Stewart Easton

09/14/17

{Recent quilt by Stewart Easton}

Every now and again I meet and befriend an artist online who lives half a world away whose work really speaks to me. British artist Stewart Easton is one of those people. Stewart was trained as an illustrator, and his work is actually quite narrative in the traditional sense, but it is his choice of medium — embroidery, and now weaving and fabric, that make it so enormously special. He sometimes spends eight to twelve hours a day embroidering, and his use of color is spectacular. His work is heavily influenced by both folk art d by his overt rejection of macho culture.  “The other side of embroidery is its ability to make a stand against male macho garbage,” he says. Recently, I interviewed Stewart about his work and his process. Enjoy!

+++++

Lisa: Your website bio reads: “I draw. I sew. I ride a push bike and I like Clarks shoes.” So my first question is: what is a push bike and how is it different from a regular old bike?

Stewart: Haha. A pushbike is just a regular old bicycle. Guess it’s an old English term for a bike.

Lisa: Where do you live and what do you like about where you live?

Stewart: I currently live in London. I’m in Archway, North London. It’s real green here – lots of parks. I’m real close to Hampstead Heath, Finsbury Park, Queens Wood and lots of other woods and parks. So I’m real lucky to have this environment and then there is the gallery and museum scene. All the big shows stop off here so get super inspired and blown away by some real great art and artifacts. I’m really lucky.

Lisa: Tell us a bit about your trajectory as an artist. Where did you study art? What mediums have you used over the years and how have they changed? How did you begin embroidering?

Stewart: I missed out studying for a BA Degree. I was too busy being a ‘drop out’, but then in my early thirties I realised that I couldn’t really move on and progress in life without a form of a standard education, so I went along to an open day at Coventry University to enquire about an Illustration BA. Luckily I had already been freelancing with illustration, had a strong portfolio and kind of knew (at that stage) where I was at, where I wanted to be. etc. So i skipped the degree and went straight on to do an MA in Illustration.

At this time I was drawing as a practice using dip pen and ink and was interested in sequential illustration and story based narratives. My research at this time was in Folk Art – culture, customs and aesthetics, and I had the opportunity to explore working methods and mediums as long as it sat within my research. I tried embroidery and got sucked in. At this time embroidery was really quite different to the numbers working in thread now. I remember there were three main influences at the time in embroidery : Megan Whitmarsh, Kent Henricksen and Annie Aube. These were the guys who were making the most interesting works which to me was super exciting. Now embroidery is big business – but at that time (ten years ago) things were quite different.

 

{one of Stewart’s early ink drawings}

 

Lisa: When you are working on an embroidery piece, what is your process? Do you start with a drawing, etc?

Stewart: Yeah. Sketchbooks. I tend to begin with a sketchbook. They’re not necessarily used for embroidery designs, but I’ll have a week or so of working in a sketchbook if i’ve just been working on embroideries.

Mostly I’ll be stitching for an exhibition, or working on a project, so I’ll be working to a deadline. I’ll have a month or two (sometimes longer) of stitching solidly. Mostly eight to twelve hour days stitching. After these stitching marathons I need to kind of re-adjust to normal living. It’s at this time i’ll start on works that are gentle and kind on me like painting, drawing or sketchbook work. Then it all starts again.

{L: One of Stewart’s works in progress; R: Stewart holding one of his pieces}

Lisa: Embroidery is something that takes a lot of time and patience and precision. Where is your mind when you are embroidering? What, if anything, do you listen to while you work?

Stewart: My practice environment has changed since moving to London. I used to stitch to music. I would listen to a lot of drone stuff like Earth, or stoner stuff like Sleep. The slow speed of the riffs in these mirrored the practice of stitching. I also listen to old American roots, and primitive music. I like the crackles of records and the hiss of tapes – the analog kind marries well with fabric and thread.
I work more in my partner’s studio (Claire Scully) more now and she’s a sci-fi nerd so we watch lots of repeats of Stargate and Star Trek.

