Interview: Saffron Monks-Smith

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Saffron Monks-Smith is a designer and artist. Her style is unique and creative. I was lucky enough to have an interview with Saffron about her career plans and what she is currently up to.

Hello Saffs! Thank you so much for letting me interview you. How are you?

Hello, I am very well and thank you for interviewing me!

Tell us a little bit about your background.

I am originally from Bromsgrove, Worcestershire, however I have now been living in Northern Ireland for nearly ten years and I love it. For someone interested in arts and culture there are fantastic opportunities both in the North and South of Ireland. Belfast being a small city, means it has been easy for me to network as an artist and get to know my contemporaries whilst studying.

What are you currently studying at university?

I am currently studying Fine Art Printmaking, in my second year at Ulster University.

Describe yourself in three words.

Upbeat, conscientious and passionate.

I adore your work. What inspired you to start doing art and design?

Thank you! I have always been a creative person, constantly drawing and writing as a child. When I moved to Northern Ireland at the age of eleven, we moved next door to an artist who owned his own studio and held art classes every Saturday. I think this was an important part of my interest in art and design as it was definitely my first real exploration of painting. I still go to his studio to this day!

Have you always been into illustration, design and art?

Yes, definitely! Ever since I began learning to draw I remember specifically that I wanted to be an artist and go to art college. It seems to have been an instinct of mine.

How has your creative process changed since the start?

Well, I started out simply using watercolours and acrylics, interested in a very much traditional, observational style of painting. However, I have greatly changed my view on art ever since going to art college. I have become more expressive and interested in impressionistic, gestural style drawing, and I think that this is important to me as it has also opened me up to appreciate artworks of a different nature as well as an artworks meaning. Recently my work has shifted to a more digitally manipulated nature. I have been focusing on photographic imagery and ways in which I can change and emphasise a subject. Printmaking has allowed me to explore this, as a lot of printmaking uses photographic inspired imagery. I do, however, see myself re-exploring my drawing skills in the near future and incorporating this into my print work. One thing that has never changed since the start is my fascination with the depiction of the human figure.

What equipment do you use for your work?

If I am printing, no matter what technique, whether it be screen printing, photo intaglio, cyanotype, etching etc. It requires all sorts of chemicals, tools, metal plates, special papers and presses. I will head to my local Print workshop (Seacourt Print workshop) in Bangor during my spare time to develop my own skills outside of university. It is also where I have the freedom to do my own prints towards my Etsy shop.

What materials do you use alongside your equipment? How do you create this unique look?

I use anything and everything! Paint, pencils, ink! I also have a slight obsession with painting onto transparent plastics at the moment. Recently I have been playing around with scanning family photographs in a certain way to create an idea of merging and fading of memories, so I use pictures from our family photo box which were taken to capture memories, not necessarily for an artistic purpose.

How did you manage to learn and hone your craft?

I would say that practice, practice, practice, is how I learned my craft. Draw anywhere and everywhere! It is something that I really should keep up, as it is easy to lose your confidence

What tools or materials could you not live without?

The very basics: a pencil! A nice 3B pencil!

Why has social media been an important platform for you to use?

I think social media has been important for me as it has allowed me to increase the awareness of my work. I have used it as a way to launch my (still developing) Etsy shop. It has also been useful to follow artists that I am inspired by, or even artists that I know from the Print workshop. It keeps me in touch with the art world around me.

Who inspires your work?

My favourite artist is probably Käthe Kollwitz. I am in awe of her drawings. I love the fact that she was an artist who focused on the human figure during a time of abstraction. Edgar Degas’ drawings are another source of great inspiration for me. His depictions are so freeing, effortless and atmospheric. Recently I have discovered Gerhard Richter’s photograph paintings, and I find their blurry, monotone nature, and their mysterious human subjects endlessly fascinating.

Do you have any favourite pieces of artwork or illustrations that you adore at the moment?

I have been looking at the work of David Haughey recently, he has an exhibition at my university at the moment and I find his work really intriguing. I am drawn to the dark monotone depictions of people, in scenes which appear mysterious and industrial.

What do we hope to see in this up and coming year for your Instagram?

I'd like to think that My Instagram will include more drawings and paintings this year!

Do you have any career plans?

Ideally I would like to be self sufficient through my work. However, as an artist, I don't think I will be having one direct career. I plan on having lots of different outlets for my work: be it exhibiting, selling work on a more commercial scale through my Etsy store, or even teaching.

What are you currently working on?

In university, I am currently still developing my theme of memory and nostalgia through exploration of family photographs taken off guard. I aim to explore my fascination of the everyday, ordinary events of life which can be made extraordinary through art. During my free time I am working on my Etsy shop which is mainly literary inspired. It is still a work in progress, however, I have ideas about using my own printed fabrics which I may experiment with.

What inspires you on a day-to-day basis?

Everything about the ordinary human life: objects, figures and memories.

Do you have any advice for anyone who would like to set up their own Instagram?

I haven't got a separate Instagram page for my artwork yet,  but if I did in the future, I would keep my personal life and my artwork separate from each other to create a professional brand. I would also be wary of people copying my artwork, maybe adding a watermark to keep your work secure.

Do you have any advice for illustrators?

Since I am not specifically an illustrator I wouldn't have much advice to give, however, I would recommend finding a niche to market your work.

What's the best piece of creative advice you've ever been given?

Artist blocks are completely normal and they are necessary for you to move forward no matter how frustrating. The same goes for mistakes!

If you would like to follow this lovely lady. Please take a look at her amazing website ‘’. She is always posting wonderful artwork and updates. 

Rhiannon BrittenComment