The serenity of a sun-dappled sunken path: an interview with Rachel Sargent
Updated: Jan 16
How did you get started as an artist?
I remember, at the age of 6, asking for a box of coloured crayons for a birthday present. I can still recall that beautiful smell you get from a tin of new crayons and the jewel-like colours laid out in gradated shades. They belonged to me and I belonged to them. Since then it is just something I have always done.
What inspires the subjects you choose?
My love of nature and walking. I feel so lucky to live in Shaftesbury and be able to access so many beautiful places. There is such a wealth and variety of landscapes to be discovered from the lanes and holloways, the tracks up on the chalk downlands and the woods and valleys with their streams and rivers. And then we have our amazing coastline! Walking and revisiting the same places in all weathers, seasons and times of day give me endless references. Light is always the main focus. I particular love the dawns and dusks as the changes in light affect the colours, shapes and emphasis.
Do you work 'en plein air' or from photographs?
No, I very rarely work outside. I prefer to walk and look and then try and create the experience back in the studio. I often feel I have had a ‘day out’ in the studio when I absorb myself in a remembered location or atmosphere.
You work across different mediums; do you find that certain subjects lend themselves to different techniques?
I just love experimenting with different materials, techniques and mediums. I revel being in the studio and thinking ‘what happens if...' I enjoy the freedom of being able to do whatever I fancy without being told that it won’t work or that won’t mix with that etc. The random and accidental things that happen as a result are important to me. I think it is good not to get into a formulaic way of working and so changing mediums helps keep things exciting.
One of the unique things about many of your works is the addition of golds and silvers - how did this come about?
I think we are all drawn to shiny things. Gold and silver are irresistible. I think it started a few years ago when I was working down at Cape Cornwall on a project about that area which is so rich in its industrial heritage. I began to use gold leaf and silver foil into the layers of paint to represents the extraordinary strata of the metals deep within the cliffs and rocks. Once you’ve got gold leaf on the shelves there is no stopping you. I like the way the light catches the flecks of gold and it suddenly lights up in the same way certain things outside can be transformed like a dull leaf to a brilliant ruby by a setting sun, for instance.
We've noticed some beautiful new works showing the holloways and pathways. Tell us why you've chosen these to depict.
I think there is something deeply reassuring about following tracks and routes that have been walked over for hundreds of years. The ancient sunken paths and the high chalk ridgeways in this area are stunning. I am always interested in why, when deciding to go out walking, I choose the places I end up in. It usually seems an arbitrary choice to me but maybe these decisions are made unconsciously for a reason. It is undeniably true that, during this difficult year, I have found myself up on the Ox Drove and the Old Shaftesbury Drove more times than ever. Maybe the reliability of a track well worn into the landscape and the sense you can just keep walking without having to make too many choices have met a need in me I may not have realised I had.
Do you have a favourite place in Dorset that you return to for inspiration?
I am so spoilt for choice. When I first moved to Shaftesbury, 35 years ago, I didn’t have a car and so my walks were very local. I walked all the old favourites like French Mill Lane, Gascoigne's Lane, Breach Common, Melbury Beacon, Breeze Hill, Kingsettle Wood and Wincombe Woods. During the first lockdown this year I found myself walking all the same routes again and they greeted me like old friends. I couldn’t choose between them.
Tell us about your workshops, and when you hope they can resume.
I have missed being able to run the workshops this year. Normally I would hold various day-long workshops either at my studio at Child Okeford or at Springhead, Fontmell Magna or sometimes in the Living Classroom in Bonsley Wood near Durweston. Usually the classes are anything between 6–10 people and the subjects are anything from charcoal drawing to lino-cutting, monoprinting to mixed media techniques. I really hope to resume them next year when it is safe to do so.
Meanwhile I have been thinking about different ways of running workshops that don’t need to be in an enclosed space. So next year I am excited to introduce new outdoor walking creative days where the emphasis is much more on being in nature and experiencing our natural environment through looking, drawing, painting and making. Activities will include making impressions and taking rubbings from natural objects, collecting colours and textures and incorporating them into clay objects, making cyanotypes (sun prints), drawing with natural implements and making site-specific installations. Watch this space!
Find more of Rachel's work here
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A selection of Rachel's prints are available in The FOLDE Collection