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Craft With Conscience: Ellie Macdonald

Craft With Conscience

'Craft With Conscience' began in early 2016 as a weekly Instagram series dedicated to sharing the work of other creatives and as a platform to openly discuss certain aspects of ethical art-making and consuming in the age of the internet and social media.  

This series arose out of my own frustrations related to seeing my work constantly copied stitch-for-stitch, sold without permission, and credited to other people.  Rather than wallowing in unproductive negative emotions, I wanted to find a way to bring this common issue to light in a positive way.  My solution was to share the work of artists, crafters, designers, and makers who I greatly admire for their originality and dedication. Initially, I shared work similar in materials or subject matter to my own, having heard the argument, "There are only so many ways to stitch plants, I'm not copying you..." one too many times.  The truth is, no matter what the medium or subject, every artist from hobby crafter to professional painter has their own perspective and voice. It takes effort to develop one's visual vocabulary and it can be disheartening when your's is taken and misused by other individuals and sometimes larger companies.

All that being said, now is an incredible time for working artists because of the vast resources of the internet including sources of inspiration, the ability to reach a large and global audience, and as a community building tool. As you may know, I love sharing my work on Instagram and following other makers. It's a wonderful way to connect with other artists, be inspired, and feel supported, but we all need to be aware of how we use these resources and what effect it may have on others.

Since the start of 2016, 'Craft With Conscience' has grown and evolved just like any other creative pursuit and has recently expanded to include short interviews with featured artists. I've asked participating artists a series of questions about their studio process, sources of inspiration, and how image-sharing sites like Instagram and Pinterest influence and affect them. I hope you read on to see what they have to say!

Craft With Conscience: Ellie Macdonald

Sarah Benning

Ellie Macdonald // Embroidery Artist // Brighton, U.K.

Ellie works predominantly on a vintage freehand embroidery machine, she also trained at Cordwainers, specialising in the pattern cutting and construction of leather accessories. Ellie is currently focusing on producing bespoke embroidered commissions and small limited edition batches. She works collaboratively with other designers and brands while steadily building her own collection of embroidered patches these can be found in Wolf and Gypsy Vintage and online at Ellie Mac Embroidery Shop.

Check out more of her work on her Instagramwebsite, or her Pinterest

1. I began my #CraftWithConscience series as a way to simultaneously promote the work of other makers and to discuss the complicated issues surrounding creative inspiration and developing ones’ own visual vocabulary. The internet is an ever growing fixture in many artist’s lives and businesses, could you talk about the role the internet plays in your artistic and professional life?

The internet has had a huge impact on my whole business,  it’s helped take my embroidery in new unexpected directions.  Instagram  has enabled me to test ideas, see what’s popular and has ultimately lead me to launching my shop.

I've found that if you spend the time interacting with other people you build a small like minded community , In my experience this has lead to genuine friendships with a great support network.

For streamlining my thoughts I use Pinterest  a fair bit, especially when collaborating with people. I find it's a useful space where all our ideas, themes and inspiration can be amalgamated.

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2. Where do you find inspiration for your work?  Do you work from life or from images and in what ways has the internet and/or social media impacted your design process?

Inspiration can come in lots of different forms, if i'm feeling like i'm in a creative lull I visit somewhere new like a different town or a gallery, places that involve lots of people watching normally  help with new ideas . One constant inspiration is my family business which specialises in antique clothing and textiles.  I'm lucky to have access to my mum's archive of vintage textiles, this is frequently a great starting point for researching colours and techniques. The textile business has been a part of my creative life for over 20 years and I never get bored by seeing the pieces coming in and out as they are bought and sold.

Once I have an idea or a subject I then turn to books, google & photographs. If I'm at the stage where I'm interpreting an image like a photograph for example,  I normally trace a more simplified version in preparation to test embroider, things like the birds and flowers can be broken down into different thread shades and even adding in stitch direction meaning that I know how I'm going to build up the embroidery.  

I think in some ways the internet can make the design process a bit lazy, it's without a doubt a great tool but it's important to get out and about and put you own twist on what your drawing and designing.

3. Sites like Pinterest and Instagram are popular places for artists’ to share their own work. They also act as public visual archives, often leading to creative work by others that walks the line between ‘inspiration’ and ‘infringement.’ Have you encountered copies of your work online and how does it affect you? What are your strategies for dealing with it?

Yeah it's a tricky one. For my own work I would always rather share and take that risk, it's only when I put it out there that I can gauge if there's an interest. That said, some projects I've had to start limiting what I share on social media and have a totally separate portfolio that's not made public. My interior collaboration EvA with Amelia is kept more under wraps, when we show clients our samples they want them to be exclusive and unseen. I've noticed the occasional account with similarities to my work, but I personally try not to dwell on it as its hard to take ownership of a subject matter and I'd rather use my energy towards starting something new. There can also sometimes be synchronicity between designers, not so much copying but more common themes and fashions that are circulating . Designers will  always be influenced by their environment  and fellow artists ,  there is of course a big difference between being influenced and producing a straight copy.

One thing that does bug me is people re-posting without crediting the original artist , but again it's hard to have control over these things, it's one of the downsides to having your work online.

4. Do you have any advice for aspiring artists or creative business people?

Work hard, be original, don't be scared of striking up conversation with other designers & collaborate - collaborating is one of the best ways of testing your medium out with someone's else's field of expertise!  I've always worked lots of small part time jobs at once,  I enjoy the change and challenge of making things works, no two weeks are ever the same for me. It does takes a lot of work to carve your own path in this industry but its more than worth it to do a job you love.

5. Do you have any favorite blogs, artists, or Instagram accounts that you’d like to share?

I'm mainly focused around Instagram so here's some of my favourite accounts:

Mara Hoffman , Dries Van Noten  & C_l_o are all great for colour inspiration, I also really love Dries Van Notens embellishment. 

For textile inspiration Lorna Doyle & Mijo Studio  both produce really beautiful work using interesting techniques  and I love Richard Quinn's amazing floral on floral pieces.

Freehand machine embroiderers Jill de Burca & Emily Potter - Jill mixes embroidery with embellishment into her womenswear collections and Emily works with freehand machine embroidery too. Both worth checking out.

I really like Jodie Ruffles hand embroidery for her interesting approach in focusing attention on the reverse side of her work.

Hand embroiderer Mother Eagle is self taught and so skilful, love the way she groups her collections.

Couture inspiration - Alexander Mcqueen & Josep Font and I love the artist Unskilled Worker, her work's stunning.