ONES TO WATCH / MEG HOPKIN
Vibrant. Animated. Prolific! Inky fingered print lover Meg Hopkin has been on our radar for quite some time... Still a student, Meg only recently turned 20, but the vibrancy and inventive brio of her printmaking is undeniable. The fact that she's already receiving plaudits and respect from across the printmaking community comes as no surprise. One to watch? 100%.
Neon flair – a selection of recently created paper stencil screen prints
We've been chatting to Meg Hopkin since September last year, eager to meet this young, enthusiastic, and increasingly prolific printmaker. She emailed us some images, and then some actual prints, and our desire to feature her as the first Ones To Watch artist of 2020 grew and grew. The cosmos, however, had other ideas. Meetings arranged and then cancelled, deadlines taking priority, illness, toddlers... Despite the delays (sorry Meg), we knew we'd get there. Her progress in the last 6 months or so has been impossible to ignore, and if the lockdown has been good for anything – as well as protecting the NHS and our communities, of course – it gave us enough space and time to have a good old natter. Lockdown also presented a fairly unique opportunity to immerse herself in work – she's been printing up a technicolour storm in a temporary studio, in her mum's shed. Meg's insatiable desire to print on a daily basis has been helping her (and us) get through these bizarre times, one colourful layer at a time...
Squeegee in hand, ink on the screen... Meg's happy place
Look Up Have you always wanted to be an artist?
Megan Hopkin I’ve always enjoyed being creative and getting my hands dirty. A few years back I wanted to be an architect; I even did work experience at a local architectural office. It was amazing, but not exactly what I wanted. I went on to study A Levels, but left a few days after starting, wondering what the hell I was doing. I hated it! After a few days wondering what to do, I spoke to Derek Johnson – the Director of The School of Art & Design at West Suffolk College – and I started the next day. It’s the best move I ever made.
LU When did you fall in love with printmaking?
MH My first year at college. We experimented with a variety of printmaking techniques… drypoint, etching, screen printing. My teacher Rachel Sodey is an amazing printmaker and she was so enthusiastic about printmaking. She encouraged us to produce lots of work – she made the lessons fun and interesting, which is key. I loved college so much, because we had the freedom to experiment. I made screen prints for both of my final pieces at college and, although they’re very different to the work I’m producing now, I still had tons of fun making them.
Layering crisp geometric grids and popping fluoros
LU Has silkscreen always been your preferred printmaking medium?
MH No… We did some screen printing at school once, and I hated it! We had to make a poster and hand cut the stencils. The words were so hard to cut out, and the overall result didn’t look great, so it put me off a bit… When I started college we experimented with drypoint and etching. I love the textures you can create with those techniques, so I focused on them for a while. Then we did a screen print workshop, and that was it. I caught the screen printing bug, and I’ve had it ever since. It was during my foundation course that I really got into the process though.
LU Silkscreen seems perfect for the visual language you’re exploring at the moment, but are there other printmaking processes you’re keen to explore?
MH I’m always keen to learn more and push my style further. I want to play around with block printing. Cutting out shapes from wood or cardboard and running them through a printing press. There’s an artist I follow on Instagram called Sean Thornhill who prints in block shapes; it looks great. I’ve wanted to try it for a while, and I want to work with typography too… I have lots of ideas.
One of several mini masterpieces from a recent purple patch in the studio
LU LU You’ve responded to some of your course briefs with figurative work, but in your personal work you seem to be drawn primarily towards abstraction. Have you always been interested in abstract art?
MH I love abstract art. It’s that sense of freedom… free to explore ideas, process, and have fun doing so. Some of my uni projects required more specific, figurative outcomes, and one recent project was all about drawing. I’m not the best when it comes to drawing, but after a few life drawing sessions I found a new way of working. I limited myself to drawing with a ruler, building up the body with small lines and shapes – a similar approach to my screen printing. At the moment I’m trying to adapt the style I’ve developed using silkscreen, and use it to interpret set projects. It’s been challenging, but I’m getting better. I made an abstracted screen print of a barn for one project (based on a gruesome tale from Suffolk’s history, the Red Barn Murder), it felt good to answer a brief using my own style.
Red Barn Murders – interpreting a college brief with a dash of abstraction
LU Why do you think abstract image-making, using silkscreen, has become your favoured process?
MH It’s just so much fun, and there’s so much you can do with it. Recently I’ve been experimenting with mono printing; painting ink directly on the screen to create patterns. I was really pleased with how they turned out, but I prefer the bold block shapes I can get with paper stencils. At college, there were lots of workshops on mark-making and abstract art. They pushed those subjects, which is great, because you start to see things in different ways, and introduce more freedom into your approach. We had one task where we had to paint a sketchbook in a day, doing lots of mark-making. I loved it, because I didn’t have to think too much about what I was doing – and that’s how I tend to make prints. Intuitively.
