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  • Writer's pictureClaire Venus

A cuppa and a catch up with Jessica Kinnersley

This week on the Culture Northumberland blog we catch up with artist Jessica Kinnersley who has recently won Rural Design Innovation Centre's Belsay Design Challenge.

Jessica Kinnersley is a local textile artist and tutor who studied Textiles and Surface Design before embarking on a career in art teaching and freelance embroidery design. She now develops her own artwork from her small studio in Northumberland and continues to enjoy teaching in a range of different settings.

Working predominantly with found and repurposed linens, papers and objects, Jessica layers textures, stitched musings and printed images to create nostalgic, slow-stitched textile art. Her work explores memory, narrative and landscape.

Can you tell us a little about you and your practise?

I studied Textile and Surface Design and spent many happy years teaching Art and textiles in schools, while working as a freelance embroidery designer by night.

After taking voluntary redundancy I stayed home to raise my family but I think

the urge to create was always there and over the past ten years, I’ve slowly built up my practice and teaching experience outside the classroom.

It was a tricky start; when you’re suddenly free of curriculums or design trends it can be hard to know what path to take so there has been a lot of trial and error along the way! I’m a bit of a magpie and I find I’m mostly drawn to things that have a story to tell; vintage linens, found objects and paper ephemera. I like to record the landscape although I don’t really think of myself as a landscape artist.

I enjoy stitch and collage; finding the story in a found object. I always explore ideas in a sketchbook before translating them onto cloth, often adding paint and emulsion, treating the cloth as if it were paper. I currently divide my time between working in my studio at The Hearth, or on freelance projects and working at North Tyneside Art Studio, running workshops at their wellbeing hub in Wallsend.

Why did you decide to get involved in the 'Belsay Hall Rural Design Challenge' and what’s it been like?

For years, I’d made shop-ready products like my machine embroidered occasion cards and sold them in local shops and on Etsy. However, the more time I spent teaching and developing ideas for kits and workshops, the more it felt like those sorts of products didn’t really echo my own practice anymore.

So actually, the Rural Design Challenge came along at just the right moment for me, because it gave me a chance to step back and create a product for a shop which was borne out of my current creative practice.

The experience was really interesting, starting with a tour of Belsay (I’ve been visiting for years but learned some fascinating new stories from the English Heritage staff!) and working through two workshops which covered pricing, product development and video marketing. I often record tutorials for my YouTube channel but I’d never pitched a product via video (or in person!) so it was a really useful learning curve.

Amelia and Charlotte, from the Rural Design Centre were fantastic to work with; the whole atmosphere was friendly and supportive and it was great to meet other local creatives too.

Can you describe the moment you found out you’d won?

I was incredibly surprised and became a little choked with emotion! It was really rewarding to have my work recognised and an honour to have met and worked alongside so many talented local artists. I remember absolutely fizzing as I drove home; I had to put my Mum hat on and go straight to my son’s parent’s evening from Belsay, which felt a bit surreal.

What's next for this project and your other work?

I’m really excited to see where this project leads and look forward to working with English Heritage. I think the site and its stories could inspire a multitude of creative ideas.

I’m currently getting ready for my Spring workshops, which I hold at The Hearth Arts Centre, and I also have lots of talks and workshops lined up with local sewing groups. I’ll be taking my work a little further afield this year too and will be teaching in West Yorkshire, which I’m really looking forward to.

Describe a typical 'day in the life' for you?

My days can be quite varied, which is one of the reasons I enjoy what I do so much, although every day starts with walking my dog.

A typical studio day usually starts at around 10:30am. Cuppa in hand, I’ll work on teaching samples for upcoming workshops, or stock for events. It’s wonderful being at The Hearth because although we all run our own creative businesses, we are one big community and quite often someone will pop in to say hi, so it’s not as isolating as working in the loft at home…oh and I always nip down to the café on Fridays for cake!

I try to keep some studio time for creative play, which doesn’t always work out, but often the best ideas come from giving myself free time. I’m home by 3:30pm for the kids returning from school and do about an hour of admin tasks before finishing for the day…but I’ll quite often pull a sketchbook out in the evening and the scribbling, cutting and sticking will start again!

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