Wednesday, 13 October 2010

MEET: Colette Bain of Emma's Wolf

White Rabbit
Now and again, something deliciously quirky will catch your eye and make you think about what you're seeing. Such things have the power to give you a new perspective and pull you into a different universe, if you let them. Colette Bain is an artist who delights in creating such curious artworks, and we're delighted to invite you to enter the wonderful world of Emma's Wolf.

Please tell us who you are and what you do.
My name is Colette Bain and I’m an artist. I’m mainly self taught and in fact my first degree is in Philosophy, but over a period of many years I’ve been working away on developing my artistic skills whilst being employed in a variety of different jobs. Gradually, as I’ve exhibited more and begun to gain sales and commissions I’ve been able to devote more and more time to my art practise.

My 2D work is mainly centred on an exploration of the face. Although I have executed a number of portraits in oils my preferred medium is pastel. The work I do in 3D is quite different, more quirky and brightly coloured; I’m very influenced by children’s book illustrators such as Wolf Erlbruch and Kitty Crowther.

Blog Moon
I adapt existing objects such as dolls, toys, and tins, using papier-mâché, to create different characters. Moon men crop up quite often as do animals such as mice and rabbits. I use a combination of paint and collaged ephemera to decorate each object. I deliberately aim for the objects to look slightly worn and imperfect. I want them to be very obviously handmade - an antidote to the sterility of ‘perfect’ factory made items.

I trade under the name Emma’s Wolf. Emma is my daughter. She’s 9 now and has for a long time been obsessed by wolves. The first papier-mâché creation I made was a wolf for her. He isn’t a wild one; he wears a smoking jacket and has a bit of a gormless face, but she loves him.

Emma's Wolf
What inspired you to make your unique ‘found’ art objects?
I enjoyed making Emma’s wolf so much that I began making other objects for family and friends. Initially these were made purely using papier-mâché but I would quite often decorate them using ephemera that I’d picked up at our local antiques centre. We have a huge one in Lancaster, where I live, and I could (and do) spend hours in there looking for materials to use. I often came across old broken toys and tins that had some lovely features, faded patterns perhaps or worn wood wheels, but also ugly plastic parts.

I liked the idea of giving these objects a second life, retaining those bits that had drawn me to them and using these as inspiration to add or alter the object to create something completely new. I liked the fact that something factory made, with little individual care, became an artwork, something completely unique.

What is the most rewarding aspect of what you do? And the most frustrating?
The most rewarding aspect of what I do is when a piece works. It’s difficult to describe when that is other than to say that it’s when all the components such as composition and colour are right and then there’s something extra; it just comes to life. Then there’s something for people to respond to. This can be a positive response, but not always. I had a friend who, when he visited, would always turn a little creature I’d made called ‘Nowhere Man’ to the wall. He found it unnerving. I still judge that a success - a collection of paper, wood, pencils and paint, put together in a particular way, had a real effect on him.

Nowhere Man

The most frustrating is in a way the opposite, when I get a piece that just doesn’t come together. Quite often, however, I can leave something for a while and come back to it and it’ll work. Given that then, I’d have to say the most frustrating part is when I’ve got my fingers coated with paste and paper and I get an itchy nose or the phone rings.

Describe your work setting.
I work at home and generally tend to do my 3D work at the end of my kitchen and my 2D work either in my bedroom where I have an easel and there’s plenty of light, or on the dining table. All this may change, however, as my eldest son has just left home to go to university, leaving his room free.....

My kitchen workspace
How easy do you find it to work in both 2D and 3D? Do you prefer one over the other?
I find working in 3D easier than 2D as, given the nature of my work, there are more constraints and that helps direct me, I have something to work against. Plus it’s lovely and tactile. I like the process of building an object with my fingers, and with all that glue and strips of paper, I can feel like a kid again.

2D work always provides the challenge of what to draw or paint. Having said that, increasingly I’m using the playful exploratory approach I use for the 3D work in my 2D work – so I’ve started to use collage and different tools to draw with, including my fingers. I can also get much more immediate results in 2D which can be satisfying (if the results are good).

I jump from one to the other and whichever approach I’m using, that’s the one I prefer.

What is your typical day?
A typical day starts with getting my daughter to school and walking the dog. I’ve got the timing to a tee so I’m back home, starting work, just as Woman’s Hour comes on. I tend to work through to the end of school, with a quick break for lunch. Then in the evening, once my daughter is in bed, I’ll carry on.

All this can be derailed if I turn on the computer at any point in the day. I don’t seem able to just check on emails and turn it off. I’ll inevitably find myself two hours later, bug-eyed, having perused a huge variety of blogs and websites, often coming across loads of inspirational work, but not having done any myself. I’ve got to the point of recognising this particular black hole, but it doesn’t mean that I still don’t fall into it.

Tell us about your long term plans.
I’m aiming to do more 3D work as I enjoy it. It also seems to generate interest, perhaps because it’s something a little different. Because each piece is unique they can be time consuming and I’m aiming to supplement this work with 2D work, which complements it, so more illustrative. I’ve started to sell prints of some of this work and intend to create more designs and sell cards of them.

I’ve exhibited my 3D work in a couple of gallery shows and had a really positive response. An obvious next step is for me to build on this and approach other galleries to show my work.

Tender is the Night
If you could live your life all over again, what (if anything) would you do differently?
When I first considered this question my initial response was that I would have done a degree in art. But perhaps it was a good thing I didn’t. I was very lacking in confidence when I was younger and had a terrible habit of comparing myself unfavourably to everyone around me. This meant that when I did do any formal art classes I found that I was completely intimidated by the other students who seemed so assured. I think if I had done an art degree I might have struggled to have confidence in my own vision.

Having said that, the thought of three years devoted completely to exploring different artistic approaches would have been lovely.

If you had time to learn a new skill what would it be?
I’d love to do a printmaking course.

Where can we see more of your work?
I have a shop on Folksy at:
More work can be seen on my website at: