Artist of the Week: Tonwen Jones

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This week Brighton Journal spoke to local illustrator and collage artist, Tonwen Jones. Tonwen’s vibrant work combines colour, pattern and vintage motifs, and frequently draws inspiration from people’s eccentric collections, as well as museums and galleries. Her work includes a large illustrated map of Gujarat in India at ZSL London Zoo, which was commissioned for the opening of the Lion exhibit. We discussed Tonwen’s current editorial commissions, the work she exhibited at The Green Show (organised by SCIP), and how she’s getting creative with family at home.

Featured Image: Tonwen with her illustrated map at ZSL London Zoo.


What are you doing today?

Today I am making a ‘We all deserve a Medal’ out of cardboard, sticky stars and candy paper bags with my daughter. SCIPart inspired us to make one this morning when we saw their Instagram feed. In-between working on my illustration commissions and taking the dog for a walk over the downs, I’m also juggling home schooling and we especially love the creative projects!


Describe where you do most of your creative work.

I’m very fortunate to have two studios. One I share with other illustrators in Seaford which is a great space to work and bounce ideas off each other and what I need for my sanity. The other is at home, a recently converted studio space that was a very dated bathroom which overlooks farmland and where I can see the ferry coming in and out of the harbour. I’m often at my desk drinking too much coffee and looking out to sea.


What’s the most exciting thing you’ve worked on?

This is a difficult one, but I think it has to be the large illustrated map of Gujarat in India that I worked on for the opening of the Lion Exhibit at ZSL London Zoo. It was larger than the width of my studio and the largest to date. They printed it on ply wood and it became part of the vibrant interactive exhibit with Indian-themed areas, including a high street and train station. The exhibit was also opened by David Attenborough. This was definitely a highlight of my career and to see a piece of my work up large and outside of a book or magazine format.


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What made you decide to become an artist?

I think it was in my DNA as both my parents are artists, my Dad a printmaker and founder of Sudbourne Park Printmakers in Suffolk and my Mum a former art teacher but also a very talented artist. I have always been surrounded by art. They had summer printmaking workshops every summer when we lived in Wales and I’d love to help out and be involved in some way, even if it was handing out cups of tea and biscuits. I used to love helping my Dad turn the large wheel of his etching press. One Summer, Raymond Briggs came to one of the workshops and I remember eating a slice of chocolate cake to celebrate his birthday!


What are you currently working on?

I have my daughter at home full time at the moment, so I’m juggling craft and school projects with her, but also a few editorial commissions, including some illustrations for Breathe Magazine. I get to read all the interesting articles which helps keep me calm during these challenging times.


What are the key themes in your work?

Probably colour and pattern but also retaining an element of vintage, especially with my collage work. I spend hours drawing pattern motifs in my sketchpads and these often end up in my work. I like my work to pop out on the page. Even my illustrated maps are pretty fluro.


What would you like people to notice about your work?

I hope that people see that I’m having fun with my creations and that the viewer gets a glimpse into my illustrative world. I do tend to repeat certain motifs, clouds and doodles throughout my work, linking them all together.


What attracts you to the medium you work in?

I still love to sketch with my pens and colouring pencils and I like there to always be drawn elements to my work that sit alongside my collage and textured elements.


What equipment could you not do without?

Foremost, my pens and all the varying point sizes they come in, my watercolour pencils and my Bamboo Wacom tablet.


Who or what inspires you?

People’s eccentric collections, Open Houses, going to art galleries, museums and looking at artists sketchbooks on Instagram.


How is your work affected by living in this area?

I love the light here and the sea. It inspires me to go out with my sketchpad and draw the goings on at the harbour, the chalk cliffs and the ever changing patterns in the landscape. I was invited to exhibit a piece of work for The Green Show organised by SCIP (Seaford Contemporary Illustrators and Printmakers) up at the barn in Seaford last summer and it was great to work on a brief based around our local history and landscape.


What’s your favourite thing to do locally?

To go for a long walk on Newhaven beach with my dog at low tide, as they reveal amazing rock pools. My daughter and I also like to cycle to the harbour here and watch the ferries dock.


What’s your favourite gallery (or place to see/experience art)?

The Towner Gallery in Eastbourne. They put on great exhibits but they also have great kids free workshops and a sensory room for them to explore. Outside of Sussex, it would probably have to be the Wellcome Collection in London. I love exploring all the weird and wonderful medical artefacts as well as the art displays they have on there. It’s a great place for sketching.


If you could collaborate with one artist, from any time, who would it be and why?

It would have to be David Hockney. His work, has always inspired me, especially his earlier work. I love his illustrative etchings and interpretations of the Grimms’ Fairy Tales. I think I’m drawn to his mark making and architectural approach to the fairytales but I also love his paper pools and collage work. I recently saw some of his early work in collaboration with Alan Davie at the Towner Gallery.


What’s your favourite colour?

Olive green and the odd pop of neon pink. I love  the contrast of muted and bright colours but whether it is in my work or on my walls at home, bright pink always pops up. The latest pink addition is a Candycab wooden car.


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