Working in the creature fabrication department on films such as Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban and Star Wars The Force Awakens is great fun, but full-on, with long hours that meant Emma Brassfield had very limited time to spend with her young children. Things needed to change, but Emma didn’t want to lose her passion for sewing and making. She made a success of making hand-sewn children’s toys, although felt a bit like a one-woman production line at times.
Her childhood desire to be a craft presenter on television may have had a subconscious influence on her decision to start a YouTube channel teaching others how to make projects such as toys, scrunchies and hair bands, cute bags, pencil cases and so much more.
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For this episode, I'm speaking with Emma brassfield, who once wanted to be a Blue Peter presenter, like many of my guests, she did go on to use her creative talents behind the camera, working in film and television, but has since put herself in the limelight, to help others to get making from the comfort of their own homes. Hi, Emma. Hi, Claire, thank you so much for having me on. You're very welcome. So tell me about your latest creative project. So I have got a sewing channel on YouTube. And I've been doing that since the end of 2020. I want to say around September. And I'm teaching people to sew with small fun projects and bags over there. And all sounds fabulous. Sounds like the kind of thing I could do you come from an artistic family or have an artistic background? I do but not in the same kind of way. So both my parents are very musical. My dad's in the music industry. And he kind of engineers products for the music industry. And my mom is piano teacher. So definitely very creative. My brothers are signwriter as well. But obviously that's quite different. What I do, I've always been taught to kind of reach and go for what you want to go to, you know, my dad's obviously I say in the music industry, and that's a very difficult industry to get into. So he always kind of imparted to me that I should just whatever I want to do, just go for it. And I was very, very lucky to have super supportive parents in that way. My mum was always kind of making stuff when I was younger, I remember like, make her making baby books and things are beautifully decorated. So she's obviously got that artistic talent. And my mum's mother made all her clothes when she was younger. That was mostly out of a cost and finance decision. But she was obviously very talented in that way. And then my granddad on my dad's side was also very artistic. So all in all, yeah, a lot of kind of artistic things going on, but not necessarily sewing from a young age. Yeah. So with all those lovely influences, what did you want to be when you grew up? Well, I always remember like practising being a Blue Peter. That was kind of like my dream job was to be a Blue Peter presenter that was kind of felt like too far away like it was unachievable. And I didn't really want to be a children's presenter as such definitely wanted to be like the craft kind of side. But that kind of wasn't really a thing and didn't know what to do about that. So then I don't know how I heard about it, but I was I'm a massive fan of the film labyrinth and a few other things like the Muppets and things like that. And so that had a heavily heavy influence. And I think at one point, someone must have said For You do realise that these are made things and that that is a job. I think it might have been my mom. And then I was like, that's what I want to do. I want to make Muppets I want to make creatures. So then I was kind of told stroke thought that that would always be makeup like applying prosthetic makeup. So I didn't really realise that there was this sewing side of it that that existed, which again, would be the Muppet kind of side of it on a basic term. Yeah, so I just sort of started, when I was in school, I had a really great teacher, Mrs. Payne, who I remember she was like, well, you can go to this, you know, we had those careers talks where you can go to this college and get a loan of fashion. And you can do this course. And then that will take you into these kinds of pathways. And so then from about 14, from like, when I was choosing my GCSEs, everything was geared up to get into London College of Fashion. That's where I wanted to go. It was the only course at the time that I knew awful that I'd been told about. And so everything was geared for that. I eventually got to go to the London College of Fashion, and I did costume and special effects. And then I was a creature costume maker since I graduated in 2002. Well, I've got two questions there. The second one is how your focus on makeup then got you to creature making. But before that, I also know you must have been quite a brave young person, because at age 16, you went to America to study didn't you? Yeah. Yeah, I don't know. I don't really know how that kind of the bravery. If you like, I've always been, I don't know, quite confident, I guess. But then I also remember not having a great time at school. But yeah, so I had a friend and she she had this leaflet about going to America to study for years as an exchange student. But it was a one way exchange. It wasn't really exchanges. And living with an American family and going to an American school and experiencing the whole