There are many hidden creative gems working amongst the Leeds Art Scene. ‘Artist in the Spotlight’ is TSOTA’s attempt to shine a light on some of them. You may or may not have come across them directly, but here at TSOTA we hope to gather them together and give you their lives in few words. You can then decide if you want to know more…
This week’s Artist in the Spotlight is: Juliette Hamilton
Currently working on: Various Commissions, forthcoming workshops, art fairs and makers markets. Soon to be exhibiting at The Craft Centre & Design Gallery, Leeds.
In a nutshell? A talented willow (and wire) sculptress making ‘a successful business out of sticks’ whose brilliant creations were admired by Vivienne Westwood at Glastonbury Festival 2014.
TSOTA: What is it about willow weaving that got you hooked? What do you enjoy about it so much?
JH: I find it completely addictive. I think the best thing about using willow is how therapeutic it is, especially if I’m making a piece that I have made before and am very familiar with. I think it’s called ‘flow’, when your mind just wanders and you almost forget what you are doing. I’m a bit sad and get quite fidgety if I haven’t made anything for a while!
TSOTA: You’ve had your work on show at Glastonbury and numerous times at Tatton Park Flower Show. Did you ever think you would be doing this for a job and be so successful?
JH: This career has taken me completely by surprise! I would never have believed that I could make a successful business out of sticks. It was never planned but it’s the best thing I’ve ever done.
TSOTA: Have there been any exhibition venues or commissions that you were particularly excited about or proud of?
JH: I was commissioned to make three huge 3-metre-high ladies for a Disney production. It’s a children’s program called Evermore and is due to air this autumn. Two of them were burnt as part of the plot! I did know this was going to happen when I made them. Luckily one still exists and now lives at Arley Hall where the filming took place.
I exhibited in the craft shop at The Royal Exchange theatre in Manchester. I was awarded it whilst selling at the Great Northern Contemporary craft fair. It was a privilege to exhibit in such a beautiful building and have my work on show to a diverse and wide audience.
TSOTA: What’s the longest you’ve spent doing a piece – what was it and why was it difficult or time-consuming?
JH: I have never really spent more than a week on something. I made a huge beehive in a tree for Tameside council and that took 5 days. The most difficult aspect of the work was the fact it was high up and I had to use scaffolding. The weather wasn’t wonderful that week and I kept feeling seasick when the tree moved in the wind. The willow I used was huge and I had to keep getting off the scaffold to stand back and have a look at the sculpture then back up to work. It certainly kept me fit.
TSOTA: Your animal sculptures are so expressive and lifelike. How do you get them to be so expressive? Do you work from photographs of animals, moving images or study them in the flesh?
JH: People ask me this all the time and I’m afraid I say I don’t really know! It just happens. I download pictures of the subject viewed from different angles and then just go for it! Sometimes I will do a small sketch but not very often. I work quite quickly and get frustrated if I don’t just get stuck in. The sculptures always evolve. I have a rough idea of the final look of a sculpture but usually something about the finished piece surprises me.
‘Stag’ © Juliette Hamilton
TSOTA: What kind of pieces seem to be the most popular in terms of what people commission?
JH: Stag’s heads and hares are very popular. I currently have a run on orders for life-size stags, but I think that is because we are coming up to Christmas. Luckily I get a huge and interesting range of requests from bats to elephants!
TSOTA: You now run weaving courses, which is the way that you were introduced to the art form yourself – do you get satisfaction from sharing the skill with others?
JH: I love teaching others. What I find so enjoyable is when the students don’t believe they can do it in the morning and then are really proud of what they have made in the afternoon. The most important aspect of each course is that people enjoy it. I do push them quite hard but I feel that this makes them go home with more than they expected.
TSOTA: How is your lifestyle now different to when you were working in textile design or soft furnishings?
JH: I am busier than I have ever been. It’s similar to the soft furnishings in that it’s my own business but the willow allows me to be more diverse. I can teach it, sell at markets and do exhibitions as well as working at home. I come into contact with more people in this career which is great. I would go a bit crazy if I was just at home on my own all the time. I have built up relationships with lots of different groups and individuals who I regularly work with and I find that a very enjoyable part of my career. The fact that I can go to a festival like Glastonbury with this line of work is something I could never have imagined happening and it’s definitely a perk!
TSOTA: Do you have any long term plans or aspirations for your work and career?
JH: Everything has just happened so fast and with no real plan so far, I just feel I am going with the flow! I think the most important thing for me is to somehow find that elusive balance that everyone longs for! I am not very good at saying no to anything, which just makes me incredibly busy. I guess I’ll just keep going and see what happens.
‘All I Want for Christmas’ – Craft Centre and Design Gallery Leeds
Juliette comes to Leeds this Christmas to, alongside other designers and makers, offer up some stunning pieces to help us beautifully navigate the season of giving. All I Want for Christmas will run from November 1st – January 10th.
Juliette’s sculpture as part of the garden Safe from Harm at the 2014 RHS Flower Show Tatton Park.
(The garden, which was created to raise awareness of the NSPCC’s Now I Know Appeal was awarded Silver Gilt and won Best Show Garden from the People’s Choice Award.)