Thursday, March 28, 2013

Artist Interview with Kit Vincent, Part 2

Hello all, and welcome to the second half of my interview with quilt artist Kit Vincent! You can read the first half here, in which Kit shares gorgeous views of her studio and describes how she works and the materials she uses.  Now, on to some questions about her artistic process and where she goes for imspiration!

Are you currently having a passionate love affair with a particular medium or technique or concept, and would you care to share all the steamy details?
For me, fabric is a sensual and easily manipulated ground. It can be made to have weight, mass and texture. It is less constraining than stretched canvas. It can be dyed, painted, folded, cut, stitched and embroidered at will. I see this fabric less as cloth and more as un-primed, un-stretched ground. The processes that I use allow me to build in texture and layered meaning into my work.
I am also drawn to the liveliness of the stitch when working with textiles. The stitch is an entirely different mark-making tool than a pencil or brush. I don't aim for perfect form when stitching or a perfect length of stitches - either by hand or machine. I want my stitches to speak, to add texture, and to sparkle if necessary. I want my stitching to be individual, a personal expression and not regulated in any way, not dissimilar from a drawing.
The other aspect I love about stitching is the ability to create texture. Texture adds interest to the surface and is something that other materials do not accomplish to the same extent. I can make the texture even; make it with slight variations; or create variegated textured surfaces. The unstitched spaces are as interesting as the stitched areas. I can also create line with stitch, an important element of design. Then there is thread colour; I can make that line speak even more within the work. I think of stitching as an endless opportunity to create impact.  

Wild I, 51x45”, hand-dyed, discharged silks and cottons, fabric collage, machine quilted and embroidered

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 have several sketchbooks on the go at any one time (almost one in every room – even the car).  I also dabble with acrylic painting and collage.  However, when designing with fabric on the wall, I tend not to use my original ink sketches or acrylic collages as templates for these larger pieces. Instead they serve as departure points. As I progress, I become obsessed with every coloured shape of dyed cloth and how it looks next to its neighbour. I am also careful when sewing a flat, sometimes curved seam, which unites these shapes and introduces an added line to the overall composition. The original sketch may sit close by for a while, but I will progressively move away from it, as I build up this larger work.
Once assembled, I then introduce additional line-work and texture to this new surface using free-motion machine embroidery. At that point, I will sometimes return to my original sketch for hints as to texture and other insights that propelled the composition in the first place. This process allows me to build up these compositions in a personal way. I want the techniques I use to enhance my subject.

Examples of sketchbooks with ink studies

Are there people in your life who always come through with excellent input that continually helps you improve your work?  What is it that these people see that makes them so helpful?
In 2001, I came across the work of Nancy Crow. As I looked at her large bold fabric compositions I realized that sewing and quilting could be fine art. I was hooked! This was the kind of work I wanted to do. I pulled an old sewing machine out of a cupboard and began to teach myself how to sew.
Nancy Crow pioneered moving the quilt from a traditional craft into an evolving art form, in particular improvisation and freehand cutting. I love her creative spirit and artistic insight. I have since endeavoured to learn as much from her as I can. Below is a snippet from her artist statement. I include it here as I find it is so powerful:
"When I work on a quilt, I put away all thoughts that are not helpful and channel my energies towards relaxing and becoming one with my fabrics. Since I work intuitively, this is absolutely important. I begin to see shapes in my head and think about how to cut them out of my huge palette of colors that I have hand-dyed in my basement dye studio. I love being inside my brain and pushing myself to think in ever more complex ways because I know the ideas are there for the taking. It's all about being focused and disciplined and making use of one's abilities. And about being alone, in solitude, so one can think and feel deeply without interruption. I have definitely grown far closer to myself rather than to others because I see my quilt making as my experience which has nothing to do with other people."

Do you have any concrete advice about how to do away with artist's block?
When I need a quick creative fix, I will sketch with whatever is available.  For me, drawing helps me understand what surrounds me.  I get to slow down and look hard at some object as I attempt to sketch it and work in into a composition.  I keep several notebooks going, in almost every room of my house.  Pen and ink are favourites with acrylic paints and collage (both fabric & paper) as runners up.
When sketching, I see myself as being on a hunt - searching for shapes, patterns and objects that move me. I may focus on sketching shadows, shades, water movement, weather and music. Several small studies serve as inspiration for larger stitched work. I have also taken up hand stitching as a form of sketching, small studies can be done quickly -  postcard size (4x6") or less.  Working with fabric can be expensive and time consuming as an art form. These small studies help to keep my work consistent and focused.

ink and paper collage

Would you say that there is some particular thing that you are channelling while you work? How would you describe that something?
Anything is game for me when it comes to working with colour and composition. It may begin with a news event, a trip, the river that I live on, or the transport rigs that I routinely drive next to on the 401 Highway near my home. Any of these have been major sources of creative energy in the past; however, they are only departure points. They change and evolve as I work, often causing me great anxiety in the process. My objective is to produce stitched art that is motivated by metaphors for energy and movement. The subjects that I wish to address are universal and can suggest imagery evocative of nature, such as water, flowers, seeds and on occasion, vegetables.