of American culture, which I just thought was the best idea ever. And again, I was very lucky in that my parents supported me to do that. And yeah, I went and lived when I was 1617. For I think it was about 1011 months in Illinois with family over there. It's a very small school, there was 50 Kids loved every minute of it was a cheerleader, and just did loads of stuff that you don't get to do in the UK, or at least you didn't used to. Yeah, while I was there, I started like sort of teaching myself to face paint and do makeup. And I yes, definitely in Halloween, I had loads of practice. And my host dad, let me practice something all the time and my friends and things. So that was really great. And then when I came back from there, I then saw a local face painter in the local shopping centre. And I just kind of went up and asked for a job and showed the lady who's now a brilliant friend Rivia. And I showed her sort of the things that I'd done when I was in America. She got gave me a job taught me on the job taught me a thing. But then of course there was there wasn't a YouTube sounding very old. And there wasn't really an internet either. So it was she just taught me everything on the job. And I went from there, really. And then that then helped me when I came to do my interview at London College of Fashion because I had those kind of pictures in my portfolio, although I had a lot of textile work because I did a level textiles as well. And that they kind of encouraged me and pushed me to go into costume, which I'm so glad about the best decision I ever made. So you applied to the college with makeup in mind, but they they pushed you towards the costume. How did that go? It was in the interview process. So it was a really hard interview. You know, it was my final year of a levels. I had to do all of that. And then they asked me for a separate interview project as well on top of that, which was just a bit like oh, you know, much work. So I had to go with my portfolio and this project that I'd made leave it in the morning along with everybody else we just dumped a portfolio in the room. And then we went back at lunch to see if we even had an interview. And it was like kind of classic names on the board and people were coming out crying because they didn't get an interview and all of this I think something like 600 people applied for at places on that course that year it was really stressful. So I went in and as I say I had a lot of makeup but I also had or face painting really but I had way more textiles because as I say that's what I was doing at college for a level and they just said your textiles work is really really strong. We would love you to go into the costume side. And then after a year and a half at you Used to be that it was costume or makeup for the first year and a half, and then it went into special effects. So I just knew I wanted to do the special effects kind of side. So that's the path I took. And it was brilliant because it gave me all those skills to then transfer those into that side of things. Brilliant. That's so exciting. I didn't even you know that such a thing existed. With those studies under your belt, are you able to go straight out to work? Yeah, so when I left uni, I did what you do. And I just sent my CV out to everyone, obviously, it's quite tricky, doing special effects. So there was a few people that I knew through other students, and you kind of had a lot of external tutors as well, which was super helpful. And so I applied for I sent my CV off to Nick dedmon, who was the head of creatures for the Harry Potter series. And I just did any kind of work that I could find I did low budget things, I did things that I got kind of a tenuous contact, and I just rang them up. I did all this for from the July until the January I was solid through but I wasn't really owning anything. And it was it was all kind of small, bitty bits. So I got a letter shortly after sent it off to Nick, saying we'd love you to come for an interview ring this number. So I rang that number. And then they said ring back tomorrow ring back next week ring back in two weeks. I just couldn't get through to Nick. And then I thought, Oh, I'm just gonna ring this number that had also been sent with the letter another number. And I rang that up and very casually said, can I speak to Nick? They said, No, he's not here. But here's his mobile number. So I rang them over. And he said, come to an interview tomorrow. So went to the interview. I was late overslept, you know, just had an alarm clock at my phone. It was all one of those got lost. I think it was an hour late, absolute disaster. But he was very kind about it. And he got his head of fabrication, which is the sewing side of creatures. He got his head of fabrication day to come in. He looked at my portfolio. He unbeknownst to me had seen it at my light leaving show in my college which Long story short, I then started as a trainee the following January on Harry Potter three Prisoner of Azkaban. Wow. And then it just kind of it's like any of these things, you know, it's who you know, and its contacts and it just kind of spiralled from there. And so I've been doing creature question work since then. And really well, well done to you for the perseverance in the first place and being brave and to keep phoning that is brilliant. Can you explain to me what you mean by fabrication and creature work. So fabrication