Emma McDowall is the artist behind Studio Emma, the collection of colorful concrete products made by hand in her hometown of Edinburgh, Scotland. We sat down with Emma to talk about life as an artist, what inspires her work, and the philosophy she lives by.
WW: Can you share more about your background and upbringing? What has been most impactful in contributing to who you are today?
EM: I grew up in a small town called Alloa in the central belt of Scotland and went to the local school – Alloa Academy. My art teachers there were amazing, so supportive and encouraging and we are still in touch! After school I went to Gray’s School of Art where I specialised in Textile Screen Printing. My textile work really focused on colour, I made books of colour palettes inspired by colourful European towns I had visited and photographed and screen printed abstract shapes in these colour palettes.
WW: How does living in Edinburgh and your travels inspire your work?
EM: Living in Edinburgh is so comfortable, I have so many friends and connections here and my family live an hour away. I think this comfort and support can be important when being a self-employed artist can be overwhelming and unpredictable. My travels certainly are the fuel for my work – the colours of little European towns are beautiful and I feed this into my palettes.
WW: How did Studio Emma come about?
EM: After graduating, I moved back into my Mum’s house where I worked in retail and tried to apply for graduate jobs within the textile industry. It was a really difficult time for me moving back to my hometown away from my friends trying to find my feet and the realisation that I wasn’t all that employable! I continued to create, but of course I didn’t have access to any textile equipment so I got back into drawing and painting and making things I could within my bedroom and with materials I could access. I think creating really got me through this time. This led to me experiment with concrete which I had found in my parents shed, I soon became obsessed with the material – playing with different recipes and of course starting to add colour and that’s how I created my first batch of concrete vessels.
After a while people started to become interested in these and I felt I could move to Edinburgh and get myself a space in a studio. Two years later I have my own studio and this is my full time employment which is so amazing! I think what has been most impactful has been all the people I have met in my life. My family are very hardworking, gave me a strong moral compass and constant support. My teachers, friends and fellow designers who have given me advice and support along the way.
WW: What do you do to find your way out of a creative rut?
EM: I always have a few projects on the go at the same time, if I find I am struggling with one I will just focus on another and come back to it later. If I have a day where I really feel like I can’t manage I just decide to take some time out – make a nice dinner, meet with friends and relax. You can’t force creativity and it certainly doesn’t come when you are stressed!
WW: What advice would you give an aspiring artist?
EM: I would say go for it! Don’t put too much pressure on yourself. Get a part time job to give yourself some financial support, take things in small steps and celebrate the little successes but always push yourself a little out of the comfort zone so you can learn and develop. Quite often projects or plans don’t work out, when this first happened to me I would take it so personally and think it was all my fault! However, now I realise this happens so much and it’s just part of the journey.
WW: What are you currently listening to, reading, or watching?
EM: I like calm, relaxing music which is what I usually listen to as I make my concrete vessels. I am currently reading a book called ‘Hundred-year-old man who climbed out the window and disappeared’ which is quite funny and light hearted. I love to watch TV of all different genres – documentaries, silly comedy series and reality TV!
WW: What are some other interests, curiosities, or things you’ve found inspiring lately?
EM: I am interested in mental health, counseling and community projects. I get involved in community groups where I hold creative workshops, and I am also hoping to do a part-time course in counseling skills next year. I think it is so important for people to be listened to, encouraged and included.
WW: Do you have a personal philosophy or mantra you live by?
EM: I believe in not being judgemental, always remembering everyone has a story to tell. I like to be kind, treat everyone equally and how I would expect to be treated. I do believe in karma and giving out positive energy which I do find returns to me!