{Stewart’s more abstract, less narrative embroidery}

I’m just working on a book at the moment where I am discussing embroidery as an abstract. As my embroidery work has moved away from narrative and into abstract forms and colour it’s raised an interest in its ability to connect an audience in a shared experience through its removal of a story line. I see a connection with the Lojong teaching in Tibetan Buddhism and the abstract embroidery. it’s what I’m aiming for with the new works and explaining in the book I hope.

{Stewart’s older, more narrative embroidery}

Lisa: Why do you embroider? What is it about embroidering that appeals to you?

Stewart: There are two threads (like what I’ve done there?): the first is that embroidery allows me to soften a line. There’s a certain quality of line that you get with stitch which isn’t possible with ink or pencil.

The other side of embroidery is its ability to make a stand against male macho garbage. My childhood was spent on a poor council estate (bit like the the missions you guys have over there) and to be a boy is to be macho. Most of my life decisions have been against the modern expectations of maleness and not wanting to be associated with this. Though I had the most amazing childhood there. So working in this medium gives me the tools to be gentle and kind (as Morrissey says).

I suppose this connects with not wanting to sit with contemporary expectations of culture and maleness. Music has always been a real big influence on me and it was really Morrissey who opened things up and showed that you don’t have to be a fighter to be a chap. So music was the beginning of this path.

Lisa: You are an illustrator in the true sense of the word in that your work tells stories. And your work has a really amazing quality to it – it’s both very modern, but clearly draws on influences from the past, in particular folk art. Tell us about when you became interested in folk art and where you draw inspiration for your work.

Stewart: I’ve always loved stories, especially urban myths. When we were kids there was a white lady (ghost) who hovered over the fields, a mad axeman in the woods, and a number of haunted derelict houses near where I grew up. No one ever saw these, but everyone seemed to have an aunt, uncle or some relative who had. So from an early age story has always been a massive thing for me. During my late teens I discovered traditional music and got hooked on the tragedy and hardships in the narratives of the songs. The whole range of human emotions are contained therein. I often use lines from these as starting points to projects. My early work was always draped in costume, sadness of these times, so most of my early work mirrored these often rural, pre war times, events and situations.

Most recently I have become interested in post-war works and world. Especially between 1945 onwards, it’s something I had always dismissed. But, it was such an exciting time to have been making work – it was full of hope and expansion for the artist, writer, architect. My work became coloured and joyful. I guess hitting forty changed that for me.

Lisa: Do the stories and characters in your work begin in your imagination? Inspiration and ideas often come to us in a flood. How do you manage all the ideas and inspiration that enters your brain?

Stewart: Wowzers! Yeah constant overload in my brain – stories, colour, stitch, painting, weaving, drawing, writhing. I want to do everything.

I try to give time to all of these. So some mornings will be spent writing funding apps etc. afternoons drawings, evening sewing. I have no social life as such, but when your time is spent doing things you love it all becomes some fun. Sometimes I think that going to sleep and dreaming is my social life.
All of the characters and stories begin with with a spark of inspiration. Can be from a book, film music….I can be reading and a character can enter a scene which will get me thinking and then from there it will develop. It doesn’t all come at once it comes at moments when i’m not expecting it whilst washing up or something. So each story will usually contain references to five or six different sources.

{A recent weaving by Stewart}

Lisa: What projects are you currently working on right now?

Stewart: This weekend (it’s Saturday morning) I will be working on an arts council funding app, Finishing off embroideries for a show in Portland, Oregon in October at Nucleus Gallery; checking that quilt is working ready for a show on 23rd September in Glastonbury; and starting some painting for a show next May…..

Oh and fixing my loom ready to weave again. See – BRAIN OVERLOAD.

Lisa: What is one thing you tell yourself to get yourself through when you are feeling overwhelmed or frustrated?