LU Paper stencils play an important role in your work…
MH Most definitely. Especially with my current working environment (working in a home studio during the COVID-19 lockdown). I don’t have the facilities at home to expose new screens, so paper stencils are the only real option I have… but they’re fun to work with. You can create as many shapes and sizes as you like. Sometimes I’ll cut the shape wrong, but when I print it works really well. The more refined prints I make are built up in Photoshop and exposed, but I also like to mix paper and photo stencils together. Before lockdown I’d started printing textures, exposing some on screen and laying them over solid shapes. I was really happy with the results.
Transparent neon inks, revealing different layers and creating new hues
LU Tell me about your approach to colour.
MH I’m always on the look out for new colour combinations. I feel like I know intuitively which colours are going to work well together, and which ones won’t. I’ve learned from past mistakes too, making hideous prints with awful colours… It’s a learning curve. You have to experiment to see what works. I’m quite safe when it comes to colours… I tend to stick with ones I know work, but I’m keen to try new combinations. I need to be less safe.
LU Do you mix your own colours?
MH I use two different kinds of ink. I buy quite a few inks from art2silkscreen. I like to use both opaque and transparent inks to create layers, but yeah… I mostly mix my own colours. That way I can create the colours I really want. I use System 3 paints and medium. I find them easy to work with and the colours are fairly strong…
LU And those neon hues really pop…
MH I like to make the neon inks really transparent too, because it allows the layers underneath to show through.
Unique paper stencil screenprints, showcasing Meg's flair for colour and layering
LU What’s a regular printmaking session like for you? Do you start with a fixed idea of what you want to print, or is your approach more of a spontaneous one?
MH I don’t really prep or plan a print… I just cut some shapes out and start layering them up. I think about the colours – which ones work well together – but I like to experiment with new colours too. I normally open all my inks on the table and go wild. The more colour the better! It’s strange, because I never used to work with brighter colours – I used to hate them. Now they’re all I use! I like to add a bit of neon to most of the prints I make. It makes them pop, and I love the fact that a new colour is created when one colour is layered on top of another. Some of the prints I’ve been working on lately have been a bit more refined, so there’s more prep involved… making sure each layer aligns with the next one… that can take time.
Playing with textures in the studio
LU You print predominantly on paper, but recently you’ve been experimenting with textiles too: we love your tea towels! Are you keen to further explore the potential of printed textiles?
MH I really enjoyed printing those tea towels. What I loved most is that when they’re folded into sections you start to see things differently, because you’re focusing on details. I really liked those details, so I began using them as starting points for some new prints on paper.
LU Have you thought about printing larger pieces, like one-off wall-hangings?
MH Yes, I really want to print on large pieces of silk and other fabrics; maybe with some repeat patterns. I’ve been planning to do something like that during the lockdown. Someone contacted me recently, asking if I’d print my work onto silk scarves, so that could be an option… I’m always keen to try new things and adapt my way of working.
Drying up – a selection of Meg's screenprinted tea towels
LU Apart from paper and textiles, are there any other areas you’re keen to explore?
MH I’ve printed on wood before, but I found it quite difficult. When I printed one layer sometimes the next one would peel off and it would just end up looking rubbish. I’d like to try it again, now I’ve got more experience printing – I know what to do differently. I also want to print on clear acrylic sheets and layer them up behind each other. I’ve wanted to try it for a while, so I’d like to try and fit it into a uni project. I think it would look quite effective if I do it well.
Psychedelic – painting directly on the screen to create painterly backgrounds
LU It sounds like you got a great deal out of your diploma and foundation at West Suffolk College; you felt encouraged to find your own voice as an artist. Did you do much printmaking?
MH My foundation year was great. The course leader – Craig Bloomfield – is so brilliant. He helped us all find our way of working, and work out what we wanted to achieve. He fully supported us, the whole way through. We experimented with lots of different processes and mediums throughout the year, which is what I needed. Sometimes you need to push yourself out of your comfort zone. The first few months was all about learning new skills… when the final project began, that’s when the screen printing started. My project was about cubes and the number 7, so I screen printed lots of squares, lots of colours and layers… great fun. I printed non-stop for 4 months. Loved it! I also collaborated with one of the teachers – Jess Staddon – on something called Motivational Thursdays. We’d spend all day in the print room, screen printing, making tons of work. Lots went wrong, but it led me to my final project: a large square print on wood, cut into seven pieces. For the finishing touches I layered small pieces of laser cut neon acrylic. UAL selected it for an exhibition at Truman Brewery last summer (Origins Creative Arts Festival – the annual young talent showcase from UAL’s Awarding Body). Seeing my work on the wall, hung in a professional way alongside some brilliant projects… it was such a great experience.
The artist in her natural habitat
LU You’re in your first year of an Art Practice degree – how does the course differ from a Fine Art degree? Does it have more of a vocational focus?
MH Absolutely. The Art Practice program at West Suffolk is built around the teaching of traditional processes delivered by expert practitioners, with a strong focus on creating art with commercial potential. It’s different from Fine Art degrees, because right from the start we’re taught to see the commercial potential of the work we create.
