just leave the room empty.

Winchester School of Art Studio

  Claire’s studio and exhibition space at Winchester School of Art.

After a lot of research I came across the British artist Tacita Dean. I knew her film pieces but I hadn’t discovered her chalkboard drawings before. I became mesmerised by them. I thought that drawings of the view from the window would work well in chalk and I wanted to step outside of my comfort zone so I thought I’d go big and with a completely unfamiliar material. I struggled with making the work and I wasn’t sure if they were successful but I’m so glad I made them. If we’re not pushing the boundaries of what we’re comfortable with then I’m not sure we’re really achieving our full potential.

Claire Leach - Winchester School of Art

  Claire Leach – Chalkboard drawings from Winchester School of Art MA show.

Which artists have had a big influence on your work?

Tacita Dean as mentioned was a great influence on my chalkboard drawings. Artists that draw that I admire are Simon English, Nedko Solakov and Olivia Kemp. I also love Susan Hiller and pretty much everything that Tracey Emin has done.

Claire Leach - Winchester Window View III

  Claire Leach – Winchester Window View III. Pen on paper drawing

Was there a gap between finishing your BA in Gloucestershire and starting your MA at Winchester School of Art? If so how did you find the transition from art student to ‘real world’ and back again?

I finished my BA at the University of Gloucestershire in 2010, I then worked in a temporary office role to save up enough money to go travelling for eight months, when I came back I went straight into another temp job. Being an artist in the ‘real world’ is hard so I was so pleased that I decided to quit working and study an MA full time in 2013. Being surrounded by likeminded people from all over the world was brilliant and I learned so much during my MA.

Claire Leach - Winchester Window View IV

  Claire Leach – Winchester Window View IV. Pen on paper drawing

Is there another artist from your course who you think is making great work?

Somebody from my course that I really admire is Dawn Evans. She is the most dedicated person I know and the final body of work that she produced for the MA exhibition was phenomenal. The ideas behind her work are really clear and she uses a range of media to explore her themes, from drawing to weavings and sculpture.

You can see more of Claire’s work on her website