In the first of our Maker Interviews we asked embroidery artist (and wood carver)
Roanna Wells 10 questions.
The Out Takes
LIVES: in Sheffield
WORKS: in embroidery - uses thread and stitch like pen and paper (and carves wood too)
LISTENS TO: Radio 4 in the morning & Scandi folk or pop electronic in the afternoon
COLLECTS: Spoons (and has done for a decade)
Q1 where do you live and work?
I live in my hometown of Sheffield on the edge of the Peak District. I was born here, moved away to study and then came straight back. I love other cities but I've not found anywhere else that I would feel content to live. Sheffield is big enough to be vibrant, creative and busy, but leaves space for possibilities and ideas to germinate.
Q2 what did you study?
I studied at Manchester School of Art on the BA Embroidery course. At the time it was a very specialist degree course which balanced a wealth of technical skills and focused tuition time, with a strong direction towards conceptual outcomes. It was a really inspiring time for me and it was where I found my artistic 'handwriting'.
Q3 why did you choose the course?
Although the focus in terms of technical tuition was on what we would typically think of as embroidery - stitched thread on fabric - throughout the course we were encouraged to think about this in a very broad context and find inspiration in other ways that this could be interpreted. For me I took the idea of using thread and stitch as another way to create line and mark, and to look at the similarities between using pen on paper and thread on fabric.
Q4 what lead you down this creative path?
My mum is an artist, also using embroidery, although mostly free machine embroidery whereas I use hand stitch. We have a similar aesthetic although the outcomes end up being quite different. My dad started out in graphic design before turning his hand to antiques restoration. He now restores for the antiques trade. And my sister trained in architecture but recently moved into the world of theatre, dance and creative arts. So yes, I couldn't really avoid it! Although I am also interested in child psychology and early years development. I think this will be important in my work/life at some point.
Q5 walk us through your typical day...
I work a few days a week at my dads restoration workshop, but my studio days are definitely where I'm happiest. I have a studio in the city centre at S1 Artspace, it's an old factory conversion.
First things first are coffee, chocolate digestives and Radio 4. Mornings are usually catching up times, I've not got a set routine but find that certain times of the day are productive for different things. There is usually a group of us working in our studios most days so we tend to all have lunch together in the communal reception space.
My studio is west facing, so by the afternoon the glorious light starts to appear through my window. There is a lovely pocket of time after lunch where I get stuck into a piece of work and just enjoy the quiet with a gentle buzz of city life outside. It makes me really content.
Late afternoon and into the evening is usually when I find myself the most productive and by then I need some musical accompaniment. I have a very broad taste - it can go from obscure french and scandinavian folk, to heavy pop electronica, to classic anthems and experimental jazz depending on my mood. Unfortunately this productive time is also when I probably should think about going home and cooking, or friends invite you out for a drink, or I head off to yoga or dance class - always a bit of a dilemma!
Q6 wood? spoons? how did you start carving? what is the process?
A few years ago I decided that I wanted to learn how to carve spoons. I've been collecting all sorts of spoons for about 10 years or so and wanted to make my own. I started by doing a course in greenwood carving, taking an entire log and using an axe and knife to carve it down. I then took these basic techniques and adapted them to create the type of spoons I wanted to make, usually from seasoned wood with a more finished feel to them. They started off as Christmas presents for family and then I began selling them alongside my other work. I enjoy having different outlets for my creativity and it has been a wonderful way to connect with some really great makers and designers.
Q7 highs & lows? what makes your pulse race?
The financial insecurity of a creative life can often be a bit of a low. I'm still trying to find the balance between keeping afloat and giving myself time to just sit and make work. It can be stressful, but then I have a chat with someone, or get a new idea for a project, or discover a way to work round a problem and suddenly the low is a high and the inspiration of being motivated to create is the best thing in the world. I always get a racing pulse when I find a derelict building up for sale with potential to be something great, then I get downhearted when I remember I have no money!
Q8 what is in the Roanna Wells pot of dreams? what is next for you?
The next thing is to develop a body of work to propose to galleries as a solo show. I have had small individual exhibitions but generally show my work as part of group shows/events. I would have to set aside quite a while to build up enough work due to the time consuming nature of my practice, so it is quite a logistical thing to plan. I'm currently building up ideas and starting on some new works as well as keeping going with smaller projects alongside this.
Q9 what one thing would you most like to own?
Hens! My long term dream is to buy a plot of land and build a contemporary barn type house / studio with an orchard (although I'm allergic to apples so it would just be visual!) where the hens could scratch around. I love the idea of collecting fresh eggs everyday. Ooo, all the cakes you could make with those!
Q10 if you could go anywhere, where would you go?
There are so many places that would be fascinating to visit, I'm very attracted to northern places, Iceland is next on my list as well as more of Scandinavia and also Canada. But I've always wanted to visit Morocco and South America, and I had such wonderful experience in India a few years ago, I could visit there again. As I mentioned earlier though, this travelling would probably be just for holidays or research. I love to come home and I can't really imagine not living on this wonderful Yorkshire/Derbyshire boarder.
Roanna Wells has made Simple Shape a limited edition of hand carved spoons - unique to Simple Shape due to their double silver hall marked handles.