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Emma McDowall – Casting colourful concrete

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Bright, bold colours characterise the work of designer Emma McDowall who works in a surprising material for homewares – concrete.

Emma’s passion for creativity stems from childhood. “I have been making things for as long as I can remember,” she says. “When I was little I loved all the creative activities, I always remember being quite resourceful and using found materials.”

Drawing on the back of wallpaper off-cuts, gluing together toilet roll holders, and painting almost anything she could find grew from this. “I remember getting to the age when it wasn’t very cool to do that anymore, but I still loved it!”

Supportive teachers at school and a degree in textile design from Gray’s School of Art nurtured this creativity, but Emma returned home after university and struggled. “It was quite a tough time as I was a bit lost, however I think it was such a free time to experiment and create without guidelines and assessments,” she says.

“I didn’t have access to all the textile equipment and materials I had at art school which was frustrating, but it led me to source other materials and make new processes because I just always have this craving to make!”

By happy accident, this lack of materials led to her dad’s shed, some cement and a new adventure, playing with ways of casting a new material. “I made different recipes, I used found objects to create forms, and of course I started trying to see how I could make it colourful,” Emma adds.

Part of the appeal of making colourful concrete is the unpredictability, with no guarantee of how each cast will work – and no way of recreating different patterns. “Although I pick the colours and pour the concrete,” she says, “the surface pattern created is completely random.”

Emma’s favourite product she has created so far are her two-dimensional circular clocks, and she admits to being thrilled to be stocked in the prestigious store Liberty London. “However, I think my proudest projects are yet to come!”

“Without design you wouldn’t have the world we live in,” Emma adds. “All the products we rely on every day have been designed at some point. It is important to keep pushing on with design to discover new ways of living.”

As someone who works with concrete, Emma is very impressed by the complex curving walls of V&A Dundee. “I love them – I am so amazed at how materials can be used. I hope one day someone lets me create colourful concrete blocks to build a piece of architecture like that!”

We are delighted to welcome Emma as a V&A Dundee Design Champion, in recognition of her passion for creativity – and how she’s embraced a surprising material to create her own unique design style.

To find out more, please visit Emma’s website.

The V&A Dundee Design Champions are inspirational designers creating high-quality work and helping to enhance people’s lives, or champions of the power of design to improve the world.

We will announce 50 Design Champions in the run-up to the museum opening on Saturday 15 September 2018.

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V&A Dundee's Design Champions project is working with Dezeen as its media partner.

Dezeen is the world’s most popular and influential architecture and design magazine, with an audience of 2.5 million unique visitors each month.