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My studio life: Eileen Cooper RA

Published 1 September 2015

As Eileen Cooper RA guides us round both her studios, she tells us about her career in printmaking, and why she loves drawing in charcoal.

  • As the first female Keeper of the Schools, Eileen Cooper RA has a studio in the Royal Academy that comes with the job. It has a long history, from the winding dusty staircase traditionally used by life models, to the mezzanine which is great for parties with students of the Schools. She also works in her studio at home, kept company by Oscar, her Miniature Schnauzer.

    Eileen Cooper RA studied at Goldsmiths College and the Royal College of Art and became a Royal Academician in 2000. Recently, her work was shown in her first major retrospective at the RA, Hide and Seek: Drawings by Eileen Cooper RA.

  • A home studio

    A home studio

    “We’ve had this house for 31 years, and this room has always been my main studio. It’s the biggest room in the house, and it’s on the ground floor, so I’ve got easy access if I’m bringing in big canvases.

    "The room is north-facing so it gets very even light and has good, big windows. I’m not a person who works in the evening much, so I like daylight”

    Photo © Eamonn McCabe

  • In the frame

    In the frame

    “There are two cameras rigged up in the studio at the moment, because a filmmaker called Charlie Paul is recording my work to create a stop-frame animation. We’ve captured a whole painting now from start to finish, and it’s so interesting to see the results. I’m amazed sometimes at how things develop, even though I’m constructing them myself”

    Photo © Eamonn McCabe

  • A working space

    A working space

    “The studio is not a show space, it has to be a space that functions. At the moment it’s feeling a bit claustrophobic because I’ve got the rig in it for the cameras, and I’ve got a lot of new canvases that I’ve bought in preparation – I’m hoping to do quite a lot of work this summer.

    "Normally, in this studio I’m either painting or drawing – I have another studio downstairs for printmaking. At the moment I’m doing both because I’ve got quite a lot of deadlines. The studio has to be very flexible”

    Photo © Eamonn McCabe

  • Testing the metal

    Testing the metal

    “Any artist is always learning; you always want to try new things. Lately I’ve been working on bronzes, and I’ve been very lucky to have Cathie Pilkington teaching me and mentoring me through it. She’s a new Royal Academician and we’ve set up a kind of portable sculpture studio in here. This is very exciting territory for me.

    "I think my sculptures are more like cutouts, they’re cut out of wax and then cast in bronze. They’re very much connected with my drawing, there’s that sense of a line”

    Photo © Eamonn McCabe

  • A fluid line

    A fluid line

    “As a drawing medium, charcoal is incredibly fluid. It’s like using a brush full of ink – it’s so fluid and it’s so flexible. I think it’s really beautiful; I even love the sound it makes on the paper”

    Photo © Eamonn McCabe

  • Shelf life

    Shelf life

    “I have art books and catalogues in the studio because I need to be able to leaf through things. I’m not totally ‘Internet generation’, I don’t Google things too much, that’s not where I look for my inspiration – I look through the art books I love. And obviously I’ve got lots of Royal Academy books on my shelves.

    "That’s a Venetian mask. And I have photographs of my kids, early attempts at making ceramics… The female figure is something Cathie Pilkington brought to me when she was beginning to teach me, just to show me how it was constructed. In fact, I didn’t go down that route of modelling which she excels at, and it just got left here. It lives here now”

    Photo © Eamonn McCabe

  • A place for printmaking

    A place for printmaking

    “This room is where I make my prints. The Albion press is from 1908, I bought it from the Royal College of Art. It was left to them by one of the old professors there, Alastair Grant. Apparently he used it for a cocktail cabinet”

    Photo © Eamonn McCabe

  • Tools of the trade

    Tools of the trade

    “I do all the cutting and printing here. When I’m editioning the prints I have somebody in to help me with the colour-proofing. This space has to be immaculately clean, because when you’re doing prints and beginning to edition them the last thing you want is dirty finger marks”

    Photo © Eamonn McCabe

  • A studio in the Academy

    A studio in the Academy

    “This is the Keeper’s Studio at the RA. The Keeper used to live here, but I don’t think I’d want to spend the night!

    "It’s a magnificent studio, and a unique selling point of the job, because only an Academician can be Keeper of the RA – you give up studio time to teach at the Schools. It’s something I really believe in, and it’s such a privilege to do it, but it’s a balance of time”

    Photo © Eamonn McCabe

  • Private space

    Private space

    “It felt very weird to take over the studio as the first female Keeper, but it was completely renovated for me which was really nice. I needed to have a couple of student parties in here to break the ice with it, and really make it my own.

    "I come here during the day to draw. It’s a very private space and everybody respects that. I use it when I’m very busy to get a bit of head space”

    Photo © Eamonn McCabe

  • The model’s stair

    The model’s stair

    “Keepers traditionally used to work from life models. There’s a historic staircase which the models would use to enter the studio. It’s very creepy and goes three floors down to the Keeper’s garden. The dust must be decades old”

    Photo © Eamonn McCabe

  • A special gift

    A special gift

    “This little bunny is very special. It was given to me by the artist Paula Rego and I use it to keep my pens in. When she gave it to me, she said, ‘This is what it’s all about. You carry your burden on your back’”

    Photo © Eamonn McCabe