A Q&A with Nichola McGuire of Eclectic Gift

Following on from yesterday’s post, and celebrating the launch of my new greeting cards, we are joined today on the KNITSONIK blog by Nichola McGuire of Eclectic Gift. This post discusses mental health issues openly and is dedicated to anyone else who – like me, like Nichola – needs support in this area. All images © Nichola McGuire of Eclectic Gift and used with kind permission.

Thanks so much for agreeing to join us on the KNITSONIK blog today, Nichola. First of all, could you say a little bit about your work and your business, Eclectic Gift?

Nichola McGuire - a smiling black lady wears bright red tights and co-ordinated hair bow; she smiles confidently ahead

Hi I’m Nichola (of course!) and my work was born out of my need to find a way to express my feelings and have an escape where I could truly just be myself. As a teenager I loved to draw but I suffered badly with low self esteem. I decided at some point that I wasn’t any good, and I just stopped. I didn’t pick up a pencil to really draw again until I was having therapy for severe depression and anxiety as an adult. I realised it was the perfect vessel to transport my innermost feelings out into the world around me… my images also helped conversations with my therapist.

Once I began to draw and started to feel the relief and release of putting my feelings into pieces of art, I realised that I could also draw things that brought me joy or happiness. That started when I wanted a picture of a ballerina for my little girls and couldn’t find one that looked like them. I started to think about myself as a young girl, and how I never had a toy, piece of artwork or book that had a person who looked like me in it and how low my self esteem was. I decided to draw a ballerina just for my daughters and their reaction and the reaction from friends and family was amazing.

A black girl wears a traditional ballet outfit in soft, pretty pinks, and is surrounded by a cascade of glitter. She stands delicately and happily, with her arms out, as if making - or granting - wishes

People started to ask if I was selling my artwork. I thought they were crazy but here I am trying to carve out a little section in the world of art for Eclectic Gift: Etsy shop | Electicgift.co.uk

That lack of representation is something you are directly changing. There’s an atmosphere of joy and uplift running through your work. You’ve sort of answered this already but, when you speak about your daughters, I wonder if part of your creative motivation is a wish for them to grow up with the positive, affirmative images that were missing when you were young? I’m thinking about the rucksacks you had printed with your artwork for your daughters… and your amazing range of superhero greeting cards…

Two black girls on the bus, each wearing a rucksack featuring positive, uplifting representations of black women. One is a ballet dancer, the other is a superhero; these are Nichola's designs, printed onto schoolbags

Definitely. I was drawing when my son, who is now 20, was growing up. However, no matter the feelings I had regarding my lack of worth, I instilled a sense of pride, worth and belief in him and I envy his determination and self belief and that which my daughters have also. I think I overcompensated, not wanting them to experience what I have experienced, and my artwork became part of the systematic, positive reinforcement that is the foundation of their upbringing.

A black superHERo - a girl with a natural black hairstyle stands with cloak billowing, superHERo outfit on, and a background featuring a joyful golden crown and lines of energy radiating outward

One of the things I love about your work is the prominent roles that female friendship and sisterhood play; I wondered if you could say a bit about what friendship means to you when it comes to well-being?

It’s about connection; empathy; compassion and understanding. I’m lucky that my close friends allow me the space to say that I’m not well or that I don’t feel like getting out of bed without judgement or expectation. I used to feel like unless I was catatonic, rocking in a fetal position, bawling or inconsolable that nobody could believe how bad a place I was in. I’d wonder how I could get help or support if I looked and behaved like I was “normal”. It’s the understanding and space that my people give me to “do me” and just be how I need to be. That help me to feel supported and able to speak to them openly. Some days I feel like I cannot get out of bed and I’ll be very matter of fact about it. No hysterics. No crying. No fuss. But that doesn’t mean it’s not really shit and my people are there to encourage and support me and more often than not…I get up. So, to my people, thank you.

Squad goals - a group of black women wearing beautiful, brightly-coloured outfits stand in line, looking forward with an air of friendship, strength and support

What you’re saying resonates so strongly – I think very often mental health conditions like Depression and Anxiety are associated with certain types of outward presentation such as you describe: rocking in the fetal position; crying; hysteria; fuss. Yet, speaking from my own experiences – like you say – the bottom of the world dropping away can be weirdly undramatic, silent and interior. We just can’t know what is going on with anyone from how they appear outwardly. This is why it’s so important to speak openly about mental health and also to represent it, as you do with such honesty in your work. Addressing this is obviously key to your practice – what else is important to you as an artist?

Truth. I only draw what I connect with; feel something from; am inspired by; or which sparks my interest. For me that is most often falls into two brackets which are representing women of colour and representing mental health awareness. Sometimes I am just blending colours and doodling and something just appears on which I build but ultimately I hope to convey kindness, solidarity, sisterhood, empowerment and love.

I’ve had so many people offer ideas for “gimmicks” or “money makers” but I just can’t do it. If I’m not loving it then I’m not drawing it! Every piece I’ve drawn has a story, a journey, a meaning or both. Drawing is my release, my pleasure, my insides turning out. What you see on the paper is me!

As I am - an honest and sincere portrait of a black woman sitting in her underwear and represented honestly and in a mode of total self-acceptance. She looks down towards her body, her hair is worn naturally; the curves and bumps of her body are presented with celebratory and respectful honesty; she looks inward and down, appreciating herself on her own terms

YES YOU CAN! A young black woman holds up, and points to, a glorious card in which a stylishly dressed black woman wearing smart black clothes and a jaunty beret points authoritatively to the words YES YOU CAN

It means a lot to me that you have brought so much authenticity to your beautiful designs for my KNITSONIK cards; thank you so much. Of the amazing illustrationg you have produced, do you have a favourite? And, if so, why?

