Inspired by nature

Words by:
Kate Chapman
Featured in:
November 2023

Kate Chapman meets artist Su France, whose creative designs and artwork reflect her passion for her rural surroundings.

From the first bud to the beauty in decay, artist Su France is inspired by the natural world around her and captures the essence of botanical life in both her silver jewellery and prints, to help others recall places, people and emotional experiences.

Determined to make her mark on the world – without leaving too much of a mark, sustainability is at the heart of everything Su does, from the subject matter she focuses on to the materials she uses.

Last year, she gained a prestigious grant from Arts Council England to develop her creative practice and has exhibited her work nationally, most recently at Stamford Arts Centre and also a solo showcase in Shropshire, at the Ironbridge Fine Arts Gallery.

“As an artist I’m inspired by my rural Lincolnshire home,” said Su, who lives on an old airfield, now a working farm near Blankney.

“It’s the place where I grow wildflowers and gain treasure from woodland walks. My practice is based on an engagement with all things botanical. I notice details and show these through my prints.

“Each piece is firmly rooted in a place, a time, as well as having a significant emotional connection to botanical elements; where I grow, select and press specimens which have revealed their uniqueness to me.

“I want to capture the essence of a plant and create items which, when viewed, help others recall places, people and emotional experiences.”

Creative talent
Su grew up in Darlington, County Durham, before moving to Lincolnshire where she completed her teacher training at Bishop Grosseteste University. She has always been creative and tried her hand at a variety of different crafts over the years, including stained glass window making, watercolour and silk painting, silversmithing and botanical casting.

She recalls: “I’ve always been creative, from a young age. I started following my parents’ example, my mum painted watercolours and sold them through a gallery.

“We were always encouraged to live in nature – I was one of four siblings – and have made lots of different artistic explorations over the years.

“I took a silversmithing course around 20 years ago and have made silver jewellery for quite a long time, creating gifts for friends and colleagues and I also have a website where I sell my pieces.”

Su is a member of the Visual Arts Association and The Guild of Jewellery Designers and makes her cast botanical silver jewellery from recycled silver. She sells her pieces through her website, as well as in The Hub, in Sleaford and Made, in Uppingham.

She takes bespoke commissions and talks through detailed designs with clients over Zoom, or in person to make sure each piece is perfect. Her recent designs have included a bracelet featuring nine leaf charms to represent the client’s siblings and another to mark a 50th birthday, incorporating five tiny acorns – one for each decade.

Printmaking process
Last year, after juggling her career in education with her creative passions, Su made the decision to become a full-time artist and more recently she’s fallen in love with the process of printmaking. She’s invested in a Gunning etching press and uses a variety of techniques including collagraph, Gelli print, solar plates and monoprint to create prints featuring a range of botanicals, along with other organic forms.

Su says: “We’ve rewilded a little patch at home to create a flower garden, where I grow grasses and plants especially for printing. To create a monoprint, I press them in the traditional way, although on a bigger scale with a homemade press. Some take months to dry out, others a few weeks. I use botanicals such as honesty and forget-me-nots and when they are dry I ink them up by hand and put them through my Gunning press, which is like a giant mangle. It pushes the botanical into the paper, which I’ve dampened beforehand, and then I carefully remove it. I can overlay it with other things if I wish, or use different coloured inks.

“This is one of the qualities that excites me the most about printmaking – when you peel it back and get that first peek of an embossed image. It’s the first peek to see whether a print will have been successful or not. Printmaking is unpredictable and it’s that reveal moment which keeps me coming back. It’s a moment I never tire of.”

Collagraphs are created when materials of various textures are adhered onto a printing plate, while solar plate printing involves the manipulation of photographs.

As well as creating her own prints, Su runs botanical print workshops and hosts open studio events where visitors can visit her workspaces, chat about her processes and see the tools involved in her artistic creations.

“I aim to evoke a sense of calm in my work, a connection to nature in all her cycles. In recent years we’ve become accustomed to learning of research which says that being immersed in nature can reduce stress, improve mood and increase creativity. For me it does just this,” she adds.

Beauty in art
Su sells her work nationally and internationally and is enjoying the variety that life as a full-time artist is bringing, as she balances her creative passions with running her own business.

Another of her core values is sustainability and thanks to her Arts Council England funding she has been able to devote time to ensuring her business is ecologically sound too.

“It’s not just the subject matter of my work, with wildflowers from the rewilded fields, or lime leaves now protected in woodlands due to their scarcity around my home. I aim to show in all I do that beauty in art doesn’t need to be costly in terms of the materials and processes I employ.

“Thanks to the funding I’ve spent time discovering which plants I can press then print, along with which inks and papers would be the most environmentally friendly. My printing press was purchased from another artist too.

“I have also researched subjects linked to sustainable foraging, the decline of native British woodland, contemplating what people see as precious and what we need to do to repair some of the damage done.

“This grant has helped me to become a more environmentally conscious artist, creating new work that has a confident, more emboldening message, illustrating that art should be green, supporting my practice and others’ in the future.”

For more information about Su’s work, visit sufrancedesigns.com

Photographs: Su France



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