It’s all about Peter Blake, as far as Caroline Tomlinson is concerned. He is “the king of collage!” she effuses. She is equally enthusiastic about early 20th-century Russian constructivism and surrealism.
Following undergraduate and master’s degrees at Norwich School of Art and Design (now Norwich University College of the Arts) and Central St Martins respectively, Caroline has been working in London as both designer and illustrator. The Royal Mail is one of her most important clients.
Collages make up most of her work, and for these she uses photographs bought from antiques markets or ones she has taken herself. This, and her love of scanned hand-drawn elements, add a tactile element to her work. “If I didn’t do that, it would feel to me as if it lacked emotion,” she explains. “Sometimes I can get a little too particular about straight lines and compositions. Once I add a scribble or a paint splodge, it feels less sterile.”
Caroline begins by making notes on the job at hand, highlighting any keywords that appear. This is a way to set the tone of the work. Then she will sketch “a very scribbly scamp of an idea”, which helps create a shopping list of images to seek from her collection.
As her work has an almost pre-computer-era feel, she is not that concerned about the pixel-precision of cut-outs. “A couple of years ago I considered it really important,” she says. “Now I don’t mind the imperfection of an inaccurate cut-out. I actually prefer it and want to push this further, almost to see how far I can go before it starts to look unfinished. I’m moving towards a slightly looser and more surreal approach.”