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The OM Interview: Sasha Compton

Sasha Compton is an artist and designer who creates mixed media artwork from her London studio. Sasha attended Queen Mary’s between 2000 and 2004 and went on to study at Central St Martins and Chelsea Art College. She lived in Amsterdam for four years before moving back to London. We spoke to Sasha about her time at Queen Mary’s and the influence it had on her career.

What was your first impression of Queen Mary’s?

I came to Queen Mary’s in Year Three (aged seven) from a small state school on the Isle of Mull, in Scotland, where I was one of five pupils in the whole school. There, we were taught about wildlife, learned Gaelic and took a ferry to the mainland for swimming lessons. I remember feeling really quite scared moving to a boarding school with so many pupils, but was immediately relieved at how welcoming everyone was at Queen Mary’s. I loved that the school was surrounded by nature and it was very reassuring to be encompassed by grass and trees. 

What are your memories from your school days?

I have so many fond memories of my time at Queen Mary’s. I remember building dens in the woods, feeding the chickens and spending lots of time in the art club with Miss Hays (who often forgot where her glasses were, when they were usually on her head). I remember learning about the food chain in Biology from seeing tadpoles in the little pond on the lawn, playing the ‘Maths game’ with Mrs Wilcox, going to Chapel, attending gripping History lessons with Miss P, miming competitions, Sports Day, Battle of the Bands, Pet Club, the revolving toast machine and film nights on Friday evenings.

Who were the most influential members of staff?

My most influential members of staff were the Mackenzie Johnstons, who were constantly organising outdoor activities and teaching us about the outdoors, Miss Hepworth who was rather scary but pushed you with sports, and Miss Hays who was equally quite scary but taught me a lot about Art. Mrs B was a great mother figure too. 

What are the biggest lessons you learned at school?

The biggest life lessons I learned at Queen Mary’s were to appreciate the outdoors, and to try your best. I remember not winning the art prize one year and being feeling disheartened, but then the experience encouraged me to work harder and I went on to win the prize the following year. 

Do you keep in touch with any old pupils today?

Yes, very much so! I got married in June and my two Maids of Honour were my childhood friends from Queen Mary’s and three of my bridesmaids were also friends from Queen Mary’s. We have all remained very close since meeting 21 years ago and often talk about our school memories whenever we meet up.

Sasha (centre) flanked by OMS Poppy Ropner, Tara Watson, Frankie Sutcliffe and Jess Fordy.

How did you embark on your career?

I have always known I wanted to do something creative since I was little. I think that being exposed to my mother’s restoration work in her studio was always very inspiring to me. After Queen Mary’s I went to Tudor Hall School where I received an Art scholarship. I chose creative A levels; Art & ceramics, Textiles and History of Art. I was thrilled to get into Central St. Martins in London where I then completed my Art Foundation (specialising in Illustration). I then did a BA in Graphics Communication at Chelsea College of Art. I wasn’t sure which area of the creative industry I wanted to go into after university, so I did a year of varied internships; from Fashion, to advertising, to textile prints and finally to being a brand designer. It was a really eye-opening year! I worked in London as a Brand Designer and then for a fashion company in Amsterdam (where I lived for four years). After five years of graphic design I began to miss the physical element of creating, so began illustrating more on the side. Nearly two years ago I decided to focus on my art full-time and have been living my dream ever since.

Can you describe a typical day at work, if there is such a thing?

No day is the same, I tend to go on a run, have a coffee and reply to emails and do my business admin; update my website, Instagram, customer tracking forms, and log my expenses for tax. I’ll then cycle along the Thames from my home in the Wapping Docklands to my colourful little studio in Lambeth North for the rest of the day. Here I will do some sketchbook work and then focus on whichever projects are on the go (normally a couple at the same time). I tend to build up towards new collections consisting of lino prints, paintings and decorated ceramics. I also do commissions and collaborations. 

What advice would you give to someone wanting to embark on a career in your industry?

Advice I would give is to learn as much as you can before setting out. I would suggest making sure you have a stable income at first to take the initial pressure off – perhaps work part-time in another job and then set targets for yourself, your work and business. There are definite ups and downs just like any other job, but it is so worth it to do what you love. I would recommend going to lots of galleries and cultural things, to put yourself out there and meet other creatives. Don’t be afraid to experiment – have fun with this special passion of yours and see where your creative voice takes you! 

What are the best parts and worst parts of your job?

The best parts for me are doing what I love every day, seeing my work develop and exploring new ways of expressing my creative voice. My work explores the natural world and I do this by using authentic production methods. I embrace colour and imperfections, so I get a lot of pleasure seeing how an artwork develops, often a print can end up looking very different from what I originally had in mind, which is an element I love about my work.

On the flip side, I sometimes put a lot of pressure on myself; I struggle with prioritising projects and I miss the stability of a regular income, but it’s all worth it for those golden moments in the studio when a piece comes to life.

What is your biggest achievement in your career?

Just seeing my work on people’s walls gives me so much joy. It’s great fun seeing how my small business / big passion is developing. I recently have felt so lucky to move into my studio, to have had a sell-out first ceramics collection, complete a commission of 300 plates for Edmiston Yachts and hand-paint lots of lampshades for a design hotel in Copenhagen. I’ve also worked with some great brands like Noble Macmillan and art dealers such as Domenica Marland to name a couple. In May I was asked to contribute to the Eggs for an Era exhibition in Duke of York Square, to celebrate seven decades of Her Majesty the Queen’s reign. It’s been a busy couple of years! 

What are you working on at the moment?

I’m pretty busy! I’ve designed a swimming costume for a sustainable swimwear Elle Nage company which recently launched, am exhibiting six paintings in a group show tha launched on 20th September called ‘Spaces left for Dreaming’ which was actually organised by another OM – Art dealer Amelia Maxwell – and I have designed a light installation for an art gallery in London that is opening soon. 

I’m also taking on more ceramic commissions for weddings, birthdays and Christmas presents, as well as building ongoing collections and taking on designs for events and weddings using my graphic design skills.

What advice would you give your 13 year old self?

I was quite shy and self-conscious, so I would tell the 13 year old me to have more confidence, stop caring what other people think, and keep dreaming big.

To view Sasha’s work please visit her website or instagram,or for commissions and queries email info@sashacompton.com.  Her artwork is also available via art dealer Domenica Marland.  

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