UU Graduate In Residence: Gillian Brownlow’s Journey

UU Graduate In Residence: Gillian Brownlow’s Journey

With a variety of work roles, including dental nursing, classroom assistant and sales roles behind her, Gillian Brownlow’s decision to pursue art may seem like an unexpected career change. 

After raising and supporting her three children through their studies, Gillian found herself looking for something new and challenging. 

Deciding to focus on expanding her creative passion, she enrolled at SRC in Lurgan to complete a foundation degree, for which she has received a Distinction.

“They recognised that I had the potential to go on and do the degree, so I went ahead and I enjoyed it so much – I just loved it” she revealed. 

Spurred on by her success at College, she decided to further her studies by completing a Bachelor’s Degree in Textile Art, Design and Fashion at the Belfast School of Art. 

After attaining a First Class Honours, Gillian applied to be a Graduate of Residence in Ulster University and was offered a place in a new Graduate In Residence programme they were running in conjunction with Ulster University Belfast School of Art and Employability and Careers, at The Designerie and Makers House in Bushmills. 

“I knew that the Uni held this Graduate In Residence programme and I thought I would do another year with them just to try and get a feel for whether I should be doing a small business or whether I should be focusing on being an artist.” she explained.

As a result of the collaboration, Gillian took up residence in Makers House, where she now showcases her eclectic, abstract and meaningful artworks. 

Working mainly with thread and paint to create her art pieces, Gillian is inspired by abstract artists like Claude Monet, Gerhard Richter and one of her University lecturers, Hazel Bruce, to explore her creative and artistic side.

As a prolific artist, she experiments abstractly with colour which is an integral part of her work. Her love of fine art, the abstract, and all things textile offers her freedom to use whatever medium her current project demands. 

She relies on her intuition to create art that portrays a message, an emotion or captures a moment in time. 

“I believe art can express how we interpret our environment and current circumstances in an effort to find the meaning we crave.”

For Gillian, working intuitively means the work evolves as it progresses, creating an element of excitement as the outcome reveals its own story over time. 

“I love the story behind what I create. I start off with something that could be very simple, like the colours of the sky. But then the story that evolves as I work is what I think gives my work depth for people.”

Although having her own story intertwined with the art she creates, learning about how the viewers interpret her work and relate it to their own life’s journey is what makes Gillian’s work different.

“The artist put their expression on canvas, but the viewers’ expression is also evident in their reaction to what they are seeing at a particular time in their lives.” she explained.

Looking back on her journey so far, Gillian recalled some of the challenges she has faced.

“As sole traders, we are always learning, whether through courses, tips, insights and advice from those who have been there and done it before.”

Creating meaningful artwork is a complex process, which involves exploration, soul searching and reflection. She admits, these necessary elements, alongside the slow processes involved, particularly when working in stitch and creating original pieces, creates time pressures which can be a challenge. 

“My process is quite a long one, from where it starts to where it ends up, especially in textile work which is a slow process.” 

A single piece of Gillian’s artwork could take up to 86 hours to create and months to come up with an idea. 

Her hand-hooked, large scale textile work, titled  “Below the Sea”, which is currently on display at The Designerie, was inspired by the beautiful Irish coastline and explores the diverse colours and textures potentially hidden beneath the sea. 

“The patterns of the work emulate the dancing reflections obvious on the surface of the water."


“Using the hooking method, loops of material are created using found and repurposed fabric, in recognition of our need to adopt a sustainable model for recycling waste, rather than polluting our oceans.” Gillian revealed.  

Joining The Designerie team in July 2021, Gillian found she has received a boost of confidence in her own work and a sense of reassurance that her artwork is worth putting a price tag on.

“As an artist, you do things that you love – you create things that mean something to you – but the staff, the manager and the other makers complimenting you gives you confidence that others will also value what you produce.”

Not only as an artist but as a small business owner, she found her journey with The Designerie and Makers House incredibly helpful.

“It’s very safe being within The Designerie team.”

“I’m loving the opportunity to explore running a small business in such a safe environment and to do so with so much support and help,” said Gillian.

The relaxed and unhurried atmosphere of the shop, offering the customer a unique retail experience with a friendly and inviting atmosphere is one of the things Gillian loves about The Designerie and Makers House. 

During lockdown Gillian, like many of her peers, lost the camaraderie that is shared when part of an artistic community and missed the ability to bounce creative ideas off others, this was reignited when she joined The Designerie Makers team.

“There seems to be a sense of family and unity here. Everyone is rooting for each other."

“We celebrate each other’s successes and try to pick each other up when we’re feeling a bit woeful about things.”

To see Gillian’s textile wall art in person, visit The Designerie and check out the Graduate In Residence pod in Makers House, or go to her website at www.gillianbrownlow.art.