It's taken me a while to put this post together and actually build up the courage, (and find the right words), to post it! I feel like it's probably time to address some comments that I've received; mainly on my Facebook page, but I've had messages and comments on my other social media accounts too. I apologise in advance for the long read, but I'd appreciate it if you can take the time to have a little browse through this post, it would mean a lot to me!
Don't get me wrong - the majority of comments I receive are so lovely, (they often make me cry - the good type of crying), but there are a few which are becoming hurtful, (these also make me cry, but not the good type!). I'm not the sort of person who will reply to comments of that nature because I'm not an unkind person, and I believe that it's important to always remain professional. However, I am also a human being. I run Kent Coast Ghosts by myself - everything you see, including my website - is done by me.
I use the term "we" a lot. This is a business thing. Me and Kent Coast Ghosts. We roll together. But yup. It's just me.
The comments I've received are regarding the fact that there are other ghost makers who have been around since before Kent Coast Ghosts, and they imply that I'm copying the other ghost maker's work - such things as "your ghosts are just cheap imitations" and "stop riding on the tails of other businesses" ...
So let me tell you the story of how and why I started Kent Coast Ghosts, because I've been an artist all my life, and I've never, intentionally, copied anyone's work - no decent artist would. But I feel like it's important to get my story out there - and, I warn you, it's long - but it's important that you can see the evolution of where I started to how I got to here.
I started selling my own art back in 2006, (yup, I'm that old!), when I learned the art of roses and castles - traditional folk art, mainly based on the canals and in the midlands of the UK. I took several boating holidays and fell in love with the life, so I absorbed myself in it, even taking courses at the London Canal Museum to further my painting knowledge and skills. You see, traditional folk art - all the roses and castles - they all represent a way of life, and the history behind that fascinated me. We don't have an canals here in Kent at all, and I loved that this style of art was just for a specific group of people. Like a secret code. Traditionally, certain colour schemes were used to denote where a canal boat came from and even what it was carrying. Individual artists were recognised by their style of roses, and their particular style of castles, and whole stories can be told just by the use of colours and the way these beautiful shapes are painted.
On the surface, to anyone just visiting the canals, all you see is roses and castles. They all look similar - some even look stencilled - but when you go beyond just looking at the surface, you see the differences in styles; from the rustic to the professional artist. Each stroke representing something different. It's beautiful.
And it's all just roses and castles.
And that part is important... Bear with me!
Fast forward in time a little; I had my daughter in 2012 so I didn't have much time to focus on art for a while, but I still dabbled in mixed media; from painting to clay to knitting to collage... I've always, since I first saw it in 1985 (I was two years old), had a huge thing for the paranormal with thanks to Ghostbusters, (the best movie ever...), and my art started to get a little... well, let's say "freaky"..! I realised that I liked to make art that was different from the standard cutesy landscape stuff, and I started to explore darker themes. I was a Pagan for a while back in these days, too; a proper practising witch, (not a muggle, either; my great, great grandmother was a witch - but that's another story for another day...) During this time I developed my fascination for ghosts and spirits, ouija boards, the occult and Kent's darker side of history... I wanted to do something creative that combined my love of all these things, but family life was my priority and I ended up working in a cafe as a barista in a local (haunted...) museum. A job I very much enjoyed!
Fast forward a bit more to setting up embRUDEry during lockdown; a newly discovered love for textile art that came about in 2020. I was feeling so lost before lockdown even started. I wanted to make art all the time, but I couldn't seem to find a focus. I tried crafts, too; knitting, crochet... I can do them quite well, but I couldn't find a way to express that little fascination with all things weird. So, one day, I ordered an embroidery kit from Amazon, (don't judge me), because I liked the idea that I could almost paint a picture with thread.
And Valak was born.
I don't know about you, but my absolute favourite type of horror movie, (horror movies of all types are pretty much the only sort of movies I'll watch, along with psychological thrillers and true crime documentaries), are paranormal horrors, and I must have seen The Conjuring hundreds of times by this point! The idea that it was based, (however loosely - for a more true account read "House of Darkness, House of Light" by Andrea Perron herself), on a true story, a tormented family, a witch, a possession... Maybe it's because I'm a mum myself... but I just loved it and found it so interesting. As soon as I picked up that needle and thread, Valak just started emerging - a 12" diameter thread-painted free-form monstrosity with yellow glass pupils which follow you everywhere.
