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Zaza Lewis - Moving On

Mon, 26/02/2024 - 14:54

Moving On ... Zaza Lewis  


Textile collage artist Zaza Lewis, also known as Artizaza, talks to us about her time at Banks Mill, how having a studio here helped her practice and what she plans to do next.  

Can you tell us about the initial spark that led you to start your creative business? What inspired you to start creating and selling visual art as Zaza Lewis? 

I had been self-employed as a graphic designer for many years, and as the work was sparse in 2017, I decided to take a break and not say yes to everything as was asked to do. It was liberating and at the same time, I felt this was my time to re-explore my artistic side in more depth and for my own enjoyment. I totally immersed myself for a few months experimenting with lots of different materials and techniques, until I found the one, which suited me the best, which was cutting a black sheet of card and layering textiles, and it was exciting to think about the future.     

How did you first learn about Banks Mill Studios, and what motivated you to join their creative incubation centre? 

Banks Mill was first mentioned to me by Geraldine Mc Donald, GX designs, who does ceramics in Derbyshire. She knew of the mill and of residents with studios there, she mentioned Little Tins of Loveliness. I went to the mill and met up with Karen who explained all about Banks Mill, and I joined as an affiliate member towards the end of 2018. I loved the feeling of the building, and I couldn’t wait to get a studio there, partly because I wanted to work amongst other creative people. 

What were some of the most significant challenges you faced when you started your business, and how you overcame them? 

The challenges I faced were firstly, where am I going to exhibit my work? Then, how shall I approach the dialogue with people, how do I display the work, where to get prints, frames from? How do I wrap and protect my work in transit, how do I price my work?  I received good advice from Banks Mill support group and other artists, but everyone has a different product, so I still had to make my own choices. These questions became much easier to deal with as I went along, and receiving such positive feedback at events really increased my self-confidence.    


Could you share a memorable moment during your time at Banks Mill that really stands out as a turning point in your creative journey? 

Selling my first picture at an event in Derbyshire in 2018 was amazing. This person has since become a collector of my work, so a very memorable event. Also, that same year I was awarded the Judges' First Prize in 2018 at a Summer Exhibition in Nottingham. The prize was my own solo exhibition in March 2019, and this was a turning point. It gave me the confidence to apply to exhibitions much further afield after that. 

Then, to be accepted as a creative business at Banks Mill was wonderful. A very memorable moment was definitely when I moved into my first small studio on the 4th floor at Banks Mill, Having a dedicated space felt amazing. My first Open Studio event in 2019 had such a great atmosphere, I loved being part of the community of the mill. A few months later, I felt confident enough to move to a larger studio on the first floor.            

Being a creative entrepreneur requires a unique set of skills. What did you do to support your professional development and business growth in those aspects? 

As a freelance graphic designer for the last 30 years, I had always run my own business, so I was familiar with keeping accounts, negotiating, quoting, and working to a deadline. Nevertheless, I had to price my artwork in a different way through and that was difficult, but I am comfortable with how I have it now.                                                         

Collaboration and networking often play a crucial role in creative industries. Can you share any instances where collaborating with other artists or makers at Banks Mill and the University enhanced your work or opened up new opportunities? 

Extending my network was one of the reasons I wanted to move to Banks Mill. I have made friends, Sarah (artchairs) and I spent time chatting about fabrics - and chairs – the creative process and inspirations, highs and lows. I shared her workshop space during the Wirksworth arts trail in 2023. Katherine from katherine_elizabeth_interiors has also contributed substantially to my collection of textiles since she moved in,  I always felt uplifted by her energy and positivity. I used to catch up with others on my floor regularly, find out how they were doing, rejoice in their success, or listen if things were tough, and vice versa.  I shall miss that. When Stevie (stevie_davies_glass) moved to Create Space in Wirksworth, she wanted to show some examples of her favourite artists and makers in the gallery, and I was fortunate to be one of them and extend my network in Derbyshire. 

From design concepts to the finished product, can you walk us through your typical creative process? How has this process evolved? 

I have to wait until I feel really excited about a new picture before I can even pick up a pen! If I have 3 months to myself without events, I will struggle to get much done. Somehow, the week before an art fair, I will have tons of ideas and wonder if I will have time to get them done. 

Once I have the idea, my process is quite structured, I will sketch a design, cut it out with a scalpel, and choose fabrics. Choosing textiles complementing the illustration is always different with each picture. My artworks have evolved and changed over the last 6 years, but every new picture is exciting and mostly always my favourite.   

Balancing artistic vision with commercial viability can be challenging. How did you manage to maintain your creative integrity while also building a successful business? 

I illustrate what I enjoy and mainly what still inspires me. My choice of subject varies a lot, from landscapes, still life, buildings, trees and flowers as I try to challenge myself and try to keep the work fresh and exciting to me. If a particular subject sells well – such as my landscapes – this does feed back into my creative process and encourages me to explore that subject in more depth. I would have to think again if things became repetitive and boring. 

Were there any workshops, resources, or mentors at Banks Mill Studios or the University that particularly influenced your creative techniques or business strategies? 

Through the Big House scheme, I was made aware of courses which could help for areas I was not familiar with. But mainly I need to mention my creative mentor Filomena Rodrigez who through quite a few one-to-one sessions really helped me and many others at Banks Mill. From just chatting about my art journey, highs and lows, receiving pointers about pricing, ideas about who to approach to get exposure or building my self-confidence when I had a wobble, Filomena has been there, and I am grateful to her and the organisation behind it. The peer support group Stevie Davis started was also very helpful, as a lot of us had similar issues we could discuss at our meetings. Laura Williams, Karen Holland, Micelle, and now Abbie, Toni and others along the way were always on hand to help me, marketing and organising the Open Studios and other events, up ladders, hanging my pictures and generally interested in the work and how it was going, it means a lot. 

Graduating from Banks Mill Studios is a significant achievement. Looking back, what advice would you give to aspiring artists and makers who are considering joining Banks Mill? 

My advice is definitely go for it, do it. Get yourself a studio and throw yourself into your art or your craft. It was a great experience for me. 

Lastly, let us know what’s next for your business as you move to pastures new! 

My new working space is now a home studio in the garden, which is almost finished, it just needs cladding on the outside. It is near enough 5 m by 3.5 m and has lots of storage space. I rearrange my tables every week, but I think I have now found the right way, sitting behind my table looking out onto the garden, it’s perfect.  I plan to open up my studio during the last May Bank-holiday for the Derbyshire Open Arts event. But if you wish to visit any other time, email me: [email protected] 

I am now committed to 13 events throughout 2024, starting with Bath Art fair at the end of February, moving next to Artisans Uncovered on 16-17 March in the old library building on the Wardwick. A lot more venues in April, May, June and July and from September onwards. To see the full list of venues for 2024, check out my website News and Event tab: www.artizaza.com    



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