Catching up with Rozalina Burkova and Francesca Tiley ahead of their new collab.

Pinging ideas and designs of bold typography and pink naked ladies back and forth across the English Channel, Celtic Sea and Bay of Biscay (we think), illustrators Francesca Tiley and Rozaline Burkova – based in London and Barcelona respectively – are on track for their debut collaboration, having mastered the art of screen printing on Print Club’s ‘Printership’ scheme.

After meeting and honing their skills on said course, the pair have pooled their collective talents and learnings, culminating in a collection of colourful, larger-than-life prints and murals. While Tiley excels in bold lettering, Burkova’s art features fun-loving characters, with both styles fitting so seamlessly together that it would appear as if more than artistic fate had led them to meet.

In the same Dalston space that brought them together, the twosome this week present a new exhibition featuring both solo and collaborative work; unveiled tomorrow night (Thursday 14th), we bagged some time with the ladies and discovered just what you can expect. Beyond the naked ladies.

So firstly, tell us about the Print-ern scheme and how the collaboration come about.

Francesca Tiley: We both applied for the Print-ern scheme, thinking there was just one position. I remember seeing you, you were right before me in the interview. I saw you leave, yeah, because you were also in my workshop.

Rozalina Burkova: I saw you at the workshop! They invited us all to do one day, or maybe they already had picked us, but they hadn’t told us. So the people who were running the workshop knew that it was us but we didn’t know and we didn’t know each other and then… That was March last year or something.

Francesca: Yeah, something like that. It was like a year ago.

Rozalina: Basically, it entails two months of you having access to the print studio and so you get the technicians to help you and teach you the tricks of screen-printing and then you have to print six designs. I did fashion in school so I hadn’t done much screen printing on paper – at first everything was wrong – so it really helped being together.

Francesca: Then we found out, I think, I can’t remember if they told us. They turned up and were like “oh there’s going to be someone else as well doing it” and I was like “that’s cool, another person starting as well”. It’s more people starting out or recent graduates. I graduated last year in illustration but I had never…I’d done a bit of screen printing at uni but not enough that I really knew, when I came here I thought “I don’t really know what I’m doing” but gradually you just learn because you have to.

Rozalina: There was a lot of wasted paper at first.

Were you aware of each other’s work beforehand?

Rozalina: No. I mean I was literally just starting in illustration so I didn’t think there was much to be aware of. It’s been much more intensive since.

Francesca: I’m sure I would have like, found your work, but I was living down in Brighton. I just wasn’t connected to London and the art scene here. I definitely wasn’t really putting my work out because I still felt freshly graduated.

How did you both get into illustration, or art in general?

Rozalina: I studied fashion design at Saint Martins and, even throughout the degree, I knew I had moral issues with the industry and didn’t really want to stay in it. Then I started working in a fashion studio and I hated it so I quit; I was already doing a lot of drawing because of the course, and I got a few illustration commissions, small things from friends of friends, then I got an art residency and the print-ernship…

Francesca: I think I’ve always drawn, or kind of made art without realising. It was all for fun and then I ended up going to art school – originally started out doing graphic design because I always had an interest in letter forms. When I discovered typography I just felt really interested in that side of visual language, but then moved to illustration because I missed drawing and the more hands-on side, then letters always ended up in my work; when I applied for the print-ernship all my work had letter forms in it. That was, I guess, the strongest, and what they were interested in.

Speaking of the typography, is there a particular message you want to send with the words in your art?

Francesca: Sometimes I just enjoy the letter forms themselves and, I think imagery can be more ambiguous, but letter forms when you are drawing words, they have more of a direct… You have to be clear and explicit with what you are saying because it’s a language. I think generally I just like to play with it, and I want to make things that make people feel good – that are uplifting or empowering or comforting. I think visual language has the potential to be really emotive and powerful and if you can communicate through language and visual language that’s a good tool to have. I try not to think about it too much, but I hope that my work grows as I grow and I define more what it is that I am saying with the things that I make.

We had talked about a concept [for the collab] and I think it was more when I got your drawings [Rozalina], I was just drawing over them, drawing or writing, you know, lettering over them and with the ‘hey just want to play’ one, it was the first that happened – I wasn’t even thinking I was just drawing over it. That’s what it feels like, that just makes sense; it kind of flowed naturally. It was nice to respond to something made by someone else.

So, the women came first and then the text came after?

Francesca: Yeah.

Were there any challenges in combining your individual styles?