As soon as I posted her on my Instagram people were commenting and telling me I should sell her. I even received a lovely comment from the director of The Nun himself - Mr Corin Hardy! So that's when embRUDEry, (a play on embroidery), was born. Lockdown 2020; a cheap embroidery starter kit, and a new, invigorated passion for the dark and macabre. I had found my mojo - and direction - once again.
I stitched a lot of things during that time, mostly based around horror films, but I also deviated occasionally and stitched pieces on social commentary that was around at the time. I even stitched a piece of Sopranos artwork that was purchased by Dan Grimaldi who played Patrick Parisi - it's still hanging in his home and posted to his social media to this day. Another proud moment for me, and, I thought at the time, a win for my art...
But art isn't that simple.
I sold some pieces, but Valak remained. People loved her, but said she was too scary to hang in their homes. And I absolutely agree. She's terrifying. She's still currently wrapped up like a mummy in a box, waiting to have her moment, (I'll hang her in my studio once I get one). I had started selling art full time at this point, and although I was happy, there was still something missing. Nothing felt original enough. Hand stitching horror characters in my own way was fun, but they still didn't feel like they were totally mine, and I knew that if I wanted to continue to do art full time - actually make a living to support my family at 36 years old - I needed to explore a new way to express myself.
And this is how we get on to the ghosts.
You must be relieved, and if you're still here - THANK YOU.
I started to stitch ghosts at first, (I even released some of my own cross stitch patterns - you can download them for free on my blog on here), but the stitching wasn't enough to be able to express my art.
I started playing around with clay.
I made a ghost.
It was a natural progression from everything else I'd done. I liked it a lot.
But it was empty. It didn't mean a lot.
So I found a Kentish ghost story online - one really close to my heart; the shadowy figure of Thomas Becket which can be found on a pillar in the crypt of Canterbury Cathedral, (a place my grandfather used to work as a security guard and had some hairy experiences...), and associated it with the ghost. It felt better. I painted it the way I wanted to - not just standard white, but black with gold eyes to represent the shadow-monk and the gold to represent the richness of the Church. I fell in love with that ghost.
I started exploring the more obscure ghost stories from Kent's history. And not just ghosts, but all manner of dark tales. I spent, (and still spend), hours diving into internet rabbit holes and losing myself in those stories. I also discovered other ghost makers online. I was thrilled! I followed them all. A whole community of people like me! We were few and far between, but we were there! I loved the way that, just like my roses and castles, their ghosts represented their style of work; where the ghost was from, and also told a story either about the artist themselves or the places and people they were based on. Ultimately, they were all based on the classic representation of a ghost - the classic white sheet ghost - but they were more than that. Each one had it's own maker's mark, whether it was the shape, the stories or the colours. They were, and are, all unique - and that was beautiful to me.
I made more ghosts, and, frankly, I couldn't stop. I loved finding a way to represent people, places and history that was close to home, all within a small, almost shapeless, three dimensional space. A ghost is hollow, a lost soul - almost how I had felt for many years of being an artist - but paint could bring him, (or her), to life and tell a whole story.
So after months of research, I closed down embRUDEry. It was a sad moment, but it felt like a new beginning. I set up Kent Coast Ghosts in April 2022. I wasn't expecting anything from it. As an artist, I've learned to lower my expectations somewhat - but I just knew that I had found a way to combine every single thing I enjoyed, and every element of art that I enjoyed, and that for me was the most important thing. It didn't worry me that there were other ghost makers - I literally saw them all as incredible artists who had found a way to express themselves through ghosts. I didn't even realise that this was a thing until I had created my first ghost. An incredible community of like-minded artists; I felt like I had found my people!
One ghost maker in particular is extremely famous and well known, (and I love them so much). They are credited with setting up the first ghost shop - probably in the world - and no one will ever take that away from them. They have their own style, beautiful, elegant and distinctly recognisable.
But they weren't the first people to sell ghosts. Every Halloween, for years, chain stores have been filling their shelves with cheap ceramic or resin ghost figures - mass produced tat with no meaning attached to them, and certainly no love or soul put in to making them. ALL of the ghost makers I know put their own, individual touches on their ghosts - and a huge part of their soul - and this is what makes them stand out. This is what makes THEM and their own ghosts so special.
