In conversation - Artist Alison Cook

 Based in the Essex Countryside, Alison's work is inspired by the wide open rural surroundings on her doorstep together with close up details of plants and flowers. With a background in Textiles and Fashion her practice is intrinsically drawn to pattern, colour and texture and in her paintings she aims to portray quiet strength and identity as opposed to just pretty flowers. She turns up the volume on the colour in large scale paintings, spending time looking closely at the more easily overlooked yet vital wild flora we find at the edges of fields and verges.

Has your upbringing influenced your work in any way?

I would say it has albeit subtly.  I had a very ordinary childhood but had lots of time to mess about making things and the result wasn’t important.

I was brought up in a small village not far from a  disused  Industrial Textile Mill that I passed every day on the way home from school, I was amazed by it's scale, a  huge red  looming sculpture surrounded by tiny houses and walking past it made me feel dizzy. 

I have always noticed the details and look closely at the environment around me, whatever it may be and the effect it can have on you. My latest work plays with the  scale of the tiniest wild flowers making them huge and strong.  The power of scale visually can be arresting so the image of the mill and fragments from your upbringing must seep in somewhere.

The countryside was only minutes away so our weekends were outside having picnics (regardless of the weather)  or  the flip side of going to Top Shop in Preston to buy earrings and then Woolworths for records.   Heaven… 

Were you influenced by anyone or anything in particular when you first chose to become an artist and who or what are your biggest artistic influences?

It has to be my Mum firstly.  She had a world of wonders in her sewing room. Racks full of fabric, button boxes and trimmings.  It was tiny and packed to the ceiling with colour and texture.

She  made all our clothes, upholstered furniture, altered the neighbours dresses and  sewed curtains. She was forever on some late night sewing deadline.  Standing on dropped pins in the carpet was a daily torture in our house.  In my young teenage years I started to appreciate this cottage industry as I could be very specific in my personal fashion requests, usually a bizarre concoction of what I’d seen on Top of the Pops that week.  It was the 80’s!

I knew I wanted to be an artist (of some description)  at age 11. I can only imagine how precocious I must have sounded. I am grateful to my parents for encouraging me to follow what I loved to do.

I was never nudged down a road that had “better prospects”, a phrase favoured by school career’s staff.   We were not a wealthy family by any means but were encouraged to be ourselves. This sounds incredibly obvious yet is often ignored.   I also had the best  Art Teacher - Mr Hughes, wherever you are, I thank you to this day.

Music and fashion culture  were the big influences initially and music has remained with me always.   We used to go to London to stay with family friends and I made the whole family go to the Kings Rd so I could look at the punks and new romantics!

My first trip to the National Gallery was on a Sixth Form college trip. I had never seen huge real paintings with thick paint. The colour was luminescent. I would stand as close as we were allowed to Monet and Cezanne. 

I always go back to the galleries when I’m feeling blocked.  Most recently I have been looking at artists drawings and sketchbooks to see before the famous paintings.   I have just bought The Unknown Monet - Pastels and Drawings (The Clark Institute) which shows huge diversity of styles one wouldn’t associate with Monet.   I  turn to Fauvism when it's dreary outside and old botanical study books. There are so many influences, and these change as life changes.

You work across many mediums. Do you have favourite?

I love drawing with Indian ink on watercolour paper.  The black is so intense and when applied generously creates a gloss when its dry.  The contour lines of my plant drawings work well in Indian ink as the application is so smooth.  If I want a rougher finish I use a bamboo reed pen.  It’s scratchier and more textured.


What motivates you to create?

This is a funny one for me to answer as I don’t really need to be motivated to create as I want to do it always. It is fundamental to who I am.  The challenge is making sure creating doesn’t slip down the list.  In all the jobs I have done even from the earliest Saturday jobs I managed to change paint colours on walls, help with the window displays.  It just grew from there.


How do you decide on the scale of a piece? Some of your works are postcard size and others enormous canvases.

The scale of my work has gradually increased as my children have grown and has been purely based on time.   When my boys were very young I obviously had very little  time so would  only make little postcard drawings of studies from coastal walks. 

The recent ‘Roadside Wonder’ paintings are large - I was watching the wild flowers appear whilst I was out running and I looked at their strength in battering rain.  I wanted to make them giants, plus the boys are at school all day so I have more time for large work.

Does your environment influence your work and how does the environment influence your work?

I’m always looking to my immediate environment, it’s like a series of snapshots of information.  These little images are intuitive.  I have been drawing and painting  unremarkable weeds, nettles and tiny wild flowers and how the light catches them.

I note all this when I’m jogging away.   I also can’t stress the importance of engaging with nature however we can. It’s a well versed line especially since lockdown.    We don’t need to pay to go to a botanical garden.  Just go outside and look at the edges and the verges.  Looking closely can be mindful and can switch off an over active brain.

How important is art to society and how can your work affect societal issues?

Art, in all its forms  should move us.  Make you think, take you somewhere, reflect, connect, challenge and bring together.   If I create art that is natural for me and intuitive then it is usually the most successful.  Having worked in fashion for so long, when I first started painting again  I was very concerned that my work had to look cool or on trend.  That approach was never going to work.  As soon as I let go of that idea and stopped working to an outside concept then stuff happened naturally. 

I would like to think that my work can have a part in societal issues. Our natural spaces need protecting and nurturing and without feeling the effect of nature’s benefits we can’t engage. The ‘Roadside Wonder’ paintings are all of vital pollinators that we drive past every day. 







Has your style changed over time and if so how?

My style has evolved over time.  Although I’m told I have a very recognisable line. The paintings are the pieces that are changing the most I think.  I’m hoping to work even larger on the next series on a piece with multiple canvases. I think it will feel more abstracted.    Lots of my drawings look like textile designs (I studied Textile Design at Chelsea School of Art in the 90’s).  So it’s interesting to see this cross-over.

Is there a specific environment or material that's integral to your work?

I’m very fortunate to have a studio at home.  It’s a productive space (aka a mess!) with good light and I always listen to music when I’m working.  And I must have strong tea. The studio is my haven, its more than just a place to work. The material I’m never without is watercolour paper and Indian ink.  

 As a busy mother of two boys, how do you protect your creative process? What does a typical working day look like for you? How do you manage a work-life balance as an artist?

I think we have to fight to protect our creative process sometimes, especially as women. It’s certainly not the image of the artist in the studio for hours painting away... 

I, like all parents and carers have  fragments of time here and there shoe-horned  in between school pick ups, taxi driving  and life laundry.  But I guess this shapes your work.  I work quickly on drawings and the interesting results can often be due to limited time. I have a rule though;  to not do mindless housework during daylight hours.

I’m not wasting a bright clear sky on cleaning.

Where can we see or buy your work?

My work is available through for a limited time or through or via DM through Instagram @alisonscollage

Clothing: Alison is wearing the Studio Wylder Harlow blouse & the Jago over-shirt both in Indigo Stripe organic hand-loomed cotton.