Studio Emma is the venture of emerging Scottish artist Emma McDowall, whose technicolour vessels are lifting concrete far from its industrial origins. Working with imaginative colour combinations to create freeform patterns and surface textures, her handcrafted designs play on the unpredictable and the imperfect, taking shape as bold, decorative pieces, each of which is entirely unique. As her concrete creations find a home in our new interiors space, we talk to Emma about the studio that bears her name and her ambition to create…
Where is Studio Emma?Studio Emma is run by myself, Emma McDowall from my studio in Leith, Edinburgh.
What brought you to Edinburgh?I was born and raised in a little town not too far from Edinburgh. When I left school I moved to Aberdeen to study at Gray’s School of Art, I then returned to my parents’ house in my hometown after graduating. I stayed there for about six months, working different jobs trying to find my feet and figure out what I wanted to do, whilst at the same time turning my Mum’s shed into my own little studio space where I made a big colourful concrete mess!
One day I decided it was time to move on and I started to search for studios, flats and jobs in Edinburgh as I love the city and it has such a strong creative community. I was lucky to find all three so quickly and I had moved by the next week! .
Are you influenced by your environment?I am always looking around my environment for great colour combinations - on the streets, inside supermarkets, cafés, shops and at the beach. I live quite near a small beach and it has really interesting rocks with such subtle, amazing colours.
I still love to use found materials to inspire the form of my work, so I am always on the look out for interesting old tubs or charity shop finds.
Have you always wanted to create?I remember I would come home from primary school and my mum would have all the art supplies out on the kitchen table - I would sit there making a mess for hours! We would do huge paintings on the back of rolls of wallpaper, make our own play dough, create papier-mâché sculptures, make pom-poms, bake cakes and pizzas. I spent all my time as a child being creative, and I guess I never really stopped. After high school I studied at art school and after graduating continued to design and create.
“I actually just found concrete in my mum’s shed and started to play with it, then I got obsessed! I would try different recipes and create different forms with whatever I could find.”
How did you learn your craft?I studied Textiles at art school, where I found my love for combining colours and creating textures. During my time at home, after graduation, I enjoyed experimenting with my practice – drawing, painting, sewing and sculpting. I actually just found concrete in my mum’s shed and started to play with it, then I got obsessed! I would try different recipes and create different forms with whatever I could find. I guess I just made it up.Shop now
Where do you look to for inspiration?My main source of inspiration has always been details of architecture. I have always loved to photograph the combination of colour, texture and patterns that are naturally created over time. I especially like it in cities where the people paint their houses, doors and shutters the most amazing colours. I think my work is now a three-dimensional form of these photographs.
What are your favourite materials to work with?Concrete has become my favourite material. I love that I have learnt so much about it through trial and error and developed the use of it in an unconventional way.
Where do you source them?I source my cement and sand from a builder’s yard just five minutes from my flat. I’m not their typical customer so I think I have become a bit of a character to the staff and other regular customers. I think they wonder what I am doing with all these supplies but for some reason have never asked!
What are the biggest challenges emerging artists and creatives face today?I think the biggest challenge is the financial pressure. As a self employed creative, it can be hard to find time and energy to develop ideas and new work whilst taking on paid projects. It can also sometimes limit your creativity as you feel you should try to keep your work slightly commercial and for your customer.
I feel so lucky to be able to design and create everyday, and so thankful to all the people who buy from my products.
Can you tell us about your process?Each piece is carefully hand-poured by me in my studio.
The process is completely free and allows the materials to naturally create the surface pattern and the textural quality. The results are spontaneous and unpredictable. I enjoy de-moulding the pieces and looking at the accidental composition of marks and imperfections which form the design. This results in every product being completely unique in its surface.
“The results are spontaneous and unpredictable. I enjoy de-moulding the pieces and looking at the accidental composition of marks and imperfections which form the design.”
What do you like best about living in Edinburgh?I like that I am never bored. I have so many friends here, I love being surrounded by all my favourite people and we always have lots to do as Edinburgh is always filled with events and exhibitions.
What are your go-to places in the city?My favourite part of Edinburgh is Leith where I live and work – it is a bit disconnected from the rest of Edinburgh, it has its own strong personality and sense of community. It is filled with artist studios, so many wonderful and bizarre shops, cafés and pubs.
My favourite café is La Cerise, which is around the corner from my flat, I love to go in for a coffee and chat with the staff who are really lovely. My go-to pub is The Safari Lounge, which is next to my studio – it has the best tacos in Edinburgh. I also love to go to the Pitt Market, which is on every Saturday in Leith – it has live music, street food and drinks. All of these places are a bit outside the city centre so they are undiscovered hidden gems!