Artist Interview with Susan Burghart

30 November 2022

Graphic designer, illustrator and creator of all things shiny and sophisticated, Susan Burghart, extends her fresh and edgy approach to design with everything she creates. After working as a graphic designer for eight years before attending Camberwell College of Arts in London in 2006 to re-train as an illustrator, Susan's work is now a permanent feature at the University of the Arts London. 


How often do you pick up a pencil?

I pick it up daily when I'm very busy! Though I have to note that it’s iPad pencil more often these days, this past year I decided to start working on an iPad in addition to my desktop to make the transition between what I can do by hand and what I do with the mouse on a desktop more seamless, because almost all of my work is digital. Between projects or if I'm on holiday I will take time to rest and "sharpen the saw" so I don't get burnt out.

To whom do you owe your creativity, are you from an artistic family or the odd one out?

My mother was probably my largest creative influence growing up. Though she and my grandmother weren't illustrators, they both had visual talents and good sketching hands so maybe something was running in the family! Needless to say, I took to drawing at a very young age… just put me in a corner with paper and a pencil and I could stay occupied for hours.

When my mom wasn't chasing four kids, she ran a small business creating and weaving elaborate art out of straw. Sometimes I would travel with her to arts and craft shows where she would exhibit her work along with other artists and craftsmen in the Seattle area, so I was able to be around other creative people from a young age. I also benefitted from the encouragement of enthusiastic relatives and teachers growing up -- when children are shown to have a creative talent I think it's important for adults to encourage them in this regard.

Name another artist whom you'd love to collaborate with.

I'd like to bring Oscar Wilde back from the dead so I could be his illustrator. He is my favourite writer, the way he conveyed emotion and described beauty with such magnificence has always inspired the way that I wanted to create art. But he also had a wonderful sense of humour. His quick wit would have been great for social media. Interestingly enough I share the same birthday as Aubrey Beardsley, the illustrator that did actually, work with him.

A stand-out project in your folio for us is the packaging design you created for Smeaton's Gin, please can you walk us through your creative process for the project?

Much of my process for this project was shaped by an excellent brief by Caroline Forte and Denomination Design. Smeaton's Gin revived an original 1870s recipe from the Bristol Archives. This recipe used eight botanicals: juniper, angelica, calamus, cinnamon, coriander, liquorice, orange and orris. They wanted to have these botanicals illustrated like classical botanical illustrations -- except with a clean and modern line quality. To reflect the time period, they also wanted to be able to arrange these illustrations in a pattern inspired by the work of William Morris. I absolutely loved this project because William Morris has always been an inspiration to me. So much of this process involved researching his work and studying how he wove botanicals together.

The isolated illustrations were pretty straightforward, but getting them to work together in a cohesive pattern took a lot of trial and error, so there were times I would need to alternate back and forth when making adjustments examining the illustrations both individually and as a pattern. We had a Morris-inspired preset colour palette, so this also needed to be taken into consideration. It was a challenging process but very rewarding.

We love the print-maker quality of your work, is printmaking or traditional hand-rendered disciplines a passion of yours?

Absolutely. When I studied at Camberwell in South London, I learned the printmaking process for the first time and absolutely loved it. Even if I won the lottery, I'd still be working and fantasising about having a print-making studio near a beach in Mexico where I could make print art aside from relaxing and enjoying tacos with beer. It's getting easier to replicate the print process with filters and textures for digital artists that are pressed for time and space, but I still think there's something special about the results from working in the original, mechanical way if possible.

Picasso said "I begin with an idea and then it becomes something else" is this true for your process too?

I think so. Sometimes we get this visual idea in our heads that we want to create, but getting it from head to paper can get tricky. And that is where you have to be visually flexible and be willing to improvise and use trial and error to get the results that you are happy with.

What does your current workspace look like? 

It's a small space, but it's my space. Everything in my little studio has meaning, gifts or things collected from travel, and things from the past like my old license plate to boot. It could do with some plants but I will most certainly manage to kill the poor things. To be creative I surround myself with things I love from people I love.

If you could relocate your studio for a year, where in the world would you choose?

Paris! This city has a lot of history and creativity that fascinates me. I take a lot of artistic inspiration and influence from La Belle Époque from the late 1800s to the early 1900s in Paris, so it would be interesting to have a living experience where that movement took place.

Check out Susan's portfolio now... 

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