'Do what works for you': Irish queer street artist Emma Blake on staying creative to cope with lockdown

Along with fantastic lockdown related street art, Emma Blake is auctioning off a Black Lives Matter inspired piece to raise funds for two charity groups.

Irish queer street artist Emma Blake posing in front of one of her murals

Dublin-based street artist Emma Blake has captivated people throughout lockdown with her iconic murals featuring pop icons delivering COVID-19 safety advice, a commemoration for Marriage Recognition five years on, and the power of the Black Lives Matter movement. 

As a result of the early stage lockdown restrictions, Blake began painting murals around her local area as a creative outlet to process sudden changes brought on by COVID-19. As she shared, “Staying creative throughout lockdown has actually been what has gotten me through.”

What started out as a way of coping with lockdown quickly evolved for Blake into a bigger project over time. From one piece decorating her back garden wall to multiple murals spread out across her housing estate, her art brings people together while both informing and entertaining.

Emma Blake street art mural on a housing estate wall

In collaboration with the phenomenal poet FeliSpeaks, Blake created a street mural inspired by the Black Lives Matter movement. The street artist converted the piece into an original 80cm x 80cm spray paint and acrylic on deep edge canvas, which is currently being auctioned off to raise funds for Wells For Zoë and the Irish Network Against Racism.

While speaking with GCN, Emma vocalised her deep admiration for these two volunteer based charity groups and the work they are doing on a national and international level. 

For people to get their name in the draw, they can donate €20 to the GoFundMe page, which will be found at this link. A box of postcards depicting Blake’s latest murals will be given to those who donate €50. A winner will be chosen on Saturday, August 1.

Along with painting powerful and eye-catching pieces, Blake further speaks about challenging a need for productivity during lockdown and using creativity as an outlet: 

Has it been difficult to stay creative in lockdown?

For the first while, I wasn’t being creative or productive at all, I was wrapped up in the duvet, watching Netflix and trying to ignore the impending doom. I would suffer with anxiety during regular, like non pandemic, times anyway, a not so great result of having an ADHD wired brain. So that just wasn’t working for me, like my anxiety was through the roof. So I decided I needed to get out of the house even if it was just to my back wall and keep myself busy to try and counteract that. 

I was planning on going into town to paint a few pieces but then the two kilometre announcement was made. I decided I needed to get out and paint somewhere, so I painted the first one on my back wall. That’s actually what’s gotten me through lockdown because if I didn’t have that outlet, I think I would have been a bit of a mess. 

Emma Blake street art mural on estate wall showing Pinkie and the Brain

The only thing that really matters is that we come out the other side of this with our health and mental health intact. So I feel like people should be doing what works for them to get them through it, and if that’s being productive or creative, then great, if it’s locking yourself away and watching boxsets, do that. 

Do what works for you. You are not expected to do anything with this time except get yourself through it. People just need to do what gets them through it and not be thinking at the end of it ‘what did I do with my time?’ You survived, that’s what you did. 

What drew you to create such informative pieces through pop icons?

When I started off it was really to reach people and to encourage them in a relatable way by using lyrics and singers that they were interested in. I felt by using pop icons that it might grab people’s attention more and stick with them. The project has evolved throughout lockdown. At the start, it was all about social distancing, but as it went on, I just wanted to keep peoples’ spirits up and give people a bit of laugh throughout this sh*tfest we are all stuck in.

Emma feature Arianna Grande in one of her street art pieces

Due to lockdown restrictions, you have been creating murals in your own local area, what has been the reaction from your local community?

I’ve lived in this area my whole life but I’ve never actually painted around here. So never in a million years did I think I would have 17 pieces dotted all around the area at one given time, never thought I would see the day. But the local community are all loving the pieces. 

The amount of people that stop and say lovely things and thank me while I’m out painting a piece is unreal. They really seem to love them. Even parents were telling me that throughout lockdown it was a bit of excitement for the kids. 

Four street art murals by Emma Blake along her estate wall

What got you interested in street art?

I’ve always had an interest in street art and graffiti, well more so graffiti when I was younger cause I didn’t know that street art was a thing. Then when I did discover street art, I didn’t realise that you could make a career out of it. 

I studied fine art and I did my degree in fine art, but towards the end of my degree I was making more and more street art style pieces and going to graffiti jams and different events like that. 

Street mural on a housing estate wall

Do you feel lockdown has sparked a renewed interest in creative outlets?

Definitely. I feel especially with people being stuck at home so much, people have taken up creative outlets to keep them occupied and get them through. I think a lot of people who may not have necessarily been in creative type jobs have now turned to creativity throughout lockdown. I’d say there are a lot of people who have been thinking about switching careers to a more creative career that they’re more passionate about, but never really found the opportunity to take the leap.

Hopefully there might be some upsides that we will stop turning Dublin into a city for tourists, devoid of any creative spaces or nightlife or anything for the people who actually live here. There have been a lot of sh*t things about the pandemic but hopefully there will be a few upsides when we come out of it. 

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