For some people the word “passion” doesn’t articulate their reason for artistic expression — it might be better described as a need, a fundamental compulsion to create as a precondition of existence.
For some, it really is as involuntary as blinking.
Emma Wallace is one of the afflicted. She’s known for a long time that she wanted to be an artist in some form, but Wallace didn’t always give that undergirding obligation to churn out physical manifestations of her thoughts the credence it deserved.
“I kind of have this sickness to do it,” she said. “I have an innate, impulsive desire to use my hands to make things.”
Even in a career that draws on her inventive self Wallace found it difficult to partition off part of her time for her own artistic endeavors. She wasn’t creating, and it wasn’t until later that she identified it as the cause of depression.
Before that, the Charlotte native attended Savannah College of Art & Design, ultimately settling on a major in textile design and a minor in printmaking. After graduation Wallace worked in a painting studio but left to attempt what many artists dream of — making it on her own.
She sustained herself for eight months selling “therapeutic products” ranging from lavender-filled owls to quilts and get-well cards, offering her wares at markets in the Queen City and doing freelance work for clients.
Wallace ditched Charlotte for Greensboro, because of its history as a textile hub with a patchwork of remaining gigs in the industry, and landed an internship with LT Apparel Group in 2011. Her temporary stint with the company was followed by freelance work for LT Apparel Group and others.
Two years ago in January the company hired Wallace as a full-time freelancer, bumping her up to a regular employee several months later. As an associate designer, Wallace generates art for Adidas’ kids clothing. By that point she had left Greensboro, relocating to Winston-Salem with no intention of moving back, but returned a year later primarily to shorten her commute.
Wallace found it challenging to continue pursuing an idea for its own sake on top of a packed schedule, unconsciously letting her independent commitment to creation dwindle and wither. The dream deferred sagged indeed like a heavy load, until a request from a friend reignited her energy, helping her flash back to what it felt like to do for self.
Now she balances both. Working under the moniker Narrow Lines, Wallace’s eclectic skill set emphasizes functional sewing products, particularly travel-based goods such as bags.
“I think of them as different functional vessels,” she said
There are laptop sleeves, cosmetic bags and clutches. A dark, wooden crate holds larger finished bags in her third-floor apartment, near a shelf stacked with her cards, thread, fabrics, leather, grommets and palm-sized tins. The earthy tones of her apartment — accented by a tree-stump that could double as a stool and a twisted branch adorning a corner — match the palette of Wallace’s creations.
She pursues a clean, minimal aesthetic, relying heavily on neutral colors in part because they are more timeless. Her professional designing, which she still finds rewarding, influences what she makes at home including what she learns through extensive trend research. A modicum of brighter color, such as green zippers, filters into her independent art from the more lively professional productions.
Wallace practices her own process of making as a daily ritual, or maybe more accurately, like a necessary deluge. With a redesigned Etsy site and plans to sell her art at markets and events in the Triad such as Phuzz Phest and First Friday, Wallace is upbeat.
In fact she said she hasn’t been this happy in decades.
“I’m tired a lot, but I’m happy,” she said, smiling.
Email Emma Wallace at [email protected] or find Narrow Lines on Etsy.