we are delighted to be joined by Wigan Open Exhibition winner - Sarah Earnshaw.

It's not often we get to learn about the artists behind the work, so why don’t we start off by introducing yourself to our readers?

I grew up in Swinton in Manchester and still live there to this day. I studied at Salford City College, Pendleton Centre. I started off at College doing A-Levels in English and Film Studies because I was not very confident in my artwork, but the thought of doing either of these subjects at University scared me! So I stayed on for a third year to do a Foundation course in Art and Design, where I re-fell in love with art. I then went on to do a Fine Art Degree at Blackburn College, where I ended up with a First Class Lancaster University degree. I think achieving a First degree will stay as one of my biggest achievements in my life.

Tell us a little bit about your previous work?

I am a figurative artist and I specialise in both drawing and embroidery. I have always enjoyed sewing but until my degree I had never associated it with my professional work. I have been graduated from University for a year now, and I was lucky enough to be part of an art festival run by Super Slow Way called “Fabrications”, a few months after I graduated. I displayed my degree work and some new embroideries that I had completed. This was really exciting for me as it was my first solo exhibition and helped boost my confidence especially since I was experiencing the graduation blues!

What influences or who influences your work?

On my degree I discovered what really inspires me to make my artwork, and that was my family and childhood. I began to develop my practice around the theme of memory, specifically linking to my childhood and the home environment. This lead me to use embroidery as a medium because the thread makes the end product appear fuzzy, hazy and soft in definition, much like the characteristics of a memory. After my degree I moved on to look at my Grandparents. I focused on my paternal Grandfather as we were sorting through his old photographs and they really inspired me to create artwork from them.

My favourite artist is Rex Whistler. I first saw his work at the house at Plas Newydd, owned by the National Trust. I had previously heard of him and touched on some of his work on my degree, but seeing his work in the flesh made me fall in love with it. I particularly liked his work focusing on Lady Caroline Paget. It turned out that Rex Whistler was in love with her but it was unrequited. The National Trust had many of his love letters to her on display which were fascinating yet heartbreaking to read. You could really see the adoration he had for her in the many paintings he completed of Lady Caroline Paget. He inspired me to forge my own feeling and intention into my own work.

Do you have any upcoming projects or things you would like to do?

At the moment I am working on an embroidered commission which will take me into the New Year. After that, I have a long list of ideas for new work, both coloured pencil drawings and embroideries. I am hoping to continue with offering commissions and will be continuing to enter competitions and open calls. My favourite part about being an artist is having the chance to exhibit my work. I love attending exhibitions and seeing my work in a gallery environment as it feels like the completion of a piece of work. I am also interested in running workshops, and I would like to pursue this in 2019!

What are your views on the art scene in Wigan?

I am relatively new to the Wigan Art scene, and I’m so glad I discovered The Old Courts as it’s a fantastic venue and gallery. I enjoy seeing how towns such as Wigan and Blackburn are really embracing art and pushing it to the forefront by making it inclusive for all ages and types of people. It’s a breath of fresh air compared to the somewhat stuffy and elitist atmosphere you can get in London and Manchester art scenes, although I do love a visit to the Tate and other London galleries.

What is your fondest memory of The Old Courts?

I have never been to The Old Courts before the Wigan Open Exhibition, but Wigan itself is an undiscovered part of my past, as my maternal Grandfather grew up there with his family. I will definitely be returning to The Old Courts for future exhibition and events!

What does it mean for you to win our first Wigan Open Exhibition?

I am so proud and grateful to win the exhibition! I am still in shock that I won out of all the entrants. I feel privileged that my work was selected out of so many amazing pieces. I feel like this win came at a really good time for me, as I was beginning to lack confidence in my work, and the fact I had been chosen to be in the exhibition was like a win in itself for me, so getting first prize was like the icing on the cake! I also have the honour of being the first person to win it which is really exciting!

Tell us about the winning piece of work?

The winning artwork is the second piece in a collection of three embroidered portraits of my Grandpa. I became interested in my paternal Grandfather’s image after sorting through his old photographs. I became fascinated by the family resemblance and in my Grandfather’s image I could see my father, my brother and also myself. The image that this work is based on is one of three passport photos that I found among his photographs. A lot of the photographs were very small, but these three were by far the smallest, and I was inspired to enlarge the images to make this artwork. The original photographs date back to 1932 and although the quality is quite clear, the details are not as vivid as digital photographs would be today. The crosshatching thread work that I use does not allow for a great amount of intricate detail as you would expect from a pencil drawing or painting. Both these aspects from the photograph and the technique lend itself to the idea of memory and also the age of the subject image. From a distance my work appears to be a painting, but on closer inspection it is obvious that they are in fact thread on fabric. I feel that the embroidered technique gives my portraiture a different dimension than a painting or drawing, and I am fascinated with how the thread seems to blend and layer just like coloured pencil or paint. Each piece of this collection took me about two weeks to embroider. My embroideries are very time consuming but I love the end result!

Do you have any advice for other artists?

I think it’s really important to experiment with new ideas and techniques, and to challenge yourself in order to grow as an artist and to improve your work. When you push yourself out of your comfort zone it can produce some of your best work. Another piece of advice, specifically for students, would be to stick to whatever you are passionate about within your artwork. It’s very easy to be led by tutors, either at college or university, who try to mould your work into what they think constitutes as good artwork; my advice would be to take on board what they have said but to stay true to your own style and work.

Are you exhibiting anywhere else either now or in the near future where people can see your amazing work?

I don’t have any exhibitions planned at the moment, but I am going to continue to enter competitions and open calls with new artwork.

We would like to congratulate Sarah Earnshaw on winning The Wigan Open Exhibition and look forward to working with Sarah in the future. We would also like to thank you for reading our Sit Down Sunday interviews. On behalf of The Old Courts we would like to wish you a very happy new year! See you in 2019.