Encounter with an artist who recounts her travels with embroidery…
Photos – © birdo_embroidery – photos protected by copyright – thank you
Interview – Claire de Pourtalès
Let’s start with your background…
I have been passionate about drawing and painting since a very early age. My grandfather was a professional artist and though I have never met him in my life I like to believe that I inherited some skills from him.
When I was little, I attended art classes but when it was time for me to go to school it turned out that school’s schedule didn’t allow me to do my art classes anymore. So, at the age of 7 my painter’s career stopped. And that really bothered me during many years. But I think I eventually found a form of art that gives me a relief from my never achieved dream to become a painter.
Cross stitching was also a part of my life from a very early age. My grandmother was an avid cross stitcher, and she passed it on to both my mom and me.
My mother, as well as her mother, is very good at crafts: cross stitching, knitting, crochet. She claims she has no imagination and artistic skills, so she creates only when she has clear patterns to follow. Nevertheless, her works are so perfectly neat that sometimes you wonder if it is done by human hands or machine.
I was cross stitching for many years until I started to feel that this type of craft limited my creativity, and I couldn’t express myself the way I wanted to. So, I turned to other options: bead embroidery, ribbon embroidery etc. They didn’t stay long with me, but they all contributed to the idea that I wanted a medium and technique that would allow me to be free in my desire to create shapes and textures.
When I came back to practicing painting about 4-5 years ago, I started to attend a lot of watercolor and sketching workshops which at some point led me to an idea that I liked that almost unlimited freedom given by a pencil. Next, I thought what if I leave a needle with a thread do the same? and that’s how it all started.
My professional background and experience are related to foreign languages and various businesses with foreign companies and clients. It doesn’t have a direct impact on my art career apart from the fact that good knowledge of languages allows me to communicate with many fellow artists and followers and I have access to more materials and websites.
Do you consider yourself as an artist? What would your definition of an artiste be?
That issue bothered me for a long time. Every time I said or wrote ‘artist’ about myself I was anxiously waiting to be attacked by someone, for I have no rights to call myself an artist but rather a crafter. I felt modern embroidery is stuck between craft and art. It is clear that a piece of modern embroidery is so different from a cross stitched towel, but it is also different from an oil painting.
During one of the art classes I took I shared my struggle with the art teacher, and she gave me an amazing explanation. She said, when you start a project and you know how it will look like at the end, it is craft. But when you have no clear idea of what you are going to get at the end, this is art. I like this point of view; it shows that embroidery can be both craft and art. And I consider my type of embroidery as art.
So, how do you work?
For me, creativity is, first of all, a way to express myself, something that I can imagine in my head and create with my hands. I don’t feel fully satisfied if I just implement someone’s else idea, for example, embroider someone’s pattern or kit. For me it’s about relaxation and unwinding but not creativity.
I absolutely love to create, if I don’t create anything for a long time I have a weird feeling, kind of a need or urge to create something. So, to some extent I can say that I feel obliged to create but it is an obligation to myself.
I actually learnt this technique during my watercolor and sketching classes. I just applied the knowledge I got about drawing (colors, shadows, blending, reflection etc.) to embroidery. I keep practicing sketching and watercoloring. They help me improve my embroidery skills in what concerns colors, proportions, the play of light and shade.
I use just small straight stitches, trying to imitate the lines of a pencil. And very often I add French knots because they are great for texture.
What does it bring you that other media don’t?
I think painting is very close to the type of embroidery I make. But somehow, I don’t feel skilled enough to sell my drawings whereas embroidery has different standards for competence. So, embroidery allows me to express myself and at the same time helps to avoid judgement for the absence of art education or talent.
What inspires you?
In general, I’m inspired by travel: by beautiful architecture and nature. I usually start embroidering while travelling and finish when I come back.
I choose a reference. It can be my own photo, or I ask a photographer their permission to embroider their photo. I don’t make a proper sketch, I’m honestly just too lazy for that. I just choose a spot from where I start to embroider and build the scene as I go. Sometimes it leads to loosing the perspective and I have to cut and start some parts again. Also, I embroider the full scene even if some parts will be covered later. For example, I will embroider a full orange tree in the background and all oranges on it and then add another tree in the foreground that will partially cover the first tree. On one hand, it is extra work but on the other hand, it helps to build texture and gives me freedom of action. If I change my mind, I don’t have to add a tree in the foreground.
I work with one piece at a time but I plan to change this habit. I see my fellow embroidery artists successfully combine working with several embroideries at once, when they are tired of a piece, they switch to another. Whereas when I’m tired of a piece I just do nothing. And I want to change this.
I use rustic linen and sometimes cotton, embroidery threads and for some of my works I use watercolor or acryl.
As I have a full-time job it’s difficult for me to dedicate a lot of time to embroidery, so on average one embroidery takes a month of work. Unfortunately, I embroider much slower than new ideas come to my head, so by the time I finish a piece I have several projects in my mind and I don’t know what to start next. I keep track of all my embroidery ideas: I make notes and save photos and references.
Selling and customers
I sell almost everything I make. I decided to sell my art because I enjoy creating but when it comes to displaying, I prefer minimalistic style.
I made one embroidery for myself, it is an embroidered motivational quotation and also, I have some embroideries that were gifted to me by a friend.
I think my art gives pleasant emotions or memories to people. I appreciate it so much when people write “It looks exactly like this place in … I’ve been recently” or “It reminds me of my best trip to …” I have an opportunity to bring back people’s sweet memories about travel. Isn’t it amazing?
Any coming projects ?
I have just finished an embroidery today and I’m full of new ideas already. This month I plan to issue a new pattern that will combine both embroidery and watercolor. Also, this month I’m working on a very complex architecture piece, and I intend to use some other materials apart from threads and watercolor to make it a real mixed media artwork.
Any books or artist you would recommend?
I find Embroidery of Seasonal Flowers by Kazuko Aoki a very inspiring book. Also I follow many amazing artists on Instagram, here are some of them:
@sarahsnippets (paper art)
@golsa.golchini (mixed media art)
@orslevay (urban sketiching)
Instagram account – https://www.instagram.com/birdo_embroidery/