Lucy Carroll – Textures and depth
Lucy Carroll makes multi-layered art quilts that are heavily influenced by both the natural environment of Australia and her life as part of a military family. Lucy developed a love for textiles from an early age when she was taught to sew by her mother at 4 years old. She currently lives in Cairns, Australia, and is completing a post-graduate course in Visual Arts having previously studied Creative Embroidery with the Embroiders Guild of NSW.
In this interview with Lucy she discusses the materials and processes she uses within her work and tells us why the path to becoming an artist never ends.
TextileArtist.org: What initially captured your imagination about textile art?
Lucy Carroll: I’ve always been around fabric and sewing. The women in my family all work with fabric (knitting, patchwork, sewing clothes etc) and I learnt how to sew when I was 4. The range of possibilities with textiles is endless, and I think that because I knew how to work with fabric it was a natural progression towards textile art.
Textile art is appealing to me on so many layers; I know how much time and effort goes into each piece, and it has a tactile nature, a softness and flexibility which makes you want to reach out and touch it.
What or who were your early influences and how has your life/upbringing influenced your work?
My Mum taught me how to sew and she’s always encouraged me to take my own path even when I insisted on making up my own patterns. Now the images in my work focus on our life in Australia, the natural environment and landscape, and also how we live our lives as a military family. I like to think I’m a pretty positive person and I think this is reflected in the images I create.
My husband James is often away at Sea and I have three small children so my work has to fit in around our lives – this means I need to be very organised and I have a healthy respect for deadlines.
What was your route to becoming an artist? (Formal training or another pathway?)
I think the path to becoming an artist never ends, if I ever get really comfortable then I’m not making the most creative work that I can make. I started working with very little formal training; I took a 3 year long creative embroidery course with the Embroiders Guild of NSW and once that ended I turned to quilts as there was a wider range of exhibition opportunities and competitions available. I learnt as I went, I was fortunate to receive a lot of feedback and this helped me work out which kind of quilts to keep making.
I’ve started postgrad studies in Visual Arts this year at uni, and I’ve already noticed a big difference in how I see things and how I compose the images. I think I was following some of the basic principles of design anyway, but it’s good to understand how everything works together. I’m taking classes in painting, drawing, printmaking as well as art fundamentals, and I’m finding that by learning these things I am finding ideas which I can take back to my textile practice.
Textures and depth
What is your chosen medium and what are your techniques?
I make art quilts, using a variety of techniques. I like to use a range of fabrics, cotton, wool, silk, linen, synthetics, rather than just cotton, as I love the textures and depth you get from a wider range. I tend to adjust the colours of the fabric with dying, painting, stencilling etc. and then collage the pieces to make the image. I have a fantastic Bernina 750QE which I use to sew everything together with free motion quilting.
How would you describe your work and where do you think it fits within the sphere of contemporary art?
I think that contemporary art is all encompassing – whatever means are required to make the work should be used. Textile influences can be found throughout contemporary art, which has to do with the innate appeal and flexibility of fabric. The portraits I make look like paintings from a distance, but when you get up close the stitching adds another dimension.
Tell us a bit about your process and what environment you like to work in?
We live in a beautiful part of the world (Tropical North Queensland) and it’s easy to find inspiration here. I tend to spread out when I’m in the middle of a piece, which means I sometimes take over the living room as fabric spills out of the studio. Each piece takes a while to make, and I try to have a few pieces in various stages which lets me work on the elements as time allows – for example I need sunny dry days for dying and sunprinting, and child-free time for quilting.
I like to create some elements by hand if I can, for example the moths are made by hand with some free motion on the wings. I work with layers, fabric can give you a real sense of depth so I like to take advantage of this where I can, building up the fabrics on top of each other. It makes for expensive quilts but I think it’s worth it.
I spend a lot of time working with paper and designing the images before I begin cutting and dying the fabric; I will usually work with a small version of the image then create a full size paper template. This gives me basis I need to be sure everything will end up where it was supposed to.
Do you use a sketchbook?
I have lots of journals, I try to stick to a different journal for each type of project but if I have an idea in the middle of making dinner I tend to grab whichever one is closest. They’re not very pretty, and I write a lot in them as well so I can remember what I was thinking about when I drew the image. I also use them for shopping lists and working out dimensions which helps if I ever need to recreate something.
