Artist of the Month – Cara Macwilliam

Our Artist of the Month Cara Macwilliam, who became an Outside In artist during lockdown,  has been chronically ill for 14 years and since 2013 slid into a more severe form which has left her mainly housebound,  living alone and very isolated. “You lose a lot of people through this kind of experience due to many social factors,” she says.” The illness I have carries a lot of stigma which has been hard on me emotionally.” Things changed, however, when a group of friends who have the same illness decided to work on a collaborative sketchbook project in 2018…


Why and when did you start making art? 
I first started making art in late 2018. A group of friends with the same or similar illness all decided to do a collaborative sketchbook. We were from the EU, US, Canada and Australia. The sketchbook travelled to almost all of us to work on. I loved the process, getting the book in my hands and seeing in person for the first time many of my friends’ work. I got so much out of it. It really was the catalyst for me to continue making art, which I have done ever since. After so many years being unable to work or do very much at all due to illness, finding the ease and flow in art has brought me so much on a personal level.

Where do you work?
I work from my reclining chair in my lounge. I have an adjustable laptop table to which I add a drawing board to make a work surface. I use a clamp and a loop for my embroidery so I can work supine and hands free. Working this way allows me to do more than If I was sitting upright at a desk or standing. Of course, it brings its own challenges but it probably adds to the work because of it.

How would you describe your work?
I’m not sure – for me it’s an exploration, an abstraction of my mind.

Do you follow a set process or does it vary?
I think the process is very much the same, I don’t plan what I’m going to make, I’m led more by the material I decide to use on any given day. That can often be led by how well I’m feeling, what my muscle strength and energy is like or just what I feel like using, what’s calling me as it were.

Then I start to play with marks and colours, I feel like I fall away into the work and it’s not until some time after that I can see what’s opened up, I need to step away for a while. I’ll usually make a number of painted pieces so I then choose the ones that i think I can take forward. It’s at this point that I then add the layer of ink (when painting with watercolours). This is the part that I love the most, this is the dance and the music and the life. Again I don’t have a plan, I use the paint marks and the colours to show me where to add ink to, I work quite rapidly during this phase and don’t think but feel my way through. 

What inspires your work? 
My internal space I think is my main inspiration. The depth of it as I’m so enclosed on my day to day it allows me to travel and explore.

Tell us about your embroidered pieces…
My embroidery is a wonderfully meditative practice, I go through phases and I seem to embroider more at my sickest. It’s slightly easier on my energy and i can be very supine when I do it. Colour and movement and play is still a huge part. However, I do have a plan in general when I embroider. I often draw directly on to the fabric and then stitch over it. I’ve used some of my art work and made it into embroidery, I’ve used nature photography and aerial photography to inspire pieces. I was firstly inspired to embroider when there was an Alice Kettle exhibition at the Whitworth Art Gallery and she asked for public participation on one of her pieces. I was so happy that I could not only contribute but I was well enough to go and see her exhibition.

Are there particular themes that run through your work? If so, what are they?
Worlds within worlds, dance, music and visual verse.

‘Lyrical Stage’

Do you think about an audience when you are making work? If so, what do you hope the viewer gets from your work?
I don’t really make my art for an audience, it’s a personal escape but I do hope that any viewer like me falls into the worlds and hears the music too.  I know everyone tends to see something different when they look at it and I love that aspect of my work and I like it to be open like that, non prescriptive.

What is your favourite work of art (by another artist)?
I love so many pieces of art by so many, those known and those unknown that I couldn’t choose. Humans are so creative and that makes me awestruck and takes my breath away daily. I’m so glad of the internet so I can discover and appreciate all the wonderful work.

What has been the standout moment for you as an artist so far?
Probably being chosen as your artist of the month. I feel very honoured and was really taken aback.


Is there an artwork you are most proud of/ favourite piece?
I think my first painting ‘March’ is perhaps one that helped me personally march onwards. After I’d done it I was surprised by it, I had only been playing around with the few materials I had at that time but realised it was a painting in itself afterwards. I’d always thought up until then a painting needed a plan but this taught me otherwise. I’ve never been able to recreate anything similar, so it came from a different place and that’s more than OK. In fact, I think that’s integral to my work and this feeling of falling away somewhere while I create.

What are your hopes for the future?
I hope that I can continue to create and to develop but keep the pure joy of the process, that the core always remains. To learn from and connect with others, for my world to be opened up by any support and knowledge. I’m looking forward to the process along the way as every moment spent in my work is a pleasure.

5 Comments about this

  1. Signe

    Cara is obviously uniquely talented—her work blows my mind! I really hope she continues on this path. So proud of her working through a lockdown, in an ill state, which had lasted years longer than most people’s will. Keep creating, this is wonderful! Please check in on Cara and feature get again in the future. Can’t wait to see what she comes up with.

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  2. Susan H. Parry

    Completely deserving!
    Cara is a particularly wonderful soul who has battled ill health for many years.
    Her art is inspiring and thought provoking and results from a tenacious desire to create along with an insatiable need to learn.
    I am perfectly sure that through her will emerge lots more fine works of art and I for one will keep a keen eye on future developments.
    Sending her lots and lots of love,

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