We had the good fortune of connecting with Amber Roper and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Amber, why did you pursue an artistic or creative career?
My identity and schooling experience are the main reasons why I pursued an artistic career, as well as my natural creative ability allowing me to flourish and gain success. A main factor in my journey to becoming an artist was my family upbringing. I didn’t have the privilege of following in anyone’s artistic footsteps, or being financially supported to take such an unconventional path, but I was always celebrated for being the person I was. I had a supportive family that recognised and understood my talents even before I did. The title ‘Artist’ was always a dream identity to me as a little girl growing up and I always believed in the possibility to become an artist throughout my life.
I’m from a working-class background; I was raised by parents both of mixed ethnicity, in a multi-cultural city. I lived in a small house in East London with my Mum, Dad, Grandma and three siblings. It was very chaotic yet colourful, and we never went without. Neither of my parents had a job stereotypically classed as a ‘creative job,’ but both had an open mind and encouraged individuality. I feel this gave me the ability to be free and believe that I could be whatever I wanted to be. I didn’t inherent my creativity directly from either parent, however my artistic abilities were always nurtured and championed. My Dad, a ‘BT man’, would often boast of his design technology skills from school! He was creative in this own way; a charismatic character from the East End. An enthusiastic storyteller making any event a hundred times more exciting! My mum was a part-time cleaner working in the homes of the middle class in our area. She was an extremely fun and entertaining Mum, now a nursery nurse. Through my eyes she had the energy of a brightly coloured butterfly: never in one specific place for too long, bringing beauty and magic to whatever she touched. The majority of my childhood involved creating fun crafts and independent play. Our house was always filled with our friends and other children from around the way, all enjoying being together, dancing to music and interacting through creative play.
Throughout my younger years in primary school, I would enter every art competition and I would always come out on top, giving me confidence in the school environment. School was a challenge for me and I struggled with a lot of subjects. I wasn’t an academic child and often felt overwhelmed in school. Starting in primary, to secondary and all the way through to University I have always been awarded for my artistic ability and creations. On the flipside of this, I would fall short with the reading & written aspects of learning. Because of this I felt a lot of anxiety in class; retaining information and taking written exams was one of the most stressful things to think about as I felt I would never be able to get through them. The school system made me feel boxed in; a system that wasn’t built to guide me in my natural abilities. I often felt the stress of not being able to keep up or not being good enough, but I always had someone there to remind me of my talents; whether it was teachers, friends or family. It was a great boost to my confidence in knowing although I did struggle, I excelled in other areas and that was ok! Art was my safe haven throughout my schooling experience. I gained an A* grade in Art GCSE which prompted the next steps in my creative path.
I completed College with a top tier grade for The BTEC National Certificate in Art & Design. I was confident in my art & design abilities but didn’t have anybody around me with experience in the art industry to look up to and help get my foot in the door. I didn’t have a specific urge or want to pursue any higher education qualifications however, I was open to the idea as I thought it may provide more opportunities that would help me get further into the industry. I participated in a workshop led by an outreach program connecting with inner London working class teens that had little to no knowledge of career paths in the arts as a career option.
I was told to consider applying for a BA by my tutor from the workshop, to which I was offered a place on the Foundation Diploma & BA Textile Design degree at the prestigious Central Saint Martins University of the Arts in London. My sister and I were the first of our family from both sides to ever attend further education, and both studied textiles at university.
It wasn’t until university that I found out I was dyslexic. This discovery helped alleviate a lot of the worries and stresses that I had carried for a majority of my educational life, as suddenly a lot of things I had questioned made perfect sense. I felt relieved from the pressures of following the systematic processes within designing. This initiated another element of confidence and allowed me to work on my terms, and my own instinctive approaches. Whilst studying at Central Saint Martins I felt there were extra elements to manoeuvre through, more so than your average student: being a black woman, coming from a working-class background and living with my parents in a council estate. I often felt at a disadvantage and being the odd one out. Being an extroverted introvert, I learnt to take this unfamiliar environment in my stride by being myself and connecting with some of the many interesting characters; people that I felt were open and genuinely down to earth in an institute which a large majority of individuals lived with a strong sense of entitlement and an elitist attitude.
I gravitated towards the textile specialism of weaving; out of all the different pathways I studied and worked in, I felt the most myself in the weaving environment. I felt more grounded as the people I worked with always exuded a calm and creative energy, and were always together as our looms were all in one studio. There was a real sense of family which synced with my persona.
I thoroughly enjoyed my time at Central Saint Martins. I felt I had found what I had been previously looking for; the support of people in and around the art & design industry who really pushed and encouraged the freedom to be creative and think freely with creativity, individuality and innovation. The vision that was present throughout was that we were not being prepared for the ‘real world’ of commercial work, but to find our unique artist flair and push our individual ability.
Graduating with one mark off 1st class hons was an immense achievement; I was a working-class girl from a council estate in North London and had achieved a BA Hons high 2:1 from a world-renowned university! This boosted my self-esteem as an artist even more, and really helped me step out of my comfort zone.
After graduating I was selected by the Chinese Academy of Art to travel to China and exhibit my work around Hangzhou. On this tour I was recognised by the Academy, and by the Hangzhou Municipal Government for my works and won the award for ‘Best Material Creative’ at the International Creative Patter Design Competition; I was the only candidate to win the distinguished accolade from the United Kingdom.
Upon returning from China, I gained the opportunity to work within the creative commercial industry. It was my first proper job after graduating, and even though it wasn’t my intended route I felt I would benefit from the experience. However, not long after commencing the role I once again felt detached in my working environment, and from a large amount of the people around me. After a year I exited the industry completely after experiencing racial discrimination and having my creative ideas taken without my consent. I felt my creativity was stifled by the repetitive nature of the work; it didn’t suit my working style. I decided to move on and continue my creative journey on another path, freelance! Working for galleries and artists by assisting on projects, being hands on with creating and seeing the art industry from another perspective. This was a very eye opening and liberating experience to working as an artist, not a designer. I knew this freedom and way of working was for me.
My partner has always championed me as an artist, even in times of little to no success or income, and for the bigger achievements. It has been invaluable to my career journey having a companion that loves and believes in me, my work and ability. I believe having an encouraging and reassuring support base is so important. I am blessed to be with a fellow creative who understands the highs and lows and is ready to be there for the good, the bad and the ugly.
Two months into a new year and I am feeling more encouraged and motivated than ever. Living through the pandemic was tough, however I became a mother which brought a whole new meaning to my life. I feel I have grown as a person, and even at a time where I was the least creative, I could possibly be, I feel my artistry has been recharged and I am ready to explore some of the many ideas I have. I am glad for every choice I have made which has brought me to this point; choosing an artistic and career was the best decision I ever made!
Shoutout is all about shouting out others who you feel deserve additional recognition and exposure. Who would you like to shoutout?
I dedicate this to my Family, my mother and sister for all they have done for me over my creative journey. But the Biggest shout out goes to two of my biggest supporters, My partner Elliot and my daughter Caia for their love and support every day!