What currently inspires you and which other artists do you admire and why?
Gosh, there are so many amazing people out there creating things that it’s hard to narrow it down – I love Pinterest and I really enjoy seeing all the different things people come up with, the inspiration you can find there is endless. You can find my boards here: www.pinterest.com/lucyc84.
I love the work of Trenton Doyle Hancock, he creates an image which is beautiful from a distance and yet when you get close you can see all the incredible collage work and you can appreciate it again on a whole new level. I really enjoy work from photorealists like Chuck Close as well.
Tell us about a piece of work you have fond memories of and why?
I like most of the quilts I’ve made, each one is part of a progression and each reminds me of what was happening in our lives when I made it.
I made a quilt quite early on which was an image of the Roll of Honour from our Australian War Memorial in Canberra. I made the quilt in support of an Australian charity called Soldier On, which provides support to veterans from recent conflicts. This quilt has done really well and travelled all over the place, raising awareness for Soldier On and I’m really proud of how well it has done. It was not easy to make, and I finished it while my husband was on deployment in Afghanistan so it also reminds me of what you can achieve if you set your mind to it.
Make your own opportunities
What advice would you give to an aspiring textile artist?
I’d tell them that you need to make your own opportunities and work hard, but love what you are creating – if you’re not truly passionate about the work you’re making it will never be as good as the pieces you put your heart into.
Can you recommend 3 or 4 books for textile artists?
I don’t tend to use one ‘manual’ for my work, YouTube has some amazing tutorials and you can learn a lot by attending workshops and classes. I like to read books that textile artists have written about their own practice, not so I can make a quilt just like theirs but so I can get an understanding of their processes and how they develop each quilt. This in turn helps me think about ways of working and why I’m doing something a particular way, as well as being inspirational.
On my bedside table there are currently books by Velda Newman, Valerie S. Goodwin, and Twelve by Twelve, The International Art Quilt Challenge, as well as the exhibition catalogue from SAQA’s Redirecting the Ordinary Exhibition.
What other resources do you use? Blogs, websites, magazines etc.
Facebook is essential, you can find out so much about what is on here. I have my own blog and I appreciate the time and effort that others put into theirs, I follow quite a few of my quilt heroes blogs and find they’re invaluable. I’m a member of Studio Art Quilts Associates (SAQA) and they are great for resources, ideas, exhibition opportunities and news.
Sharing and learning
What piece of equipment or tool could you not live without?
Do you give talks or run workshops or classes? If so where can readers find information about these?
I haven’t taught before but I am very open to the idea. I’m a bit busy and it’s hard to go away when you have three little kids but I really enjoy sharing what I know and learning from others along the way.
How do you go about choosing where to show your work?
I’m not super picky, I enter work into guild shows, quilt exhibitions, art exhibitions, if the entry criteria fit then I’ll think about entering it. I always love seeing other peoples work and I hope that by sending pieces to a variety of venues I’m getting my work in front of a wider audience. My introduction to art quilting was through my local guild show and I feel it’s important to support the local guilds to keep them relevant.
I a couple of solo exhibitions coming up in 2015; have an upcoming exhibition at the Australasian Quilt Convention (Melbourne, April 2015) and another one later in the year at the Cairns Regional Art Gallery.
I’m starting to take larger commissions now, which is amazing and also adds another dimension as I need to consider how my work will hang in a large public space – the audience there is different to a gallery so I need to take into account how it is viewed by everyone.
What am I working on now:
I’m busy with a few projects right now, I’m about half way through a large panelled quilt which commemorates the Centenary of the Anzac Landings at Gallipoli (WWI). The quilt is made up of 11 panels, and it tells the story of one man’s journey to the front lines, and home again. This work will be on display for the first time at the Australasian Quilt Convention in Melbourne, 16-19 April 2015.
I’m also starting to develop a body of work for a solo exhibition later on next year, which will be portraits of women who have served or are serving in the Australian Defence Force. I’m really lucky to have the support of the ADF in creating this work, and I know so many amazing women who have served their country which is making these quilts really special.
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