How I Create: Adam Pritchett, textile artist
Adam Pritchett is a textile artist who specialises in hand embroidery. After studying fine arts at university, Adam discovered his fascination with the art form a year or so after graduating, while working full-time and in need of a creative outlet. Over the next few years, he learned as many different embroidery stitches as he could, by piecing together knowledge from charity shop books and online tutorials. With lots of practice, he slowly developed his skills.
Today, Adam spends much of his spare time sewing, creating self-initiated pieces that he often sells on Etsy, as well as taking on commissions. His work focuses around botanical and entomological themes, with some myth and magic thrown in for good measure.
Here, he discusses being a self-taught artist, juggling his embroidery work alongside a full-time job, dealing with the social media comparison trap, and more.
1. Can you tell us a bit about your background and story so far. How did you get started as a textile artist?
I studied fine arts at university and often struggled with some of the more conceptual aspects of the course. I always seemed to gravitate towards working with fabric in one way or another, even very early on in my work.
I only discovered my fascination with hand embroidery a year or so after graduating; I was in a bit of a creative funk, no longer being in a creative environment and having to work full time I needed a new channel for my energy. So I set myself a little challenge to try to learn as many embroidery stitches as I could, and try something new, and I was hooked.
2. You mentioned that you’re self-taught as an embroiderer, what sparked the decision to develop this skill and what did this journey look like?
Once I began to learn some of the different stitches that I’d found in online tutorials and very old charity shop books, I just needed to learn more and develop my skill at it.
I’ve always had an interest in textiles in other forms, like knitting and weaving, so embroidery just seemed to be another that really captured my curiosity. It's a very slow type of art to make, and although it may be relatively straightforward to learn, takes a great deal of time and practice to perfect. It’s taken me around three or four years from first learning, to now.
3. What does your creative process look like and what tools and materials do you tend to use for your work?
Typically, I sketch out a composition for an embroidery that I have in mind, to see what might work and if an idea perhaps won’t translate how I first imagined. Then I sketch the design again directly onto my chosen fabric using an air erasable pen, which disappears over a number of hours, or with water. A design can develop further as the embroidery takes shape; I think the nature of it being a slow art form is that you have time to ruminate over a piece as it is coming together. I generally work with DMC stranded cotton threads, and the types of needles I use varies quite a lot depending on the kind of texture/volume that I’m trying to achieve in the sewing.
"The nature of [embroidery] being a slow art form is that you have time to ruminate over a piece as it is coming together."
4. What’s it like balancing your embroidery work and business alongside a full-time job? What does a typical day or week look like for you?
It can be really challenging to juggle a full-time job and work as an artist. I don’t think there’s a set way that you should manage both; if there is I’d appreciate the tip! It varies greatly what a working week may look like. My full-time job is thankfully fairly flexible, so I usually work 8am until 4pm, Monday to Friday, giving me the rest of the weekday to fit in some sewing as I can. This does often mean that I’m working on and off on some embroidery until around 11pm or 12pm. I'm very much a night owl, and feel at my most productive during the late hours.
I try to set aside some time to relax at weekends, which for me often involves long walks on the hills of the Lake District, where I live. Like most creative folks I know, the weekends still somehow end up involving at least some making, restless hands and all that!
5. What sort of projects does your embroidery and sewing encompass? How do you decide what to focus on each week?
Generally I tend to work mostly on personal projects, self-initiated work that often once it’s finished gets listed on my Etsy store for sale. I do take commissions when they come, it’s rare that I don’t have time to fit one in; other than that I try to just work on deadline basis, the most urgent pieces to be finished first, and that works for me at the moment. I’d love to work on more commercial projects in the future like embroidery for costumes, or other clothing as that’s something that really excites me, it’s just connecting with the right people to make that happen.
6. How would you describe your work and style and what advice would you give to a fellow creative who’s struggling to develop their own?
I would say that my work mostly focuses around botanical themes: plants, flowers, nature, with a leaning to entomological subjects, lots of bugs and spiders. With some magic and myth thrown in too.
This can be a really tricky subject, particularly within embroidery, as much of the art is dominated by DIY/crafts circles, which is great getting more people involved, but the negative side of this can be copycats. I think due to so many folks selling patterns and instruction tutorials, I’ve found that some people think that it’s fine to copy one of your unique designs for themselves and it can be a really difficult subject to challenge.
"It's very easy to be your own harshest critic, and only see inadequacies rather than the great things that you’ve accomplished."
In terms of developing a style of your own, I found this difficult at first, the best way to find your style is to stitch subjects/images that you find interesting and that you want to interpret and just keep working on those subjects. My spiders are my most successful pieces, and I began them completely by accident playing around with fabric, and they continued to grow and change over the last few years. Experiment and have fun with it!
7. What’s the most valuable lesson you’ve learned about your creative process so far?
You can’t force it. If you're having a rough time coming up with a concept, or making a composition work, leave that piece for as long as you can and come back to it. I find that keeping a list of subjects that you'd like to make something of is really useful when an idea strikes, and then when you're having a bit of block you can just sit and look through your list to a day when making art wasn’t a struggle.
8. What doubts or fears have you faced as a creative and how have/do you overcome them?
Being a creative person at a time when people are so connected by the internet and social media apps, it can be all too easy to compare where you are in your career with others that you see through a screen. I know that I’m all too guilty of comparing myself with the success that I see peers achieving, and feeling like I’m not working hard enough, or good enough to be in the same position. That is an ongoing thing I work on all the time; it’s not easy. What is very easy, is to be your own harshest critic, and only see inadequacies rather than the great things that you’ve accomplished.
"Due to so many folks selling patterns and instruction tutorials, I’ve found that some people think that it’s fine to copy one of your unique designs for themselves and it can be a really difficult subject to challenge."
Self comparison and criticism is certainly my biggest fear and challenge, and honestly I never fully overcome it. You just have to try to keeping working on the things that you want to make, and exercise self-care when you need to. I imagine that it’s very different for everyone!
10. What’s been your proudest achievement so far?
Being asked to work on commissions for wedding anniversaries and really personal pieces of art always feels like such a proud moment that is so wonderful. But I think my proudest achievement is probably working on a piece of work as part of Kirsty Allsopp’s Handmade Christmas last year; it was just such an exciting thing to be involved in a creative program like that, and very surreal to see yourself on TV afterwards!
11. What’s the biggest challenge you’ve faced in business so far?
The biggest challenge I would have to say is managing a full-time job, and all of the dozens of embroidery projects that I would love to be working on instead. It can be so hard to keep motivated to make art when you’re tired and stressed from a day job, and you only have the evening to work on the things you really want to work on.
12. What are your top tips for an artist who's looking to start selling their work alongside a full-time job?
Keeping track of the amount of time you’re spending on each piece of work is so important, particularly if you work late into the night or between other things. It’s so easy to lose track, and then when it comes to pricing for your work, you’re underselling your time and your work.
13. If you could go back in time and give your younger self one piece of advice, what would it be?
Try not to compare your work to other people, and don’t stress so much about finding a style, let it develop on its own. Oh, and buy an embroidery hoop stand immediately, your back will thank you in the future!
14. And finally, what does the end of 2017 and beyond hold for you and your business?
I've just finished my Stitchtober project (see above), making a small embroidery every day for the month of October, and I have some exciting commissions coming up for the end of the year. Past that, I really hope to start working on some costume/fashion embroidery soon, so that’s an avenue of work that I’m looking to explore next.
Images by Adam Pritchett