How textile artist Molly Kent weaves mental health into her work
Edinburgh-based textile artist Molly Kent didn’t expect her experiments with weaving to turn into a career – no less while graduating during a pandemic. Having been diagnosed with CPTSD, Molly discovered that her need to create was integral to her mental health, and began exploring themes around wellbeing in her work. Through sharing her pieces online, she’s since landed opportunities through schemes like the Artist Support Pledge, and was one of the first artists invited to join digital platform, newcube. Currently working part-time as a librarian to help support her practice, here, we speak to Molly about facing impostor syndrome, the psychic abilities of water and how lockdown helped her build the confidence to pursue a career as an artist.
Place of Study
MA Fine Art, Edinburgh College of Art (2015-2020)
What I do
How would you describe what you do?
I am a textile artist, working primarily with rug tufting and weaving, and representing mental health within my work. My work explores our contemporary existence regarding social media and internet living, and the effects on our perception of self. I’m very much interested in traditional handmade processes and devoting time and patience to what has become an incredibly therapeutic manner of working.
What are the main influences and inspirations behind your work?
The main driving force behind my work is my personal experience of mental health, as I am essentially recording a visual diary of my experiences.
Currently, my inspiration comes from my lived experience with CPTSD (Complex post-traumatic stress disorder). As a result of anxieties bred by the pandemic and lockdowns, vivid dreams and nightmares have become a common occurrence for me. Particular works respond to these dreams, while others directly record the imagery I’ve seen during these dreams.
I’ve also been looking into symbolism, and referring more to traditional craft products and artefacts regarding narrative creation. Inspiration also comes from the work of others, be it through Instagram or online exhibitions.
What’s been your favourite project to work on, from the past year, and why?
‘Dream Weaving,’ which is a new series I began around January 2021. It’s been both quite scary and liberating to be more vulnerable in my work. It’s taken me a pretty long time to come to terms with my mental health having a massive effect on my sense of self; who I’ve grown to be has been very much shaped by my mental health condition. This series has allowed me to reflect on this, open up, and be honest about where I am in an approachable and realistic way. It’s brought me to a better understanding of who I am.
It was also the project in which I begin working with weaving, something I’d been interested in for years. After only a few months, I’ve very much fallen for the process, having recently purchased a table loom to both increase the potential of my finished works but to also understand some of the more traditional tools.
Hopefully, one day I’ll be in a position to be able to pass on what I’ve learnt to others, keep the love of this beautiful tradition alive and, importantly, emphasise its importance within the world of fine art.
“One day I’ll be in a position to pass on what I’ve learnt and emphasise weaving’s importance within the world of fine art.”
Would you say you need any specific training for what you do?
I wouldn’t say you needed any special training; I suppose it can undoubtedly help, but I’m entirely self-taught in the mediums I work in. There also wasn’t a specialism within the School of Art where textile art was taught or highlighted, so I came to it relatively late in my education.
I think the main traits required are a willingness to learn, perseverance and patience. For me, the most beautiful part of working with textiles is investing hours upon hours into the learning and production of work. A recently completed weave took me 80 hours or so; I didn’t realise how patient I could be until I began working slowly and thoughtfully.
How I got here
You graduated in 2020, can you tell us how the experience has been since then?
Being a COVID graduate has been interesting, to say the least. Graduating during lockdown actually gave me the time and space to focus and work on my practice, in a way I probably wouldn’t have done if I’d graduated in the years prior.
My original intention was to graduate and then try to work in the art centre in museums or galleries. But as the option of employment post-graduation wasn’t really a reality, I realised that it was prime time to concentrate on my practice.
“Graduating during lockdown actually gave me the time and space to focus and work on my practice.”
During this time, I realised how much my mental state actually relies on making artworks. Without textiles and creating rug tuftings and weaving, I wouldn’t have coped as well as I did throughout the post-graduation months. So, this really gave me the drive to try and pursue being a career artist, even if I wasn’t really sure how it would all work.
Since then, pieces have fallen into place, opportunities have thankfully increased and continued – and I’ve created some excellent working relationships and networks. I now see myself feasibly working as a full-time artist within the not so distant future.
If you could pick three things that you’ve found useful or inspiring to your work or career, what would they be and why?
The Instagram accounts of artists Kayla Mattes and Erin Riley have been incredibly inspirational, especially regarding picking up the process of weaving. But also, how they implement tradition into the contemporary, championing weaving and tapestry as being just as crucial as, say, painting within the fine art world.
Recently, Taschen’s The Book of Symbols has become increasingly important to my practice. After a break from making at the end of 2020, I realised that there were elements of symbolism I was unknowingly drawn to that describe or narrate my experience of CPTSD.
