Karen Blake from WESTON ARTSPACE

Hi Karen,

Welcome to Humans of Weston. We are delighted to have you here, so let’s get to know you better…

Firstly tell us a bit about yourself in a sentence or two… 

I’m Karen, and I’m a visual artist, community arts producer and sea swimmer living and raising my family in Weston-super-Mare. I’m also part of the team that helps manage Weston Artspace, a community arts studio in an empty shop on the High Street in Weston.  

Now a few questions: 

How would you describe your art?   

I definitely don’t find enough time to do it! I make mixed media canvases when I do find the time, using lots of texture, collage, and sculptural elements.  

Weston Artspace 73 High Street, Weston-super-Mare

Was art a deliberate career choice?   

Definitely not. I graduated with a degree in Arts Therapies in 2000, then spent many years on a rambling career path with jobs ranging from: care work with adults with learning disabilities, Speech Therapy, Admin and a brief stint running my own gardening business. I’d sold my artwork at various exhibitions, but had no desire to make this my main job as commissions usually meant I was making work that didn’t really inspire me and I was losing a bit of myself in making it. 

After Terrestrial [a Bristol based organisation who came to Weston in 2018 and helped to set up Weston Artspace] took a punt on me and helped me to develop my skills producing socially engaged arts projects, I finally realised at the grand old age of 43 that making art and helping others access the arts could be a viable career choice.  

What does your art say about you?   

Hard question! I used to make art and worry about what other people thought of it, now I have learnt that the most important thing is to make art that I like and that fulfils me. If people like it then that’s great, if not, that is also fine! My art is my creative outlet, and if it inspires others, that’s the best feeling.        

Karen giving her Daughter the outlet and the inspiration to be creative

What brought you to Weston? 

I moved to Weston when I was five. I tried to escape a few times as an adult, but due to circumstance and family stuff I never quite managed it. However, my perspective on the place changed when I had kids and saw the town through their eyes. They are always so excited by our large expanse of beach and paddling in the sea, they love all the wide open spaces we are so lucky to have here and we were surrounded by friends and family. I fell back in love with my town, and all the amazing creative energy that is bubbling here right now makes me not want to be anywhere else right now.  

How has Weston been a part of your creativity? 

I am inspired by the landscapes here, the amazing sunsets we get over the sea, the beauty of the woods when I walk through them with nothing for company but my thoughts… I find it all too easy to get caught up in life and I always feel busy but taking time out in the beautiful and sometimes hidden parts of our town reminds me that the world can be a really lovely place. It is important to be in the moment and let my thoughts wonder every so often, which often sparks my creativity and sets new ideas in motion. Weston always provides an inspiring backdrop to my musings! 

Getting creative at a nearby festival

Where are your favourite places in Weston to seek out inspiration?  

Definitely Weston Artspace. I’ve worked in shared studios and creative communities in the past, and joining the space made me realise how much I have missed that aspect of working alongside other artists. The best part of Weston Artspace is that it’s not just visual artists who work here, we have writers, photographers, theatre makers, graphic designers, musicians, producers and lots more. I have found that my work has often gone off in directions I haven’t anticipated by being inspired by other creative disciplines. It’s a really inspiring place and community to be part of. 

Has anyone in Weston supported or influenced you?  

So many people it is hard to name only a few! Anna Southwell from Loves Café has always been a great supporter of the arts in the town and we’ve worked together on lots of creative projects over the years and become firm friends. 

I am lucky to call Paula Birtwistle one of my closest friends too, she is an amazing woman who inspires me so much with her skill and enthusiasm, as well as being a sounding board and occasional agony aunt when life in the world of community producing gets difficult. 

Megan Clarke-Bagnall is a socially engaged artist who I got to know and love through my work with Terrestrial. I find her ability to connect with all sorts of different people and inject the fun into her work endlessly inspiring. 

Tom Spencer from Terrestrial was just the best mentor I could have wished for and I learned so much and gained so much confidence working alongside him. Fiona Matthews and the Culture Weston team have been hugely supportive of Artspace over the last year and share our vision for making the arts accessible to all. 

Lastly, there are too many people to mention individually, but the creative community of Weston Artspace is incredibly inspiring, and it would be nothing without the rest of the volunteer team who keep the place running and welcoming.  

Find some of Karen’s supporters on Instagram

What advice would you give to young artists in the town? 

Join Weston Artspace, we need you! Don’t let anyone tell you that the arts is not a viable career choice, of course you need to knock on lots of doors and you’ll undoubtedly experience rejection, but keep persevering. Be open to exploring new techniques, disciplines and media as this can lead you into unexpected and interesting places. 

Don’t feel you have to give your art away for ‘exposure’. Artists should be valued just as much as any other professional, and the work you are making matters. If it feels tough, or you don’t have inspiration or are experiencing creative blocks, be gentle with yourself but keep going. I’ve lost track of the number of times I haven’t painted for months or can’t think of anything ‘good’ to do. The creative flow always comes back in the end.  

What are you creating at the moment, or what is next? 

I am going to be busy for the next 6 months with producing some of the projects for Weston Artspace, after that, who knows? It feels like the end of 2021 is going to be time for me to focus on myself and my own art practice more than I have been of late and being surrounded by inspiring socially engaged artists makes me want to move in that direction too. Whatever happens though, I hope it will involve an easel, canvas, paint and quiet time in a studio to be creative.