LU Do you have access to decent printmaking facilities at the West Suffolk?
MH The facilities are great. We have the print room, but it can be difficult to find a space in there. My course has its own room, so we can keep all our stuff in the same space, which is handy. We also have a table which we can use for screen printing, which I’ve made very messy. I’m not the cleanest print maker… I’m always covered in ink!
"I'm always covered in ink!"
LU You’re only one year in, but do you have any idea what you’d like to do when you graduate? Or are you happy making prints and taking things one step at a time?
MH At the minute I haven’t got any big plans for the future. I’m just taking each day as it comes. I’m having fun. I’ve found a way of working and I want to continue developing. I don’t want to plan too far ahead, as things can change… this time next year I may find a complete new way of working. As well as making, I’d like to teach people about art, help them find new ways of working, and show them art isn’t just about drawing. I think art is taught in quite a restricted way at school. I’d like to help change that – show people that there’s more to art, and how to have fun. Art can be a great healer.
LU You’re still studying, just out of your teens, and yet you’re already selling prints on respected platforms such as Look Like Love, alongside names like Matthew J Pitts, Lizzie Hillier, and Look Up roster artist Jonathan Lawes. How does that feel?
MH It’s really exciting. It gave me such a boost knowing my work was getting out there. And it’s great to see my art displayed in a more professional manner, alongside some great artists. I’m still studying, so I feel like I’m doing pretty well, and I’m proud of what I’ve achieved. Since preparing for the exhibition (see following question) I’ve felt inspired to create loads of new work. I feel like I’ve found my creative calling. I just want to screen print all the time. It’s inspired me to work a lot harder, that’s for sure.
Printing her way through the lockdown, layer by colourful layer
LU Until coronavirus forced its closure, you had work in a group show – Are Friends Electric? Studies in Neon – curated by Jonathan Lawes and Richard Corte: did the guys find you through Instagram?
MH Yes, Ricardo got in contact with me on Instagram late last year, I was actually at work on my break when he texted. I was so excited, running around work telling everybody. It was my first proper exhibition, so I was delighted to be involved. I’d been following Jonathan on Instagram for a while. I love his work, so exhibiting my prints alongside his felt like a dream. I did my first Uni essay about him. He was super helpful. And when I was getting started with screen printing he gave me advice on the best equipment to get. It was great to get to know the other artists involved in the exhibition; to see everyone’s work progress, and how it all came together in the show.
LU As a young artist just getting started, how important is social media to you?
MH It’s had a big impact on my art. Recently, I’ve started to gain more followers and interest in my work. I’ve had some really positive messages and feedback. I think the key thing for me at the minute is to keep promoting myself and putting new work up, keep my followers engaged and interested in what I’m up too. Also the most important thing is to keep having fun and experimenting with screen printing. I’ve found a way of making that works for me, but I want to keep leaning more and adapt my style… you never stop learning.
"When they're folded into sections you start seeing things differently..."
LU You seem to be dealing with the lockdown rather well, making prints in a shed/studio in your mum’s garden… If anything, you seem to be more prolific than ever! Do you wake up in the mornings eager to get printing as soon as possible?
MH The key thing for was was trying to stay busy. I’m normally at uni all week and I work in a shop at the weekends, so I rarely get all this time to print. I’m taking full advantage of it! I’m busier than ever, printing almost every day since lockdown began. I wake up, have my morning coffee, then straight into some printing. I go to bed excited to print the next day. My days seem to fly by… I’m very grateful for being able to carry on working from home. Without this, I don’t know what I’d be doing. I’ve had uni work to do as well, so it’s all about balancing printing and studying. I tend to print all day, have some tea, then do some uni work. It’s working quite well at the minute.
Golden light and yet another gorgeous print
LU What are you looking forward to the most about the end of lockdown, when things return to some degree of normality?
MH I’m looking forward to getting back into my normal routine, being around people. I’ve kept busy… but I think we all feel a bit lonely. I like making work at Uni as we’re surrounded by creativity. Everyone’s creating work and you can bounce ideas off each other… I really miss that. We all help to inspire each other. I also miss talking general rubbish to people, and having a laugh. I miss work, being around people and chatting to customers. I’ve been working on some new screen designs the past few weeks: another thing I don’t normally get much time for. So, I’m looking forward to getting back to Uni, exposing them and getting on with some new work. I’m really excited about these prints, and like most people I’m really looking forward to hanging out with family and friends – popping to the local coffee shop for a catch up. It’ll be great to see people again. It feels like it’s been ages.
She's been using the time wisely, satisfying her need to keep making, honing her skills and developing an increasingly broad and adventurous aesthetic. It can take budding artists years to find the kind of groove that Meg finds herself in at the moment. She seems to be starting each new session with bags of enthusiasm, confidence and ideas, stoking her creative fire and enabling her to make vibrant and compositionally engaging prints. It's fair to say that Meg is a very promising talent, and we're not the only ones who think so. Not bad for a student...