For example, I’ve always been drawn to water, the sea and rain; and felt it nicely summarised my experiences with mental health. This book opened up the idea of water being a symbol for psychic depth – which has helped me better summarise particular works and understand why depicting water has always been such a draw for me.
What would you say has been your biggest challenge so far in the industry?
I think my biggest challenge has been myself. The project ‘Doubt in the Digital Age’ had its early beginnings halfway through my degree, where I nearly talked myself into dropping out of university. At the time I felt like I didn’t belong, and that I wasn’t good enough to make it as an artist. There are still days where I can feel like this.
It’s easy to be intimidated by the work of others or the pace at which other careers have moved. Coming from a working class background as well, I didn’t think I would be in a position to pursue being an artist due to the financial insecurity of it all.
So, honestly, I am my own most significant challenge in progressing within the arts industry. This is something I’m actively trying to challenge, but, quite poignantly, doubt wins some days. There are also days when I feel confident that I belong and that my work has value and importance that others will recognise. It’s a war worth fighting.
“There were days where I felt like I wasn’t good enough to make it as an artist. There are also days when I feel confident. It’s a war worth fighting.”
How important would you say social media and self-promotion are to your work?
Honestly, social media has probably been the main driving force behind most of my current opportunities; it’s where institutions and individuals tell me they’ve found my work. While it may have been initially through my online degree show or an award showcase, staying up to date on Instagram and sharing interviews has led to new opportunities.
Without my Instagram and the following I’ve grown, schemes such as the Artist Support Pledge and individuals such as Bibi Zavieh, founder of digital platform, newcube, wouldn’t have found my work and invited me to be one of the first artists to join newcube. So far, this opportunity has been incredible; I didn’t expect to be working with someone with so much experience at such an early point in my career.
“Social media can change your career. It is an essential tool that artists should take advantage of. But that’s not to say it isn’t riddled with problems.”
Social media can change your career. It is an essential tool that artists should take advantage of. But that’s not to say it isn’t riddled with problems. It’s too easy to compare numbers of followers, like counts, number of comments and so on, because of how the platform is formatted. These comparisons can have a negative impact in so many ways.
Personally, I’ve found that my mental health improved whenever I’ve taken a step back from social media – posting only when I feel like it is appropriate, rather than feeling the need to be active daily to improve my engagement. Lately, some of my work has also come to act as a commentary on social media, highlighting the negatives and forcing us to think about how healthy our interactions with social media are.
What have been your greatest learnings with making money and supporting yourself as a creative?
I’m a big advocate for supplementary work to support your practice; I work outside of the art world to survive and pay the bills. Money made from sales of my work is often invested back into future art pieces or projects.
I worked as a part-time librarian in an art and design library throughout my degree. It felt right to continue this work post-graduation. It means I’m not constantly stressed and anxious about the instability of income from my work as an artist.
“I’m a big advocate for supplementary work to support your practice; I work outside of the art world to survive and pay the bills.”
Over the last six months, I haven’t focused on sales; I’ve focussed on developing a new body of work and new processes. So having a part-time salary to fall back on during this period has been vital. Recently, I’ve learnt to not base my career on what sells quickly and easily; the most rewarding work I make is the work that often takes the longest to find the right collector.
In the past, I had created a series of small abstract works that always sold well, but I realised that I wasn’t actually enjoying making them anymore. The importance of ‘Dream Weaving’ has taken my concern and interest. I haven’t sold any work from this series so far, as I contemplate what I want to do with the work.
What’s the best career-related advice you’ve ever received?
Work at your own pace, not at the pace of others. And make the work you want to make, not the work you think others want to see.
It’s vital to make work that is true to you. It’s too easy to feel the need to shift your practice to something more commercial or sellable. If you do work that feels honest and true to you, and using the materials that matter to you, the right audience will come to appreciate and value what you are doing.
It’s essential to do what’s right for you, so if that means taking a break from your practice to work on other aspects of your life, then do that. Don’t feel you’re in a position to apply for opportunities? Wait until you feel confident and ready in your practice to fully engage with an opportunity you’re applying for. But also, don’t let doubt talk you out of applying!
What advice would you give someone looking to do a similar role to you?
If you’re interested in textiles or just being an artist generally, just give it a go. I’ve taught myself all of the textile processes I work in today, and while mistakes happen, you learn from them. Also, I didn’t start making with the expectations of a career to follow. It just evolved naturally, and I think starting without expectations has actually allowed my career to grow far faster than I would’ve ever expected.
Try to reach out to those that inspire you and make connections where possible. Even though social media has its negatives, it gives you the potential to engage with artists worldwide, and sometimes the briefest of conversations can leave a lasting impact.
Mention Molly Kent
Interview by Lyla Johnston