Sorca O’ Farrell is a landscape artist from Howth, Co. Dublin. Her painting February Group, pictured below, was shortlisted for the Jackson’s Open Painting Prize 2019. Recent awards include the Drawing Prize at the Royal Ulster Academy Exhibition 2017, and the Hamilton Gallery Award at Cairde Visual 2016.
Sorca’s current body of work blends visual references and memories in a beautiful balance of charcoal, drawing on natural forms and childhood locations to explore different landscapes. I spoke with Sorca to find out more about her process, the materials she uses, and how she develops her work.
Daniel: Tell us a little bit about your artistic background/education.
Sorca: I have always loved drawing and I had a great art teacher in secondary school. I then went to art college (National College of Art & Design, Dublin) where I received a Fine Art Hons Degree. I returned a few years later to complete a H.Dip.
Daniel: How would you describe your practice?
Sorca: My current body of work is primarily landscape, concentrating on a specific area close to where I live. This place is very important to me, and is tied up in childhood memories. There is a small wooded area, and I feel that the trees bear witness to different events in my life, people I have loved, and lost. I am continually trying to capture the essence of this place, these trees, and the connection to memories.
I think there is a constant push and pull between visual references and the memories I am bringing to each piece. Both play vital parts.
Daniel: Could you tell us more about your process when making your charcoal works?
Sorca: I begin by making pen drawings and tonal studies while out in the landscape, and I also take photographs. I bring this information back to my studio where I work out the composition as I scale up the drawings with charcoal on large sheets of Fabriano paper.
From then on it is a slow process of building up and taking away layers and marks in charcoal, sometimes blending, and sometimes erasing areas, until I eventually arrive at what I feel is a visual combination of memory and imagery.
Daniel: When using charcoal – are you drawn to the feeling of working directly onto a surface, or are you more interested in tonal values and the mood it helps you create?
Sorca: I love the versatile medium of charcoal… the process of working it into the paper and watching its unique properties as the work progresses. It can convey atmosphere in a very particular way, and although it is monotone, I think it also effectively conveys colour and mood.
Daniel: Do you find it important to maintain a practice of sketching when working in this way?
Sorca: Drawing and sketching with various mediums (charcoal, pencil, black pen) has always been a vital part of my practice, and although for the last few years they have primarily been for ‘information gathering’, they can sometimes end up being finished pieces, over-laid with some layers of watercolour wash.
Daniel: How important are your surroundings when working? Do you ever work en plein air?
Sorca: I love making small drawings directly out in the landscape, but I feel lucky to have my own studio where I can develop the work in a larger scale over a longer time (average time for each drawing is four weeks).
Daniel: What are your most important artists’ tools, and do you have any favourites?
Sorca: Winsor & Newton Charcoal is my favourite, it has lovely velvety properties and doesn’t scratch the paper. I adore Fabriano Artistico HP heavy (640 gsm) paper in traditional white. It is a beautiful surface to work on and I love the textured outer edge. I work on Jackson’s Lightweight Drawing Boards and use Staedtler erasers and a big soft-haired brush.
Daniel: What is a good day in the studio for you?
Sorca: I get to my studio early and work for three or four hours, usually alternating between two pieces, before heading off for a walk with a small sketch-pad or Moleskine notebook. After lunch I’m back in the studio for another three or four hours, with a break for some Youtube yoga. I like to spend some more time after dinner working on smaller sketches in my notebooks and trying out ideas for new work.
Daniel: And when you’re working in the studio – do you listen to music, audiobooks, Radio 4, or do you prefer to work in silence?
Sorca: While I’m working during the day I like to listen to good radio documentaries (RTE 1, Newstalk, BBC4) or podcasts of interviews with artists and writers (John Daly’s series is very good). If I get back to the studio at night I listen to music.
Daniel: What are your artistic influences? Who are your favourite contemporary artists?
Sorca: So many great artists… I love those beautiful ink landscape drawings by Rembrandt, Van Gogh’s pen drawings, Degas’s pastel drawings, the line and composition in Japanese prints, and Jack B. Yeat’s and Turner’s beautiful delicate watercolour studies.
Daniel: What is coming up next for you and where can we see more of your art in the flesh or online?
Sorca: I recently had a solo exhibition ‘Days & Distance’ at The Easter Snow Gallery in Dublin and I have a piece in this year’s Annual RHA Exhibition. I also have some work included in ‘Days of Summer’ at SO Fine Art Gallery in Dublin. My work can also be seen at The Hamilton Gallery in Sligo and at Cairde Visual at The Model, Sligo. There is also a two-page feature about my work in the current edition of The Irish Arts Review magazine. Online, my work can be seen on my website sorcaofarrell.ie and on my Instagram.