picture by:- emma bennet
01/12/2019 text by:- emma bennet
Emma Bennett Q and A

Creative Factory is an idea. By putting artists and creative thinking at the core of our approach, our factory will make new opportunities for Middlesbrough, where artists are not only welcomed, but listened to, nurtured, developed, supported, and given a much wider perception of success and a broader understanding of what a long term career can be.


The Creative Factory Q&A is a short informal look at an artist’s practice and current work.


  1. Where are you based and how long have you been there?

I live in Linthorpe, Middlesbrough. I am originally from Redcar and left in 1992 to study a HND in Design (Footwear) at Berkshire College of Art & Design, then moved to Leeds working as an Orthopaedic Technician in footwear manufacturing . In 2001 I relocated back to Middlesbrough and worked freelance in Orthopedics (which I still do). I went back to CCAD in 2003 to study Fine Art part-time, it took 6 years.

  1. Where do you work? Studio, home, kitchen table, cafes, elsewhere? Tell us a bit about your workspace / work habits, etc.

Since graduating in 2009 I have rented a studio space, my first studio was at the former Cleveland Crafts Centre. In 2012 I formed Gilkes Street Artists with 2 other artists and we now consist of 7 resident artists. The group moved into the Brentnall Business Centre on Gilkes St in 2014. I have quite a large space and go as often as I can during the week, I usually work on about 5 pieces at the same time. I like to start about 9.30am and will stay till about 4pm, often I will stop for a quick lunch break with the other artists at the studios but the time in my studio is really intense, once I have started a series of works I continually work moving from one to the next, I work quite fast and use acrylic paint it dries quickly so I can make good progress in one day. I have a family so I have to work around school holidays and weekends.

  1. What does 'success' mean to you?
    I have been working as an artist for 10 years and I have experienced different stages of success in that time, in the first years of being an artist, success meant getting to my studio regularly and having my work accepted for a percentage of the shows I applied for. Then I worked on gaining a few solo shows, more recently I have participated in some fantastic group shows and completed my Masters in Fine Art at Mima School of Art. I would like to undertake a UK residency in 2020/21 so will work towards that next.

  2. Do you earn a living from making art? If not, or only partially, what else do you do?

No, in the last couple of years I have made a partial income. I work freelance as an Orthopaedic Technician, I never know from one week to the next if I will have work, at times I work full-time for a few weeks then not work for weeks. During the lean times I will be in my studio full-time which can happen regularly during the year, generally it works okay and I can maintain a reasonably balanced working life in both areas, though financially at times it is hard and being self employed means you never get paid holidays etc. Though having some income from another job gives me the funds to produce my art work and hire a studio, I am also supported by my partner.

  1. What makes good art?

Tricky to answer but for myself it would be developing my practice by giving it time, thought, testing out ideas and good execution.

  1. What have you been up to recently? Tell us about any recent exhibitions, projects, residencies, etc.

In May I produced a large scale wall painting for the opening show Marked Transitions at the Auxiliary and a further wall painting for my final MA show in summer. I had work accepted into a couple of open exhibitions recently too. During Middlesbrough Art Weekender I showed some painting in the Materials exhibition at Platform A Gallery. I am currently working on some paintings on aluminum panels, these panels were purchased with a production grant from Creative Factory.

  1. What have you got coming up, exhibitions, residencies, studio etc?

Currently I have some paintings in a group show - Major Conversations: The Industrial Narrative at the Turnpike, Leigh. In November I am showing in a group show Legacy which reflects on painting practice in Teesside during the last 50 years. I have applied for some upcoming opportunities but nothing else confirmed as yet.


  1. What, if any, are the main barriers you come across?

The main barrier for myself is financial, before I apply to any opportunities I consider if it is financially viable, last year I was asked to be part of a London group show but I would have had to finance the transportation of my works so I declined. A lot of opportunities are unpaid and it is down to the individual to weigh up if they can afford to take part, it is really sad to think like this but it’s a reality of being a working class artist. Also it can be frustrating at times when opportunities occur but due to work commitments I can’t commit to them.

  1. How do you feel about the current and future state of art in Middlesbrough / UK

I think it is the best time for artists at the moment, there is a real buzz about the place.


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