Meta Heemskerk interview: Experimenting with metal
For as long as Meta Heemskerk can remember, she has been attracted to creating art. The internet opened a vast collection of new opportunities to connect with others in the creative space, allowing Meta to further explore drawing, needlework, music, and a number of her other passions.
Presently Meta is working with metal, especially copper, and applying a number of different surface design techniques as well as stitch.
In this interview, Meta Heemskerk discusses applying textile techniques to non-textile materials, her love for copper, and her passion for aiding children in creative development.
The basics of patchwork
TextileArtist.org: What initially captured your imagination about textile art?
Meta Heemskerk: Discovering textile art was wonderful. As I’ve always loved doing some kind of needlework perhaps moving towards making art therefore seemed less intimidating and much more accessible.
I love the endless possibilities of materials and techniques that can be applied within textile art.
What or who were your early influences and how has your life/upbringing influenced your work?
As long as I can remember I’ve loved to make. Drawing, needlecrafts, making music, carpentry, just anything, I wanted to learn and do it all.
Some six years ago I was going through an ‘embroidery phase’. I loved the stitching and the handling of the materials, but I didn’t like having to follow the cross stitch patterns, made by someone else. I usually lost count anyway and never finished anything. It was then that I came across an article in a Dutch needlecraft magazine about Tilleke Schwarz and her wonderful embroidered artwork. I was so pleased to discover this for me new way of embroidery and I wanted to try it for myself. It took some six months, though, before I picked up courage and made my first stitched doodles, as I call them. I first made them by doodling with a pencil and then going over these drawings with stitch, but later I didn’t draw first but doodled with my needle and thread straight onto the fabric, dyeing the fabric afterwards. I love working intuitively like that. I think seeing Tilleke’s work was my first encounter with contemporary textile art.
In the summer of 2009 I decided that I wanted to learn how to quilt. I’d often admired the beautifully made patchwork quilts. I went to a patchwork shop and seeing all the beautiful quilt fabrics, sorted by colour, stacked in little baskets, I felt like a child in a toy shop. After the owner of the shop had explained to me the basics of patchwork and quilting I went home with a pattern and all the necessary materials. But I soon realized that there was the same problem as with the embroidery patterns. I didn’t like having to follow someone else’s design, didn’t like to work very precisely (I can work precisely but only if I see the point of it), and soon did my own thing with the fabrics that I’d bought.
I made several quilts and enjoyed working like this. I wanted to learn more so started browsing the internet. That’s when I discovered that what I did could be called ‘artquilting’ and that this was done by lots of people. From then on artquilting, textile art and art in general became my biggest passion. There was so much to learn and thanks to the internet so much knowledge was so easily accessible.
Several surface design techniques
What was your route to becoming an artist? (Formal training or another pathway?)
I’d become quite ambitious and very eager to learn. I took several workshops by various experienced textile artists. My English was of such a level that it was possible to do online City & Guilds courses. I started with C&G Creative Quiltmaking by Linda and Laura Kemshall, followed by the C&G Certificate Embroidery by Distant Stitch. In the meantime I was also very lucky to have been given the opportunity to do the two year course Quilten Speciaal, set up a.o. by Jette Clover and Hanny Spierenburg and organized by the Dutch Quilters Guild. In February of this year I completed the City & Guilds Diploma Embroidery at Distant Stitch.
I’m also very much interested in art history, I want to learn to understand art better and how it has evolved over the ages. Last year I spent some six months doing the editing, and layout, including finding lots of illustrations, of a written course for an art historian, studying the content at the same time, and I learn a lot from books as well and of course the internet is an inexhaustible source of information.
What is your chosen medium and what are your techniques?
Having started working with textiles I’m now applying the techniques that I learned to non-textile materials. During the Distant Stitch course I was introduced to experimenting with metal, which lead me to using copper foil and copper wire and treating it as if it was fabric or paper and threads. I stitch it, crumple it and colour the copper by means of heat and/or patination solutions, working in layers, just like I do when colouring and printing fabrics.
I love the serendipity of this, but the challenge for me is also to have control over the patination process and I use several surface design techniques that I’ve learned to use on fabric and paper, such as screen printing with thermofax screens, monoprinting, patterning with cling film etc. Instead of using dyes or paints I use liver of sulphur, which I thicken so I can print with it.
I find copper a fascinating material and it’s easy to manipulate. I don’t particular like the brand new smooth, flawless and shiny sheets of metal but it becomes more and more interesting when given colour and texture.
