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Cathy Hargreaves

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Meet the Artist Behind the Window

We caught up with talented illustrator and surface pattern artist, Tracey English, to discuss her inspirations and experiences with Window Wanderland. Tracey is based in Southfields, London and is passionate about collage with hand painted papers. She has been a maker in her local Window Wanderland for four years now and seen first hand how the festival has brought her community together. 

What are the biggest influences in your art? 

There are so many but if I had to pick my top three it would have to be Eric Carle because he’s an illustrator and he did paper cut pieces. People say my work looks a bit like his. Another big inspiration of mine is Frida Kahlo because I really like folk art and that graphic style and also Paul Klee because he simplifies shapes and uses amazing colours. 

When did you realise you wanted to become an artist?

I think being an artist is my blood really. My mum and dad were both artists. My mum was a watercolour artist and a painter, and a teacher. My dad was an art director, and then he became an illustrator and is still creating with printmaking at the age of 86! I grew up in that kind of environment and didn’t know anything else. 

What inspires your art?

I’m inspired by Folk art – I love its naïve, handmade qualities and decorative nature. Folk art comes from lots of different places and I’m intrigued by the air of mystery behind it, the characters they create and the colours they use. I just love it.

Do you have a favourite time of day to create?

I think mornings for me – I’m a bit of an early bird! I’d generally work all day but I’m most productive in the mornings. I have a cup of tea, walk my dog and then make the plan for the day and just get started.

Do you think art can support mental health?

Definitely. Thinking about making something is already an accomplishment, whatever it is, even if you just put some marks on a piece of paper, you’ve accomplished something. And I think that just stimulates your imagination. From that, you get involved in doing things and you then forget about what you’re worrying about at that moment. I think it really just takes you away from a lot of the stresses that are around you. I know if I’m working I’m not really thinking about all the other things that I should be doing or that I’m worried about. It’s a form of escapism – like reading a book. It doesn’t matter what you do, if you’re cutting out some bits of paper and sticking them down or you’ve got a paintbrush in your hand or piece of clay or whatever, I think it definitely can help to alleviate some stress.

Did your art help you through Lockdown? 

I think I was lucky because I’ve always worked from home so that wasn’t a change for me. I think the difference was that everyone else was at home too – my son was back from uni, my other son was doing his A-levels and my husband started working from home. So that was the complete change for me after having the house to myself every day.

It was good that I had my art to focus on otherwise, I think I really would have struggled. The online creative community helped me a lot as there were lots of daily challenges going on and online workshops sprung up so you could stay engaged with people still. My Etsy shop did well and was much busier than normal so that helped as well.

I think definitely for creative people it probably was a lot easier – you had more time on your hands so you got a lot more work done. Now, it’s got to fit in with everything else. It does feel weird looking back at it now. I can’t quite believe that we all had to do it – it seems completely unreal. 

How does being creative enhance your life?

For me, it’s a bit like keeping fit – it’s just part of my life. If I don’t do it, something doesn’t feel quite right. I stopped for a long time when my kids were growing up – I just couldn’t fit it all in.

I slowly just wound it down and didn’t do anything for about eight years. Now, looking back I can’t quite imagine how I did that. 

It took me quite a long time to build it all up again. But now that I have and I’m creating most days, I would really find it hard not to do anything. Even at the weekends, I tend to fiddle around for a few hours. My art is a part of me and I don’t feel myself if I’m not doing it.

How is creativity important to society?

It opens your mind to new ideas and helps with problem solving.  It breaks down barriers between different groups of people – be it age, race, ability – everyone can be equal if you try to create something together.

I definitely think it’s important and sadly there’s not enough of it now. Often the arts are the first thing to be cut back which is very sad. That’s probably why events like Window Wanderland are good because it’s for everyone. It doesn’t cost a lot of money. Of course, you can spend a lot of money on creating your window, but you don’t have to. I just buy tracing paper, black paper and some tissue paper and that’s all you need. I mean, some people make it much more elaborate than I do. Some people simply use objects they already own to decorate their windows.

In recent years, there’s been much more awareness of mental wellbeing in society which has led some councils to see the arts as a valuable form of therapy. For a long time, creativity wasn’t really thought of as a valuable thing. It’s just something that people fiddle around and do. Now luckily, because of how mental health has been highlighted, more money is being pumped into creativity again. 

So what inspired you to take part in your local window Wanderland?

I’ve taken part in Southfields Window Wanderland four times now. There’s actually a couple of friends who I know who live in a different area which is more populated with windows being decorated. They always did it and I was always a bit intrigued. I felt a bit shy about joining in because no one else in my neighbourhood was doing it but then one year I just thought this is silly, I’m doing it! Then I guess you ignite the flame and you get a little bit hooked. 

What sort of windows have you done previously? 

Well, they have always involved a little wellbeing quote. Last year, I did one to support Ukraine with blue and yellow and animals. They normally feature animals or buildings or pattern or some kind of floral design –  they’re quite decorative. They’re not all singing and dancing –  a lot of people around here have bubbles and music and things but mine are just quite decorative windows really.

The first two or three I created, I got blank sheets of paper and I just cut them out like a stained glass window and then put the coloured paper behind. And then last year, I got some huge sheets of tracing paper and I cut the images and then put them on to the tracing paper. I think I’m going to do that again this year as it was a little bit more effective and gives you a bit more flexibility. We’ve got quite big bay windows as it’s a Victorian terrace so I found this method worked a bit better. 

What have you got planned for this year’s festival?

I decided this year to do some kind of folky animals.  Last year I did a whole series as part of a year long challenge around folk animals and colour, so I think I’m going to try and bring some of those into it. We’ll see – I don’t want to give too much away.

Why do you think Window Wanderland is important to your own community?

I think it always creates a bit of a buzz. It’s a bit like on Halloween when kids are all rushing around going to get sweeties. It has that kind of feel, but at least they’re not going to collect sweets – they’re just going to look at art which has got to be a good thing, right?

Some people follow the whole trail around, which is really nice. There’s loads of little toddlers and small kids out there – it’s really great. People go out with their dogs and it’s a great way to get exercise. In some areas there are neighbours out doing it all together which is fantastic if you can get that. They all work together and then they have little drinks parties outside. It certainly brings the community together which is pretty important I think. If you can get to know the people you live near, then that is going to be a positive for most people.  There’s definitely a really nice vibe on that night. I’m really looking forward to it.

Southfields Window Wanderland takes place 25-26 February, 5:30-9pm.

If you’re local to the area, you can sign up here:

Or if you fancy organising your own event in your area, find out more here:

Find out more about Tracey English here: