Amy Isles Freeman: feminist art and delving into furniture

We hear what designer-maker, 'artist-person' Amy Isles Freeman has to say about her craft; from folk art to being inspired at 16-years-old

Amy Isles Freeman colourful hand-wood turning bowls

For Amy Isles Freeman, being creative is part of her ancestry.

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With her illustrator mother, Amy and her sister grew up in a hub of art. After working with two-dimensional mediums in her drawing degree, Amy branched out into wood working and has been hand-turning and painting bowls ever since.

Edward Bulmer profile paints

If you were introducing someone to your work for the first time, how would you describe your ideas and aesthetic?

I want to make people smile and make myself smile as I make. My work is joyful and cheeky as well as highly colourful and decorative, but with some underlying themes of female identity and power. The theme that runs through the core of my practise is my women. I explore aspects of being a woman, with an emphasis on sexuality and love. When I was at art school, I learnt that I could communicate effectively using humour and colour, and this has continued in my work.

Where did you begin learning your craft and who or what inspired you?

I began wood turning about three years ago, after I finished my degree in drawing. Totally fed up with making two dimensional work and feeling unskilled amongst a cohort of able makers, I asked my then boyfriend Felix McCormack, furniture designer and maker, to teach me something. I knew that I wanted to envelop a new skill into my practise, to use it with what I already knew, which was drawing and colour.

How does the idea for a new design begin and how does the process progress from there to the final product?

Oh, there is so much trial and error. The beginning of a design can just be a little mental sketch. Generally, it’s the last design I made that will lead onto the next. I don’t spend long drawing things out as it usually happens on the actual bowl; moving things around and trying different colours keeps it exciting for me.

Amy Isles Freeman hand-painted hand-crafted bowls
Amy Isles Freeman’s hand-painted hand-crafted bowls

Where does your love of colour come from and how would you encourage others to be more confident?

My mother was an illustrator, heavily influenced by folk art. On holidays, my sister and I would be given briefs to design a range of fabrics or to dress a shop window. We were constantly encouraged to draw but it wasn’t until I went to art school that anyone told me that being decorative was anything other than good. Throughout my four years studying I thought and questioned, trying to be more serious in my style, but my artistic identity has prevailed.

Which artists inspire you and what’s your favourite era of art?

Dorothy Iannone changed my world in one exhibition. In 2013, I walked around her show at the Camden Arts Centre, on my own, giggling. At the time I was new to, but interested in, feminist art. I love Austrian painter Egon Schiele; he ignited a passion for art when I was 16. Folk art has been influential too, as well as illustrators such as Audrey Niffenegger and Annouchka Galouchko.

Can you tell us about where you work?

My little studio is on a farm, about a 10 minute drive outside of Falmouth, Cornwall. On the land, there are around 13 makers and craftspeople, who make jewellery, woodwork, metal work, stone-masonry and rum. It’s a vibrant community, and we share tools and ideas as well as tea and biscuits. ‘The Piggery’, as my studio is called, houses myself and my good friend Paul Whittaker, who makes films. My lathe resides in one end, and I sit amongst a chaotic mess of succulent plants and paint in the other.

Amy Isles Freeman hand-crafted bowl collection

What tools and materials couldn’t you live without?

My hands; I really don’t feel attached to any one set of tools. If I didn’t have access to any of them, I would just change my medium and work on something else. Recently I gave up dairy, and before I really thought I couldn’t live without milk in my tea. Turns out I can.

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Do you have anything new in the pipeline that you’re working on that you can tell us about?

I’m looking for collaborators. I want to work with furniture makers, to paint cabinets, chests, shelving, wardrobes… I’m setting my sights on anything bigger than a bowl.