I love the surprising colours I keep getting while working the copper. It’s also a material which can be used over and over again.
I’m still experimenting and getting to know the materials and its possibilities better. So far I’ve used several gauges of copper foil and recently began experimenting with copper plate, which has to be hammered into shape. Another new challenge is working with copper leaf on flexible and non-flexible materials. I keep experimenting, my plan has always been to find a way of combining the copper with textiles, but I have no idea where it’ll lead me to next, I’ll let myself be surprised by myself. 🙂
Different categories in the art world
How would you describe your work and where do you think it fits within the sphere of contemporary art?
After five years of learning and making I’m not a complete beginner, but there’s still so much to be learned. I’ve always found it difficult to assess my own work. Having been selected for the Kunstschouw, an art event in the Netherlands, to me felt like a step in the right direction of being able to consider myself an artist. But I have no idea which category my work would fit in. I find it rather confusing, all these different categories in the art world.
Tell us a bit about your process and what environment you like to work in.
I’ve long been an intuitive maker but during the Distant Stitch course, with an emphasis on design, my process has become a mixture of working with a plan and working intuitively. But I still very much enjoy working free and expressive, just letting my hands do what they want to do, without deliberating too much and see what I end up with, I find that actually a lot easier.
Often my work evolves as I go, I have an image in my head to start with and one thing leads to the next. I always take photos of the different steps and to see what the next step could be, I often audition in Adobe Photoshop.
Part of our living-room has been partitioned off and that’s where I have my workspace. I prefer this to having a separate room upstairs as I don’t like to isolate myself. This way I can work, do the necessary household chores, be with my family, keep an eye on our dogs etc., all at the same time. It’s only an area of ca. 4×4 meters, so it’s rather cramped with the storage of my materials, three work tops, my computer, finished work and other things, so sometimes I have to improvise, especially since I’ve begun using non-textile materials. I also have a large storage cupboard in my kitchen. I do my ‘wet work’ either in the kitchen, the utility room or outside.
I usually have music on and often sing along while working. 🙂
And sometimes it’s also nice to work in silence, hearing just the ticking of the clock (and the snoring of the dogs).
Tell us about a piece of work you have fond memories of and why?
I think this will have to be the first stitched doodles I made, inspired by Tilleke’s art, they’re still very special to me as I think they were the actual start of my journey into the (textile) art world.
Scribble, doodle, and draw things
Do you use a sketchbook?
I do work in sketchbooks as a purpose in itself, just for the fun of drawing.
I do have several notebooks lying around in which I scribble, doodle and draw things, but being an intuitive and not always very organized worker I usually forget about them. They’ll be a wonderful source in case I’ll need some inspiration.
Instead of a sketchbook to note down ideas I often use a sketching app on my iPad and I like working with Adobe Photoshop to develop ideas.
Starting for instance with a photo and playing on the computer to see how this photo can evolve into lots of potential artworks. Most of these ideas are never taken any further, I just like the design process.
I keep records of what I’ve done, in chronological order, on my blog, so I can always refer to it.
What currently inspires you and which other artists do you admire and why?
I’m mainly inspired by the materials that I use and ideas that pop up in my brain. I started out working two-dimensional but during the Distant Stitch course this has evolved into three-dimensional work. I’ve always loved crafting, holding an object in my hands and thinking of solutions into realizing certain ideas.
I have a tendency to like repetitive work, when I make one object I make more and group them together. I would love to make very large pieces of work this way, but I don’t have the space for it.
It always makes me happy when I’m working on something and it’s turning out to be a piece which is pleasing to look at. But when struggling with something which doesn’t seem to work it’s always a wonderful surprise when the end result unexpectedly turns out to be successful after all and the hard labour has paid off. It’s very seldom that I give up on a piece and usually keep working on it to get it right.
The most influential artists/teachers so far have been my friends and teachers Els van Baarle and Cherilyn Martin and my Distant Stitch tutor Siân Martin and I greatly appreciate them sharing their years long experience.
As there is so much wonderful work by so many artists to be admired, I wouldn’t know where to begin to mention them all. But as I always enjoy exploring the links given by other featured artists I’ll think of a few as well. They’re just some that come to mind as I don’t often bookmark or make notes of things that I like.
Maryan Geluk is an artist/teacher whose professionalism I admire. It was interesting to see a glimpse of her work process when I visited her studio.
