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The Importance of Play

How I've been using play to guide my work & process across painting and design

This Blog Post forms the script for a Video Essay I've created, which you can watch here. If you'd rather read, you'll find the text below!

Welcome to the third entry of a four part series! I’m writing a short collection of notes, to capture my thoughts on the benefits of creating art, broken into various elements of my practice. I hope these posts are interesting to share ideas if you’re reading this as a maker, or share some insight to the artistic process if you’ve never made anything before, but are curious to know what goes into a painting or object.

My first ever video essay!

I often get this feeling of play when I’m walking outside.

When you can feel different surfaces through the soles of your shoes, and you’re wandering around, looking for new things to see. Observing what you notice along the way, and you get into this rhythm with your body and where you are. I really love that about walking, and it’s a really important source of inspiration for my work. I think this act of noticing in itself is a form of play - I like to challenge myself to a game of Eye Spy when I’m out on a walk by myself, just to notice what new things I can see along the way.

This autumn, I’be been working on creating a series of lampshades and paintings on paper. I wanted to use play as the focus and the driver for this series of work, to see where it takes me.

Into the Studio

My name is Orla Stevens, and I’m a multidisciplinary artist. I love working between screen printing, painting, visual design. At the root of everything, I’m looking to connect to nature, and connect other people to nature too - wither that’s working for clients, on my personal work, or with communities. I think I’m multidisciplinary, because I love telling stories, and there are so many ways to do that, and I love learning continually. Different mediums are good for delivering different stories. I also think that everything is connected - from animation, to making a film, to painting a picture, to designing fabrics, and I’m interested in what these similarities are.

Screen Printed Lampshades

I’ve been think a lot about the importance of play in my life, and my work, and ways I can bring that in as a focus, and unify across everything I do. I’ve been working on printing and creating these lampshades and paintings this autumn as a personal project to really hone in on this. Analogue painting is really at the root of all the disciplines I work across - If I’m designing fabrics or a logo, It’ll start out as a painting. Then it might turn into a screen print, and then back to a painting again: Iterating through different materials and applications. I love bouncing between mediums, working through this distillation process, and learning through my hands and through making things.

Portrait shot by Nicky Murray, holding abstracted wood cut shapes

When I’m working, it’s like the application is telling me where to go next. When I’m working on a painting, it’s reacting to each mark at a time. Then, how can I turn that into a screen print, what does that look like? And if I animated it, what does that look like again? So I’m always chasing this ‘What If’.

My work is inspired by nature, walking, a conversation with a friend or a feeling. I’m interested in capturing these moments outside; it’s all about the way something made you feel. I’m informed a lot by sound and sensory experiences, and I love to explore this through marks, shapes and colour. Sounds show up in my head as colours and shapes, so I’m interested in pulling these out as part of my personal experience and letting them show up in my work in different ways. Words also play a big role in how I work, which I always think is funny, because I always found it less fluent to communicate through words than it is to make a picture. But sentences often spark the idea for a painting, or are used to guide the mood or design of a piece. And I use words and writing to reflect on my process, what I’m learning, or to refine what I’m trying to say visually.

Using words to distill experiences

These lampshades and paintings are all part of the process of capturing moments and places - the works on paper are an ongoing series. The idea behind each one is to document and encourage a way of seeing more in nature. I’m not sure what they’ll turn into, maybe a mural or a series of larger paintings or prints? I’d love to create some more functional pieces with my artwork; I get a lot of satisfaction knowing that my work can be serving a purpose and function in peoples lives, which is why I’ve been loving making these limited runs of lampshades so much.

These lampshades were designed through the process of play: using a limited number of colours and shapes, which I hand cut from paper stencils and screen printed on to linen. Every piece is different, because I’ll have placed the screen on the fabric in a different position. They started out as sketches on my iPad, which I made in response to paintings I created earlier in the year. Now I’m making works on paper in response to the lampshades. So you get this never ending inspiration - It’s knowing when to stop that’s the trouble! You get this variation through the nature of hand screen printing in layers of colours and opacity, which you direct as you print. It’s all guided by a mix of instinct and improvisation, and embracing imperfection.

Abstracting Landscape, Designing Textiles

If you’d like to pick one of these lampshades up for your home, they’re selling in store at Made In Stirling. If you’d like to be notified when the next batch launch, please sign up to my news letter, which is always the best place to find out about new work, events, art notes and classes.

I hope you find some ways to play and connect with nature in your day, and if you’re stuck for ideas, maybe check out my series of paintings Finding Nature, which is launching December 1st on my website.


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