Working out of a shared studio at the Zellig building in Digbeth, Imogen Morris creates jaw-dropping pieces of art using nail and thread
Photography by Angela Grabowska
Imogen Morris’s work is stunning, so it’s no surprise it’s held in numerous private and public collections across the globe. Imogen’s large-scale pieces are ideal for corporate spaces, hotel lobbies and the like, while smaller commissions tend to be portraits of people or increasingly their pets!
Having graduated in 2013 with a first-class degree in Fine Art and Art History, Imogen abandoned art completely for a time. She explains: “I had all the skills and no means of practising.” It’s a common problem that artists know their craft, but can’t see a way to make a living. Imogen did youth work for a while and says she didn’t touch art for years.
In 2018 she began doing embroidered portraits for fun. She says: “I got the bug for selling. I enjoyed exposure at arts markets and attention on social media.” A friend asked Imogen if she’d seen nail and thread art which she hadn’t, so she thought she’d have a stab at it.
For portrait commissions Imogen tends to work from a photo and the piece begins with a drawing. From there she wraps thread around nails creating the contours of the face and building up layers to create detail and depth and ultimately an accurate portrayal. Imogen’s work is two pronged – firstly making work that people buy for their homes which is often 2D and secondly, huge 3D installations. While Imogen’s large-scale pieces have a significant wow factor, she says these can sometimes be simpler to create than smaller work which can be more intricate and complex. A 40cm piece takes roughly 30 to 40 hours to complete.
DOWN TO BUSINESS
Commissions are the main source of Imogen’s income as well as sales through galleries such as Seventh Circle Gallery in Moseley. Imogen also has Royal Birmingham Society of Artists (RBSA) graduate membership which includes free membership for three years as well as opportunities to go into exhibitions and free exhibition space on the ground floor. With membership there’s also a welcome professional development angle which looks at the business side of being a successful artist – one of the things Imogen feels was missing from her degree course.
She says: “Things have changed and I think an element of business is a standard part of arts education in a more practical way now.” She would recommend any budding artists start saving and amass an amount to invest to get your business off the ground. Imogen is also part of the Prince’s Trust supported by a business mentor.
If you’re a member at Edgbaston Priory Club, you’ve probably seen Imogen’s recently installed work. Belonging is a large-scale piece recognising the impact of the pandemic on the club and its members. Imogen used 2,325 pins representing the number of members who continued to support the club when it couldn’t open during lockdown. It’s stunning.
FIND YOUR PEOPLE
While art is full time in terms of the hours Imogen puts in, she also has a part time job to ensure a regular income. She feels if the internet didn’t exist, she’d be forced to live in London. Imogen explains: “There’s value in private views and meeting people face-to-face, but I can’t afford to live in London. The internet means I’m able to sell nationally and internationally regardless.”
Not that Imogen would want to move to the capital – she rates the Birmingham art scene and its sense of community. She says: “It’s supportive and nurturing – there are so many people willing to support you here. The art world can be super elitist, but not in Birmingham. It’s reasonable and kind.”
Imogen finds Digbeth particularly inspiring and a creative place to be. Her advice to young artists is to, ‘find your people. People who will uphold you and vice-versa. Help each other and work collectively’.