an artist from the UK who expresses herself in painting as well as writing. What follows is her frank and inspiring conversation about creativity, the process of Art, and how her life affects her work.
Bonnie Fercho: When did you first realize that you wanted to be an artist, and what were the major influences that led you into the field of Art? (Were your family and friends supportive of your decision?)
Emma K. Eccles: As a child I saw beauty and wonder in so many things, including Art, but I also saw the stark contrast in the reality of life, and people, far too clearly from an early age. I don’t think the conditions of my childhood were unusually extreme… it was my awareness and understanding that was unusual, perhaps. I think my heightened awareness of reality called for an equally rich imagination to counter-balance it.
I was a quiet child, my internal self was mostly hidden, and I absorbed information like a sponge, but I inevitably had a need to express myself on a deeper level.
I remember how excited I was when the person my Dad referred to as the ‘Tax Man’ realized it was my fifth birthday and gave me, what seemed like, a huge pile of loose paper. It felt like he’d just handed me all the riches in the world, and I was overwhelmed by his generosity!
I think my parents knew I would end up in Art College, so, yes, they were supportive. My imagination had led to an interest in many creative areas. My awareness and fear of death from a young age, led to very elaborate fantasies to keep my mind occupied at night, intricate in visual details that could take weeks to exact. I created buildings in my mind, which led to an interest in architecture and interior design. Everything I wore was imagined too, so at some point I started drawing my ideas, and I planned to study fashion design.
Instead, following difficult life experiences over a few years, depression and disillusionment, I left Art college after only a few months to be a mother.
I later trained to be a counselor, making use of my empathy, awareness, perception, intuition and life experience.
The personal development involved in that path eventually led me back to Art. So my Art is really far more influenced by psychology, life experience and internal exploration, than it is by other Artists. Becoming an Artist was more about accepting who I am, and not allowing disillusionment with the Art world, or anything else, to define or interfere with that. The painting ‘Dark and light’ played a pivotal role in that.
What is the most important thing you've learned since you started painting that might be useful to share with people in general and with artists in particular?
Discovering research into creativity, especially the insights of Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, significantly added to my understanding. http://www.psychologytoday.com/articles/199607/the-creative-personality I’m not sure it’s the most important thing I’ve learned, but it could be helpful to share.
It also offered an explanation as to why I increasingly felt that I didn’t necessarily fit into the neat explanations of other personality theories.
When I was young I felt that I had to make choices between parts of myself, because the world suggests people are one thing or another. It’s very limiting. Society is kind of set up that way really… it’s no wonder some people feel as though they just don’t fit in. When I listen to people talking about ‘thinking outside the box’, I think… it would be a lot easier if society didn’t squeeze people into the boxes in the first place.
Are there certain things you can do to help move a painting forward once you start it? Or in other words, are there certain conditions that help you create your Art?
I love starting a new painting, with a vision of what I want to create/express. But often in the early stages, when the work is still quite rough, it can be hard to see how it can ever fulfill the vision that’s in my head. It’s the determination to stick with it and not give up… a large canvas can be especially daunting. Even if you start with a base colour, it feels like there is just so far to go before I’ll start seeing the results. But I have to believe, from my experience with past paintings, that I can create something wonderful out of what sometimes just seems like a mess in front of me! I might get a part of the painting to a ‘nearly finished’ place and build from there.
I find that it’s better to focus on the painting I’m doing now, (keep the next idea on the back burner) give it the attention it needs… a monogamous relationship! Because it is a relationship really, there’s love and care in every brushstroke. Learning/understanding what the painting needs as it grows.
When I have been tempted to start on a new painting, an exciting new idea, it breaks my momentum. I loose my connection with the original painting and it may never get finished.
‘Humanity’ is an example of a painting that I abandoned for about 2 years because I couldn’t see how I could create order out of the chaos of it’s beginnings. Ironic perhaps? It looks completely different from my original vision, far more orderly, and influenced by a Pre-Raphaelite leaning. So I may have to explore the subject again in the future.
I don’t usually listen to music or have any other external ‘conditions’ that help or hinder me when I paint. When I’m immersed in an activity I don’t really want my train of thought or focus disrupted, and I often find I just don‘t hear the music anyway. I don’t like intrusive ‘noise’ when I’m concentrating, especially when I’m writing. The wrong music can sound a lot like noise at times.
Do you always have a clear idea about where a work is going, or does it surprise you sometimes?
The image that I want to create usually doesn’t exist yet ‘out there’, but I try to use as much visual information as possible to create the image that’s in my head. Like a jigsaw made up of pieces from different puzzles. So sometimes the end result can look very different to the original idea visually, even if it expresses or represents the original idea/purpose quite accurately. But a painting can grow at any stage of the process, so it always has the capacity to surprise me.
An example of this is my painting ‘Dark and light’. (See above.) Its inspiration came from a dream where I literally saw my painting hanging on a wall. I say painting, but it was a series of overlapping paintings, hung together and related somehow. I got up close to study the images, conscious that they were mine. The dream felt significant, so I drew impressions of the collected image over a few days… but when I came to paint it I had to represent the aspects of it differently in order for it to make sense as a painting. For example, the contained, controlled water of a swimming pool eventually became the frosted ice, kind of creeping up the woman’s body. This was the last part that I painted and until that point I didn’t know how I would represent it.
I could write a lot about this painting, but for me what was so significant about it was the experience of painting it… finding out what it meant, and learning about myself through it. What really surprised me about the painting, even though the imagery grew beyond recognition, was the way that painting the hair in the dark aspect altered my perception of the whole purpose of the painting, and of myself.
There are many aspects of duality that I want to explore further, but it was the starting point of other themes that I explore visually, and the way I explore them.
I know some Artists feel a need to paint on a regular basis, and the actual process of painting somehow helps them in their lives. Do you experience this?
I paint as regularly as possible. Prioritizing Art in my life is a need for me, but my life isn’t all about me, and I try to make time for what’s important in other ways. I get very absorbed in my Art when I can, and I think I value that time more because I can never spend as much time painting as I want to.
It does help me in so many ways and it enriches my life, but it’s the rest of my life that keeps me grounded, and that’s just as necessary. Also, I think being part of the world, experiencing everyday realities, is what makes an Artists work insightful.
What do you like to do when you’re not creating Art?
There are so many things that I really enjoy doing other than Art, like walking, horse back riding, visiting new places, writing poetry, playing the piano (particularly badly because I haven’t time to practice!). I could do with twice as many hours in the day. There’s not much time left between working and painting, so I try to make time for family and friends. I also like to keep my mind active between painting sessions, discovering new information in areas of interest. I try to keep a healthy balance within myself, but it’s not always easy. If I’m feeling really worn out by the demands of life I like to go into the countryside for a bit and be surrounded by nature, especially in the Welsh hills/mountains. I find being alone with nature is rejuvenating, a spiritual experience.