Stewart: There are two things which I tell myself the first is that when something I’m working on is really not working or is being a real pain, I know that when it is done It’s gonna be one of my favourite pieces – Just stick with it.

Secondly If something isn’t working I keep on with it until it does. All the lame, difficult, horrid, events that happen to us in life makes us what we are and we’re pretty awesome so this piece of work is just like that and will be awesome when done.

{Stewart painting a mural a few years back}

Lisa: It’s been a pleasure. Thank you Stewart! You can also find Strewart on Instagram at @stewarteaston.

SaveSave

SaveSaveSaveSave

0
shares

A Glorious Freedom // West Coast Book Tour

09/05/17

I’m super excited to be doing a West Coast book tour for my latest book – A Glorious Freedom: Older Women Leading Extraordinary Lives (see pre-order & purchase details here)! Other dates around the U.S. to come later in the year and in 2018. If you live in Seattle, Portland or the Bay Area of California, I hope you will join me for one of my kick-off events! I love meeting people, and I’d love to meet you!

October 14, SEATTLE WA. I’ll be at Elliott Bay Book Company for a reading, conversation with book contributor Shauna Ahern and signing! 1521 Tenth Avenue, Seattle, 7:00 PM

OCTOBER 16, PORTLAND OR. I’ll be at Powell’s Books (Downtown) for a reading, a conversation with book contributor Jennifer Maerz, and a signing! 1005 W Burnside Street, Portland, 7:30 PM

OCTOBER 20, San Francisco: I’ll be at Booksmith for a reading and Q&A and a book signing. 1644 Haight Street, San Francisco, 7:30 PM

OCTOBER 21, Richmond, CA: I’ll be at Kaleidoscope Coffee for a conversation with Betty Reid Soskin, who I interviewed in the book. In her late 90’s, Betty is the oldest park ranger in the National Park Service! Join us at 109 Park Place, Richmond, 6 PM

SaveSaveSaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

0
shares

A Glorious Freedom: Pre-order and Get a Print!

09/04/17

On October 3 my latest book, A Glorious Freedom: Older Women Leading Extraordinary Lives, is released! Today we are launching my pre-order campaign: purchase a book and get a free signed limited edition poster (pictured top left)! This offer is available to 100 people only, so get yours today!

Here’s how it works…

Between today and 10/2/2017 11:59 pm PST:

  1. Purchase a book from any online retailer: Amazon | Barnes & NobleIndiebound | Chronicle Books. If you’ve already purchased, just find your receipt number or purchase number to add to the form (see #2).
  2. Fill out this form here.
  3. Chronicle Books will send you the poster pictured above, which is on of the illustrations for my book. It’ll be signed, numbered and dated, just for you!

That’s it!

Thank you for supporting my work. Stay tuned tomorrow for book tour locations and dates!

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSaveSaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

0
shares

September Print of the Month

09/04/17

Friends! My September Print of the Month is here! Proceeds from the sale of this print will go to The United Way of Greater Houston Relief Fund. 100% of the donations to the United Way Relief Fund go directly to help the community recover from Hurricane Harvey.

This print is LIMITED EDITION, and this month I am releasing 50 prints (usually it’s 40) so we can raise more money! All prints are signed, dated and numbered by me. Get yours here! Let’s help the victims of Harvey!

SaveSave

0
shares

Tiffanie Turner: The Fine Art of Paper Flowers

08/22/17

{Image of Tiffanie in her studio in Dogpatch, SF}

Six years ago, back in the summer of 2011, a group of 12 women gathered in my San Francisco studio for a day of inspiration and learning. The brainchild of Danielle Krysa of The Jealous Curator, Girl Crush was an event held in the studios of different female artists’ across North America. The purpose of the each event was learning, sharing ideas for projects and getting inspired to lead more intentional and innovative creative paths.

