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Art Culture

In conversation with an ECA student: Anna Stenning

Would you like to introduce yourself?

My name is Anna Stenning. I am 21 years old and I’m currently in my final year at ECA, which is pretty scary because I feel like I am not at all ready to go into the big wide world of the art industry. I don’t know. Sometimes I get impostor syndrome where I don’t feel like I’m good enough or whatever, but here we are, trying to finish my degree. I know it’s silly but it’s scary to put yourself out there. 

What can you tell us about your practice? 

I would say my practice is quite vibrant because I try to really observe the world around me and then add unnatural colors to it, to boost the vibrancy. Particularly living here in Kenya, there is just so much culture, so many colorful things here and I want my work to embody that. I would say in general my work is very playful,  not realistic. That’s not my strong suit. I’m not a fine artist. I make everything a bit whimsical and playful. If I were to paint a bowl of fruit I’d paint the bananas purple. 

One of my favourite pieces you’ve done recently is the piece you did for the Headache exhibition at White Space. What draws you to a particular subject matter? 

What draws me is the people and places that I am in at the time. I’m in Kenya at the moment and I am very inspired by everything here, but when I go back to Edinburgh I find it much harder to connect with Kenya. Being very present and observational with my work is super important.

 

Image Credit: Anna Stenning, Kenyan birds 2021

With the “Headache” piece in particular I was just fascinated by the people around me. The people in Edinburgh inspire me a lot. It’s a city full of quirky, weird people so I think that is a source of inspiration in itself. You don’t really see students as the subject matter of art very often. I also wanted to parallel it to animals and how we are similar to pack mentality, their mating habits, the structure of their lives. 

Do you find you are drawing from cultural influences as well: books, films etc? What about your surroundings and the stuff you come across really speaks to you? 

It’s harder to draw from film and TV.  I draw from books that are about coming of age, and transition. I see a lot of artists on Instagram. My discover page is filled with artists and upcoming designers and I can go into the black hole of the internet asking how they did this and how I can become that person.

 

figures dotted arround the image, surreal, blue background, one holding a giant bottle of wine, pennants and some doing shots together.
Image Credit: Anna Stenning, The great watering hole 2021

Does that overwhelm you at all? 

Yeah. For sure. No one teaches you how to do a particular thing. In art school, we don’t get a lot of one-on-one training – there is a lot of DIY. I end up looking a lot of techniques up, I get frustrated sometimes. I have to also think that these people were once at my stage. I am looking at people who are maybe ten years older than me. I jump the gun a lot by wondering how to get to where they are. Also, there is so much competition. I worry about how to make my work unique. I draw from my influences in Kenya, but how do you market that for a UK audience? I aim to give a little insight into what life is like here through my art, but again it’s tricky. 

When you’re making your illustrations are you very conscious about who you’re making them for and what you want to say to them? 

For me, I really want to make art for people my age, but I also do have a much more business-like approach to my art now. I do ask ‘How would I sell this?’ and ‘Who would I sell it to?’ 

I like to consider situations – like my dream commission or an exhibition – and I work backwards. With that in mind, I go down lots of rabbit holes. I often end up looking at things and trying to do my work in a different style which means my work can often not be very cohesive. I want to really embrace my own style from now on, instead of seeing things on Pinterest and Instagram and trying to duplicate them, it never goes well anyway. My art is most successful when I stay true to myself. I think you can tell when it’s not.

What are you working on at the moment? 

I’ve been finishing my dissertation, so I haven’t been making that much new work. I’ve been working on my Etsy and portfolio websites, trying to promote myself as an artist. It’s all well and good creating stuff but if no one can see your work…I think it’s 30% talent 70% ambition, in terms of marketing yourself, because no one is going to do it for you.

Image Credit: Anna Stenning, The great migration 2021

Image courtesy of Anna Stenning, Grooming 2021