Emma McDowall is Scottish artist and maker whose concrete creations are not only a pleasure to behold but also indicative of the UK’s stretched yet ever flourishing creative climate. With a background in textiles and screenprinting, Emma’s unique approach to working with colour blends perfectly with the industrial materials she chooses to craft each piece from. Art supplies don’t come cheap so creatives are naturally finding new ways to economise their output; Emma is one such innovator.
Her connection with concrete began after she returned home to the small town of Alloa from Gray’s School of Art in Aberdeen. She says, ‘I loved my time at art school. Gray’s is such a free and creative environment. The tutors are amazing and encourage students to test art and design disciplines and workshops in order to produce experimental work. I learnt a lot there, technically and creatively. My style was developed in the final year as I began to understand what inspired me and what I was interested in. After I left I had time to work on my own and started producing things I really liked and became confident about my style.’
With no access to textile equipment and plenty of cement mix lying around at home, Emma began to experiment with forms and recipes, creating art objects and vessels, channeling her creativity into something a little less orthodox than silk screens and paint on canvas. A fortuitous combination of a lack of expensive materials and openness to new ways of making and seeing, Emma’s work is distinctive, inspirational and of course, great to look at too.
Influenced by unusual architecture and urban areas, usually the primary subject of her photographs, Emma refers to her concrete works as a three dimensional interpretation of her photography. Her shots of new works are always a great mix of form and colour and showcase her interest in creative fusions. Her pieces function both as useful homewares and aesthetic objects, built to feel just as at home in a gallery as on a bedside table or kitchen counter.
‘Most commissions and projects I work on are short term so my routine is constantly changing.’ She says, ‘Every few weeks I visit the local builder’s merchant to find materials, I never know the proper use for all the interesting things I find there but I’m constantly trying to put them to use. The staff there know me now; maybe they think my interest in the place is a bit weird.’
Every one of Emma’s pieces are handmade using experimental processes. After mixing her concrete, she’ll pour it into recycled moulds and wait. The lack of control over how each item looks when it’s out of the mould might be distracting for some, but for Emma, naturally occurring shapes and imperfections are something to look forward to. Emma’s colour palettes on the other hand are pre-planned. Her marbled effects and use of pastel tones lend the industrial concrete a decidedly unconventional edge.
Emma seems to take a keen interest in the complex relationship between strength and beauty. Her tough materials and soft palettes complement one another perfectly, suggesting she has the whole trial-and-error process down to a fine art. Inspired by creative business women who enjoy notoriety in the creative industries, Emma proves that patience and open-mindedness are important stepping stones to success.
‘I interned for Donna Wilson whilst I was at art school, she is such an amazing woman.’ She says, ‘Nikki McWilliams also lives locally to me and in the last few months has been sort of mentoring me which has been so helpful. Although their products are very different to mine, I think to be able to successfully sustain yourself through your work and do what you love is great and very important.’
Having recently moved to a new home and studio space at Process Studios in Edinburgh, Emma splits her time between commissioned work and freelance projects and developing her concrete pieces. Stepping up her processes to produce items and objects on a larger scale for new uses, this year she’ll be trying out new ceramics techniques, painting, crafting, taking exceptional photos and making her mark on the creative scene in Scotland’s capital, starting with a stand at the Fruitmarket Gallery from 10th to 12th June.
Emma’s creations are available in her Etsy shop, studioemmamcdowall. Every item is unique which means that she also welcomes custom orders. Her fantastic concrete pieces are also available at online UK lifestyle store an artful life and stocked at The Facility Shop, Edinburgh and The Makers Gallery and Bistro, Alloa. Lucky locals can also see Emma’s 3-D and photography work in the flesh at Six Foot Gallery, Glasgow from 9th to 23th June.
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Words: Emily Beeson | @boogiemargaret