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Karen Mc Phail and Eve Campbell. Creativity running in the family

September 7, 2020

There are two words that spring to mind when coming across the work of Karen McPhail and her daughter Eve Campbell, creativity and professionalism. Both graduates of Glasgow School of Art, they presently work from their family home in Renfrewshire, where you can also book to stay in a beautiful lodgehouse or take a sailing course at Carry Farm in the surrounds of Tighnabruaich, Argyll.

As someone who personally trained and worked as a Textile Designer for 25 yrs and who now presently works as a Ceramist, I was interested in finding out how each of these creatives work and think. I set both Karen and Eva the same questions and asked them to work on their answers separately. Here’s what I discovered, first Karen.

What are your earliest memories of doing something artistic ?

I think my earliest memory of creative activity was watching my dad make plaster reliefs in a tiny box room in the upstairs of our house. I distinctly remember the smell and consistency of the white plaster. Thinking back now I’ve no idea what he was actually making but he was an architect and had just finished building our house so I suppose the material was close to hand.

Who was your main/earliest, encouraging influence on becoming a creative person ?

My dad was definitely a creative inspiration, always making and building things. There was a confidence that came from knowing that if you want something you can make it. My gran (dad’s mum) was a embroiderer for Coats Thread Mill in Paisley and she always had sewing projects on the go. She was patient in helping my sister and I make little felt animals and peg dolls. She made me a simple school pinafore and I remember her constructing the paper pattern and then translating that into fabric. Yet again there was the confidence of using materials.

Who inspires you as an artist and who’s work is either influential or pleasing to follow in contemporary circles ?

Obviously I’m inspired by numerous artists and makers. In my final year of art school the sculptor Eva Hesse was a big influence. When my 3 children were young children’s book illustration gave me a lot of pleasure, John Burningham, Maurice Sendak, and Tove Jansson and many others. I think their ability to create ‘worlds’ from their imagery was an influence on my work today. The ceramicist Makoto Kagoshima currently makes work I greatly admire.

What is your favourite type of work to create and what parts of your creative process do you like the most/least ?

Part of the appeal of ceramics has always been the processes involved in turning raw clay into a fired and perhaps functional piece of work. I really enjoy every stage, working with materials and tools, trying to work out new ways of doing things. Decorating is probably my favourite time and glazing, after the first bisque firing, is definitely my least favourite activity. Opening the last firing is like Christmas morning and is a enjoyable end to the whole cycle, and then it is back to the start with raw red clay.

Karen, I can really associate with all of those feelings : ).

How does living and working in such creative surroundings play a part in the work you create ?

Working at carry farm with beautiful wild shore and woods right on our doorstep can’t help but influence my imagery. Living in such close contact with nature, changing seasons, and patterns of weather means that everyday I notice details of structure or colour combinations that infiltrate my work. My husband , daughter and sister also have studios at carry farm and we constantly consult, help and constructively criticise (!) each others practise. My brother in law has a mechanic workshop/boat yard next to our studios and so practical help is always on hand. It is a fun place to work and live.

It sounds idyllic.

Where do you see your work going in the next 5/10 years ?

I hope that people continue to want my work in their homes and that enables me to continue making.

Is there anywhere you would most like to see your work displayed or someone you would really love to collaborate with ?

I make my work hoping it will give people pleasure in their homes. Whether a daily interaction in a tactile mug or biscuit barrel, or a plate or candle holder for special occasions. I also like hiding little bits of work in nature. I took part in an archeological dig last summer and I’d love for my work to be buried perhaps to be found by a child in the future!

During lockdown my husband and I set up dreyworkshop to combine our skills in wood and ceramic. My family are probably ideal collaborators. It gives me particular pleasure to see Eve’s work develop and follow her interactions with other makers etc.

Where did your imagery of bird, arches and people first originate ?

I have only lived at carry farm for 2 years, previously I lived and worked in the house my dad built. During that time I remember driving through Glasgow and seeing a tree shadow cast on a building. The image struck me as exactly what I would like my work to project. The wonder of nature and it’s relationship to the built environment and people. Growing up Eve kept doves in our garden. The way that the birds were free but became connected to her and our house was an inspiration and the bird motif combined with architecture and figures became a regular feature of my work. On graduating Eve did a residency in an Italian silk mill. While there she visited St Marks Basilica in Venice. On her return home we poured over images of her trip and I found the cathedral mesmerising. The combination of architecture and nature through the use of stone, clay, coloured pigments felt connected to the more humble shapes seen in ruins around the Scottish west coast.

