It has to be said, Suffolk could easily be a contender for one of the UK’s most creative counties.

In every town, village and hamlet, there are scores of artists perfecting and excelling their craft. We’ve got an abundance of talented painters, ceramicists, textile artists, and more.

And just outside Woodbridge, one woman is helping spread the joy that comes with all things creative thanks to her workshop and art gallery that is aimed at everyone – regardless of age or ability.

Ceramic artist and owner of eJaRt Creative Emma Jayne Robertson has always had a love for the arts – and for as long as she can remember, has always wanted to pursue a creative career.

East Anglian Daily Times: EJaRt owner Emma Jayne Robertson with Aime Kearney and husband Robert FryEJaRt owner Emma Jayne Robertson with Aime Kearney and husband Robert Fry (Image: Archant)

“Ever since I was little, I’ve loved creating. I always did things with my mum, who would put on crafty activities for us in the summer holidays, and my grandma was also very artistic,” she explains.

Years later, Emma Jayne enrolled at Suffolk Arts College in order to complete a foundation degree before going on to study her undergraduate degree.

“The point of a foundation course is to get you to try lots of different things – and while I originally intended to go to Norwich Arts School to do a textiles degree, I discovered during my foundation course that I really working with clay.”

Rethinking her pathway, Emma changed her course to contemporary applied arts.

“I specialised in ceramics, textiles, and printing – but the clay really took over,” she says.

East Anglian Daily Times: Emma Jayne making clayEmma Jayne making clay (Image: Archant)

Upon graduating, Emma moved back to her native Suffolk and found herself working in various art-based teaching roles across the county.

“I needed a job so I worked as a learning support assistant in schools – but I also ran an after school ceramics club in a secondary school.”

Alongside this, Emma also ran workshops and crafting parties in her spare time.

“These began to gradually build up, so I started hiring village halls so I could have a proper workshop set-up for regular sessions.”

But balancing her work with her hobby made Emma realise she wanted to curate workshops and art sessions full time.

East Anglian Daily Times: EJaRt Creative owner Emma Jayne RobertsonEJaRt Creative owner Emma Jayne Robertson (Image: Archant)

“By the end, I was doing so many workshops that I couldn’t fit anything else in. And I was storing everything in my home, so I was always loading and unloading the car, which isn’t ideal with fragile clay. So I thought it would be nice to have a base to run my workshops from.

And thus, eJaRt Creative was born. Located at Grange Farm in Hasketon near Woodbridge, she describes it as ‘dream come true’.

“We opened nine months before lockdown, and it was going well but obviously everything changed.”

Not even a year into her business and having an enforced closure of course wasn’t ideal – but Emma Jayne made it work.

“Up until that point, people were discovering us and we were well-received within the community. And all of the people who did my workshops before that came to my new place. We also set the gallery up, which was growing as more artists were being added. It was really buzzing.

“We were just getting going and then we had to close our doors. And while we did run some online workshops, we found that people were working from home staring a screen, and the last thing they wanted to do was sit at a computer for even longer after work.”

For those who were interested however, Emma Jayne followed Covid restrictions and offered a socially-distanced pick-up and collection service, offering tools and materials in the interim.

East Anglian Daily Times: Takeaway Taster bags, so people can try a variety of crafts at homeTakeaway Taster bags, so people can try a variety of crafts at home (Image: Archant)

“There were people who were retired and lonely who wanted to do some workshops from home, but clay is such a difficult skill to learn virtually. We also offered a firing service for our students, so they could keep relatively sane in their spare time. We had a collection box so they could drop their ceramics off, we’d fire them, and leave them in the box for them to pick up, so there was no contact.”

However, lockdown did give her the chance to develop her business’ web presence and online shop.

“We also found that lockdown helped people reassess their lives, and realise how much they valued time with their families and doing what made them happy. Mental health and wellbeing became more important to people, and being able to step away was crucial to that.”

East Anglian Daily Times: Some local art on displaySome local art on display (Image: Archant)

And since restrictions have lifted, people have been coming down to Emma Jayne’s workshops to try their hands at a number of skills and crafts.

“When people were able to attend workshops again, we had a lot of new customers who came to us and said they’d tried something new during lockdown and really enjoyed it.”

But what is it that sets eJaRt Creative apart?

“Our workshops are bespoke and tailored to the people. We try and make it so it’s more relaxed and people can learn what they’re interested in, rather than us being prescriptive. We also make all of the clay we use in-house.”

East Anglian Daily Times: Aime Kearney and Phoebe doing a workshop at EJaRt CreativeAime Kearney and Phoebe doing a workshop at EJaRt Creative (Image: Archant)

Attendees can choose a number of crafts to partake in – including ceramics and clay, mosaics, lino, glass, painting, papercrafting, drawing, and more.

“We try to cater to what people like to learn. And if people ask for something that we don’t offer yet, we will try to see if anyone can teach it within our bank of tutors. We have a number of artists who exhibit here, and some of them come in and do workshops. For instance, we have a woman who does silver clay and enameling, and another who comes in and teaches Shetland lace knitting.”

Bringing local artists and the community together is incredibly important to Emma Jayne, as she adds: “With our gallery we try to showcase as many local East Anglian artists as we can. We’re keen to give those a chance who may not have been given the opportunity to exhibit their work before, but have the talent.”

eJaRt Creative also focusses on making its space especially welcoming for children, and anyone still nervous about the pandemic.

“It’s important to get children into art, as some schools don’t have the time to let them be as creative as they should. So it’s good for them to be able to see what they can do, and have some time to be imaginative and let their creativity flow.

East Anglian Daily Times: Phoebe, aged 11, doing a workshop at EJaRt CreativePhoebe, aged 11, doing a workshop at EJaRt Creative (Image: Archant)

“Since reopening, we’ve kept mask-wearing and screens in place a bit longer than most other places. I think it’s what’s made people more comfortable to come here. We want to be accommodating to everyone and if someone is coming to a workshop who’s vulnerable, if they let us know beforehand we can adjust the session accordingly.”

Emma Jayne is motivated and optimistic about the future of her art studio and gallery – and has a number of projects that anyone can get involved with.

“We’ve currently got a calendar competition running - and you don’t need to be a professional artist to enter. It’s open to all ages, and we’re looking for artwork for each of the four seasons for our 2023 calendar. We’ll choose a shortlist from all of the entries, and our top three will go on display in the gallery, where the public can vote for their favourites.

“We’re also working on a postcard competition, which is an ongoing exhibition. Later in the year we’ll have some exhibiting opportunities for artists and craftspeople, and we’re also planning a Christmas market at the beginning of December.”