Picture of Zaza Lewis and pieces of her artwork made by cutting paper and using fabric as paint

Studio Chat with Zaza Lewis

Thu, 28/10/2021 - 14:31

Zaza Lewis is a fabric and paper cut artist based in studio 1.2 in Banks Mill and we took five minutes for a chat about all things fabric!

Tell me about yourself?

I have lived and worked in Derby for many years as a freelance graphic designer and historical mapmaker, but I was born and grew up in the South-West of France in Pau near the Pyrénées mountains.

My journey as an artist fulltime began four years ago, when getting away from the isolation of daily working on my computer at home became very important for my wellbeing. As an artist, I obviously still work alone in my studio, but the art fairs, events, and the community at Banks Mill has opened up new opportunities, and mainly got me to meet so many like-minded people.  

It has already been 2 years since I moved into my Banks Mill studio. For the first year I was on the 4th floor, and the 80 steps were a challenge when carrying pictures and equipment to and from exhibitions. In 2020, I moved to a bigger studio on the first floor, and I love it there!

What are you currently grappling with in the studio?

I am currently working on making new art ready for Open Studios as well as planning how I am going to display all the new work I have. I have so many new designs since my last in person Open Studios in 2019. I'm really looking forward to this year's event.

Do you have any rituals in the studio, what are they?

When I finish a picture, I need to tidy up my studio, all the hundreds of fabric remnants need to be organised by colour and shade, it helps me think clearly. That's the only ritual I have.

What’s your preferred medium/what do you work with?

In the last 4 years, I have chosen to use fabrics instead of paint, together with hand-cutting dark-coloured card and layering them both. From a distance they have been mistaken for prints, or even linocuts. Only as people get closer, that they appreciate the level of detail going into each image.

What do you have planned for future work?

It's important that I challenge myself and vary my topics, this keeps me interested and focused. I have made a flower series, landscapes –  both countryside and coastal places – street scenes, markets, as well as vases of flowers and lots of trees! My next project is... a bowl of cherries...!

Who/What Inspires you and your work?

My garden is a constant source of inspiration, but mainly in spring and summer. I enjoy the bright colours welcoming the new growing season. I like my work to be visually bright and cheerful, but add an unexpected dimension as the viewer thinks they are looking at a print from a distance. As far as well-known artists, I have been drawn to the colourful works and shapes of painters such as Henri Rousseau, Gauguin, Van Gogh, Hilma af Klint, to name just a few. In the past, I used to paint on walls! I was part of the original team who created the Silk Mill mural.

You can also see the influence Henri Rosseau had, when in 1983, I painted my bathroom like a jungle. (Picture with mother thinking I had gone mad painting on my walls! It wasn't a know French tradition!!)


Do you have any helpful resources/advice that you would recommend to other artists and makers?

For me, having time on my hands to experiment, try new things, and not be rushed was essential to develop and find my style. I would also recommend being part of a creative network if possible. Artists and makers work mostly on their own, so it's important to connect with others. It helped me on my journey.

Which guests would you invite to your fantasy dinner party?

My ideal dinner party would be full of laughter, so I would invite all my favourite comedians, as well as a French chef, like Michel Roux or Raymond Blanc (they can be in charge of the cooking). Then I think the singer Edith Piaf, because she could sing at the end of the meal.

If you weren’t an artist and could choose any career, what would it be?

I would definitely choose being an artist, any day. I would also like to create/design textiles, but anything to do with fabrics and threads has always appealed to me.

What have you celebrated this year, personally or professionally?

I celebrated my first in person outdoor event at the end of May in Surrey. I had a small marquee to myself and the weather was glorious. The response from people was great, not just in the positive and encouraging comments I received, but it was my personal best sales. I celebrate when I finish a new piece, or when I sell a picture, big or small. It's a special occasion every time.