is like I say, the sewing side of animatronics and creatures. So if you think along the lines of Teletubbies, big character costumes, I mainly do TV and film. So is anything from a creature costume like a Teletubby all the way through to a superhero costume, a specialist costume like that. So it could be something with body padding. So do a lot of fat suits. I've kind of specialised in that as well. Pregnancy bumps. A lot of time, directors will cast someone who they just love, they've got all the skills, they can dance or they can do this or that but they're not the right size for the character. So they need a bump made or padding made. Or it will be like I made some padding for the crown and it will be like they're obviously playing I think it was the queen mum. And she needed a lot, just a little bit of tummy fat whereas the actress was super slim. And so it's all those kinds of things as well as kind of wacky crazy, hairy creatures or huge articulator creatures or all sorts of the sewing side of all of that basically. sound super. I do imagine that that business however, I would imagine the working environment is quite full on and busy. And perhaps not nine to five, for example, I don't know, but I know that you have children. How did having a family did that affect your career in film and television? Yes, definitely. So I've got two children now and my youngest is four so she's still very young. My eldest was around that age when I quit, quote, unquote, the film industry. I was working full time on Star Wars The Force Awakens, which was a brilliant job, brilliant experience. I loved it. But I didn't see her pretty much Monday to Friday for about six months when I was filming. And although it was a brilliant experience, that's not why I had children. And so I was kind of looking for a way to juggle it all, you know, and now all, all parents are the same, we all struggle, and the Juggle is quite hard with that work life balance. So I started up a small toy business or hand sewn toys. And I did that when my oldest was quite young, I think she was about one and I had that as a sideline, most people in the film industry have some kind of sideline so that they can do that in between jobs or because obviously, everything is freelance. So sometimes you don't have work. And you can pick that up and things like that. So I started this toy business when she was about one. And as I say, she was about four at this time, and it was gaining momentum. And I kind of did a bit of number crunching. And I realised that I could almost leave the industry or do a lot less, and do that full time and spend more time with her, I had to change a lot of things, obviously, because it was a bit of a drop down financially. But we made it work. And also, it was also the fact that I was, you know, when you're working in that kind of environment, you don't often have a huge amount of creativity. Sometimes you do, and you get to do research and development and things. But most of the time you're being told what to do and how to do it, or you're doing a production line of you know, 30 suits or something, and they're all the same, and it's not very creative. So I wanted to get that creative spark back. So that's why I started my business as well. And, and as I say that took off. And then I realised that I didn't want to be a factory, and I was still kind of doing that kind of factory line. But then it was just moved to my own business. As much as I love making the toys, I still do sell some of my toys, I then realised that I went back to my original kind of childhood dream of being a presenter, and realise that YouTube was becoming this big thing, or is this big thing. And wanted to start my own YouTube channel to teach people how to make my toys and how to make fun small projects and bags. And that's kind of where it's all LED, really, I still do my costume work part time, I do a couple of jobs a year probably definitely on a very much contract freelance basis. And then I do my studio 77 around that as well. Brilliant, that's so inventive. And it's good to hear that you are, you know, figuring out what's working for you where you're getting your creative flow, and how to move that. Creativity found.co.uk is the place to go to find workshops, courses, supplies, kits, and books to help you get creative. So if you're looking for your own creativity found experience, go have a browse to see what's on offer so far. And if you can help adults to find their new creative passion, please get in touch on social media, or through the contact details on the website. You know, we all go to YouTube when we go oh, I want to know how to do such and such. But from the other side of the camera. How do you start this? How do you Nisha? How did you decide what you were going to do? I mean, that's loads of questions there, Claire. That's not very helpful, Emma, but give me an idea of how you got started and just how the process works. And what's difficult, what's easy, what's fun, what's not? Well, when I started YouTube, you know, I had a look on YouTube. And of course, you see all these big channels and you see they've had millions of views and you think I thought at least I should say I just put a video up there and people watch it, people will find it, they will watch it, etc. Well, it doesn't really work like that. I quickly. It takes so much hard work and you know sometimes you see on