One of the 12 women in my studio that day was Tiffanie Turner. Tiffanie had been an architect for two decades and was currently taking time off to be a mom to her then two small children. As we sat in the circle sharing our stories that day, I remember Tiffanie clearly, and perhaps more than anyone else there. She was bored being an architect. She wanted to express her creativity & artistic talent differently. There was a fire burning in her. She was gregarious and funny, passionate and determined.

Shortly thereafter, Tiffanie was diving into a new creative outlet: burlesque dancing. Fortuitously, she created a character for herself fashioned after Frida Kahlo. Of course, what does every Frida need more than a head full of flowers? It was in filling that need that Tiffanie’s journey into paper flower making began. Six years later, that seemingly random act has led to a burgeoning career as a fine artist. Her botanical sculptures have been shown at, just to name a few places, The DeYoung Museum, Tower Hill Botanical Garden in Boston, The Asian Art Museum in San Francisco and have been featured in Vogue Magazine and American Craft.

Tiffanies’ story is both a celebration of the power of synchronicity (how the confluence of seemingly random things in our lives can lead to new paths) and the “happy accident” (in her case, needing paper flowers for a costume leading to a thriving career as a fine artist). But hers, as you will see, is also a story of enormous discipline, devotion and ingenuity. What Tiffanie creates are technically complex and detailed works of art.

Lucky for us, Tiffanie has just published her first book with a set of instructions for making paper flowers that won’t take you weeks. In fact, some of them are quite simple. I am so honored to interview Tiffanie here in my Interviews with People I Admire series. The Fine Art of Paper Flowers is released today. I talked to Tiffanie about how she got started, her new book, what keeps her in the game of flower-making, the intensity of her work  and what she hopes is next for her future as an artist.

{Please note: all images here in this post reprinted with permission from The Fine Art of Paper Flowers: A Guide to Making Beautiful and Lifelike Botanicals, by Tiffanie Turner, copyright © 2017, published by Watson-Guptill, an imprint of Penguin Random House LLC. Images copyright 2017 by Aya Brackett}

Lisa: Tiffanie, tell us a little bit about you. What is your background, and how did you begin making paper flowers?

Tiffanie: I am a licensed California architect, and worked in architecture for about 20 years. After I had my second child, Oliver, I was able to take some time off from working as an architect to just take care of the kids. But out of the blue a few months after Oliver was born, I went through a health scare that made me wonder how long I would have facility of use of my hands and eyes, and I decided to do something “crazy”. I signed up to study burlesque performing and began performing around San Francisco under the name “Yve Jobs”. For an art history themed show, I decided to perform as Frida Kahlo, and of course needed a pile of flowers for my head. I did some research online and couldn’t find a paper flower tutorial that seemed sturdy enough for a performance headdress, so I started to make them myself.

At that time, I was still struggling to figure out a visual creative outlet for myself, something more tangible or permanent than performance, which is when I met you at the Girl Crush seminar here in San Francisco at your studio. Hearing you talk as such a self starter in your field of art certainly was a perfect storm with where I was with the paper flowers, and gave me lots of tools and examples of how to turn it into more than just a hobby!

Lisa: You’ve delved into many creative projects in the past. What is it about making paper flowers that got you hooked in a way that nothing else has?

TIffanie: I’ve thought about this a lot, and it comes down to my love of the paper I use, as much as my love of flowers. I grew up in New Hampshire in the forest. I have always loved nature: trees, lakes, sand, moss. They are my lifeblood. But flowers have always appealed to me on a more graphic, visual level. They contain everything I need as far as patterns and textures and colors. I really started to study them through painting as a hobby, when I was in architecture school years and years ago, and became more and more obsessed with them over time. My friends who knew me all those years ago say “She had those flowers inside her this whole time and they just had to come out somehow”! The paper I work with exclusively is crepe paper from Italy, Germany and China. Before I discovered it, I’d never worked with a material that came in this many colors. I’ve been an architect most of my life, and these are just not generally the colors I’ve ever been drawn to. But it is like candy to me. So much of what hooked me in was being able to surround myself with these colors all day.

