Meet Tom Berry, artist and illustrator with a studio at our Catford studio site.
What is your practice, what led you to the arts?
My practice is very broad, it’s typically almost everything that is still images as opposed to moving images. I do education work as well, that I really enjoy and then I have my own personal work that I sell through galleries and shops.
I’ve always been making stuff. The three years I didn’t make any visual art was my degree. I studied sound arts and design, so I did an arts subject but there was a question as to whether I would do music. But I’ve done creative stuff always.
My practice has evolved, it was quite narrow to begin with. I used to do very detailed pen and ink drawings and it expanded as more opportunities have come up and I’ve learnt more. I occasionally work digitally but if I can avoid it I will. The whole enjoyment for me is the sensation of movement, using the materials, the manual and physical stuff. That’s what brings me the pleasure. I enjoy working with children and getting to see their excitement and spark when they pull a print, or they get involved.
Have you done any work arts learning work recently?
I’ve worked recently with Bow Arts in a primary school close to my studio here in Catford. It was printmaking with quite young children, in year 3. And it was a little bit like you can’t do printmaking with children that young as you need specialist equipment, but we totally managed it and it worked well. Children that were more interested in the procedural and technical side of print making were exploring “can I do this thing” and then there were the kids who are more creative, and it hits all those points, and they were just lovely to work with.
I work in a screen-printing studio so we do a lot that relies on big expensive pieces of equipment and on developing knowledge and skills but printing is accessible if you pare it down and adjust it down to kitchen table, DIY stuff. It’s fun and it works in the same way.
Has working in a print-making studio influenced your work?
A lot of the work I do makes its way into screen-printing, but I do draw a lot. My screen-prints are very illustrative, bold, pen and ink drawing that’s been turned into a screen-print. There are figurative parts to it but it’s also about colour, there’s the technical question of how you get the print to not look like a screen print but pushing them as far as they can go. I’m not reliant on digital processes, I’m drawing, putting layers on to transparencies, it all happens off screen.
You made a mural for John Roan School; how did you do that?
At a certain scale you can’t do things by hand. And I do enjoy working with technology when it allows you to etch into stone or cut massive pieces of metal or wood. It’s exciting to do things we just couldn’t before. So, then I will plot things with vectors, and I like that element, but I will always start with a hand drawn idea.
With the John Road Mural I would do the drawing, work out how it would layer and then digitally plot the shapes. And reconstitute it and make the final image. That John Roan project came out really well, it was beautifully lit, it was a wonderful space and it was interesting to work out the overlaps on that scale.
It can only be in the last ten years that someone like me who is based in drawing but can use a computer well can make something like that.
The kid’s were involved in the ideas for the mural. We workshopped ideas including the focus on themes of searching for knowledge. They wanted the trees and forest as they’re by Greenwich Park. Their school logo is a deer. They wear dark green uniform. And they wanted some of those natural elements. Then they wanted to shoot for the stars, aim high, persevere, and accomplish things and that’s the spirit of those. I was excited to make something like that.
How did you find working during the pandemic?
I found it fine working actually. I had some big projects that eclipsed most of the pandemic and I had space to make new work. In retrospect it feels like that, at the time I was worried about work all the time, and anxious. It was quite scary at the time. But I guess the nature of the work as artists is that we have to be flexible and change so it wasn’t quite as scary for us as it might have been for others.
It did change in the studios over covid, with a lot of people not coming in. But once we were it was great to have another space, it’s good to have your space where you can work and be in. At home I had been trying to do large scale work and I was sanding, priming and painting metal in my garden. I spent a day building something to store them in and it was just completely impractical.
The studio suits me very well. If I could I would have a bigger space. But in general, it’s great and I like that it’s a journey from where I live but it’s not ages away. I like Catford and the route for me is through two parks. We’re up high so we can see out and it’s beautiful. We’ve got a good group of people here. There’s been waves of different people and it’s nice to have colleagues and see what people do and I’ve learnt a lot. I didn’t have a studio prior to this. I worked seven years at home, and I think seeing how other people work has taught me a lot.
Are there any material that you want to experiment with, that you’re looking into?
All the time, always thinking what I can do. So, at the moment I’m interested in soft pastels, those with lovely rich pigments. Everything starts in drawing and then I do a lot of screen-printing. I would like to paint more, I’d like to try acrylic with soft pastels. So, I’ve been experimenting with ways of blending colours, trying to work it out.
In the studios you see people here start a painting and finish a painting and it’s a whole practice, it’s training. I like the directness of that. I feel that with drawing, and I’d like to be able to do that with painting. With screen-printing, I love it but you have to plan, go back and repeat things and it would be fun to not have any of that.