Rozalina: No. Honestly, it was the easiest thing. I was in Barcelona, Francesca was in London. It all happened over like, two Skype calls and three emails.

Francesca: I think because we already knew we knew each other, it felt very comfortable.

Rozalina: We set some boundaries because we had to keep it to two colours – we had to draw it on the wall as well, so we didn’t want it to be too complicated – and also in printing it. Actually, back then we weren’t going to print it, we were only designing for the mural but then the office people saw it and said “Why don’t you make it into prints?” That was the only thing. Well, probably the only consideration was when I was making the bodies, I was thinking to have them on horizontal surfaces so you can put the words.

Francesca: I think the hardest part was trying to fit the words around it, but it was quite nice to have those restrictions and to have that challenge. You have to think about it, it’s part of being a designer or letterer or an illustrator, having those boundaries and working with it.

The text and images come together so well! So you were in Barcelona at the time and you were doing it all overseas?

Rozalina: Yeah, the last, like, couple of weeks, yeah.

Francesca: The wonders of technology.

Rozalina: We should do some more because it was honestly the easiest project and I am really happy with the result and, actually, working with someone else really helps you, not just beating yourself down like “Oh I don’t know about this”, because you feed off each other.

Francesca: Yeah, we were talking about… You know they are naked ladies, and we were like “how do we feel about naked ladies?”.

Rozalina: Yeah, I had my doubts at some points, like I thought, maybe it’s a bit too much.

Francesca: But I think we’re seeing them from a female perspective. We’re depicting these naked women and I think it’s nice we’re taking that back or owning that. I think we associate naked women with all of these kind of historical ideas of how naked women have been portrayed in the past – usually by men – but here it’s us and I feel comfortable seeing these naked women. I don’t think they’re being, you know…they are choosing to be naked.

Rozalina: Also for me, when I draw them I don’t think so much about the nakedness. That’s why they’re in crazy positions because it’s more like the freedom of the body. Them being naked isn’t deciding I can’t be bothered to draw clothes but more where is this leg pointing? Where is this arm pointing? It’s like I’m showing something alive rather than whether or not [she’s naked].

And so what have you learnt most from each other with this project?

Rozalina: It all happened so quickly! I feel like we learnt more when we were here for the print-ernship. There are just so many technicalities to learn.

Francesca: I’ve learnt from you because you’re very relaxed.

Rozalina: I’m like a hurricane is inside me.

Francesca: You have a relaxed…I don’t know…you have a relaxed presence.

That’s nice. So what can we expect from the exhibition?

Francesca: I think lots of colour.

Rozalina: Lots of girls having fun.

Francesca: I think it will have quite a summery feel; it will be a vibrant.

Rozalina: The thing is when you are making the series – it’s not really a series – but you don’t have to link the work when you’re doing the print-ernship, you’re following your style so things have a connection, but then you’re not necessarily thinking of them as an exhibition; it’s a bit of an evolution.

Francesca: I think if I was going to start again, knowing where I would be now, it would have made the six prints more like the group of very similar things, but it just really didn’t happen that way.

Rozalina: So, typography and girls and some custom ceramics I have to make a disclaimer about… So, in screen printing you have to be really precise and it’s intense and you have to think quickly and make sure that nothing dries and then you have to pre-plan everything. While, with the ceramics, I wanted to try to do the opposite. I had never done ceramics before and so I bought some clay and made these tiles by hand, then I went and I fired them and then I just went into a studio without planning, just to do some stuff and fired them again. So there’s like no planning, there’s no know how. It’s kind of the antithesis of the screen prints.

Was it hard to narrow down the selection for the exhibition?

Francesca: I took out my first print just because I didn’t, I think when I made it I didn’t realise what the rest of the body of work was going to be like and then I started making more solely lettering focused images, like my work developed and I realised that it just didn’t fit in.

Rozalina: I’ve put it all in. The ones that I did for Print Club, they’re all in there.

You’re both quite near the beginning of your careers as artists. Post-Print Club plans?

Francesca: I want to carry on learning about lettering and type and what you can do with language and visual language. I think it’s a rich area to explore and I want to carry on learning about that really. I work as a chalkboard artist as well during the week, and I just want to carry on.

Rozalina: I do animation as well as illustration so that’s kind of now the medium that is closest to my heart, because it combines everything. Again, you have this sort of layering and the composition and you have the illustration and the movements so that’s mainly where I’m developing my skills now.

Wanna see it for yourself? Info on tomorrow’s show here.

Isabel Finch

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