Lisa: The problem solving aspect of art is one of my personal favorites. Your flowers look incredibly realistic and I think that is part of what is so amazing about what you do. To what extent do you study actual flowers and what kinds of experiments do you do to get your paper flowers to look like the real thing? How does problem solving factor into your work?

Tiffanie: I spend countless hours looking at books, online, and going to the florist’s shop to find my specimens. If I need something in particular, I’ll ask the florist to look for it at the flower market for me. The realistic shapes and forms I get come from studying the flower and trying to create exactly what I see, not just what I think I remember that flower to look like. I can stretch the paper and manipulate it in many ways to get it to do what I want. With these life sized paper flowers, there is some problem solving as far as how do I find or create the proper color for a specimen. Sometimes I won’t make a certain flower at all if I don’t think I can truly capture its color. I also will spend time using a variety of different stretching techniques to be sure I can capture the petals. But to be honest, I’ve made so many flowers now, a lot of it just flows right out of me without much thought!

Lisa: The scale of much of your personal work in flower making is enormous, and there is even a chapter in the book on making giant flowers. How did you decide to work large? And what advantages and disadvantages does that create for your process?

Tiffanie: The giant flowers and how to construct them came to me in what I can only describe as an epiphany. I had been noticing three things constantly popping up on the internet at the time. Peonies, piñatas, and crepe paper. One day out of the blue I started thinking about how to make a peony piñata, and how I could invert the piñata balloon base so the petals could “grow” from deep inside the flower, and I jumped on it that night. I worked on them for several days, photographed and wrote a blog tutorial about them, hit “publish” and left for a long road trip without cell coverage with my family. I told my husband, “I think this might be big.” Several days later when I went back online, the flowers had been pinned and posted and shared so many places. It was pretty magical.

The advantages of working large is that it has allowed me to work on significant art pieces that have room to bring more meaning to than just room decor. I work with concepts about fading beauty, the destruction of our natural environment, about overt female body parts and with different natural genetic mutations the heads of flowers go through. Working large also catches people’s attention more easily, which I think has opened many opportunities for me in the few years I’ve been making this work. The disadvantages is that my work is absolutely exhausting. One sculpture can take four to six weeks of dedicated, nonstop work to finish. It is tough on the whole family as I near finishing a piece. I can’t be bothered with anything else, and that can cause a lot of problems at home, even with my incredibly patient family. Because the sculptures are made up of thousands of petals, and take so much time, I end up with a giant backlog of ideas: specimens, techniques, textures, colors, and experiments sitting in my head, waiting for me to try them. I always know what I am going to create next, because I have so much time to think about it while working on piece that comes before it. I select the flowers based on how well I think it will translate in paper, whether I can make an abstraction from it that still reads like the flower, even if it has hundreds of times the amount of petals it would normally have, and what the texture and color are. It can give me a lot of anxiety to think about all of the things I haven’t had time to create yet.

Lisa: Often when we discover our magic super power, as you have clearly done in flower making, we don’t want to share our secrets. But you have written and photographed an entire book showing other people how to engage in your magic. What led you to making a book?

Tiffanie: I have always wanted to share part of myself in an indelible way, like in a book, and I knew I had something inside of me to share, even when I didn’t know exactly what it was. When I found paper flowers, and saw the response to my work, I knew that eventually I would try to make a book about them. I didn’t want to self publish, because I also wanted the validation to come from outside. That someone else would take a gamble on my craft and my art. As you know, a publisher puts tremendous resources into getting your book made and then selling it, and that kind of endorsement of my work is what I was looking for.

When I started sharing my work online, the questions would come constantly, almost rudely. How did you do that? Can you send me the tutorial? So I knew there was a lot of interest in my style of paper flower making. Because I am self-taught and have a lot of techniques that only I use, I had a lot to share. There was also a niche open for a paper flower book that leaned more toward realism, like mine does, and I had to strike while the iron was hot.