I wasn't expecting Kent Coast Ghosts to take off as well as it did. I had no expectations - I just absolutely love what I do, and, it turns out, other people love it too! This doesn't mean they don't love other ghosts from other makers - it's really not a competition as to 'who does the best ghost' or 'who can make the most money' - it's a community of people who have found the classic ghost is an ideal way to represent people, places and history they love. It's not copying or stealing ideas simply to make a ghost, and it's most definitely not 'riding the tails of another business' - I can tell you right here and now that I work long days and nights researching every single ghost I make. Even the shape of my ghost has evolved - I am the first person to make a Tall Ghost in the shape that I have adopted. I put my ghosts in jars so that I can add little props with them - there aren't many others that do this, and certainly not in the same way that I do! I'm also thinking about making small dioramas with ghosts - no one else, that I have found, does that yet either. Frankly, even if they did, they wouldn't be my ghosts.
Every single ghost I make is created by hand. By my hands. From moulding the clay and shaping - all by eye - to the final finish and painting. They are entirely handcrafted. I spend up to an hour just moulding a ghost on a 'bad clay day', (think back to the heatwave of 2022... bad times for air dry clay...). They are different sizes, they sometimes have different eyes. They are all totally unique because when I make them, I get a feel for each and every ghost. He is who he is, (or her), and that's the way I make them. I think about the story they will tell as I create them, and try to weave this in to their shape and the expression in their eyes...
So to receive a comment about it being a 'cheap imitation', is, frankly devastating, incredibly hurtful, and also embarrassing - a whole mixture of negative emotions which I shouldn't need to be feeling just because someone likes another person's ghost more than mine.
Ghosts are art.
There will always be good ones, bad ones and mass-produced ones. But the ones that are created by artists who are passionate abut the stories behind them; who put their heart and soul in to what they do, no matter who the artist is, they are a human being who has feelings. They are most likely a person who has been creating things their whole life - perhaps, like, me, creating things is literally ALL they can do. I know I'm bloody useless at holding down a regular job and dealing with people on a daily basis. Our ghosts are not all carbon copies of each other. None of them are imitating the other - it's entirely possible, yes, that sometimes one person's ideas may unintentionally be similar to another's - that's not copying, and most real artists will understand the art of etiquette also - if I ever see a design I have made already out there in the world, I'll start from scratch and try again. I don't WANT my work to be the same as someone else's, whether they are established or not! I love the fact that my Tall Ghosts and jar ghosts can be distinguished from everyone else's. A true artist will want to stand out on their own, and that is what I have always been striving to do, and that is what I've worked so hard to do.
In June 2022 I was chosen by Theo Paphitis to win his Small Business Sunday award. It was lovely to think that someone else saw something in me and in what I was doing. I certainly wouldn't have been chosen for that if my work was unoriginal and uninspired. It was a really proud moment for me as I had entered every single Sunday for three years with embRUDEry and never got anywhere. I'm constantly pushing myself forward artistically now, and Kent Coast Ghosts is going from strength to strength. I've received literally hundreds of messages and comments from people all over the world who love what I do and that is such an overwhelming feeling. It's a great honour to know that people are displaying my art in their homes, and are so passionate about it! It's so hard to describe how I feel when someone takes time out of their day to compliment me on my work, or to ask me more about the stories behind certain ghosts. I appreciate everyone. And of course I appreciate that my work isn't for everyone, either - I mean, take a look at Valak; if she's not a bit niche then I don't know what is!
Everyone is entitled to an opinion, especially when it comes to art, but please, try to be kind. People get around to creating things in very different ways - not everyone is immediately copying someone else. And those people who do copy others? They're not true creatives. A true creative person or artist will forge their own way in life, and work hard, (20 years of my adult life so far in my case...). A true creative will want to stand out and stand on their own - they won't copy ideas from others, unless completely unintentionally, (- read the story about Dennis the Menace, it's a fascinating example of how two different people on opposite sides of the world came up with the same idea at exactly the same time!).
I love what I do, and I am so thankful that others do too. I'm so excited about what the future will bring for Kent Coast Ghosts, and I hope that this has given you a bit more insight into why I do what I do, and perhaps even a little peek at me as a person.
Just a human being who loves what I do :-)