A series of talks with artists about their experiences in 2020.

#2 Sofia Barton

(Interview was dictated from audio version)

Sofia Barton is a multidisciplinary artist from the North East. Sofia has worked with BBC Scotland, Edinburgh Fringe and NCJ media.

Sofia has a beautiful website called sofia barton illustation where you can check out her array of work from colourful illustrative animals, landscapes and an amazing series of matchbox drawings with popular northern sayings, famous landscapes and not so known feminist icons.

All work is for sale online so go and buy and support from local artists! Pink-Collar talks with Sofia about her year in 2020 and what’s exciting in 2021 for her.

An illustrated image of matchsticks open to expose the tops of the matches. On the box is a stylist text saying “shy bairns get nowt.” The image is framed and sitting on a table with a ceramic star and a candle on both sides and a plant in the background. 

You have a great website and a lovely welcoming online shop. Did you feel you were sort of at an advantage throughout the many lockdowns as you could promote and sell your work?

SOFIA - I’m really glad that you think it's a welcoming online shop. I do work quite a lot on Etsy just as the main selling point as well to get my income as an artist. It did really help that I had the Etsy and my website set up before lockdown one. I think a lot of that was credited to me joining the Princess Trust and them hammering on about it, about how you should have a website as your platform no matter what business you are running and it's also help I had the Etsy tags, so people can find your post and stuff like that all set up and id already tried to get my customers base from Tynemouth Market into Etsy. I had been giving out cards for a couple of years of that as well. So really did help that I had all of that done in... well not intentional preparation but preparation before lockdown one.

I absolutely love your matchbox series first up when are you going to do a Sunderland one? But really what inspired you in creating these works?

SOFIA - I get asked so much about doing a proper matchbox for Sunderland. I did the lighthouse but I haven’t done a proper detailed one. I’ve done an illustration for Sunderland so that might be something that will work on in the future where I will make the border and sell it properly as well.

An illustrated image of matchsticks open to expose the tops of the matches. The image on the matchbox is two drawn people and surrounded by elaborate patterns with their names “Donald & Eliza Knight” above and word courage with female and male signs interconnected below. The word Suffragette is at the bottom of the image. 

SOFIA - But yeah I made the matchbox initially because again when I joined the Princess Trust I had a mentor called Lee Gilburt who really talked about creating a selling point, a unique selling point. So mine was my heritage and my culture because quite a lot of that I think shone through as a niche to sell things. I used it previously as a wedding photographer, I used people I knew in the Asian community asked them if they wanted their photos done and quite a lot of females wanted another female photographer so word got around and that’s how I did my first jobs in Edinburgh and then I got a few down here in Newcastle. So I used my background and culture and eventually I came to a memory I had with my grandad and matchboxes and quite a lot of cigarettes and tobacco he had. He was a proper chain smoker but I remember these old matchboxes and then I did some research on Indian matchbox, Japanese matchboxes and then I came to this conclusion where I just thought that illustrations that I am doing could really be easily centred into a matchbox. It could be something really beautiful that signifies a location, so I just tired it out and initially I just tired it with Tynemouth and that was my first one and then I did on for Whitley Bay and they were really popular and then did one for Newcastle and the list went on a bit so it's a continuous thing right now it's just one of those things you get trademarked into it.  

You are a parent to an adorable little human. What has it really been like to keep your practice running whilst taking care of your family? 

SOFIA - It's been super hard trying to do parenting as lockdowns happened for all of these months. I know loads of people are finding it hard and everyone is in a unique different situation. It is a really hard thing to do when schools are down and you gotta work from home or not work at all. Puts you in a really different situation because then where you meant to get your finances but if you do the teaching full time and also i'm not trained as a teacher so that is another issue. I think the most important thing that I have gotten from other parents and other adults is well just keep your children happy, that's all you can do during this time and it's more about their happiness and survival and just getting through this entially so what I do now is im with my child during the day and if I can I will be doing zoom meetings and little bits of work and when he's asleep so generally in the evening times.. Like right now. I'll do my bits of work where I can and it's just really hard working from home. I haven't been able to go to the studio or anything but I'm really hoping when lockdown ends that will all change as well.

A bright and colourful illustration of the bridges in Newcastle. One is red, the next green and the furthest away is white. With a bright blue river in the middle and drawing of buildings on each side.

You were one of the artists to be selected for the Baltic Open Submission, congrats! Was this a great validation and a bit of positivity to help through 2020?

SOFIA - Yeah it was so self surprising and I was so happy to be selected for the Baltic open submission. I never thought in a million years I would have work in the Baltic. It was so surreal and so happy! It was definitely a massive validation as well as being an artist it made me feel like I'm actually an artist and not just an emeature messing around. I think lots of people have that doubt, I certainly have that when I do any bit of work. It's called imposter syndrome I believe! But yea its definitely a thing and it helped being selected. It was a really positive start to 2021 and it helped me through all those dark winter months in 2020 when I found out.