Lisa: What was the process of making the book like for you? What was the most fun for you and what was the most difficult?

Tiffanie: As I say in the book, “it was sometimes so difficult, I wasn’t sure I was doing it right”. This book was the hardest thing I have ever, EVER done in my life. I had no idea. I went right from my residency at the de Young Museum in San Francisco in May 2016 to seven months of being chained indoors writing and shooting, followed by another two and a half months of editing, working truly around the clock. I loved it a little but mostly it was grueling. I couldn’t spare the time to drive to my Dogpatch studio (or drag the kids there all summer), so no one used the living room for six months while I made the flowers and shot the book there. It was like three projects in one. I wrote the book, shot the tutorials, AND made all of the extra flowers for the “beauty shots” (shot by Aya Brackett).

The very hardest part was dealing with word counts. Trying to fit each tutorial into 650 or 750 words, depending on the photo layout, was really tough. I’d have to scan over some tutorials twenty times in order to pluck just enough words from them to make them fit. One of my favorite parts of the process was laying out the book. Because I am an architect, I am good at putting little pieces together to make a whole. Organizing the book map was so fun, and again, took problem solving. I loved finding creative ways to lay out the chapters and what happened within the chapters, even the little details like where to put the petal templates, that might set the book apart from others of its kind.

Lisa: What is your favorite flower in the book?

Tiffanie: The rose on page 75 is my favorite. It is called “My Very Favorite Rose (or, A Very Large Rosa Perle d’Or)”. It is based on a photo of a rose I saw online when I was at my first artist residency in New Hampshire in September of 2015. It’s one of those flowers I saw and wanted to drop everything to make. It took me forever to narrow the identification down to three roses I think it might be, and I’m not sure exactly which one it really is. But it pushes all my buttons. The directions are bananas and no one may ever make it, but if they do, they will be happy. It’s so pretty!

Lisa: What is the most enjoyable thing about making paper flowers? Why should people give it a try?

TIffanie: Paper flower making is just rewarding. I love watching my students go from two hours with their heads down quietly cutting fringe for stamens and not knowing what’s going to happen, to that last hour when everyone is chatting again and starting to recognize the flower they are creating. If you spend the time and you stay observant, you can make something really beautiful. There are meditative qualities for me in paper flower making. I will struggle chasing the correct form for each petal I add to a flower, never quite getting it right. Then 200 petals later I’m on the way to creating something beautiful without even realizing it.

Lisa: Where has paper flower making taken your career, and is this where you will settle for awhile? What are your hopes and dreams for the future?

Tiffanie: My career has moved as far away from architecture as I could take it, and I am so grateful for all the curators and writers and people who have paid attention to my work to allow this to happen. I am now represented by Eleanor Harwood Gallery here in San Francisco, a gallery I have been flirting with for a few years because I knew we could be a great fit, and I just signed with last month. I have commissions lined up through next March, at which time I will begin to build a new body of work to exhibit at the gallery in January 2019. I have wanted to know what having a gallery represent me would be like and what it would do for my career for a long time, so I am very excited to spend the next year or two seeing where this will take me.

But like many people, now that I’ve reached that goal I am setting new ones. My workshops have taken me all over the country and Mexico, but I’d really love to do some teaching abroad. If anyone has an old chateau in Provence they want to hold paper flower classes in, I’m your gal! I also have big dreams of being able to create and sell enough work to be able to go hide out in the woods with my family like Lee Bontecou, and come up for air and a show every five or ten years, or whenever I’m feeling it. That’s the 20 year plan. So far everything I’ve planted the seed for in my head has happened, so fingers crossed for this one.

Lisa: Where can people find you on social media?

TIffanie: Find me on Instagram at @tiffanieturner.

Lisa: You can purchase Tiffanie’s new book here or wherever books are sold.

0
shares