When I first began compiling the ‘Inspiring Artists Series’ Lois Walpole was the first artist that came to mind. She was hugely influential on my work while studying for my degree in the late 90′s and one of the reasons I continued on the upcycling path. I was lucky enough to be present when Lois came to talk to us about her work and many of the issues raised have stuck with me.
Lois has been creating and exhibiting her work for over 30 years, she teaches workshops world wide and has written several books on the techniques she uses, ‘Crafty containers’ is one of my favourite books, the diversity of the materials used really helped fuel my love of upcycling.
As well as being involved in setting up Rapid Eye Baskets a limited company that was dedicated to producing contemporary ranges of domestic baskets using sustainable materials such as cardboard and Finnish birch ply. She has also designed ranges of baskets for other companies and for production by other people such as Body Shop, Marks and Spencers, Paul Smith Womenswear, Tetra Pak and Jiva Co in Japan.
I love the way Lois is continually experimenting with technique, researching traditional methods and applying them in her own unique way. Her blog is packed with fascinating articles on other makers and the history of basket making.
This is what Lois had to tell us about her work….
What first inspired you to upcycle found objects to create your art?
When I started making baskets I used imported cane, chemical dyes and tapestry techniques. But, as I learnt more about basketry I realised how environmentally friendly it used to be and that what I was doing went against everything that was good about the craft.
Traditionally basket makers only used the uncultivated natural materials of their immediate environment. They never took more than they needed of those plants because they knew that they would need them again the next year. Now the only basketry that is sustainable is that done by individuals for their own use or to sell locally. Large scale commercial basket making is not sustainable, not even when it uses natural materials like willow. Grown as a monoculture willow requires a lot of pest and disease management. Most of the baskets in European and American shops are made on the other side of the world where labour is cheaper so they are transported in sea containers and require fumigation. The list of horrors goes on….
Having realised all this I knew I had to find other ways to work and started looking at the materials available in my environment, which at the time was the East End of London. I still wanted colour in my work and I started using the strapping tapes and cardboard boxes, which I found lots of on the streets in the area. In 1990 I stopped using materials that were not sustainable and in 2000 I decided I would not buy any more materials for my work. Now I just use what I find or grow.
Why do you think there has been an increase in the upcycling trend?
Because it makes sense and it is also very liberating for artists to work with free materials because you can afford to take risks.
Can you tell us about the first upcycled piece you created?
It was a square basket woven out of painted corrugated cardboard and is in the Crafts Council Collection.
Do you have a favourite piece?
Several but the one that everyone else seems to like best is another that is in the Crafts Council Collection and is a laundry basket made of apple juice cartons and cardboard. It is apple-shaped. Curiously sometimes the pieces I like best just don’t do it for other people.
Which artists inspire you?
Lots of artists have inspired me in some way or another but here are three that are currently important to me for different reasons.
The basket maker David Drew has been a very important inspiration for me because he lives as sustainably as anyone can in the developed world. His baskets are a product of his way of life and they are very beautiful.
I have also always loved Picasso because he was never afraid to try something new. He didn’t worry about what people would think, he just went for it and often people hated what he did at the time.
The contemporary painter Shani Rhys James has also become one of my favourites. Her work ethic is phenomenal and her paintings are magnificent for their scale, strength of emotion, her use of paint, their colours and their slightly sinister humour.
Do you have any advice/tips for aspiring artists?
Take Picassos example and do whatever you want to do because, that will be the thing that you do best.
Any tips for artisans on how to price their work?
Pricing work is probably the hardest and least pleasurable aspect of making a living from your art. But, in the end, the price you receive for your work should be one you are comfortable with, otherwise you will just feel you are being cheated all the time and negativity isn’t good for creativity.
Where can your work be seen and purchased?
People are always welcome to contact me directly if they are interested in buying something. I also take commissions of all sizes and sorts as long as they are appropriate for the way I work. firstname.lastname@example.org