Interview with Emma Stibbon RA

Interview with Emma Stibbon RA

April 27, 2020

We are so excited to announce Emma Stibbon RA as The Big Draw's newest Patron! Emma is an artist who works primarily in drawing and print on paper, depicting remote and hostile environments that are changing rapidly. She does this through location based research often working alongside geologists and scientists, and in the studio where information is transformed into large scale drawn and printed artworks.

We chatted with Emma a bit about her work and what drawing means to her practice, as well as the increasingly important role of creativity in the urgent debates of our time.

In celebration of #EarthDay2020, and in addition to this interview, we have created a short film with Emma where she demonstrates using one of her favourite drawing mediums, indian ink, to sketch in her garden. Watch the video here, and get involved! Share your creations with us on social media using the hashtags #ChasingShadows #BigGreenDraw

Interview: Matilda Barratt in conversation with Emma Stibbon.


Could you start by telling us a little bit about your practice?

"I am a visual artist who works from landscape, often hostile and fairly remote locations, and I start by drawing from observation. The physical experience of place is really important to me, I like to get out there walking and gathering research ‘in the field’. Back in the studio I make large-scale drawings and prints based on this site research."

What is it that attracts you to drawing?

"Drawing is central to my way of seeing the world, and I think it’s probably my first language. When I draw I am completely absorbed in the activity, it’s like entering another place. I often use fragile and fairly friable drawing media such as chalk on blackboard, or volcanic ash, or materials that I gather out in the field. I like to suggest the elusiveness of the subject in the material fabric of the work. I love the way that making marks in response to a subject both commits it to the page, but also to my memory somehow. I have enormous recall when I look back at my sketchbook drawings, I can even remember things like the weather, the time of day and how I was feeling."

[Left: Deception Island, ink, charcoal dust and volcanic ash. Right: Ice Cloud, intaglio print with hand colouring.]

What do you seek to convey in your work? And how does this resonate with our 2020 Festival theme, “The Big Green Draw: A Climate of Change”?

"I realize that part of my objective in drawing is to act as witness to a changing environment. I have been fortunate to see some extraordinary places in the world, many of which are changing rapidly due to climate warming. My experience of being able to witness this first hand has really galvanized me to record the dynamic and fragile beauty of our planet. I believe that drawing can connect the viewer with the urgencies of our changing world through its capacity to engage our emotional, tactile and critical faculties. It’s great that the Big Green Draw is encouraging people to take an active part, I encourage everyone to take a look at the Big Draw website and get drawing!"

I understand that your practice has led you to work in some fascinating places! Whilst I imagine it is impossible to narrow it down, are there any projects in particular that have really stuck with you, or any that you could point to for having especially informed your work and way of living?

"Without a doubt seeing Antarctica changed the way I viewed my place in the world. Antarctica is a disorientating landscape with no reference points – it’s almost mirage like. Passing through this strange, ethereal light certainly felt like one was travelling into another world. The fact is that it is a continent that can’t support human existance and yet it is teeming with life. I think that was quite a humbling realization. We are just a species like any other and life is very precious. Indeed our current experience of the repercussions of COVID-19 makes this all too evident.

"In 2013 I travelled to the Polar extremes; the High Arctic and the Antarctic Peninsula on two ship based expeditions. Seeing Antarctica provoked me to start a (probably lifelong) project of work that considers the increasing instability in the ice sheets and glaciers across the planet. The vulnerability of the Polar Regions is having a profound effect upon our global environment leading to rising sea levels and further warming. Significant retreat has now been observed in the ice shelves and glaciers of the Arctic and the Antarctic Peninsula. Witnessing these vast icy expanses allowed me to consider the beauty of the place, but also the ultimate frailty of the Polar Regions. I now have a conviction about the need to communicate the urgency of issues of transition and change in the Polar environment – it is one of the most pressing concerns of our time."

[Ice Sheet, watercolour, graphite and aluminium powder.]

We are so excited to have you coming on board as our newest Patron! What does it mean to you to be joining the team?

"I have been aware of The Big Draw since it started in 2000 when the art school I taught in at the time would join in with drawing activities. I love the fact it was started by the Guild of St George, itself founded by John Ruskin in 1871. He was such an advocate for drawing for all. I am honoured to be a Patron of the Big Draw as it is dedicated to making drawing accessible to everyone – something I really believe in!"

Why is drawing so important?

"Drawing has magic powers; it can take you to other places.  Increasingly drawing has an important role to play in the urgent debates of our time. The currency of drawing has never been so critical, it is a language that is shared and understood across different disciplines and cultures. Whilst scientific data clearly demonstrates the impact of dramatic increases in global warming on the Polar Regions, it has been shown that there is a growing gap between our understanding and our willingness to take action. Creative methods of communication can really engage our emotions and that has been shown to be far more effective in galvanizing us to change our behavior. I believe it is only through dialogue between science and creativity that we will tackle the big challenges that we face today."

[Left: Night Navigation, intaglio print. Right: Lead II, intaglio print.]

Finally, what would be your advice for our future generation of creatives?

"As creatives you need to be quick on your feet, following your curiosity and developing and nurturing your interests. Working in the arts presents a challenging landscape and it’s likely you will be faced with juggling income and finding your journey. It demands courage, but with commitment you can pursue your passion and bring about change in the world. You are our communicators about this beautiful, fragile planet - your talent and energy will help galvanise us into positive action. Good luck!"

Thank you Emma!