An illustrated image of matchsticks open to expose the tops of the matches. The image on the matchbox is of a drawn black woman wearing a victorian style black dress. The matchbox is bordered with peace doves and her name “Sarah Parker Remond” is displayed at the bottom.

How hard was it being a freelancer in 2020? And what sort of financial support would you like to see in the arts in 2021? 

SOFIA - So pre 2020 it was already difficult being a freelance because I was trying to figure out self assessment for tax and all these other things. Etsy had to boost my sales, I didn't think for a moment that we would have a pandemic or you know this other stuff would happen and then in 2020 I just got a studio space at Ampersand and then lockdown one hit. It was really really strange, so I managed to get a submission done that I was doing before that was painting some imps and fortunately the imps were basically, I had to go get them from Lincoln and then I had to deliver them to Lincoln between the lockdown so when I was allowed to travel. This is for a company called Wild in Art and I had already worked with them. So I was really really happy that they gave me two imps to paint, except it was really difficult around the Pandemic as well!.. So this year was really hard...

I think the government should have really supported artists a bit more financially, you know like a set kind of subsidy for artists they have in Northern Ireland I believe just to help them out or the arts council could have helped more with artists who aren't really well known. Saying that I did get a small grant from the Arts Council but I was really really lucky cause I had someone to help me with the applications. I had already networked with people in the North East. It was kind of like an etsy shop, I've been doing it for a couple of years. But I dread to think what would've happened if I didn't know those people or I hadn't been doing it for a little while. As a new artist I don't think I would've gotten that help and I don't think I would be an artist now, it was just pure luck and I think the government should have really done more to support artists and support the one that aren't well known as well.

What are you desperately looking forward to doing when everything is somewhat “back to normal”?

SOFIA - So when things go back to normal, whenever that might be I would love to just sit in a coffee shop and not worry how far or near the nearest person is to me or someone coughs at all in the jumper or anything. Also I would love to take my little boy to the library or an art gallery cause we used to do it all the time before and we have stopped doing these things. I think i'm one of these people that needs to get out of the house as well just for my mental health and it would be lovely just to be able to do that. I think quite a lot of people are in that boat when they need to go out to see friends and feel a little better. Would be lovely just to be able to do that.

An illustrated image of matchsticks open to expose the tops of the matches. The image on the matchbox is of a man surfing through drawn stars. The image is surrounded by text saying “The North East” “Tynemouth” “Longsands matches” at the bottom of the image it says forever by the waves we rise' ' with “do” and “die” on either side of the matches.

And what future projects have you got lined up for 2021?

SOFIA - So I got a really really exciting little line of work coming up one of them is a talk that i'm doing for durham uni, on this thursday actually on the 28th and that's all going to be about the suffragettes so its about minority suffragettes and working class suffragettes that you dont really hear about and I think should of really been apart of history in school and I was certainly never taught it. But it's bits of History that I've picked up and really interested in. I was going to do a series of artwork on it as well and yeah going to be doing a talk on that. Free to join with art school. 

I've got some workshops because they're all online now, one for GemArts that i'm going to be doing which is hyem based on home sweet hyem and that's going to be getting diverse groups together to work around that theme of home.

I've also got another one I'm going to do again. It's kind of home based, things that you can do at home, easy materials that you can use for crafting. I think it's really important right now that everyone gets that good therapy that they can send postcards to their friends and show them what they created because time are different now and I guess we all have to do different things and its helps being creative and it really helps it like a form of therapy. 

I also have an art trail with the imps that is set for July 2021 but we are going to see what happens with that as well and your of course the Baltic open submission that will be open at the Baltic as soon as there able and there able going to have a virtual exhibition which is going to be really exciting and I'm also part of the Durham Bishop Cosin's Library residency so we also going to be doing an exhibition around this. Which also includes curtain groups around Durham and school around Durham getting access to this library, which was one of the oldest library in England but was only accessible to white men and men of certain statues so clergymen, and it's certainly would be for the normal, working class men so that's also looking into that I'm going to be encouraging people to put up there own portraits, where these white men lined the walls. I'm going to be getting their own portrait of their own heroes so it could be whatever background that they want. I think it's one of those things these places are kind of going into the modern era and they just need to be more accessible and more friendly so yeah those are the projects I got lined up for and hopefully get some more as well.

I'm also doing stuff with the  Masala Festival with GemArts in 2021. It just depends if events can go ahead of course. So part of that will be showcasing the Suffragettes and things like that in my art work. Another one that was also delayed in 2020 was a project that was for a creative factory in Middlesbrough that involved street art. So hopefully that will be going ahead this year as well. So yeah, a lot of delayed projects that are going ahead in 2021. It will feel like life is back to normal and things are going forward and instead of groundhog day so I guess there's that.

Thank you very much for interviewing me.

Sofias talk for Durham Uni was changed if you would like to listen get you free ticket here - 

Date And Time
Wed, 10 February 2021
18:00 – 19:00 GMT


Suffragette posters were commissioned by GemArts