Diana McKinnon Interview: An intensity of stitch
Free machine embroiderer Diana McKinnon uses layered fabrics such as chiffon, silk and metallic thread to create her scenic and abstract designs. She is based in South East London and in 2012 became a Licentiate member of the Society of Designer Craftsmen.
Here Diana talks to us about the the role photography plays in her work and how she developed her process of distorting and layering her materials.
A natural progression
TextileArtist.org: What initially captured your imagination about textile art?
Diana McKinnon: I explored many different media before I finally settled on textiles. I studied ceramics for many years and used textured fabrics such as lace and wool to make impressions on the surface of the clay. I was looking for another way to express my creativity when I saw some imaginative textile samples on a friend’s notice board. I did some research on textile art and decided that I’d like to explore this art form further. It seemed to be a natural progression as I was already using fabric in my work.
What or who were your early influences and how has your life/upbringing influenced your work?
My family were hugely inspiring. My grandmother taught me traditional embroidery and my mother taught me how to use patterns and a sewing machine. My work has evolved from those basic skills. Looking back I’ve always had a “project” on the go.
What was your route to becoming an artist? (Formal training or another pathway?)
I chose teacher training over art college with art as my main subject. When I started a family I took an adult eduction course in ceramics and achieved a City & Guilds qualification. I followed this with a creative embroidery course and gained a City & Guilds part 1 & 2.
Delicate texture of silk
What is your chosen medium and what are your techniques?
I work mainly with silks, organdies, chiffons and silk paper. I distort the fabrics by burning, melting and fraying them and then I build them up in layers and add more texture by using silk paper. The delicate texture of the silk and organza perfectly represent the delicate structure of the flowers and wildlife that I portray in my work. I use the threads on my sewing machine like the strokes of a paint brush to unite the colours and textures.
How would you describe your work and where do you think it fits within the sphere of contemporary art?
I respond to the natural world around me, focusing on colour and light. I have a huge collection of photographs that I’ve taken of forests, landscapes and architecure in Britain and around the world which I use as a resource for my artwork. My early work was based on images of Australia and New Zealand where the challenge was to re-create the exceptional light and colour in those environments. With my English landscapes it’s depth and mood that I try to impart. I don’t think about whether my work fits into any particular sphere, contemporary or otherwise. I don’t think creativity works like that.
Tell us a bit about your process and what environment you like to work in?
My studio is a spare room at the back of my house. It’s light and airy and I have a lovely view of the garden which provides the perfect environment for me to work in. It’s full of fabrics and silk threads from which I draw inspiration, an inspirational mess! I start by choosing one of my photos to work from. I have many photos of a similar view and it takes a while to choose just the right one. Then I pick out fabrics and threads that will layer to give me a combination to create the image I want to achieve.
Layers of fabric
What currently inspires you and which other artists do you admire and why?
My inspiration comes from the landscape. I try to capture the depth of field so that the viewer feels that they could walk into the scene. I love the work of the impressionists, their use of colour and light. I find that the sheen of silk thread and fabric helps me create a similar intensity of light and colour in my work.
Tell us about a piece of work you have fond memories of and why?
I’m a huge admirer of Monet’s series of Water lilies. I love the way he used layers of paint to build up colour and capture light and the freedom of his brush strokes that dance across the canvas. I’m also drawn to artists such as Klimt and MacKintosh who use mixed media in their work.
How has your work developed since you began and how do you see it evolving in the future?
With my first scenic pictures I used layers of fabric to build the picture and added organdie with melted edges but there was very little stitching. As my technique has evolved, I’ve adapted the way I create a picture so that I use more and more stitching with silk paper on the organdie, creating an intensity of stitch which helps me achieve greater dimension and depth of colour.
Do you give talks or run workshops or classes? If so where can readers find information about these?
I run workshops and give talks. I can be contacted via my website: dmckinnon.co.uk
How do you go about choosing where to show your work?
I’ve found that my work sells well in fine art galleries and also in galleries where other crafts, such as ceramics or metal work are being sold. Sometimes I contact galleries where I think my pieces would work with existing artwork and sometimes galleries approach me. I have staged some small exhibitions, I hold an annual open studio as part of my local arts festival and I sometimes attend large craft events and shows.
For more information please visit: dmckinnon.co.uk
If you’ve enjoyed our interview with Diana, why not sign up to the free TextileArtist.org newsletter?