Example of how a small thumbnail sketch (inset at top right) led to a large quilt top.  This piece (working title: Big Red) measures roughly 36 x 48 and is not yet quilted.

Are there any colors that give you particular trouble?  
Colour is a passion of mine.  I collect paint chips of all kind - have a big bin; and love sorting them into several combos.  That is how I learn how colours will behave with each other.  

paint on paper - complementary colour studies

Is there a piece you'll (probably) never sell? What is it, and why is it going to be staying with you?
Yes, a whole-cloth quilt I made back in 2005, on the return from a trip to France to commemorate the 60th anniversary of  D Day.  This quilt is about the brutal and shattering effects of war.  My uncle was 22 and the bombardier on an RAF Lancaster when it was shot down over northern France in July 1944.  The pilot struggled to miss the town of Marcilly and the plane crashed into a nearby beat field with the loss of all aboard.  Witnesses said it burned for 24 hours.  The farmer who owns the field told me that even today, he still ploughs up fuselage and armaments from the site.
For the imagery I air-brushed fabric paint onto a canvas that had been previously painted with an acrylic and pastel base.  I made three whole-cloth pieces in rapid succession and submitted them to Quilt National that September.  This piece was accepted. 

Lancaster Series:  Witness 54x59" whole cloth, painted, airbrushed, dry pastel, machine embroidered and quilted

Do you ever find yourself anthropomorphizing the media you work with or a particular aspect of your process?
Wow – that is a big word!  I had to look it up.  Do I attribute 'human qualities' to  the media I use?  Such as my sewing machines, my dyed fabric and thread stashes?  You bet.  They are my BFFs!

You live in Elizabethtown, Ontario. What opportunities exist locally for fiber artists? 
We have a very active Regional SAQA group here who meet regularly to organize shows and learning events.  I am in awe with the generosity and sustained hard work of these  SAQA organizers.  This benefits us all as there is so little else in this region!

Recent fabric collage workshop I delivered in Kingston, Ontario

Do you have any extremely talented artist friends whose work you'd like to plug here on the blog?  They don't have to be fiber artists, just super cool folks who could use a little blog love. 
I would simply like to direct you to our regional SAQA Central blog: 
You will find an active list of very talented local art quilt members to the right of the HOME page.
Have you ever made a piece that ended up being so unsuccessful that there was no way to salvage it? What do you think happened, and what ended up being that piece's eventual fate?
I keep a healthy stack of ‘less than spectacular’ pieced and stitched efforts under my cutting table.  Some of these are now beds for Lola, my husky and beloved studio companion.  But, more often, I have turned these upside down, cropped and incorporated them into some very interesting new mixed-media collages.  Lessons learned?  I no longer throw these out or burn them – they are kept for future fabric adventures…when the time is right.

Swept Up, 41x31", 2006, hand-dyed silks, fabric collage, machine quilted

Swept Up, detail

Thank you so much, Kit Vincent, for answering my questions so well! I hope everyone enjoyed the interview - I was particularly thrilled to see so many sketchbook images and process photos. Nothing enhances my experience of other artists' work more than seeing all the lovely behind-the-scenes moments that go into its creation!

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Artist Interview with Kit Vincent, Part 1

It is time once again for an Artist Interview, with another art quilter I have recently discovered, and whose work I adore, Kit Vincent.  I am particularly thrilled to be able to share views of Vincent's studio and the process she follows when creating her work, which are two things I am always curious about when I encounter new artists. Kit gave excellent answers for a TON of my questions, so I'm going to break up her interview into two separate parts - look for part two next week!

Describe Your Workspace - is it in your living space or separate?
I have an 800 square foot studio located on the ground floor of our home. It faces Southeast with a view of the St Lawrence shipping lanes.  Distracting? Not at all!
The room is equipped with three 8'x 8' design walls, a large cutting surface and an even larger sewing table (made from a repurposed government desk) that measures 4' x 8'. This table houses two sewing machines, a Janome for piecing and a Bernina for embroidery. The table is large enough to allow large textile pieces to puddle freely on the surface, as I free-motion stitch. Without this surface, my larger works would drag on the floor. 

Studio view during the Open Studio Tour sponsored by the Thousand Island Arts Group

I have also repurposed our laundry room into a surface design lab. This room is equipped with a separate exhaust system from the rest of the house and so functions beautifully, when I want to dye, paint, stamp, discharge and otherwise distress many bolts of silk and pimatex fabric.

