"I put a lot of thought into making sure I don’t overwork compositions:" Seraphina Neville on her balanced collage practice
It comes as no surprise that London-based artist Seraphina works part-time as a photographer. As she points out in our chat, her collage compositions, made solely of paper, are a “natural extension” of the same stuff: light, shadow, form, and, I might add, feeling. Just like photography, she creates her work from found materials; taking things from the world around her - in this case paper - and cutting, organising and shaping it into a new image. As demonstrated in her latest series of prints, it imbues her designs with a thoughtful, tactile quality that you’d be hard-pressed to achieve with a pencil.
Since beginning to share her collages online, Seraphina has been commissioned by the likes of Vogue International and COS; her work has been featured on the pages of Grazia and Stylist Magazine, and, if that wasn’t enough, it’s been printed onto a deck chair we are obsessed with. Her process is built around sticking with simplicity, a lesson in minimalism Seraphina tells Evermade she learned from Carmen Herrera and still lives by. The effect is artwork that feels weightless but still full of depth.
In our interview, Seraphina says sunlight, particularly “those days where it just makes things glow”, is a frequent source of creative inspiration for her. This warm atmosphere - and all the depth of feeling it encompasses - can be felt throughout her body of work. In her latest collection of prints with us at Evermade, Seraphina explores similar natural themes, interpreting the seasons with abstract forms.
In celebration of the series, we caught up with Seraphina to explore her process. Below she talks us through her playlists, paper brands of choice, and the importance of keeping in mind the wellbeing of others.
What’s been keeping you busy lately?
I moved into my first studio a few months ago, which has been an exciting & very busy time! Until then I had been working from my flat & often on the floor when I ran out of space on my desk. It still feels surreal to have a bigger, dedicated space to work in & I don’t think I’ll ever take that for granted! It’s wonderful to be sharing a space with two other artists & to be in an area where we are surrounded by friends, artists & other creatives.
I’ve been working on quite a variety of both collage & print projects recently, but I’m especially excited about this series I’ve created for you. It feels like a culmination of ideas that I’ve had over quite a long time finally coming together as a collection of work.
Tell us about your practice. What made you gravitate towards the very physical act of collaging?
There’s something about the tactile nature of collaging that really draws me to it. I work part-time as a photographer & I spend a lot of time sitting behind screens. Being a photographer means that I’ve developed a strong relationship with light, colour, form & composition. I think my collage work is a natural extension of this, allowing me to explore these concepts in a more playful & freeing way. I find it much easier to translate my ideas with paper and scissors than I ever have done with drawing materials or paint.
When I was younger, I remember my mum used to have a ‘collage box’ which was like a box of treasure to me. It contained little bags of things that she had collected such as colourful sweet wrappers, strips of sequins & wrapping paper for us to experiment with. I feel quite lucky now to have been so strongly encouraged when I was younger to be experimental with materials. I guess that’s potentially a big part of why I gravitate towards expressing my ideas through collage rather than another art form.
I recently looked back at my photography projects from University (I graduated from Falmouth in 2015) & realised that I’ve always had some element of collaging or assemblage running through my work, whether it was digitally collaging photographs, or the way I displayed my work for exhibitions, or even physically layering things to photograph them as a still life.
I love the lightness and fluidity of your work. What moods and aesthetics do you always try to achieve?
Thank you so much! I use a lot of bright colours but I also want my work to be calming to be around, so I often balance this out with lighter shapes & compositions. I find that sunlight affects my mood; I LOVE days where the sunlight is really nice- you know those days where it just makes things glow & there’s a warm, magical kind of atmosphere. I think that I often subconsciously carry that feeling through into my work with the kinds of forms, colours & compositions I choose.
I also put a lot of thought into making sure I don’t overwork compositions. I often think about something I once heard Carmen Herrera say in a documentary (it was a few years ago so this isn't a direct quote) but she mentioned that when she thinks she’s come up with a composition, she’ll often then take something away & it will almost always be better.
You’ve worked with some incredible clients like Vogue International. What dream client or collaborator do you see your work complimenting?
Vogue International was my first collage commission & I couldn’t believe it! I had just started sharing my work on Instagram & I didn’t quite feel like I was ready for such a big opportunity, but it went better than I expected & the experience gave me a much-needed confidence boost.
I started a little list of my absolute dream clients/collaborators a few years ago & I feel very honoured to have now either worked or be working with a handful of them already, including Evermade!
I would absolutely love to work with some more fashion brands, especially any designers making moves towards being more sustainable. I’ve always had a strong interest in fashion & I spent my final year of University working on projects exploring the issues arising from fast fashion. My ultimate dream client or collaborator would definitely be Liberty!
So excited for your new designs with us! Can you walk us through what the collage process was like to bring them to life?
