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Interview with artist Julia Clarke

Julia Clarke has been creating art using materials from nature for years, and she was one of the first instructors to become a part of Yodomo's journey. We interviewed her to get to know her unique practice better and learn a thing or two about her processes and inspirations.

Julia Clarke offers popular, sustainable and mindful kits including Paper Band Vessels and Woven Hearts

Julia Clarke in her studio

How did you get into your craft?

I got into my craft through my passion for sculpture. I wanted to make a large sculpture with 4-metre long willow rods and wanted to get them to stand up without using power tools. I realised that if I treated them like a giant basket, maybe I could make the shape I wanted. I studied basic basket making techniques, and I’ve been hooked on mixing craft and fine art practises ever since.

What are your inspirations?

I’m greatly inspired by the world around me such as landscapes, people, wide-open spaces, the gaps between things, woven textures and forms, anything from baskets to architecture, natural materials, thread, wood, grasses, chalk, earth, clay, rocks, holes, cliffs, edges of things… the list goes on! I’ve always taught to support my practice, and interacting with others and passing on enthusiasm and skills also inspires me. I’m also influenced by other artists, including Barbara Hepworth, Phyllida Barlow, Isamu Noguchi and Ruth Asawa.

What are your favourite materials to work with?

Willow, raffia, thread, clay, paper, wood.

Julia standing in front of a table of students as she teaches them how to make a willow star

Tell us a little bit about the process behind your practice.

I generally let the materials and processes lead, although my input might be in wanting to try out a specific material. At present, I’m randomly weaving a medium-sized abstract sculpture inspired by fingers with thread, raffia and string. 

What is the favourite project that you have worked on to date?

I would have to say when I exhibited at Kew Gardens. I was asked to make 4 site-specific sculptures for their Autumn Festival. the space was so beautiful, and my idea was to get members of the public off the well-trodden paths and to explore the landscape, to really look at the space around them. It was nice to work on such a large scale, and to create work that the public could interact with directly.

Julia working on a large woven sculpture at Kew Gardens

What inspired you to start your practice?

When I was in secondary school, my favourite place to be was always the art room. I just knew I loved making stuff. An art teacher could see I just needed to stay there and allowed me to start experimenting with clay. I made some life-size heads and some figures out of Modroc and wire, and for the first time, I felt inspired. I distinctly remember going up to Tate Britain and seeing the Giacometti room, and the Rothko rooms, and feeling ecstatic! My parents were not into art, and I remember feeling like I’d found the best thing ever. It was exciting and inspiring. I had no idea what it took to actually be an artist. I was so naïve, I just felt like I had no choice... it was the only thing that made me feel alive!

How do you source your materials and decide on your designs?

I buy my materials online mainly now, although sometimes I go and cut certain materials myself. I decide on my designs through trial and error. Sometimes it will be something I’ve been working on for ages, while other times a new collection will pop up through experimenting with something else. I always draw and scribble and I keep a sketchbook on me at all times. Designs usually come from this. I won’t start a new piece unless I’ve got a number ready to go, such as a mini collection or family.

What is your next project or what’s in the works?

At present I’m working on a new mid-sized group of sculptures. They are mixed media, and include ceramic and willow as well as thread. 

A sculpture made of three woven circles stacked on top of one another.

What do you do in your spare time? 

I jog, have two dogs, 3 kids, practise yoga, and swim outdoors whenever I can. Physical activity is the key to mental wellbeing as much as creativity!

What is some advice you have for aspiring makers?

Follow your heart, experiment, keep at it even when it seems hopeless. Just keep making. It can be lonely and I often feel like I never meet other people exactly like me, so determination is key.

See basket weaving kits, sculptures and more available in Julia Clarke's maker shop.