Carol Naylor interview: The best second best
Carol Naylor is a contemporary textile artist specialising in machine embroidery. She creates unique, one off textiles by stitching directly onto canvas using a variety of rayon, cotton, woollen and metallic threads. Her stitched textiles range from small intimate pieces to large scale hangings.
Carol’s work has been shown in many group and solo exhibitions and she teaches and exhibits in the UK and abroad. As well as exhibitions and work for galleries and private venues her work has been commissioned and collected by public, corporate and private clients.
Having been impressed by Carol’s work at the Knitting and Stitching show, we’re very happy that she’s agreed to share some insights into her approach to textile art with us.
Needle and thread: an alternative way of drawing
TextileArtist.org: What initially captured your imagination about textile art?
Carol Naylor: I really wanted to be a painter but when I applied for Goldsmiths I didn’t get a place, however I was offered a place on what was then a new degree route in textiles and embroidery. At first I really did not like what I was doing, but gradually realized that I could use needle and thread as an alternative way of drawing. It took a while for me to really fall in love with my new medium but I always say now it was the best “second best” I could ever have had!
What or who were your early influences and how has your life/upbringing influenced your work ?
I never really wanted to do anything except art and was very lucky that my parents supported me in my ambition. As a child all I did was draw. I started collecting books about artists by the time I was 12 whilst my friends were collecting pictures of Elvis and then the Beatles! I remember my mother tramping London’s streets with me to see Gauguin’s paintings in the Courtauld Institute. I have over 30 years of sketchbooks in my studio, a lifetime’s practice. They are my diaries.
What was your route to becoming an embroidery textile artist?
I did art foundation at Hastings School of Art then my degree and textiles diploma at Goldsmiths. I went into teaching, briefly in a Yorkshire secondary school and then as a full time lecturer. This meant that although I was working and had children I was also able to always have a piece of work on the go. It helped being married to a painter as well!
Fabric that moves and undulates
What is your chosen medium and what are your techniques?
I am a machine embroiderer stitching directly onto painter’s canvas using a wide range of rayon, metallic, woollen and cotton threads mainly in cable stitch. Intensive, continual stitching changes the base fabric from a flat surface to one that moves and undulates with its own unique quality. The sculptural qualities, and loops and textures caused by tension and thread changes are an integral part of the process.
How would you describe your work and where do you think it fits within the sphere of contemporary art?
My work is about the exploration of surface and mark making. Qualities of light and colour observed on land and over water, and shadows with strongly contrasting shafts of light are explored through heavily stitched surfaces that undergo subtle changes depending on the onlooker’s point of view. I hope that I do make a contribution to contemporary textile art but I think that is for others to comment on. For me it is and has always been about the following, nothing else really matters – I look, I draw, I select and I translate.
Tell us a bit about your process and what environment you like to work in?
I work in my studio at home, using ideas, drawings and notes made on location. I need quiet and NEVER have music on! You can’t hear your machine if you do, and you have to listen to it!
Poetry as an influence
What currently inspires you and which other artists do you admire and why?
I’ve always been influenced by painters, so Gauguin’s and Klee’s use of colour, Kandinsky’s obsession with abstraction, shape and symbolic content, then a fascination for Rothko and other abstract expressionists. I also love the way Dufy used marks over blocks of colour and share his passion for blue! Another artist whose work I admire and find myself thinking about is Sussex artist Peter Iden who sadly died a few months ago. His fascination for the South Downs is haunting and I love the expressive and understated way in which he used paint. Other influences are from poetry, especially Robert Frost and Thomas Hardy whose words when describing land and sea have really informed my own thinking and doing.
Tell us about a piece of work you have fond memories of and why?
Sometimes the right elements all come together in one piece. Diamonds and Rust 2008 (title from a Joan Baez song) is one piece that when I made it I felt completely at ease with it. I had drawn this Spanish landscape regularly, and made a number of embroideries using these. For me it evokes not just the landscape of central Spain but the personal experience of being a part of it. It’s now in a private collection.
From hand to machine stitch
How has your work developed since you began and how do you see it evolving in the future?
I actually did hand embroidery for many years, incorporating dyeing and paper making as well. I returned to the sewing machine about 20 years ago and have remained faithful to it, so my work has changed hugely. Since giving up lecturing in 1997 I can see how my technique has also developed. I don’t know where I will go from here, that’s the exciting thing about it all!
Do you give talks or run workshops or classes? If so where can readers find information about these?
I visit guilds and groups around the UK and abroad and can be contacted through my website. I’m also on the Embroiderers Guild’s list of recommended tutors.
How do you go about choosing where to show your work?
I do like showing in galleries and at exhibitions as I feel this suits my work best. It needs space to breathe on the walls. I’ve been lucky to be asked to show on many occasions including in the USA, France, Portugal and Spain. I also show occasionally at textile or art fairs like the Knitting and Stitching Shows or Brighton Art Fair.
Where can readers see your work this year?
In 2013 my work can be seen at the following venues, dates and details are or will be on my website and other venues will be added when finalized. In addition Primavera Gallery in Cambridge always has some pieces on display. I am also very happy to show people my studio as long as they arrange a visit with me in advance.
January – Designer Crafts at the Mall 2013
March – Landmark Contemporary Art Fair
April – Oxmarket Arts Centre, Chichester
May – Chichester Art Trail
October – Knitting and Stitching Show, Alexandra Palace, London
Membership of Societies and other work
I am a Fellow of the Society of Designer Craftsmen and have been a member since 1994. From 1999-2011, I co-curated the annual winter exhibition at the Mall Galleries in London and was chairman from 2006-2010. I have just jointly curated an exhibition at the William Morris Gallery in Walthamstow, London called Everyday Encounters. The exhibitors, who went through a rigorous selection process, created pieces especially for the exhibition responding to Morris’s rallying call “to have nothing in your houses that you do not believe to be useful or beautiful”
I am also a member of the Embroiderers Guild, and as well as teaching adults I have been artist in residence at several primary schools. My teaching has taken me as far away as Minnesota and New Zealand so life remains exciting and full of surprises.
For more information please visit: carolnaylor.co.uk
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