In the studio with Sue Doggett

We caught up with Artist Sue Doggett from City Lit about all things books, including her latest project ‘Satellite’, lack of personal space in lockdown and a highly embroidered pair of leather gloves.

Could you tell us a little bit about you and your work?

I am a book artist and binder and so most of my practice involves either making designed bindings on books which already exist, usually for clients, or creating my own content and then binding that in the form of an artist’s book. Sometimes the books are in a small edition and sometimes a one-off. I am interested in surface design, women’s history, sewing as drawing and the use of textiles and embroidery on books, the role of craft practice, memory and the history of magic.

Bar 127 Beethoven Pastoral Symphony. 7.6 x 7.6 cms Machine and hand embroidery on to linen and leather covered board. Private collection.

Has your practice has changed over time?

My work has gone full circle. When I was at college I made a lot of books with textile covers and then when I began to train more seriously as a bookbinder I veered towards more traditional materials. Over the last couple of years I have been revisiting textiles and sewing and this has largely become my main creative focus.

Winsor & Newton Studio Pencils Collection
Tin of 6

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What work do you most enjoy doing?

Creating a book in its entirety. I love the research period before the artwork begins; reading, drawing, visiting collections, places associated with the subject I am working with. Creating and binding a book is a very particular activity which requires a lot of planning as there are certain things which have to happen in a very specific order. Even so, I try to allow myself the space to experiment along the way.

Satellite (page detail) work in progress

 What does your artwork mean to you?

I have a love/hate relationship with my work –some of the time I feel ambivalent about what I do and wished I could do something else. There is so much stuff out there already and you think, why add to it? But in the past when I have tried to stop making things I have felt a huge loss. So now I just keep doing it and try not to worry about its relevance. The work exists, and I made it as well as I can with intentions that are meaningful to me, so why worry!

Seawhite Black Square
Chunky Sketchbook

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What are you currently working on?

I’m creating a book called ‘Satellite’ which is a collection of pages with work relating to our moon; historically, in folklore etc. So far I’ve almost completed the pages and then I’ll start on the binding. I may make a small edition of some of the pages as well. I’m also attempting to make a highly embroidered pair of leather gloves for another project which is some way off – luckily. They are still in pieces hanging over the back of a chair!

Satellite (page detail) work in progress

How has the current situation impacted or imposed on your creative practice?

I’m working in much the same way as I always do except that I am working in a smaller space in my house – the other workable spaces being occupied by family who are teaching and studying from home. I thought I might get a lot more done given the circumstances but, like so many of my friends and associates, this hasn’t happened!

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In this time of self-isolation is there anything you have come to realise as a creative that you can’t live without?

Personal space and full days of being alone. The space to immerse yourself in whatever you are doing without being disturbed.

Satellite (page detail) work in progress

Are there any particular materials or processes that you enjoy working with?

Thread and fabric, pure and simple

What’s a piece of advice you’ve been given that has stuck with you?

Always look through the three windows. The concept of 'three windows' was suggested to me many years ago as a way of dealing with difficult situations or encounters. You have to imagine three things that might have contributed to a situation other than what you immediately feel on a personal level. I use it to remind myself to be aware of alternative views to my own and as a way of keeping an open mind, not just creatively but in life generally. 

How have you overcome creative blocks and barriers whilst being in lockdown?

I haven’t – I’ve just blustered on in my usual way trying to do everything at once and maybe getting half the work done that I’ve set myself. I guess seeing the time stretching out before you as an opportunity rather than an abyss helps too.