Monday, February 20, 2012

What's On My {Creative} Bookshelf

Last week (or so), Feeling Stitchy posted about Hoopla! The Art of Unexpected Embroidery. I immediately put it on my Amazon wish list (otherwise known as "where I keep track of books I want to buy myself, because nobody else ever checks my wish list, ever"). But I also checked my local library system, and they not only had copies, but there wasn't a hold wait-list, either, so I got the book sent to my nearest branch super quick. And then I devoured it. I still plan on buying it, because I need my own copy. This embroidery book speaks to me.

I've been embroidering for less than a year; I decided I needed to learn so I could add some poetry to a pair of jeans. And while I've embroidered other people's patterns, I rather quickly moved to wanting to embroider my own drawings, the gist of my thought process being, If I can draw, why am I embroidering other people's drawings? Likewise, I seem to have moved along from wanting to use embroidery only as adornment or in the process of making something useful, to viewing floss on fabric as another choice of medium for expressing an idea--in other words, as an artistic representation in its own right. This is how I ended up stitching tree branches for two weeks. I could have rendered that in paint or pastel or charcoal...but I wanted to do it with thread.

There's definitely a risk with that choice. Stitching floss into fabric takes time, and there's a chance that at the end, you just won't be happy with the result. If there's a way to make a sketch in floss, I don't know about it. On the other hand, embroidery supplies are inexpensive, compared to other hobbies and other art media. Needles? Super cheap. Hoops, floss, all inexpensive. Fabric? That doesn't even have to be purchased; you can stitch on repurposed items. Even the least expensive (yet still workable) water color set and a pad of watercolor paper is going to cost more than what you need to get started with stitching--never mind acrylics or oils or even a nice set of drawing pencils.

So back to Hoopla: it's not the patterns that draw me in, although there are some fantastic ones--but I don't see myself re-creating someone else's artistry anytime soon. It's the interviews, with loads of people who are using embroidery to express their artistic vision, in sometimes unexpected ways. I'm not drawn to all of those ways, of course; we each have our own tastes. But I am inspired. Some inspiring people in particular:

Annie Coggan Crawford embroiders maps (amongst other things) on furniture--such as the military movements of Ulysses S Grant. (Aside: I was taught, as a copy editor, not to place a period after the "S" in Grant's name because it didn't stand for anything.) I was hoping to find a link to an online gallery of her embroidery work, but I'm having no luck. You can see a glimpse of one piece here.

Ray Materson taught himself embroidery in prison. I've seen his work online, but I didn't know his story, some of which is in his interview in the book. It's fairly powerful. (And his embroidery is amazing, too.)

Also included are goddess portraits stitched by Sasha Webb, another new-to-me name, in floss she dyed herself using natural dyes--to take the time-intensive nature of embroidery up a notch, yes? (The colors are just gorgeous, and perfect against the linen background.)

This piece is by Kirsten Chursinoff, who (like me!) is drawn to sea life, although these, of course, are plants.

Photo of Ernst Schneider's photo of Kirsten Chursinoff's Moonlight Umbels, from Hoopla!

And I love this blend of science and art by Aubrey Longley-Cook (who went to our local art school):

Photo of Aubrey Longley-Cook's photos of his own pieces from the series Zombie Zoology, from Hoopla!
And last, I'll leave you with an inspiring (to me, anyway) quote, from the interview with Penny Nickels:
If you have an interesting idea, you may be the first person to create it with embroidery. I can't think of another art from where that is a possibility.
I was already working on ideas with embroidery, but now I'm teeming with many more to sort through and try. It's a slow process, stitching. You live with the work for a while; it's not something you can finish in a day, even a long day. When I was taking classes towards an art minor, I don't think any professor ever suggested fabric and thread as a medium. It took me this long to make the connection, that what I have in my mind's eye could possibly be expressed through slow and careful stitching, and that this is so much more interesting to me than paint or charcoal. What a giddy, liberating connection to make.


Shell said...

Hoopla has got to be the best craft book I've bought in a long time. I would recommend to anyone interested in embroidery, money well spent.

Donna Lee said...

Embroidery is something else I taught myself a long time ago (in college). I love the texture and the look of embroidered art. I put a hole in a pair of new jeans and sewed it up and embroidered a clumsy flower on top but everyone thought I bought it that way.

I love pieces of embroiderey sticking out of unexpected places.

Bells said...

there's so much scope. So much! I'm reading backwards so my head is still full of the Leap stuff and I'm thinking of what a leap you can make in going in these new and inspiring directions!