Artist Venetia Berry explores portraiture through reduced line making, using a signature colour palette of dusty pinks and blues. After training at The Charles Cecil School in Florence and The Royal Drawing School, her studio is now comfortably based in Brixton.

Her virtual class for TOAST on Tuesday will be focussed on experimental line drawing, and will reflect the concept and key colours of our SS20 collection. We talk to Venetia about her inspiarations and journey so far...

Can you tell us a little about your background?

I grew up in Wimbledon in London, and I have always loved art. But I had been somewhat encouraged to get an academic degree and return to art after University. I had a place at Bristol to read Politics, but the summer before I was due to start, I did the summer course at Charles Cecil in Florence. It was here that I fell head over heels in love with art. I met a few people on the course who studied at Leith School of Art in Edinburgh. I managed to get a last minute place to study at Leith, where I studied painting. I then moved back down to London and studied for a year at The Royal Drawing School on the Drawing Intensive Year.

Since then, which was roughly 4 years ago, I have been working from my studio in Brixton. My work has developed from the love of the portrait and representative artwork, to focusing mainly on the abstraction of the female nude. I still paint portraits but my heart lives with the abstracting. My work consists mainly of painting but I love trying my hand at new techniques, such as pottery, embroidery and even some knitting during quarantine!

What is a usual day in the studio like for you? Do you have certain routines and rituals that you follow?

I usually walk to the studio pretty early, around 7.45am. I live with my boyfriend who leaves for work early, so he usually drags me out with him! When I get to the studio the first thing I do is do a meditation. This helps to get me set for the day ahead. I will then have a coffee and some breakfast and look over my emails for the day. I usually work my way through a to-do list for the week, so I could be working on anything from some new paintings or commissions to a collection of pottery - whatever I need to do at the time! I try to get to a yoga class at my local studio around lunchtime. My afternoon is usually filled with much of the same and endless cups of tea! I always work on one thing at a time; I am not one for working on multiple paintings at the same time. I listen to Radio 4 in the morning and drift in and out of podcasts and audiobooks in the afternoon, or just silence, wherever the mood takes me.

What themes and concepts drift into your drawings and paintings?

My work is mainly focused on the female form. Celebrating the female body, inclusive of all body types. I also want my work to open up the conversation on mental health. How women and men can get very caught up in their appearance, and how we can work to change this. As someone who suffers from anxiety I really want my work to nod towards this and help to unite people through it.

Have the last few months in isolation changed your way of painting, thinking and communicating?

I have never felt more strongly that there is just not enough time in the day to get everything I want to, done! I am isolating with my mum and dad, my boyfriend, my sister and her husband and their 20-month-old daughter. So I have been rushed off my feet! As someone who usually spends my whole day alone, it is nice to have some company, but I am definitely less productive. In a way it seems like a strange time to be creating, with all the horrors going on in the world. I love how creativity seems to have bonded us all together, like the class for TOAST for example. We never would have had time to fit something like this in, back in our usual busy lives. So, in answer to the question, I don't feel totally changed, but it has been refreshing for me to be able to reset a bit and take a step back from my usual busy life.

Can you tell us a little about the virtual class you are holding for TOAST?

The class is an abstract portraiture class, where we will be drawing from a mirror at the beginning, seeking out the lines and contours in your face. We will then move onto drawings without the mirror, the work slowly becoming more abstract as we move away from reality. I would encourage the use of colour, but anyone can come to the class with just a pencil, and colour can be added in at a later date. I will be focusing on the same colour palette as the TOAST SS20 collection. So expect lovely pastel and spring colours.

Is there a particular artist you admire for their use of colour and line?

I love Matisse. He is probably my favourite artist of all time. There is something so timeless and loveable in everything he does.

Where do you usually go in the city for inspiration?

Tate Modern. I love going to galleries, and that is something I have really missed during isolation. They are such a sure-fire way towards sparking inspiration for me.

What is the one tool or object in your studio that you couldn't live without?

A lot of things! But I wouldn't be anywhere without my paintbrushes and paints!

What have been the main challenges you've faced persuing your practice?

I think the self-doubt, and motivation that is needed to keep on going. Some days there are paintings I will really struggle with, and others I won't. But it is all-important for the progress as an artist. I think it is so important to not compare yourself too much with others, which is easier said than done. I always remind myself that everyone is on their own individual path.

What is the best advice you have been given that you could pass on?

I always think it is so important to stick to your guns. Find your own language through art. Look at other artists work for inspiration, but not to copy. As Picasso once famously said, Good artists copy, great artists steal".

Portrait images by Rob Wilson.

Venetia's virtual workshop for TOAST takes place on Tuesday 19th May at 5pm. You can sign up here.

A curation of Venetia's current work is available on the Partnership Editions website. You can browse here.

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