An artist at home

A solo exhibition of work by artist Emily Sutton opens today. We stepped inside her studio to see where the magic happens. Sharon Dale reports. Pictures by Gary Longbottom.

Emily Sutton's studio in York

As she leads the way into her Georgian townhouse, Emily Sutton apologises for the “mess” strewn around the new extension.

A droopy cheese plant towers above a riot of art and vintage treasures that cover every surface, including the floor. There are old dolls houses, paintings, and taxidermy, and pottery, rag rugs, a PVC table cloth spattered in paint and glue and a mind boggling assortment of ephemera.

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It belongs to Emily’s partner, Mark Hearld, who has turned the space into a temporary studio. He is a great collector and loves clutter.

Emily Sutton's studio in York

“He is eventually moving his studio to the attic but he hasn’t got there yet,” says Emily, 31, who adds: “He loves his stuff though I do suggest that some rooms could be emptier.”

She and Mark first met at York College where she was studying and he was teaching part-time. When she returned home from Edinburgh after finishing her degree in illustration, the friendship eventually grew into something more.

It is a union that that brings together two of Britain’s best artist illustrators/printmakers. Their work is brilliant and highly collectable and it’s all produced from their home in York.

“I have quite a structured routine. I wake up about 6.30am and work for one or two hours before breakfast and I’ll finish about 5.30pm.

Emily Sutton's studio in York

“Mark and I have separate studios because he likes to spread out and make a mess and I don’t,” says Emily, who is working overtime preparing for her solo exhibition at Yorkshire Sculpture Park, which starts today.

Emily Sutton Town and Country features paintings and screen-prints, along with a flock of exquisite handmade birds that are now nesting in the YSP Shop window.

The artist has taken inspiration from the historic buildings and follies at the 500 acre sculpture park, from her home and her recent travels in Europe.

Her first ever limited edition lithograph print, produced by Curwen Studio, will be on sale along with her own design tote bag, a range of plates and mugs, a silk scarf and a cut-and-sew tea towel.

Emily Sutton's studio in York

As we chat she is putting the finishing touches to the last of the 36 life- size birds, made from painted and stitched calico with whittled wood beaks. The starlings, wrens, kingfisher and thrushes were all hatched in her studio at the top of the house.

It’s the smallest room in the large Georgian property, which was an accountant’s office before she and Mark converted it back into a home two years ago.

It lingered on the market thanks to the Roman skeleton in the cellar, so they got a good deal.

They have stripped out the false ceilings and swapped a flat roof extension for a contemporary glazed one and shivered for a year until they could afford new central heating. Their furniture and quirky finds were gathered from the York car boot sale, The French House in Huntington and a salvage yard in Glasgow.

Emily Sutton's studio in York

“We are about halfway there with the work we want to do but there are a lot of rooms. It has five floors including the attic and cellar,” says Emily whose studio is at the top of the house.

It’s where she keeps some of her favourite things, including a plan chest she swapped for one of her pictures and a collection of old farm animals, which is displayed in the fireplace.

The red cabinet is much-loved thanks to its capacity and the chips that allow the old paint to show through.

“It’s good for holding my various bits and bobs,” says Emily, who also collects Transferware. The Victorian pottery features in Transferware Treasures, a limited edition book of her watercolours, published by Fleece Press

As well as her own work, she has been commissioned by a host of distinguished clients, including Hermes, Penguin and the V&A. In 2011, her Curiosity Shop fabric for St Jude’s won the Elle Decoration British Design Award, which was a boost for someone who had a “two year panic wondering what to do in life” after leaving university.

“I like to have a goal to focus on so I felt a bit lost after university. I moved back to my parents’ house, worked part-time in a café and made my birds. I gave Mark some as a present and World of Interiors magazine featured them when they did a piece on his flat. That’s when I started getting commissions.

“Then I got call from the V&A who had seen some of my drawings in Edinburgh and they asked me to do an illustration for a book.”

Her parents have always been a great support. They encouraged her to follow her heart after her gift for drawing became apparent as a young child.

“I went to Bootham School, which has a great art department, and my art teacher, Richard Barnes, got me into keeping sketch books and that’s integral to my work,” she says.

Like most artists she is driven by the fear that work and inspiration will dry up though there doesn’t seem to be much danger of that.

“I am a perfectionist so I am constantly questioning whether my work is good enough,” she admits. “Having Mark helps as I can ask for his advice. I really value that aspect of our relationship.”

• Emily Sutton Town and Country runs at the Yorkshire Sculpture Park Park, near Wakefield, from today until February 22, 2015.

Two special events accompany the exhibition: Embroidery & Stitch with Emily Sutton on November 29, which is an opportunity to join the artist in a needlecraft workshop using the YSP cut-and-sew tea towel to make a bird and nest; and a children’s workshop, Hat-Making on February 72015, inspired by the Victoria & Albert Museum book Clara Button and the Magical Hat Day, which is illustrated by Emily.

Find out more and book online at