Monday, December 17, 2012

Artist Interview with Sue Reno

I was recently fortunate to participate in Art Quilts XVII: Integrating the Paradox alongside many excellent art quilters, and the fabulously talented Sue Reno agreed to set aside some time to answer a collection of questions for my first ever Artist Interview here on the blog! I think you will find both my questions and Sue's answers quite intriguing (I know I gained a new understanding of Sue's work from her answers, plus some thoughts about how to relate to my own), so I definitely encourage you to read on!

"Bamboo Emerging" by Sue Reno

Do you have a specific idea of the story you'd like each piece to tell, or are you hoping viewers will have stories of their own ready to inhabit your work?
Both!  I consider myself primarily a storyteller, and each piece gets created in response to an experience I’ve had, generally an interaction with the natural world.  I spend as much time as possible outdoors, walking around looking at things in nature, or attempting to tweak the micro environment in my yard.  I also spend time in and around the historic architecture so prevalent here in Lancaster County, PA.  From time to time something about a leaf, or an animal skull, or a building will become so compelling that I need to drop everything and produce work that reflects my understanding of it.  But I also try to not be too heavy handed, to leave room for the viewer to bring their own interpretation and their own personal history to the piece.

"Ginger" by Sue Reno

Would you say that there is some particular thing that you are channeling while you work? How would you describe that something?
When things are going swimmingly, and I am in a state of flow, I would describe it as the deliberate practice of getting out of my own way.  My conscious self can take things only so far, in terms of scheduling some time, and obtaining materials, and roughing out a scheme, but then it’s time to step aside and let the subconscious have a turn at the wheel.

"Silk Mill #1" by Sue Reno

Would you say your personal style runs more towards clutter or organization? Does your style work for you, or are there elements of it you wish you could change? 
I need to work in an organized and calm space.  I carry in my head a detailed inventory of all the fabric I’ve ever bought or otherwise acquired and I need to be able to find a specific piece of fabric quickly and easily.  All my fabrics and other materials are sorted, labeled, and shelved in clear bins.  That being said, I am not afraid to make a mess while I am working and in the flow, and I am open to serendipitous combinations that emerge from the temporary chaos.  But I clean it all up when I am done with a project before moving on the next.

"Columbine" by Sue Reno

Are you a stickler about your particular medium, or are you happy to cheat, borrow and steal from other disciplines whenever it seems like a good idea?
Within my chosen medium of fiber art / art quilting, I have several surface design techniques that I return to time and again—cyanotype, heliographic printing, thermofax screen printing, and digital transfer.  Each time I employ them, I discover new things, and increase my knowledge base and control of the process.  So while I am not opposed to an influx of new ideas, techniques and materials, I feel like I am still just scratching the surface of what can be done with the ones I currently employ.  You could say I am going for depth rather than breadth.

"Plume Poppy" by Sue Reno

Do you ever have to choose between doing some aspect of your work "the lazy way" versus "the better but far more annoying way," and has going for "the lazy way" ever produced unexpectedly awesome results?
I am not a big fan of the “lazy” or easy path.  I am meticulous in my craft practice and will do whatever is needed to meet my self-imposed standards.  I try not to rush any part of the process, and to enjoy it as it unfolds. 
My quilts are pieced, not fused, because I can only get the type of texture and integration of materials, and the aesthetic I prefer, by stitching the elements together.  (This is not a prejudice against fused work in general—it’s just my personal preference.)  So I don’t mind that the piecing is time consuming; same with the quilting stitches, or the hand embroidery, or the bead work.  All of the detail work provides a reward to the viewer who steps up for a closer look at the piece.
I also am always mindful of the ways in which I can extend the expected archival life of my work, and am leery of shortcuts that could jeopardize it.  So in general I stick with traditional and time tested materials and methods.  They provide the backbone for a design aesthetic that is decidedly not traditional, and I enjoy the juxtaposition and dialogue that results.

"The Organic Landscape" by Sue Reno

Describe your sketchbook (or other Vital Idea Capturing Apparatus). Do you work in such a way that there is a great distance between sketches and finished projects, or are you more likely to incorporate your sketches directly into your final work? 
I don’t use a sketchbook or similar device. I work on images and ideas (there’s never a shortage) in my head, and I feel like if I can’t remember them, they are not worthwhile.  I do enjoy documenting a project as I go along, taking pictures and keeping swatches and so on, but that’s the other end of the process.  The times I have tried to sketch or excessively plan out a work, I’ve lost interest in it.  If I’ve already designed it, where’s the mystery and the excitement in seeing how it takes form?

"Watt & Shand #9" by Sue Reno

Are there any colors that give you particular trouble? 
Nope, I love them all!  And I’m not shy about combining them.  I hate color wheels; I feel they put an unnecessary layer of bureaucracy between the colors and my use and enjoyment of them.  I do use discretion, and hopefully I have taste and judgment, but I will not be dictated to by external standards of what “goes” together.  And if I am ever in doubt, I just look to the natural world.

"Skunk and Garlic Mustard" by Sue Reno

Do you have any concrete advice about how to do away with artist's block? 
Relax.  Don’t panic.  Breathe deeply.  Go for a bike ride.  Walk in the woods.  Have a beer.  Eat some raspberries.  Dabble in an alternative craft/art practice. Do the things that make you happy, and don’t worry.  Creativity springs from an endless well, and dry spells will pass.
This summer I took my own advice and bought a set of specialty lenses for my iPhone.  I have been having an absolutely fabulous time experimenting with macro and fisheye photography, and I am learning a great deal about the natural world and what makes a good image.  I don’t know where this is leading in regards to my fiber work, but it’s bound to be a good thing.

"Groundhog and Green Bean" by Sue Reno

You live in Pennsylvania - what opportunities exist locally for fiber artists?  What about the character of your city do you find particularly inspirational? Are there any local organizations or groups you'd like to mention so they can get more exposure? 
I am fortunate to be involved in several excellent local artists’ organizations.  The Pennsylvania Arts Experience is a diverse group of incredibly talented artists working in a variety of mediums, and I’m proud to have been a part of the organization since its inception.  It’s provided me with exhibit opportunities and the opportunity to forge some wonderful friendships.  Do yourself a favor and browse the artist galleries:
I’ve also a member of the Pennsylvania Guild of Craftsmen, which recently opened its flagship store here in Lancaster.  I’ve obtained juried status with the organization, and volunteer my time serving on the Standards Committee and doing floor jurying.  I’ve learned a tremendous amount about craft practice and met some amazing artists through my participation.  Read all about it here:

Thank you so much Sue Reno for your excellent answers - I definitely hope you'll have a show here in NYC some time so I can see your work in person and do a review on the blog!


  1. I love Sue's work. Great interview. Thanks for sharing it.

  2. Thought-provoking answers from a brilliant artist. Than you both for this interview!

    1. I'm glad you enjoyed reading Sue's answers! This has definitely been one of my favorite posts so far

  3. Good interview; thanks for posting!


Thanks so much for commenting on The Art of Inclusion!