Facebook and things people comment in flippantly saying oh my child wants to be a YouTuber or whatever. And I just think I have no idea how hard it is to actually get anywhere on any of these platforms. You know anyone with a big following I have so much respect because it's a bit like an athlete you don't see all those behind the scenes hours. You just see them winning that medal you don't see all those behind the scenes YouTube or Instagram or whatever you just see that they've got loads of followers so how I have done it so far and I'm still class is quite a small channel or very small channel compared to a lot of people but how I've done it is that I found my niche or do you think it's important to have a niche? I found my niche naturally because I was already making small projects and like I say my toys so I kind of fell into that my creature costume work, I use a lot of different materials, so many different materials, and you have to be quite up on all those different things to make kind of the crazy big structures and things. So then I naturally fell into Bag Making, because that's very structural. So that's kind of how I found my niche. And then in terms of how I built the channel, the think My top tip is just to ignore those kinds of voices, the imposter voices in your head saying, you you're not worthy, or people are gonna laugh at you, or people gonna think this or that about you and just tell anyone that will listen about your channel. I went to the library yesterday, and I picked up a sewing related book. And she the librarian said, Oh, I love this book, I use it I you know, I get it all the time. And I and I told her about my channel, because you just never know who's going to watch it. Who's going to tell their friends who's going to share it, all of that. So that's my first thing that I did. And then the other thing that I do, and I still do it constantly is you need to find your kind of community of where your people are on other platforms. So if you're perfect promoting your YouTube channel, then are they on Reddit? Are they on Pinterest? Are they on Facebook? Where are they and then promote your stuff on there as well and try and send them over? So yeah, lots of promoting lots of hard work. And then there's one quote that I absolutely love, that I try it I need to get get it and put it on the wall actually is the only people who don't succeed are the ones who quit. I really think that resonates for social media, because as long as you keep plugging away, and listening to advice, as well, as I know, a lot of people find it hard to hear that constructive criticism. But I always although it is hard immediately if someone has a negative point. I always tried to take a step back and revisit it maybe the next day or something and see actually, do they have a point? Is my audio bad? Is my lighting bad? Can I change that? can I how can I make it better? You know, things like that, I think it's important to keep trying striving to be better for each video and making better content because if you get better, then people will find you and you're only going to grow. Yeah, brilliant. That's made me think a little bit actually as well about often I speak with my guests when they come back to an art form about presenting it to an audience. And with you, you are presenting your work, but you're presenting yourself to an audience. How have you felt about that, like when you first go out there, you put your first video out and also, with being on YouTube, people can comment some people comment harshly. How have you coped with that on your emotional well being side of things? So I think the going to the second part of your question about the comments and the kind of trolling, I think anytime you put yourself out there, you're going to get those kinds of comments and reactions, it just there's just some people have not gotten things better to do. And I think my top tip for that is to find some kind of support bubble. So I don't know anyone in my real life who does YouTube or content creation. But I've managed to find an amazing group of supportive people who are doing the same thing, they totally get it. You know, at that kind of two o'clock in the morning, when I've lost some footage or something's gone wrong, I know that I can message them, I'm lucky that they're international, there's always someone awake, I highly recommend that as well. And they're just, they've just been so supportive. So definitely recommend if you can reach out to other content creators, find or if it's not content you're making, find people that are doing what you're doing, especially if your family or your friends don't have any idea about it. And just find that kind of group of people that will help you and if you're ever having a wobble, or you're just like, Oh, I've had this comment, or you know, is this true or whatever, they will have your back. And I think it's just super helpful to have that for your mental health. In terms of being confident on camera, I did go to drama school when I was younger. So I've kind of tried to remember these kind of things. I went for two years doing John school full time, so I'm very lucky that I have that to pull back on. However, obviously I've never done that professionally. I've always been on the other side of the camera. So it is definitely very different. And it's a long time ago. I did the drama training. So I think it's just about