We chat to Rachel Caunt, the artist behind Paper Covers Rock about her stunning collages, finding inspiration in ordinary places and her love for all-things paper…
Hi Rachel! How did you know you wanted to become an artist?
I enjoyed creative activities from a young age but, like many people, I have been employed in all sorts of roles over the years - from care assistant to retail buyer. Life takes twists and turns and I never really had a very clear career plan. It has only been in the past three years that I have been able to properly develop my small business and generate an income doing something I have always loved.
When and why did you start Paper Covers Rock?
I started working with collage about nine years ago during a short period of time living in Driftwood, Texas, about an hour’s drive from Austin. Located in the woods and unable to drive, I filled my days with walking, cooking and creative projects. l became fascinated with a collection of old kaleidoscopes, the patterns and colours that they produced and attempted to recreate them using tissue paper, tweezers and a great deal of patience.
My ‘Kaleidoscope Collages’ received unexpected interest from friends and later stockists and led to the creation of Paper Covers Rock, my brand of prints and greeting cards based on original paper collages.
Where do you find inspiration?
With each collection and project, inspiration is drawn from colour, shape and texture, and how these elements work together to tell a story, create a mood and form a composition. On a daily basis, I am inspired by my surroundings, paying attention to the smallest details and finding beauty in ordinary places. I like the way that paint peels on derelict walls revealing colours beneath and the unintentional collages that are created by torn advertising posters.
The most striking colour combinations can often be found in nature, with different places having their own colour palette. Bodnant Garden in North Wales has become a very special place to me in recent years. Its beauty is magical and fills me with ideas. During my trip to Japan last year, I spent a day walking across Amanohashidate, a pine covered sandbar that spans the mouth of Miyazu Bay. It was stunningly beautiful and evoked all kinds of emotions. Some places just stay with you once you’ve left.
Sounds magical! What has been your favourite 'career high' so far?
During the Edinburgh Festival in 2016, I exhibited a collection of collage prints at my friend Helen's beautiful café, Fieldwork. This year I created work for an exhibition entitled 'Into the Haze' at Botany on East London's Chatsworth Road. I would definitely consider these exhibitions to be my 'career highs'. It was truly lovely to see my designs displayed in such inspiring, thoughtfully curated surroundings. It is also wonderful to receive positive feedback, every complimentary word at a market or kind comment on social media, is a boost of confidence and validation of what I am trying to achieve.
How would you describe your style?
It evolves with every collection and sometimes I worry that I do not have a clear and recognisable style, however I hope my use of colour, shape and texture somehow unites the work.
I tend to use gentle, muted colours to create simple and thoughtfully constructed, abstract compositions.
Can you talk us through the process?
Every design starts as an original collage, these are largely made solely from paper but I have recently started to experiment with other materials, such as fabric. Most projects begin with a trip to Shepherds on Gillingham Street – paper heaven! I also bought some beautiful handmade papers during our visit to Japan last year so I have incorporated those into many of my most recent pieces, including those created for my exhibition at Botany.
I sit at my desk or on the floor, surrounded by any new papers I have sourced as well as the large collection I have accumulated over the years. I experiment with colour and texture combinations and then spend time creating a composition using the chosen fragments.
Sometimes the original collages are the finished pieces but I often develop my designs a little digitally at this stage so they can also become greeting cards and Giclée prints.
Speaking of Japan, some of your most recent work was inspired by your trip - how did it inspire you?
Last year I travelled around Japan for three weeks with my partner, Adam. Before the trip, a number of people told me that, once you've visited Japan, you will want to plan a return visit almost immediately after stepping off the plane. They weren't wrong!
Japan was everything that I had hoped it would be and so much more. New designs began to take shape very naturally on my return. My mind was full of all the beauty we had seen and the joy I felt discovering new and inspiring places each day. The attention to detail and thoughtful consideration in every aspect of Japanese design is astounding and yet it is presented with an effortless simplicity. I wanted to create pieces of work that captured the colour palette that emerged from my memories and photographs, as well as the feeling of calm that I experienced whist gaining an insight into their wonderful way of life.
Can you tell us a little about each of your collections?
I have always enjoyed working in 'Collections', I decide on a theme or aesthetic and then allow a set of designs to develop from this. My earlier collections, 'Pie' and 'Arrow', were more geometric. They were still inspired by colour and texture but with a focus on balance, repetition and pattern making. The next collection I produced was the 'Sightseer Collection', these are fun, little postcard style designs. Each one is a memory of a place visited or an emotion felt, like holiday snaps. Then came the 'Fragment Collection', a set of abstract collages inspired by fragments of songs, dreams and memories. My most recent work was created for my exhibition at Botany. These designs have a more fluid, organic feel to suit the environment in which they were to be displayed. I enjoy challenging myself to create something new and develop my style with each collection.
Is there one piece that you love a little more than the others?
Some designs seem to come together with a lot more ease than others and they often tend to be my favourites. At present, I am most satisfied with 'Flow I' because of the colour palette and fluidity of the shapes. The design I have most consistently favoured over time is 'Rotation I', I love the cornflower blue background and the overall balance of the composition. The cards that I choose to send out the most are 'Whirl' and 'Into the Haze'.
You've just finished exhibiting at Botany (a concept plant and homeware shop in East London) - do you have any advice for other artists wishing to exhibit (but perhaps aren't sure where to start)?
Have confidence in your own work. It's not easy to put yourself out there but I think if you try to produce work that you personally like and are proud of, then other people will like and appreciate it too.
Perhaps you have more advice for those starting out?
Just keep plodding on... having a small creative business is a complete rollercoaster. I have really positive times when I think it's all going brilliantly and then other times when I question what on earth I am doing with my life. I think the key is to accept that there are highs and lows and just try to enjoy the ride. Being able to generate an income doing something you enjoy is a very fortunate position to be in so be grateful for that and work hard.
What does the next six months hold for you?
I’ve just had a baby boy (Isaac, born on 28th May), so, over the next six months I will mainly be embracing all the joys and challenges that come with being a new mum. As I work from home, I fully intend to continue with all things Paper Covers Rock as soon as I feel comfortable to do so. I hope to find a nice balance and one of the first projects I would like to work on is a children's range of prints and cards.
Congratulations! As well as the children’s range, do you have any other goals you'd like to share with us?
My dream is to move to the coast and have a studio/retail space. I would like to expand my product range and also work on more commissions and collaborations. Earlier this year I worked with Henri, a contemporary women's shirting brand to produce a series of collages for their new London store. The artwork used offcuts of fabric from the shirts and the compositions were a response to the imagery that had inspired the SS18 collection. The collaboration took me nicely out of my comfort zone and led to the production of work I was extremely happy with. I am always open to interesting new projects and like to keep an open mind in regards to the future of Paper Covers Rock.
Describe your work in three words...
Gentle, thoughtful and abstract
What are your making rituals?
A pot of coffee, my Spotify Daily Mix, a desk covered in paper and a little fresh air in the afternoon. I'm sure this will all be far less leisurely now I'm a mum.
Tea or Coffee?
Mountains or Sea?
Depends on my mood, it's just lovely to escape the busy city.
Night Owl or Early Bird?
I wish someone had told me...
Never to wish the time away and to appreciate every stage of life a little more because it is constantly changing and it flies by!
Visit Rachel's website at: papercoversrock.co.uk
Images by Jon Aaron Green