Thank you, I’m really excited about them too! I began the process by creating lots of mini collage ‘sketches’. Every project is a bit different, but I nearly always begin by making smaller collages using a combination of offcuts from previous projects & any new paper or colours I’ve been inspired by recently. My next step with these was to play around with the ‘sketches’ digitally to test out more colourways & compositions. Once we had decided on a final line-up of digital designs, I created them as physical collages again so that the final prints will include the texture, shadows & depth of the paper.
What have you enjoyed about making them?
I’ve produced quite a few individual artworks recently & haven’t worked as much in series’ of work this year, so I really enjoyed the process of developing these artworks with you as a collection that work both as individual prints but also as a set. It was great to be given some direction by you but to also have your trust in me to experiment & see where the project took me! I’ve found this colour palette really uplifting to work with too, so I hope that comes through in the final artworks.
What themes are in this print series for you?
Seasons are a running theme through this series! When we first discussed this project, it was Springtime & I was looking ahead to the Summer when thinking about colour choices & theme ideas. It was Autumn by the time I was working on the final artworks & this had a big influence on the direction they ended up taking- especially with the moodier colours & leafy shapes.
I always try to retain a certain level of abstraction throughout my work, but I’ve included a circle representation of the sun in a couple of the prints, which has been a recurrent theme throughout my work through the last couple of years. I find it really interesting how within the right composition, something as simple as a circle can work as an abstract way of representing light.
What have you been listening to lately?
I’ve been really enjoying the new series of Cillian Murphy’s Limited Edition on 6 Music! I also regularly listen to the Creative Rebels podcast- it’s great for honest insights & advice within the creative industries & especially good to listen to when you’re feeling a bit stuck or need a bit of a kick up the backside.
I make a new Spotify playlist every month so this is the one I would have been listening to as I worked on the final artworks for this series:
What are your must-have artist tools? I’m guessing lots of paper! Any specific kind?
I love paper! It’s a bit of a running joke in my studio that I never let any leftover paper get thrown away because I’m slowly building a paper empire. When I first started collaging, I didn’t have much money & pretty much only used found materials. My workplace used to have a box in the canteen with old art/fashion magazines which were free to take so I used to mainly use those. It genuinely used to feel like such a luxury buying new sheets of paper & to be honest I found it a bit intimidating at first because I didn’t know what shapes to cut out- a bit like bringing yourself to make the first mark in a new sketchbook. When I only used magazines, I would cut out sections that I liked but I would cut around brand names & anything too figurative. This often guided the kind of shapes that I would cut out & eventually I started translating these to coloured paper when I had more money.
I keep all the paper offcuts I create & these are often where I start with a new project. I guess this means that everything I make now is still informed by these first ever collages in a way. I have a much stronger sense of direction now with my work & more money to spend on materials but I still get really excited when I buy new paper! I use a lot of G.F Smith but I still collect anything which catches my eye.
My other must-haves are a very sharp scalpel, good scissors & of course glue! It took me quite a while to find a glue I really like, that is environmentally friendly & also doesn’t go too lumpy- now I’ve found one I use that brand religiously!
What’s one creative thing that inspires you?
I might have mentioned it once or twice already, but light! It really lifts my mood & always draws my attention to colours & details as I’m walking or cycling around.
I know you said one thing but I think music also actually inspires me a lot more than I realise! I’m always listening to music when I’m working & it’s always been a big part of my life as I grew up in a very musical family. I started playing guitar again this year so at the moment I’m really enjoying anything with a good guitar solo. I have quite a broad taste in music but often end up listening to the same things, so I like it when the others put music on in the studio as it introduces me to loads of new stuff!
What challenges have you had to overcome and what’s kept you grounded?
A few years ago, I lost two of my favourite people in the world within quite a short period of time. Both my Grandma & my Dad were a massive part of my life & they both inspired & encouraged me an enormous amount, in many ways but especially creatively with music, style & my artwork. It was the hardest thing I’ve ever gone through & I wouldn’t say I’ve overcome it, but I feel like I’m managing to help it shape & drive me in a positive way. It gave me a sort of wake-up call about how I would most like to spend my time & a fresh way of looking at things.
I signed up to a screen-printing workshop (something my dad had been suggesting I did for years) & I loved it! I then became a member at Print Club London & it really helped me with getting my zest back & making new work. Through this I’ve become close friends with some very talented artists & I feel very lucky that we have each other for support & encouragement with our work!
Whenever I think about that time it always helps me to put things into perspective & keeps me grounded. It sounds a bit cliché, but it also reminds me of the importance of being kind & nice to people because you don’t know what they might be going through.
If you could journey back to the start of your career and give yourself a piece of advice, what would it be?
Don’t worry so much about what other people think. Keep working hard but not too hard. Make sure you take time out to spend with family & friends. My dad always used to say to me ‘if you don’t ask you don’t get’ & I think that helped me from very early on to reach out to people I wanted to work with & be brave enough to attempt to make my own opportunities.
Discover more of Seraphina's incredible work here.