lots of practice. Just keep redoing it. I You know, in lockdown, I binge watched anything I could find about YouTube about how to become better on YouTube, how to feel confident on YouTube, how to little hacks, little tricks, little, how to get people to keep watching, all those kinds of things, anything I could find, I still watch all those kind of things now, not quite as much. But you know, just little silly things that you might not think about, like having a coffee before you go and film, just to make yourself have more energy, or, you know, I've got a friend who's done very well from doing very calming, and it's still making content, but it's very, he has a very calming, soothing voice. And a lot of people comment on that. So it's just finding your place in the kind of internet and and kind of working on that and pushing that to its best ability. That's what I'm continuously trying to do. I hope that comes across as well. I think it definitely does. Keep learning and have a supportive community. Now I could plug creativity found.co.uk here, but I won't. But that's a great community for creative people, creative facilitators. Where do you get your ideas for your makes, and you have patterns as well that are available for these makes? Where'd all that your ideas come from? So many places. I'm always looking obviously on Pinterest, and in Burks and YouTube, and I definitely don't take other people's ideas, but I try and give them a twist. Or if there's something that stumped particularly well, I think, well, obviously, I'm not going to copy that. But can I put my own spin on it? So? And I don't ever use the same patterns? That's just an absolute no, no, I always make my own patterns and figure it out just from the image so that it's not going to be the same. Sometimes I get ideas from something random, like a gift card or you know, a birthday card or something like that. It just there's just I don't know, just they just pop in my head. And then I draw them down. I've got a notebook. Yeah, perfect. You mentioned earlier that you do still do some monster work and you juggle various roles. Do you feel now you have achieved a better balance with regards to exploring your own creativity while also working looking after a family than when you were solely working on the film's? Definitely yes, I still think I don't have the balance quite right, because I am a bit of a worker. And I do need to learn to turn my phone off more and just ignore everything and be in the present. But I think that's just a juggle generally if you're an entrepreneur and and work for yourself or you know, I think that's a really hard juggle with a family. But definitely in terms of being with the kids being able to take them to their classes during the pickup and drop off. All of that has completely changed. I didn't wasn't able to do any of that before because I was leaving the house at six, seven, getting home at seven, eight. So definitely feel like that kind of work life balance is better. But like I say, I probably need to work on the screen time. And yeah. Being a bit more present, like us all, I'm sure. Yeah, I think everybody everybody says that. So going forward, do you have any specific plans for the future? Yeah, so this year, one of my resolutions is to do more so alongs I've done a couple in the past for a big kind of Christmas event in the end of 2020 When I was first starting out, but I want to do definitely do more. So I'm going to be concentrating on doing those on YouTube. And in the Facebook group, I think it's going to be really fun for people to sew along as well. So explain to me how that works. So you will prep up your fabrics and everything before you'll have everything cut out and it will usually be a free pattern. And then you'll come along to the live and we will sew it up and I'll explain how to sew it up together and you'll be sewing along with me or you can just just watch and chat as well and sew it up at a later date. So there's the option there too. Oh, that sounds so cool. It's been so lovely to speak to you today Mr. It's been really interesting to hear your story. How can people connect with you? So you can find me on all the social medias as studios seven T sevens. That's number seven letter T number seven. I'm obviously on YouTube Pinterest, Instagram Facebook and I also have a Facebook page called so create and craft which is in my link in my Instagram profile by always reply to all the comments on YouTube as well of course so if anybody's got any specific kind of project questions do put them on there and I will get back to you always fine But it helps other people as well. They might be reading the comments trying to find the answer to their question too. So I always really like it when people put questions on there. But yeah, everywhere basically. Thank you so much. Thank you so much, Claire. It's been really fun. Creativity found isn't openstage Arts production. If you're listening on Apple podcasts, please subscribe, rate and review. If you would like to contribute to future episodes, visit K O hyphen F phi.com/creativity found podcast. If you contact any of the artists featured sign up to their workshops, or buy their products don't forget to mention creativity found podcast on instagram or facebook follow at creativity found podcast where you'll find photos of our contributors artwork and be kept abreast of everything we're up to