Dye run showing pimatex cotton ready for second application of colour

During the summer months I also have access to an old dockside summer cottage. It is now my 'summer art shack'. It has electricity and running water (albeit from a hose). I can really make a mess in this wonderful space on very hot days that are ideal for surface design work.

Re-purposed dockside cottage showing print table

Do you have a preference for working in your living space or elsewhere? 
I work and have work in just about every room in the house. 
is there anything your setup doesn't allow or that you have to do in a weird way?
I wish I had planned for more storage space.

Have you come up with any ridiculously clever ways of working with the space you have available to you?
I have a 200 foot garden hose that I throw  over our cliff to reach down some 30 feet to my Summer Art Shack. This brings running water  to this area where I carry out most of my surface design activities  - I have even run an occasional workshop this way.  I also rigged up a French Drain next to the Shack.  Having running water makes all the difference when working down there.  It’s rudimentary but it works! 
Flat dyeing workshop that I ran last summer for SAQA Central members

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?
Clutter always accumulates as I am working.  Once a project is finished though, I like to clean up.  I find that a clean workspace is so much more inviting when launching into something new - it can even act as a creative prompt.

Cutting table and ironing station with new project underway
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?
In the past I looked for any and all silver bullets – I have since discovered that there are none.  I have learned the benefits of working with intent and I work only that way now. 
That said, I am still a sap for new gadgets and technologies:-))

First Light, 42x60", 2010,  Hand-dyed cottons and silks, machine pieced and quilted

Are there any particular patterns or motifs that creep into your work when you're not paying attention (as opposed to the motifs you've consciously chosen to work with), and have you given any thought to where they might come from? 
I came to stitched art roughly ten years ago. My early work represents numerous explorations into all types of imagery and media. Some of this work has been representative, namely my embroidery and surface design work. I also experimented with fabric collage that eventually brought me closer to abstract design. Currently I work with abstract imagery, focusing on my own designs.
Refuge, 28x28", 2006, hand-dyed cottons and silks, wool felt, fabric collage, machine quilted.  An example of earlier work.

Do you incorporate any materials or techniques into your art that are not normally thought of as art supplies?
I have been experimenting and working with hand-coloured fabric paper, made with a polyester substrate, also known commercially as ‘bounce’.  I can get this stuff by the 72” roll before it is thrown into a nearby land-fill by the manufacturer.    
Painted sheets of polyester substrate drying in my laundry room
What about these items makes them appeal to you personally? 
This material can be made into a very strong fabric-paper.  It can be cut, does not ravel, takes fabric paint beautifully and can be sewn or fused at will. In many respects way better than paper and a lot easier to collage than fabric
How do you use them, and how did you discover this unexpected artistic use?
My friend Jennifer Hodge who owns a quilt shop in Brockville Ontario ( discovered this material.  She uses it to make patterns. 
She suggested that I play with it to see if anything else could be done with it.  I have been working with it ever since.
Are there any media or methods that you know are definitely NOT FOR YOU?
Working with a pattern.
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?
I have never hesitated to beg, borrow and steal (ethically, of course) any and all good ideas.

Fused collage design includes polyester substrate and is inspired by some of Sue Benner's earlier pieces (

Which materials do you tend to amass at a far greater rate than you could ever hope to use them in your work?
Pimatex cotton, I buy it 100+ yards at a time.  I love to dye my own fabric and I have a healthy stash in my studio. 
I keep my hand dyes in sight on shelves.  It would be better to store them away from studio lights but then I forget I have them - I need to see them as I work.  I like to stack them by colour, then value.

What was your most recent art-material impulse, and what have you done with it or are you planning to do?
I am attempting to get a better handle on using Photoshop as an aid when designing.  I usually have more design ideas than I know what to do with and I hope that PS will help me explore each design in greater depth, also keep all these designs organized.  I recently came across as a learning tool, which I love! 

Stay tuned next week for the second half of the interview, featuring more gorgeous images of Kit's work and process, plus tons of insights about artistic inspiration and making connections with other artists! 

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Ridiculously Inspiring TED Talk from Artist Shea Hembrey

The other day I happened to see this TED talk by an artist I had never heard of named Shea Hembrey, and I immediately knew I must share it as soon as possible. I have never heard of lots of quite well known artists, and am always thrilled when I find out about somebody fantastic whose work I definitely should have been aware of before.  Mr. Hembrey is not a fiber artist per se, but as the video will illustrate, he is absolutely the sort of person whose work deserves to be mentioned on the blog - he possesses incredible amounts of energy and inspiration, cares deeply about craftsmanship, and has a wonderful sense of humor.

Here is the blurb about the video from the TED website:
How do you stage an international art show with work from 100 different artists? If you're Shea Hembrey, you invent all of the artists and artwork yourself -- from large-scale outdoor installations to tiny paintings drawn with a single-haired brush. Watch this funny, mind-bending talk to see the explosion of creativity and diversity of skills a single artist is capable of.