Sunday Makers Session with Artist Amber Bardell

It was a delight to read through Amber's responses to our Sunday Makers Session this week. As a multidisciplinary artist Amber uses different art forms as a way to express her creativity. We hope that you enjoy finding out a little more about her artistic interpretations, and inspirations too!

As a multidisciplinary artist you are balancing many different things at present, are you able to give us all an insight into your current creative happenings?

I try to balance my creative work between three key areas: Fine art, Directing films and Production design. It is very hard to keep an even balance of the three across a short time frame but I'd say over the course of a year I manage to, I also create work outside of those main areas but it's less frequent. I've recently moved back to London after spending quarantine with my parents in Surrey so it's really nice to be back with my partner but the space is quite limited! My current desk set-up is in the corner of our communal living room right beside the TV and sofa. It was a challenge figuring out which materials to bring (about a third of all my belongings must be art materials) but it's also been quite healthy to be limited, sometimes it can help with creativity! Being with Levi means we can work more closely developing some of our film projects together so I'm excited for that, I tend to do production design on all of his films and he's going to help me write something very soon.

We love that your work at !GWAK aligns so well with what we aim to achieve at Florence + Blank; a supportive platform for independent artists and makers, somewhere to collaborate and come together. In your eyes, what makes a successful creative collaboration?

I love that too! Collaboration can come in so many forms but for me, the success comes from learning something or creating a piece that you couldn't have made on your own. There is definitely a certain amount of trust needed for that as well so its good to nurture a relationship with collaborators before you jump in with them on a big project. I've learnt from filmmaking where it's just not possible to do every role yourself, that the beauty is really in seeing how everyone else's ideas and perspectives form the work as it is constructed. Films are constantly rewritten and moulded from the very beginning to the final editing process, so it's great to keep an open mind, and applying this approach to other art projects has been really interesting. I'm working on creating more collaborative projects in !GWAK where members will try a new process or way of thinking, taking the pressure out of the idea of a final product and hoping to be inspired or experience a new perspective on their practice. These can also help people to network and build trust with potential collaborators for their own projects.

You have mentioned that your work is largely inspired by art history, is there a particular time period that intrigues you most?

My recent artwork is quite inspired by classical Greek and Roman influences, but I'm always dipping back to a modern art group, the 'Fauvists'. Artists such as Henri Matisse and Andre Derain were a part of this group which experimented with colour and fierce brushstrokes from 1905-1908. I also love to visit museums and galleries to collect ideas, one of my favourites to revisit is the British Museum because it has artefacts from across the world, I also frequent exhibitions at the Barbican and Tate.

The subjects of your artworks reflect nature in many ways. Is this reflection often reminiscent of your surroundings? And if so, where is your place of retreat to discover nature whilst living in London?

Nature is always something I'll always come back to, the organic shapes are a big inspiration, I love to be surrounded by it and often have lots of houseplants when I'm inside but since moving back to London I've had a lot less of that and had to limit what I brought with me, so most of the plants were left with family. We're lucky to have a big park nearby which I visit frequently and enjoy the large range of trees and flowers growing there, I'm always surprised by new things but my favourite spot is under a huge fig tree.

Is the process behind your artwork and creativity fluid and running a natural course, or can you normally see the end product or piece before even starting it?

There's definitely a mixture for me, I think as I've developed my fine art style I've become more relaxed about what the end product will be. I think this stems partially from the fluidity and constant rewriting I mentioned in the filmmaking process, but also that I'm more confident in what I can make. I also try not to create too much pressure around a piece, if I have too narrow expectations it will become harder to achieve them whereas making freely means there's more trial and error and more excitement. I can make lots of things and its fine if they don't work out, when I start to make something I really feel is working, I can often make a series of similar works. This being said, I definitely plan my commercial pieces more because I want them to have tidier compositions and I definitely have to have a process for carving my designs for prints. I've begun making more linocut prints to use on fabric as well as paper because I'm able to reproduce a design to meet the demand for affordable pieces but also keep them handmade and ethical.

As fellow lovers of numerous creative outputs, we (Sam and I) often struggle ourselves to focus on one thing at a time, and do find ourselves drifting in and out of things. This can cause issues when there is time pressure, deadlines or lots going on at once. Do you have any suggestions yourself in finding balance and focus as a multidisciplinary artist?

I think there are real pros and cons to being multidisciplinary. Sometimes it helps a lot to switch between projects because when you are tired or frustrated with one thing, you can shift focus and feel productive and positive about another thing. Problems can definitely arise when there is time pressure for a specific project(s) and you feel torn between other things you want to be doing. I often find the projects with time constraints can start to feel less fun but in the end, they may turn out to be more successful because of the pressure. In this case, I try to remind myself why I'm doing the project at all and be thankful for it, e.g. I may be making art for money or be doing an exciting project which I can share in an exhibition, generally the time constraints are for the work that is most likely to be celebrated at the end so its worthwhile. In stressful times like this, many artists including myself can feel a sense of 'imposter syndrome' and I sometimes feel like I've kidded someone into thinking my art is good enough. When this happens, I have to remind myself that I'm being valued and there's lots of evidence as to why I'm doing the work so that makes me feel like proving myself and taking advantage of the opportunity. Some practical advice for when things get tough: plan and schedule in a balance. If you're really missing an element of your practice whilst working on a big project, you can schedule in small amounts of something else into your day or week to look forward to!

Finally, are there any important messages that you want to convey to others through your creativity?

I think that my debut film Art as Catharsis really says it all, you can watch the film for free online here. The half-hour documentary explores how art can help us to heal through encounters with a range of creative people. I encourage people to focus on the process of making more than the outcome in order to feel a sense of release. I also think there are loads of other great purposes and messages for our creativity and would like to explore activist art more, but it's important for us to heal and nurture our personal wellbeing first and foremost.

See Ambers artworks on paper, and hand-painted lampshades here!

Photography by Levi Aluede and Amber Bardell