Emma Wigginton: Finding an artistic voice
At the age of 30 Emma Wigginton saw a leaflet in her local library for an Open College of the Arts Textiles course and has never looked back. She went on to do a BTEC in General Art and Design, a part-time degree course, Design Crafts, at Carlisle College of Art and Design, and eventually a BA in Contemporary Applied Arts at Cumbria Institute of the Arts (now Cumbria University).
For the past year Emma has devoted herself full-time to her artistic endeavours. We’re delighted that she has written this article exploring what it means to be an artist and where her work, which ranges from design craft to conceptual art, ‘fits in’.
Where do I fit?
Writing this article has been a little like starting to create a piece… where do I start and what do I want to say? I call myself a textile artist. I have no problem with the word textile, it seems to communicate what my work is about, what ‘medium’ it is that I use, but I wonder sometimes what I mean by saying I am an artist. What is art, and where does my work fit in? Big questions!
My mum taught me to sew, and as a small girl I was always making things from my head, or from Mum’s Woman’s Weekly magazine, I was always scribbling, painting, glueing and making, later at school I found I was able to draw ‘competently’ in the art class, but somehow was led astray by science and did a nursing course with a degree in microbiology! It took me to be 30 before I found my way back, with an Open College of Arts course in Textiles, where I suddenly discovered I had an ability. This course enabled me to build up a collection of sketches and samples sufficient to gain entry to a BTEC in General Art and Design, and then eventually to a degree.
At some point I borrowed a friend’s sewing machine and armed with a book on thread painting, took off the foot and started free machining in what was probably a highly dangerous fashion! I love texture so dabbled for some years in quilting; when I got to Art College proper, working part-time to finance my degree in Contemporary Applied Arts, everything came together and I took off. Having a baby part way through was a challenge (!) and perhaps that is why at the age of 50 I am finally working as an artist, slowly finding my voice, or perhaps realising my voice has been there all this time, I just needed to stop and listen, to have courage and faith in my ability.
A leap of faith
In 2011 I took part in C-art Open Studios with 2 friends, and this was a huge leap in my sense of myself as artist. People came and visited us in the middle of the countryside and bought our work! Validation came in terms of admiring comments and money. A great combination! This helped me hugely in my self-belief, so much so that I changed jobs from doing admin to work part-time in an art gallery, but I had to leave after a few months as I broke my wrist! It was time to take a leap of faith; I had a stall at Woolfest coming up, and unsure of how or when I was going to make anything, decided to try making my way as an artist/maker. A year on I am enjoying hugely being my own boss and I have discovered an ability and a passion to teach workshops and to inspire others to be creative with their sewing machines too.
It is interesting to think that in all my other jobs (nursing, research, admin,) I received a job description and training. Somehow I now find myself out in the world trying to ascertain exactly what it is I can do and where my work fits, the job description for the post of artist in my own firm of ‘me’ seems to be elusive, it could be anything seemingly. I have no boss to ask, no colleagues to quiz and so I have been on my own journey, to seek out my identity as artist.
Intimidated and absorbed by art
I have sought out art, everywhere, in galleries, studios, on line, suddenly I am living and breathing it, trying to find out what it is, what stuff it is made of, and where I and my work fit into it. There is a thing called ‘Fine Art’ and it seems by using textiles I am somehow outside that in a land called Applied Arts, but maybe that is changing. I have stood in exhibitions and felt intimidated, been to previews of work I don’t understand or been absorbed by work which I just love and identify with; it seems art is very much in the eye, mind, and heart of the beholder.
I have spent hours thinking about creating and what it means to be creative, in a world of automation and virtual realities, about the importance of the beauty of handmade in a world which needs to get back in touch with itself. I have spoken to so many people both artists and viewers, I have talked about my work at a Pecha Kucha where I had only 20 words to describe each slide of my work and in doing so created a kind of poem. Through taking part in open studios as an artist and a visitor, I have found a world in which I fit, people I identify with. I have discovered I have experience and skills of value, that I am the expert on my work. I now have a way of life I love and the process of learning and growing continues as I open my eyes and my mind.
A journey of exploration and discovery
Over recent months I seem to have come in a big circle, from when I last made ‘art’ as a student at the College of Art in Carlisle (the clue is in the title!) to finding myself now back making textile art after a more crafty period. The circle doesn’t join up though, rather I am on a concentric one leading outwards from the centre, a continuous sinuous line taking me on a journey of exploration and discovery.
In exploring who I am and what I can do, I have re-ignited my passion for stitch. I like to experiment and ‘push’ the technique of machine embroidery, to use it to create a line, a texture, to change a surface, to create form…dare I say it, even sculpture! Sometimes I am led by the medium (ie playing with fabrics and thread), sometimes by the process of stitching, or sometimes from what is in my head, or my sketchbook or what I see around me. For me art seems to be about expressing something, an emotion, experience, thought, or response, working with my hands and head but most of all my heart, and my intuition, that being original is about being myself, allowing what is within me to simply come out.
Creation and evolution
I think what I have learnt is that my work is unique and therefore valid, there is so much temptation to look at other’s work and compare your own unfavourably, I met a writer recently who described all writers as neurotic and it seems than in any creative sphere there is an element of a little, or a lot, of self doubt, perhaps because the creator is giving from a deep part of themselves. Perhaps too, this doubting is actually part of the process of making art, as it spurs you on to do more and to be open to changing what you do, which is creation and evolution.
A wise friend and printmaker, Stephanie Leighton, said to me when I was talking about doing this article, and what it means to be an artist, that elusive thing: ”it is more about how you look at the world than the process you use or what you produce”, and I liked that very much. It seems to take all the pressure away. If I simply look and feel and interpret what I see and feel somehow translating it into cloth and stitch, and then maybe other people will be able to see or feel a little of what inspired me. I have found a way to express myself and what lies within me and a way to reflect back the world to other people. That is good enough, for now. The journey continues…
PS I’d like to dedicate this article to my husband who has always been my support, painting shelves at the drop of a hat, cutting wood for frames, packing the car with my stuff, shopping, making supper, coping as the house gets dirtier and more chaotic, and he and my daughter are my tech team!
If you’d like to see more of Emma’s work please visit emmawigginton.co.uk
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