Sinead Penner is a 4th year Illustration student who has designed a unique program of study at Emily Carr, incorporating textiles and garment design into her creative practice. Her multidisciplinary pursuits also include the recent film project "Hallowed Ground", a performance piece exploring femininity and trauma. Learn more about her creative journey below.
Describe your practice in three words.
Interdisciplinary, narration, reclamation
Your work deals with tackling the stereotypical idea of femininity, a theme that many artists have tackled and is often criticized. What’s your approach?
I knew I wanted to talk about issues surrounding femininity through garments, but I recognized that it was going to be a slippery slope. Both femininity in society and the fashion world have their own historical and social contexts.
In thinking about how to approach these topics through combining art and fashion, I knew my narratives had to come from a very personal place – from my own lived experiences and opinions – to avoid placing the weight of the issues on women. The bulk of my research was with the history of garments, colours, and the connotations they present. I was interested in learning where and whom particular designs originated from, and I was very careful about what references I ultimately chose to work with.
How do you handle criticism around your art practice?
I think when tackling any stereotype, construct, or cultural issue, you have to recognize that criticism is a guarantee and that’s okay! Often criticism can even be extraordinarily helpful. Every person has different life experiences, values and beliefs, so you will never be able to make a piece of art that resonates with everyone.
Your makeup palette illustrations are popular on social media. How do they relate to the overall theme of your work?
My makeup illustrations are more of a relaxing escape for me as far as my practice goes. I really enjoy makeup as its own art form and mode of expression. I find inspiration both in makeup artists’ work and the packaging of makeup itself. I felt it was a natural step to start illustrating portraits inspired by makeup palettes. The idea was to push it further and transform myself into my illustrations after and have a series of photographs but I have not had the time to do that yet.
Makeup is a controversial topic of its own in regards to women and femininity, but my overall belief is that any person – no matter how they identify – should wear makeup if they want, as it is a fun form of expression. I do not support the idea that makeup (or fashion, by extension) should be a forced upon a person to appear as ‘feminine’ or ‘masculine’.
What experience in your studies at Emily Carr transformed your approach to your practice?
I had always wanted to pursue fashion design but there was no place for it at Emily Carr when I started so I dismissed it, focusing on fashion illustration instead. Eventually I found myself developing a complacent attitude towards my illustration work in third year.
I was sketching out designs for a purse shaped like a milkshake and two weeks before the final critique, I decided to jump in headfirst – teaching myself how to design, construct, and sew the purse into a functional prototype. There were some missteps along the way, but in the end, I was able to bring the purse to life. The excitement of seeing an illustration come to life in a tangible, functional way was unparalleled for me and I knew in that moment what I needed to pursue.
Your directed studies have allowed you the space to an interdisciplinary practice, combining illustration, fashion design, and film. You are in uncharted territory, as ECU does not have a fashion design program. How has that changed your approach to your work?
I think not having a designated space for what I am doing at the school has been the most difficult and most beneficial part of my practice. The difficulties arise in not having designated professors, curriculum or resources to turn to and advise me on how to best proceed with my projects.
On the other hand, that has also been my biggest blessing because I have had the freedom to learn for myself, without a set of guidelines dictating how I should be approaching my practice. I have been able to find new techniques and methods of approaching my work from trial and error. Combining disciplines has resulted in a stronger overall practice as it has allowed my voice to speak in a variety of mediums that have come together in a beautiful way.
What is the most useful piece of advice you have received as a student?
The most encouraging advice I have received was confirmation to keep carving out my own space, no matter how different or difficult it is. Not having a designated practice or space that you fit into can seem frustrating or daunting in some ways, but it is actually a wonderful thing. You create a larger platform your work to exist in and to attract viewership and an audience. I consider myself blessed to have the encouragement to pursue my work in this manner.
You are dealing with some very personal and uncomfortable subject matter, such as infertility and trauma. What memorable responses have you had to your work?
I knew when I felt called to address this subject in my work that I would be putting myself in a vulnerable position. Vulnerability is a wonderful strength to have as an artist. The responses I have had have gotten to date have been unbelievable. I had women who I know, and who I have never met before, reach out to me over social media about their own experiences with trauma and infertility, and about how my practice was encouraging them in their own lives.
I talk a lot about the stigma around the colour pink in my work as well and had one woman reach out to me who was previously scared to wear pink or clothing seen as feminine because of views of her in society as fragile, dainty or weak. Addressing the colour pink within my practice prompted a shift in her perception of those fears and gave her the confidence to wear the things she wanted to. Another woman reached out to me about her own experience with miscarriages to let me know my work brought her to tears as it resonated so intimately with her.
Every time I receive messages like that, I feel overwhelmed with gratitude that my practice is doing what I hoped it would do – which is create a supportive community that can foster discourse around these issues. By placing yourself in a vulnerable position, you invite others to do the same.
What is most exciting about releasing a project that is so personal? Conversely, what fears do you have?
The most exciting thing is seeing my hard work come together into a finished piece. It has been a very therapeutic process for myself, and I am looking forward to see how it resonates with others. There are fears that come along with releasing personal work but at the end of the day I can’t let myself get caught up in that fear. At the end of the day, you have to be confident in what you’ve made.
Do you have any advice to students wanting to carve out space for their interdisciplinary practice?
Not having a practice or an idea that fits easily into one discipline is such a strength as you have a wider variety of tools to use and create work. I would encourage anyone wanting to branch out to do so and be persistent. Find a professor that is willing to mentor you on creating your own interdisciplinary practice. Don’t allow how things ‘should’ be done in your major to distract you, and don’t be afraid to stand out! There will always be people who don’t understand the ideas you have or where you want to take your practice, especially if it’s deviating from your major. Your own belief in your practice and in yourself is what will bring them into reality and make them shine!