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A Magazine for Sheffield

Zoe Genders: Crafty Cuts & Slick Strokes

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Zoe Genders' colourful paper cuts and murals are a real treat for the eyes. We sat down with the Sheff-based artist to talk inspiration, commissions and plans for the future.

Flora and fauna seem to be a great source of inspiration for you. What is it about the natural world that keeps you returning to it in your work?

Nature is where it's at! I'm inspired by the patterns, colours and shapes of nature and it's such a rejuvenating force. I think my upbringing in the Derbyshire countryside probably has a lot to do with it too. We spent a lot of time outside as children, making dens, walking, camping - I'm definitely someone who needs to be able to access 'the great outdoors' easily. I find it difficult being in the centre of any city for too long, I like the hubbub for a bit and then find an escape route, Sheffield is the perfect city for this.

We need to really take care of the environment we live in and it's great to see so many people trying their best to make that happen. Fingers crossed the numbers will only increase and continue to make a positive change.

You work in both two and three-dimensional mediums, with murals and paper cutting respectively. Is the creative process different for each medium? Or is there some crossover?

There is a different process for each I think. With the paper cutting it's more fluid. I can change things as I go along and often don't have a specific plan about how to build a structure, what colours I will use, or even what it might look like at the end. It's a very organic process. If I have a private commission the client is often happy for me to make something that has a very loose design and see where the making process takes me.

With the murals I usually have more of a brief, and therefore a much more concise starting point. They are designed and then executed and the work itself has a different kind of intensity and requires a different mindset, especially as I am often working in public. I find it quite hard to paper cut in public, I need the peace and quiet of my studio. I think the difference between the two is what makes me tick and indicative of my personality.

You've done some interesting commissions recently, including pieces for End of the Road festival and CBeebies. Which has been the most challenging?

Each job has its own individual challenges and the process of problem-solving is part of what keeps things interesting. I worked at the BBC for a couple of years as a prop maker for Children's Presentation which covers CBBC and CBeebies. It was a brilliant experience and I learnt a lot from the amazing collection of freelance artists there, they are the unsung heroes of children's TV.

Last year I was approached to do an installation for End of the Road Festival. I have worked on the Art Crew (as a volunteer) for the festival on and off now for about five years so it was really great to be able to make something much bigger and get paid! Whilst at CBeebies I made a series of animal hats from paper and Molly and Jason from EOTR had seen the Mandrill online and asked if I could make a big one - I made three! They had light up eyes and teeth and are now in the good care of the guys at DINA Arts Centre in town.

One of the most challenging things is location and weather, especially if you are working on a large project outside. I painted a Cow for Velocity Village recently and the best place for painting was under a walkway which was great when it was raining, but a bit of a wind tunnel when the breeze picked up. Luckily there was also an empty office next to the walkway so I could shelter in there with a brew when it got really cold.

Having some kind of cover is always a bonus, cold hands and cold wind make a miserable working environment. That said, I love the challenge of trying to work out how I'm going to get the job done, and when the location and weather are good it's the best job in the world.

You recently created a hand-cut paper insect for musician John Grant. How did that come about?

John Grant is one of my favourite artists. I first saw him at EOTR Festival a few years back and just think hes a lyrical genius. Through my housemate Dan (@dancon_1), John put me on the guest list for the recent gig at The Octagon. The insect was just a 'Thanks' for the gig and another mate knows his tour manager so I knew I could get it delivered safely. He didn't ask for it, but hopefully he liked it.


What's next on the horizon? Is there anything in the near future we should look out for?

I start a new commission on the 15th of November in a very well-known beer garden in Heeley and I'm designing a mural for the Full Time Hobby record label offices in London which is really exciting. There are a few more projects in the pipeline for early next year too.

I'm also doing a couple of Christmas Markets with my paper cuts - The Millennium Gallery Craft Market on the 24th of November and DINA Independent Art Market on the 8th of December. Hope to see you there!

Flick Jackson



Instagram: @zoegenders

Twitter: @ZoeGendersArt

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