I love the impact of large scale work, like that of Alice Kettle and Claudy Jongstra. I’m intrigued by the art of Claire Morgan. Her work must be so time-consuming, that I have no idea how she manages to have such a large portfolio on her website.
Working with copper foil myself, I came across the wonderful copper foil based enameled textile-like vessels of June Schwarcz.
I like the experimental use of materials of Debbie Lyddon.
I love the delicate and fragile thread sculptures of Cate Hursthouse. Also the land art of Hannah Streefkerk, I like her creative mind and her work makes me smile. And the Marian Bijlenga dots are fascinating. But I’ll leave it at this, there are too many… !!
Curious and experimental
How has your work developed since you began and how do you see it evolving in the future?
I started out as a predominantly intuitive maker. This wasn’t satisfying for me. Working intuitively comes natural and I made lots and lots of work. I thought it was too easy. I felt that in order to make art I needed to put in more of an effort. And I wanted to be able to understand why certain things worked, I wanted to know the theory behind art making. I also wanted to learn to work with a plan as I thought that’s what would make me a good artist.
I was very eager to learn and have worked very hard over the past years. I was at one point a little worried that I might loose my ability to work intuitively, as I’d become to realize this was something I should cherish, but that hasn’t happened and I now still work intuitively, but in a more structured manner.
After having made lots of assignment work for the courses that I took and having learned a lot, it’s now time to just make what I want to make, with all the knowledge I gained and therefore with much more confidence. This doesn’t mean that I’ll stop learning, though!
As I always have so many ideas I don’t think I’ll ever settle down into one particular style of working, I would find that a little too restricting. But my intention is to stick to something for a longer period of time instead of jumping from one thing to the next, which I’ve often done before. I’ve always been a very fast worker and my plan is to slow down in order to give myself the opportunity to contemplate more options. I think it’ll be more satisfying to not just scratch the surface of something but go deeper.
But whichever way my work will go, I’ll always be making, it makes me happy.
What advice would you give to an aspiring textile artist?
I think all advice that I can give is focus and work hard. The more you make the more you will learn. Be curious and experimental and once you come across a technique that you like, delve into it and try to make it your own.
If you’re serious in becoming an artist make it (one of) the most important part(s) of your life. Or perhaps it’s the other way round. You’re an artist when you just have to create all the time, when you have, like I once read somewhere, this ‘itch that cannot be scratched’. 🙂
What resources do you use?
I have spend quite a lot of time (not as much anymore, now) on the computer, just looking, reading and learning, linking from one source of information to the next. So many people are very generous in sharing their own knowledge that all you have to do is google whatever you want to know. But I also like buying books on certain subjects, preferably with lots of illustrations of art. I recently bought a wonderful book ‘Fiber Sculpture 1960 – present’ and love exploring the artists and their work. I also like to watch video’s on art on youtube, especially interviews. I follow art programs on TV and often watch interesting documentaries on art and art history on the BBC. I also like browsing museum websites that have good educational pages and the Google art website is a great way to see work up close.
Discover the possibilities
Can you recommend 3 or 4 books for textile artists?
For anyone interested in colouring metal the book ‘The Colouring, Bronzing and Patination of Metals’ is the best source to find all the information you need.
Going through my books I picked some of my favourites:
- ‘Collage Techniques’ by Gerald Brommer
- ‘Drawn to Stitch’ by Gwen Hedley
- ‘Expressive Drawing’ by Steven Aimone
- ‘Collage, Stitch, Print’ by Val Holmes
What piece of equipment or tool could you not live without?
I don’t think there’s anything specific that I cannot do without, except of course my hands and my brain.
Do you give talks or run workshops or classes? If so, where can readers find information about these?
No, I don’t. I do, however, often share my work process on my blog. Sometimes people email me with questions about a certain technique, which I’m always happy to answer.
I’ve always loved working with children, it would be nice to help children discover the possibilities of their creativity.
How do you go about choosing where to show your work?
I’m still finding my way around and have only exhibited a couple of times. Being a member of textile group Steekplus gives me the opportunity to take part in group exhibitions.
Where can readers see your work this year?
I’ll be showing some work at an art event in the summer, together with other contributors of the book ‘Textile is Alive’ by Ellen Bakker, and I’ll be taking part in an exhibition at the Textiel en Vezelmanifestatie in Doesburg in September.
For all things current and relating to Meta Heemskerk visit: metaheemskerk.com
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