Be the Change: Interview with Amber Butler

Be the Change: Interview with Amber Butler

October 04, 2021

Amber is an Illustrator, Artist, Activist and recent graduate working in Luton. Mostly using Ink, spray paint, acrylic and pastel, she would describe her work as punk, punchy and expressive. 

Amber feels most inspired when there is a strong message behind her work and something she can emotionally connect with, intending to use her art to raise awareness of things that are important. She has a lot to say but she also likes to share the stories of others through her work, as well as her own feelings.

Amber will be running a workshop entitled 'Be the Change: Use Your Voice' on Saturday 2nd October with Big Draw Sponsor Partners the Courtauld Institute of Art as part of their day of online Big Draw Festival events! We were so excited to catch up with Amber and find out more about her practice, talk all things creativity and activism, and find out more about what's in store for her Big Draw Festival event...

Interview: Matilda Barratt in conversation with Amber Butler.

Could you start by telling us a bit about yourself and your practice?

Hi! I’m Amber I’m 24 and I’m an Illustrator, Artist and Activist based in Luton. I graduated from my Illustration BA from The University of Hertfordshire in 2020. I’m resilient, empathetic, and driven by justice, I enjoy using my art for good. I’m still very early in my career and finding my feet, I’ve been told my work is fearless and punchy and I’m slowly overcoming my urge to second guess myself and self sabotage and really embrace what I’m capable of. My visiting lecturer who I met in my final year Caroline Tomlinson has been a huge inspiration for me, she saw something in me that I didn’t see in myself, especially at a time where my confidence was super low, I’ve been growing and learning more about myself and my craft ever since. I wouldn’t say I really fit in a box, I kind of enjoy abit of everything! I love fashion and I want to work more with textiles, I’m still discovering what works for me and I’m not entirely sure where my journey is going just yet. 

I’ve held art workshops at local schools and it’s something I really enjoy, there’s something really special about encouraging people to be creative especially if it’s something they aren’t used to, it’s a great form of therapy too and I believe it can give a voice to those who may struggle to put feelings into words.

We’d love to hear a bit about your process, and how you go about creating your art…

I create really quickly, I usually work on rolls of newsprint, cheap copy paper and scrap fabric. I work traditionally merging inky lines, graphic shapes, hand typography, spray paint, stencils, acrylic and pastel. I then scan all these separate elements in and work digitally to construct my final piece. I have worked directly onto fabric and garments too.

You are an artist and an activist. How do these two come hand-in-hand? Why do you think that art is so effective in communicating a message and bringing about change?

As creatives we all have a voice, we just decide what ways we want to use it. Art is effective because all it takes is a glance, you can convey something powerful in a short space of time, hopefully that moment draws people in to seek further understanding and create change whether it be big or small or something personal.  

What inspires you to make your art? Why is it important to you, and what do you hope to achieve?

I realised my art is closely linked to things I feel deeply about. I spent a long time at university not really feeling passionate about anything I was creating, or having a sense of fulfilment or excitement for what I was doing. I was creating for the sake of it and completing the brief. Although I did enjoy it I just hadn’t figured out my ‘why’ yet. I was in my final year and was given an open brief with the theme ‘Journeys’, I had recently returned from a trip to Amsterdam where I saw the Red-Light district for the first time. That experience sparked something in me and I had so many questions, I saw things I didn’t quite understand and things that upset me. I wanted answers and to understand. This was pretty much the start of my journey and where I realised my work is driven by my intense emotion and feeling to do what is right and create awareness on important issues and things that need to change. I’m also intrigued by people’s stories, those who have been through the unthinkable, giving a voice to those who are often ignored. My art is my output, being immersed by my creative process is when I feel happiest and fulfilled. I’m not totally sure what I hope to achieve yet, in the meantime I just hope that I can continue to spread awareness, support causes that are close to my heart, encourage others, continue to be compassionate and be unapologetically me. I hope to inspire those who are like me or come from humble beginnings to know they are capable of doing whatever they want and be whoever they want.

What do you do when you’re not making and creating?

I enjoy spending my free time volunteering at a local charity called Azalea. They support and care for all caught in sex trafficking. I came across this charity whilst researching for some of my final year projects. 

I think I’d spend a lot more of my free time creating if I had my own studio space, it’s been difficult to accommodate but I’d love my own space to just be free. When I’m not making and creating I usually feel guilty that I’m not making and creating, I’m usually thinking about my next move or spending time with loved ones, taking time to reflect on things and trying to better myself. Some days I do nothing and put on a series, I’m currently re-watching Ugly Betty and Desperate Housewives. 

What kind of changes would you like to see in the arts sector? What kind of challenges and opportunities await the industry's future generation of creatives (and activists!)

I think the most important one would be more representation. The creative industry is white male dominated. I’ve been fortunate enough to land some special opportunities and features but often I’m the only person that looks and sounds like me. I’m aware as a half black woman with a fair complexion I have many privileges, I want black creatives, minorities and those from working class/ low income, single parent backgrounds to truly believe in themselves and know they can be whoever they want to be and be the BEST at what they do and get the same level of recognition without having to work 100x harder. A lot of companies and brands talk the talk but they do not walk the walk, I want to see substantial change and transparency. 

I can’t believe unpaid internships are still a thing - that needs to go asap. Also the fact graduate/ junior jobs require 1-3 years experience, a lot of us haven’t had the opportunity or financial stability to do so. Why not just give us the opportunity, if you can clearly see what we are capable of from our portfolio why do you rule us out. 

You will be taking part in the Courtauld’s Big Draw Festival events this year, running an online workshop on positive protest art. Could you tell us more about this, and what you have planned?

I’m really excited for my workshop but also a little nervous. My workshop is called ‘Be the change, use your voice’. I wanted to keep the theme quite open as I think it’s important for those watching and taking part to nurture their own voice. I have a list of prompts I thought would be useful but I’m aware there are so many important messages to share I couldn’t just pick one, it’s also world mental health day on the 10th of October so I wanted to just encourage a message of love, acceptance, kindness and positivity. I’ve provided a printable stencil for parents to cut out at home (you can find this here), I usually finish off a piece with a spray painted element so I thought it would be nice for everyone to try at home. Ultimately, you’ll have to wait and see what happens on the day of the Big Draw Festival!

Thank you Amber!

If you were inspired by this interview with Amber and would like to find out more about her and her practice, head to her website here. You can also follow Amber on Instagram here.

To find out more about the day of online Big Draw Festival events at the Courtauld, click here.

Registrations are open for The Big Draw Festival 2021: Make the Change! Find out more about the benefits of becoming an organiser here and other ways to support The Big Draw's mission here.