This is very difficult as there are aspects of each that have a piece of my heart. I think I have to say that the Missy Elliot piece is my favourite. When I look at it I feel as though I can hear the music and feel the rhythmic movement I was trying to create. I spent a long time creating the stitches for the dancer’s jumper and, although from a distance you probably cannot tell, I worked very hard to make the movement in the wool look as real and natural as possible. When I look at that piece I actually spend a lot of time zooming in on the stitches, haha!

A black woman wears a sweater with motifs on it that celebrate Missy Elliott's music, with the words SUPA DUPA FLY in the background, against the pink

I love this design as well – it reminds me of my friend Madeleine who has been encouraging and helping me to write up the pattern, and who bravely danced in it at Woollinn Yarn Festival this year – I say bravely, because that is thick, 100% wool, stranded colourwork fabric and dancing to the energetic beats of an iconic Missy Elliott track in that much wool can easily lead to over-heating! I confess I have zoomed in on the stitches several times too, in order to admire your work. I feel like each stitch you have drawn is the illustrated equivalent of each one I have knitted.

One element of this commission was to try and show the relationship between a knitter and their environment; could you say a bit about how you created the “world” each knitter is in? And what inspired your ideas for each one?

I felt that it was very important to listen to you and read your blog posts and articles and study the reference photos until I felt a sense of connection. The first one I did was Bricktastic and that’s the one I found hardest as I was very concerned about being able to bring your idea to life.

A black woman with an upright posture, a natural afro-hairstyle and a nice knitting bag filled with brick-coloured yarns strides along a street lined with highly-patterned brick walls and a sleeping black and white cat, who is curled up on a window sill

It took me a while to believe in myself and to work instinctively – which is where I thrive – rather than working very literally. So the ideas for each piece came from your words and images but I felt like I was imagining myself within the world of each idea. The expressions on the subjects’ faces represent the feelings I had while creating them and which rise in me when I look at them.

I love that and am particularly thrilled with the joy on the face of the girl listening through the EDIROL R-09 digital sound recording device (she just looks as happy as I feel when I am recording everyday sounds in the world around me) and the contented smile of the polka-dot knitter, who is scooped up in the perfect knitting chair and just enjoying her knitting in the way I hope all crafters can enjoy our work.

Your creative process for the bricks design was so interesting. Could you say a bit about the process of developing that design? Just to add that our cat – Joey Muffkins – is honoured to be part of it!

Ha! Hello Joey! The bricks were created in a way that I’d assume people would find boring but which I found very therapeutic. I started by mixing colours to create a space with naturally different tones. I then used different brushes to create texture and depth. Then I made slight differences in colours in order to have lots of bricks with similar colours but different enough amongst themselves to seem real. Then I built the wall one brick at a time, being careful to follow pattern rules all the way through. I’d show people who’d look at me and say “err…nice wall”, haha! They don’t understand how long the wall took!

This piece came directly from the cowl. The colours, tones and warmth were built from looking at it and drawing it in the same colour pattern and same stitches so that I almost felt as though I’d made one myself.

Drawn, hand-knitted stitches, in the shape of a hand-knitted cowl

Drawn, hand-knitted stitches, in the shape of a hand-knitted cowl, duplicated and filled with carefully-considered shades of brick colours

Drawn, hand-knitted stitches, in the shape of a hand-knitted cowl, duplicated and filled with carefully-considered shades of brick colours; the evolutions of the idea are shown clearly in the drawing

It’s so interesting to hear your process and it’s been my experience too that, although at first it seems boring (brick walls, really?), the process of paying attention to something solid and commonplace can be, in and of itself, incredibly therapeutic. People often look at my knitting based on brick walls and at my extensive photos of, urm, bricks!!! and say – just like they did to you – “err…nice wall!” so that’s something we share, now. I’m not sure people realise how long it take to knit bricks, either.

Thank you so much for sharing your process and the context for your work so generously with us. Finally – and most importantly! – where can my readers find more examples of your amazing work?

I have a website http://www.eclecticgift.co.uk. But honestly my kids keep expecting to be fed and looked after so I don’t get to update it too often. For more regular updates please come and follow me on Instagram @eclecticgift or treat yourself to some goodies from my Etsy shop. You can also follow my hashtag #eclecticgiftarttherapy and if you’re sharing an image online where I have talked about mental health in some way, you can tag your share as well.

It’s been a massive privilege to work with you on this and I am humbled to see some of my KNITSONIK ideas reframed through your creative vision; thank you for being willing to explore my knitting concepts in your beautiful illustration work, and for your generosity in collaboration.

Thank you for believing in me and giving me the space and time to create these pieces for you x

A collection of greeting cards by Eclectic Gift for KNITSONIK, arranged with their colour co-ordinated envelopes

Really hope you have enjoyed this Q&A and getting an insight into the creative world of Nichola McGuire. You can find the Eclectic Gift x KNITSONIK greeting cards in my online shop here; they are priced £8.99 and come in sets of five, containing all the designs.

Until soon –

Yours in the joy of collaboration and creativity,

1 thought on “A Q&A with Nichola McGuire of Eclectic Gift

  1. This article is just a treat! Thanks for letting us get to know Nichola and her beautiful work. You two make a beautiful spark!

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