Long-time readers of CLOG may remember an interview we did the Emma sometime last year. It was one of the first interviews we ran on CLOG and it's great to interview Emma again almost one year on!
Emma also has a blog filled with updates, projects, news, the occasional ultrasound update (congratulations Emma!!) and even a link to her talented son Leo's Lego blog. He is only four years old and he already puts most of us to shame with his mad Lego skills...
Happy Friday everyone!
Could you tell us a bit about yourself, where you grew up, what you studied at school?
Growing up in Adelaide I was a very academic lass until Year 12, when the pressure got too much and I discovered the art department. After that I did a four-year Visual Arts degree, majoring in printmaking, but then in my final year discovered sculpture and became hooked on three dimensions.
Upon completing your Visual Arts degree, what prompted the move towards shoemaking? Was it something that you’ve always been interested in, or was it more of a spur-of-the-moment decision?
Once I graduated I worked as a bike messenger for almost three years. When I felt the urge to study again, a friend and I wanted to start a street wear label, so we signed up for Apparel at TAFE.
There was also a handmade footwear course, which piqued my curiosity so I enrolled in both fields, thinking that the apparel would be full time and the footwear part time. The enrolment was bungled; I ended up doing full time footwear and completely fell in love with the sculptural process.
It immediately felt like an extension of my fine art training, an opportunity to refine and apply lateral thinking, and most of all an excuse to use hand and power tools, transforming raw materials into practical, sculptural pieces of art.
The shoes that you make are quite theatrical in design. Could you please tell us a bit more about where you derive your inspiration?
Well I’ve never been a minimalist and do tend to research my designs more in terms of key features. I’ve been drawn to costume books from history and film and really enjoy all the details, techniques and character design. Lately I’m obsessed with a Star Wars costume book, from Episodes 4 – 6 - to work on a project as vast as a three-movie period would be an amazing experience.
My other inspirations are diverse, including royal and military regalia, decorative patterns from many cultures, art and history, and both pop and hip hop culture.
Using traditional textile arts such as crochet, embroidery and knitting, and combining these skills with leatherwork in a contemporary way is something I enjoy seeing evolve. I’m big on technique, and often teach myself new methods just to get the look right.
You’ve been working with shoes and exhibiting for over 12 years now. How do you think your practice has evolved in this period of time?
The first 7 years of my career resembled an informal apprenticeship, as I worked in established studios making shoes by hand in Adelaide, Sydney and finally Melbourne. During this time I was able to hone my skills, experiment with many different materials and styles, and learn about small business.
Since embarking on my own I have introduced an accessories range and concentrated on my shoemaking in a very specialised sense, making exhibition and experimental pieces, alongside more commercial bespoke work for clients, friends and family.
I used to prefer to make handmade sneakers, customised for graffiti artist pals, and over the years have got this down pat. Lately I feel a bit more like a grown up, so I’m making more refined styles, not entirely girly, but with more feminine details. That said, I am currently working on a pair which are pink and gold, really not my colours, but my sub-conscious is commanding me to make them!
In comparison with the other Shoe Show exhibitors, you are the only shoemaker who works on their own. How does this affect the way you approach your artistic practice?
I do envy the cross-pollination of ideas that working with others can bring, plus being able to share machinery must be a bonus, but I can be a bit of a control freak! As a shoemaker I have mostly worked alone, occasionally sharing spaces with others; jewellers, graffiti artists, and musicians. Shoemaking is quite grubby though, generating a lot of dust, noise and stink from the glues, so I’m now working in a customised home studio.
I love working from home, previously having a studio outside the home meant that the time spent travelling and the extra expense just never added up. I like being able to walk out into the backyard with a cup of tea, having put the laundry on, and do a few hours at the workbench. Also my son is not yet at school, so when he’s at home it’s easy for me to grab a bit of time in the studio.
Do you see shoes more as ‘fashion’ or ‘art’, or both?
They can, of course, be both, but in my practice I like to create them as art. I don’t get much satisfaction from producing a run-of-the-mill style with minimal flair, I’d much rather imbue my work with thorough attention to detail, in terms of design, materials and construction.
There are so many stages in the production of handmade footwear, and each process is tailored and time consuming. The skills involved take so long to master, and are art forms themselves, often there’s a need to re-invent processes for particular styles. There is a huge amount of problem solving required, as well as patience, persistence, maybe even a certain pathology!
One-offs are easier to produce as art, such as the pieces I’ve made for Shoe Show, inevitably once you get into production runs a little bit of the magic can be lost. I generally sample something outlandish which satisfies my more-is-more ethos, but then I’ll refine it and offer a less embellished version. It can be a fine line between creative indulgence and commercial survival.
And finally, “If I were a shoe I’d be…
…a transformer shoe, which could morph in-between states: from a smart, stylish and highly customised sneaker, to a hand-carved platform geta with embroidered tabi socks, which then folded out into an elaborate yet elegant golf brogue with quilted tongue flap, then to a sleek high heeled lace-up piece of brilliance with tartan details.
Honestly it is too hard to name one shoe, I would have to be a shape-shifter!
Photography by Richard Brockett