Known for her intricate mixed media collage pieces, an eye-catching gallery of Emily’s work can be seen on display at the Plane Tree in Beeston. They really need to be examined close up to appreciate the work that goes into each unique piece.

Hand drawn onto slices of waste, recycled or reclaimed wood, she sketches her nature inspired designs in pencil, then black or brown ink and then fills in the space with tiny paper pieces, a bit like a collage version of a paint-by-numbers. Emily confessed that she uses Poundland budget glue sticks for her collages – “they stick better than Pritt”! For tiny details she will use UHU on a cocktail stick. She uses recycled materials as used as much as possible.  Her pieces are often embellished with buttons and shells and occasionally a bit of sparkle – and I love the way that the waney edges of the bark act as a kind of frame.

I was lucky enough to be able to catch up with Emily in her Long Eaton studio this summer, and chat to her about her how an ex-teacher, who evolved into her current role of 20 years as a Special Educational Needs (SEN) Officer, got involved with running a creative business.

“Doodling!” Emily tells me.

As someone who has been creating all her life really, she recognised that doodling in staff meetings was a great way of helping her to stay focused and remember things. It’s also how she produced some of her first works. Out of a drawer she pulls out a pile of large, collaged pieces from the start of her Pebblepig journey back in autumn 2013, to show me. The large ‘lollipop’ tree was one of the first mixed media pieces that she created.

Leafing carefully through them, I am struck with the bold use of colour that Emily uses to create her pieces, she tells me that she uses acrylic inks which retain their intensity unlike traditional watercolour paints. The washed backgrounds compliment the range of shades of each colour that she uses to build up her image. The top one of a tree is a perfect example of where her doodling can lead and the first collage of its kind.

Emily was born in Derby and spent the first eight months of her life in Long Eaton, until her parents bought a house in Fellows Road in Beeston where she lived until she left for university, so she is very much a Beeston girl.

Homework was high priority in Emily’s household. Her parents didn’t like the idea of her hanging out on the streets or at youth clubs, so she had to find something else to occupy her time. Young Emily would practice the piano and flute (latterly saxophone), spend her time buried in a book or listening to Radio 4. But she also discovered she had a talent for artwork and making things. This was something that others around her noticed and before long she was asked to paint a mural on a wall at her local Girl Guides Club when she was 15. Emily is relieved that the building has since been demolished.

Emily is generous with her time. She took the time to show me some of her earlier mini collages on wood. Her father-in-law, a gardener, tree  pruner and woodturner, saves her the off cuts of wood that he can’t/hasn’t got the time to use. Initially these were just the slices from the end of seasoned logs intended for wood-turning projects, but now he slices his ‘good wood’ intended for wood turning, into rustic canvasses that are just perfect for a Pebblepig piece, some circular, some rectangular. Wherever possible the bark or some of the bark is left on. She digs out some that have natural flaws and irregularities that sometimes determine how she fills the space.

They are incredibly tactile. I enjoy running my fingers over the wavy bark and picking out the individual details in each perfectly executed tiny landscape. Embellished with intense green moss, craft embellishments, beads buttons and sometimes glitter, they are multi-sensory as well as mixed media. She mentioned some of the commissions she has completed for friends, using shells they have collected from special holidays, scenes of people’s favourite places and specifically requested plants and flowers. Some pieces have further interest added, with holes drilled out to make them ideal for hanging in a window and visually connecting the indoor landscape with the garden-scape outside. These pieces are generally made from usually decking offcuts.

I was excited to be invited into Emily’s garden studio. It’s a modern container type structure (Cabinmaster), all clean lines with lots of natural light. My eager eyes are greeted immediately with racks of resources – ‘sweet’ jars of ribbons and pom-poms, coloured cubes of fabric and paper interspersed with drawers and cardboard folders of magazine pages and various other creative materials, many of which are recycled. Her cork board is like a ‘live’ Pinterest board. It is a work of art in itself! Emily’s Chihuahua Tinker, has a bed made out of a small vintage suitcase.

She tells me that it has always been important for her to make time for creativity. The perfect way to unwind after a busy working week, she uses the weekend to craft but also tries to fit some in the week where she can. Since leaving teaching in 2004 she has divided her time between a full time and challenging career, bringing up her son Albert (now nearly 17) and her creating. Since Covid, home working has given her more time to create as travel-to-and-from-work time has been saved.

Emily is passionate about Special Educational Needs (SEN) and it shows. We swap stories from the last two decades of our involvement with working in mainstream schools with young people who have additional needs and I identify fully with her reasons for leaving the ‘hamster wheel’ of the teaching profession. I also discover that we were studying in Manchester at the same time, although qualified as teachers at different times and in different cities.

Emily’s inspiration comes from a variety of sources and develops organically as ideas form in her creative brain. Her earlier explorations in art included lino printing and she pulls a familiar book of prints by Angie Lewin off her shelf to share with me. I am impressed with the extent of her resources and how well organised they are. I might just have had a bit of studio envy. 

She also talks about a class she did with Derbyshire artist, Helen Hallows. Helen is famous for her mixed media landscapes, which grew out of her earlier textile-based work. This session set Emily on her own distinct path creating mini landscapes, originally making art for herself, never intending it to be grown into a business. This is the piece of work she created in that workshop.

Over the years, Emily has incorporated many new ideas into her work. Her latest idea is to add stitching into her small paper collages to add extra detail. She keeps a scrapbook of ‘plants, animals, places and the artwork of others’ for inspiration and which she enjoys flicking through and doodling into.

Emily has enjoyed running workshops and presenting at craft fairs in the past but has no plans to run any in the near future as she is recovering from breast cancer. Whilst she hopes to return to this again, she has started the ball rolling on opening an Etsy shop to make accessing her vast collection of completed work for sale that much easier. Look for her as ‘Pebblepig’.

It perhaps would also not surprise you to learn that her husband is also a maker. Under the name of Bearded Moon. Simon’s delicate wooden jewellery pieces are also inspired by nature. You will find  tiny bees, birds and flowers on display at the Plane Tree too – the colour and details are fantastic. He also has an Etsy shop under Bearded Moon.

And finally, I ask Emily “Why ‘Pebblepig’?”

More than 20 years ago, on a short break in Southwold, Suffolk, Emily came across some entrepreneurial young children at the side of the coastal path who had painted pebbles with pictures in their unique childish style for sale (pennies) probably for ice-cream money. This was long before painting pebbles was a ‘thing’. She bought one of a pig. Later on, her love of pebbles and pigs led her to name her business after them.

She still has the pebble and it is very precious to her and is what inspired inspired the ‘naive’ pig logo.

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