Karen states :- “My aim is to create visually satisfying objects for domestic environments that have a quality of surface and pattern, and that appeal to our sense of touch. My process involves layers of bold and playful decoration while retaining the inherent warmth of red earthenware clay. Simple forms are made on the wheel, handbuilt or using plaster moulds. I collect imagery from daily life and nature to make paper collages and, before the first firing, coloured slips are brushed on to the ‘leather hard’ pieces using cut paper stencils. Newspaper lettering on the final work echoes this process. Layers of applied slip produce a subtle raised decoration and can be drawn though to reveal the red clay beneath. A second glaze firing is followed by a third for the application of printed decals. ”

Such beautiful work Karen.

Now onto Eva’s questions.

What are your earliest memories of doing something artistic ?
My brothers and I were exposed to all things creative from an early age. With both my parents being artists being creative, making and drawing was integral part of our childhood. I have memories of spending time in mum and dads workshops watching them as they worked and being given pieces of clay, paints and other materials to play with. I was always good at drawing and I remember my first Daler Rowney sketchbook. From watching mum and dad draw in their sketchbooks, I learnt how to fill mine. In this sketchbook you see my drawing abilities completely transform.
Who was your main earliest encouraging influence on becoming a creative person ?
For my 12th birthday I received my first screen and squeegee from mum and dad and today there is hardly a day without screen printing. I loved being creative but was often encouraged to follow different career paths by others. My parents made me see art and design equally as significant to any other career and supported me along the way to becoming a textile designer. They made me believe that with a bit of hard work, following a career in the area that I loved was possible.

Who (if anyone) inspired you as an artist and who’s work is either influential or pleasing to follow in contemporary circles ?
I love the work of Marth Armitage. Marthe Armitage is in her 90’s and her work continues to be as strong as ever, hand rolling her designs on a 100-year old offset litho press. From hearing her talk, to her drawings, process and final prints there is a simplicity to what she does but she knows what works and how to make something beautiful.
What is your favourite type of work to create and what parts of your create process do you like the most/least ?
I screen print using paper stencils and by far the most satisfying part of the process is lifting the screen and stencil to reveal what you have just printed. Despite creating the shapes, mixing the colours etc. seeing how the new layer interacts with the rest of the print can be a surprises and is always exciting.

How does living and working in such a creative surrounding play a part in the work you create ?
As a creative person I am always questioning myself and thinking of new ideas. With no set path to follow there are thousands of decisions to make daily. Being surrounded by people who enjoy discussing ideas and consolidation decisions helps clear up thoughts and keeps work moving forward. We are always inspiring and feeding off of each other.
Where do you see your work going in the next 5-10 years ?
I would love to collaborate with other makers, architects and brands. I see myself continuing creating my own designs and prints but having collaborations play a larger role.

Is there anywhere you would most like to see your work displayed or someone you would really love to collaborate with ? 
My dream company to collaborate with would be Marimekko. My love for Marimekko took me to Finland to visit their factory a few years ago where I was further drawn in by their process and aesthetic. I am always inspired by their designs and the textile designers they work with. One day I would love to see my designs in their collection.

In 2018 Eve was a winner in a competiton for Johnson Tiles and as a result got to turn some of her paper ideas into ceramic tiles.

Her sketchbooks are full of energy and ideas.

She was also asked to work with high street brand “White Stuff” and created a line of textile designs for their stores last year. (More info here.)

Where do you find your personal inspiration from and how would you define your style ?
I take my inspiration from nature on the West Coast of Scotland. I fill sketchbooks with drawings of the woods, shore and islands and then use these to create my designs. My paper stencilling/screen printing process informs the style of my prints and I like to keep my designs looking fresh and bold.
Are you looking to work across different creative areas ?
I would like to collaborate with makers and people from other creative areas. At the moment I don’t see myself independently creating out with textiles and ceramics however I would love to expand on this by working with makers who are skilled in their areas whether it is furniture, architecture, etc and who’s work I find inspirational.

Thank you to both Karen and Eve for taking time out of their busy day to answer my questions. Such inspirational and creative work from both of you, it makes me excited to put this post together and I look forward to seeing where your ideas take you from here. What do you think readers ?

4 Comments leave one →
  1. September 8, 2020 1:16 pm

    Thank you for showcasing these two wonderful artists. Their creativity has inspired me to push the envelope.
    Keep up posting amazing artists!

  2. September 10, 2020 10:46 am

    Very inspiring – thank you!

  3. September 10, 2020 1:24 pm

    Thank you

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