Meeting with Isabel Greenslade is a joy as she knows how to stitch her love of life with so many beautiful colours!
Photos – © Copperlight Studio – photos protected by copyright – thank you
Interview – Claire de Pourtalès
Growing up in Devon, would you say you were a city girl or a country girl? Has this very unique place shaped your art…
Whilst growing up in Devon I think I considered myself to be a city girl, desperate to move away and explore exciting big city life; but after almost 10 years of that big city life (3 years in Leeds for university, then straight to London) I have definitely realised I will always be a country girl and get back as much as I can! I love the outdoors, especially the Devon coast, the beaches and the sea- that beautiful natural world has probably influenced my use of colour and texture in my art.
When / where did you learn embroidery?
I have always been drawn to textiles and after exploring knit, weave and surface design at college, then Uni, I started experimenting with embroidery, enjoying the freedom to layer colour and texture without restrictions. I interned at fashion houses and studios including bridal and couture where I embroidered garments and swatches, then spent 4 years working as a Product Developer, working with factories to bring garments and embroidery designs to life. This gave me a great insight into the possibilities of embroidery in the industry.
How did you come to use beads as well?
I like using contrast and building texture in my work, I like to create pieces that don’t look like stereotypical embroidery and love how a strategically placed bead creates a sense of depth and movement against a satin or velvet base fabric.
How did your Burst series come to life? What is your inner connection with those works?
As my confidence grew in my own embroidery designs I grabbed every opportunity that came my way, like swatch design, agency seamstress work and bespoke embroidery commissions. This was a good boost to my confidence as an embroiderer and self-employment but left me with little time or stitching energy to work on my own embroidery or forge my own style of work. So, my new year resolution in 2020 was to keep 1 day each week to focus on my work. Then the pandemic hit and lots of my freelance work fell through (careful what you wish for!) so I was left with more time for stitching experiments without having a time pressured goal to create for anyone else. I knew I enjoyed working with colour and texture and with an abstract and unplanned style (the idea of sketching and planning a piece really stops me feeling creative) and so the Bursts were born!
How do you choose your material?
In a very random and illogical way, just like the designs! I have boxes of beautiful fabrics that I have collected over the years from haberdasheries, recycling centres, charity shops and from family – in different shapes and sizes which can be difficult when I work on a piece. I love it but have no idea where it was from! I am drawn to soft natural fabrics and textures like satin and velvet, as I feel that they contrast really nicely with dense embroidery and bead work and as each Burst takes many hours to complete, using good quality fabric is really important- rummaging in fabric offcut bins is my favourite way to find amazing quality silks without the big price tag!
Could you describe your workshop to us?
I dream of having a big beautiful studio one day, but living in London, space isn’t in abundance so I don’t have a dedicated studio, just a big cupboard full of boxes and hanging embroidery waiting to be framed! I do find it quite hard to focus on creating unless my space is organised, so normally, at the start of a new piece, I’ll gather the materials I need from various boxes and keep them in my embroidery case whilst I work on it, as an attempt to keep some order!
How do you like to work?
I feel very lucky as creating work is definitely a way for me to relax and unwind. My routine differs from day to day depending on the other work I have on. If I am running art groups, I will spend the evening stitching, but if I am working at fashion week or on a big deadline, I’ll have to put my embroidery to one side. If I am on a roll I could be stitching until the early hours, always with a good podcast or series to binge in the background!
How do you feel when a piece is done?
I normally have about 10 ideas that I want to start stitching at once, but I always try to finish one at a time and not get too carried away rushing between projects! Each Burst develops as I stitch, and I never know how it is going to look until I finish, this inspires me as I move on to develop the next piece.
Where does your Copperlight Studio name come from?
Copperlight is the name of the block of flats I live in. They are built where a lightbulb factory used to be! I always liked the name, and it’s a little joke to myself as I like to daydream that I have a beautiful studio up here when in fact it is just my kitchen table.
What is your creative process?
I like to start choosing fabric and a general colour scheme for the embroidery and beadwork, but this always evolves as I go. I never sketch out or use patterns/transfers to work from. I just build layers of threads and colours as I go. Recently, I have started pinning the size of the canvas to the fabric before I begin so I can get the size and placement right- this feels like enough order for me!
If you hadn’t been an artist, what other profession would have interested you?
This is an interesting question- when I meet new people and get asked what I do I always struggle to answer. I suppose I catagorise myself in 3 areas of work: artist, art facilitator, and couture beader for fashion (a bit of a mouthful). I love working as an art facilitator- it helps my own creativity just as much as the people I work with. I love the freelance life and having different areas of work to focus on and complement each other, every day is different- I could never go back to my full time 9-5!
Any new techniques you would like to learn to express your thoughts and emotions better?
I love to learn new creative skills; I think this is really important to keep my mind working and to get inspiration. I have done a few short courses at the Royal School of Needlework, (tambour beading, and whitework and gold work) which were so out of my comfort zone but great to give me some new techniques. Away from the world of embroidery, a while ago I did a brilliant leather making course (@leathercraftworkshopdays). At the moment I’m teaching myself candle making – and once lock down is relaxed I have my eye on a great flower arranging masterclass!
How did you feel when major actors of this field have recognized your work (Embroidery, Hand and Lock, SEW)?
Art is so subjective, and I would love to say it doesn’t matter whether it gets recognised or not…. but it is a real confidence boost to get recognised by some great organisations that I have admired from afar for such a long time! In the same way that the Instagram community is a hugely supportive and uplifting platform. As I have connected with more people, I have found it not just a good way to showcase and sell my work, but also a really inspiring place to connect with other artists.
What do you do exactly with the disable adults your work with? How did you come to that job?
I work as an Art Facilitator, which, in pre Covid times involved me going into day centres and running art and textiles groups where I would help guide and inspire the artists to create in all mediums – sculpture, paint, and of course lots of textiles! For the past year I have been continuing this work but more in the form of doorstep/garden groups, and zoom calls and honestly, it’s been such a joy and has defiantly helped me get through 2020 in one piece!! When I left my job as a Product Developer, I began volunteering for a charity called Action Space, working in their studios with artists who had learning disabilities. I was very inspired, and this led to the job I do today.
Can you give us some examples of fashion houses your work with, and what type of work you do for them?
Once I completed my degree in Textiles Design I first worked for a small start up, then spent 4 years working as a Product Developer at Burberry. When I left to focus on Freelance embroidery, I was lucky that the contacts I had made during my time at Burberry began asking me back for any embroidery jobs. So they are my main fashion ‘client’. I mainly work on VIP 1 off garments, and during fashion week. Before my 2020 resolution to try to be a more focused freelancer I did a lot of one off jobs through an agency where I would be called in to work doing embroidery or hand sewing but am trying to limit that now. I still do commissions for small brands but try to be a bit pickier about what I do, especially as embroidery work and the time it takes can so often be underrated by clients which can lead to some awkward conversations and more often than not you find yourself stitching for minimum wage!
Which artists do you particularly admire ?
The 2 embroiderers who really inspired me to focus on my own style of art are Stacey Jones (@bystaceyjones) and Emily Botelho (@salt_stitches). They are both such incredible artists who are truly pushing the boundaries of how embroidery is viewed in the art world, and are such champions of other artists always supporting others in the community. Rachel Rousham (@roushembroidery) is the most skilled machine embroiderer and has been creating beautiful, embroidered masks- I have 2 that I wear when I want to be safe but feel fancy!!
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