Gillian Bates: Feathers and fur

Gillian Bates: Feathers and fur

Gillian Bates has been working as a full-time textile designer since 2008 and has proudly exhibited internationally and more recently has created work specifically for John Lewis and the View from the Shard.

In this interview Gillian talks about her early life at college and how she was inspired to create her own style of art. We learn what materials and techniques she employs and why British wildlife has such a special place in her heart.

Gillian Bates, Two Little Ducks

Gillian Bates, Two Little Ducks

Falling in love with the process What initially attracted you to textiles as a medium?

Gillian Bates: I have always loved to draw, sketch and paint and I was initially was drawn to fine art, during my foundation art education but I began to look longingly at what the Textiles group were producing, I loved the freedom and versatility of the textile medium.

And, more specifically, how was your imagination captured by stitching?

I discovered the art of stitching during my degree. I purchased an old battered 1950s Bernina and completely fell in love with the process of using my sewing machine as a drawing stylus.

Gillian Bates, Fox

Gillian Bates, Fox

Gillian Bates, Fox (detail)

Gillian Bates, Fox (detail)

First steps

What or who were your early influences and how has your life/upbringing influenced your work?

As a child, I always spent any pocket money I had on sketchbooks, pencils, paints anything artistic I could find. But it wasn’t until my mid-20s I decided to take my creativity seriously and I enrolled in a local art college there I was encouraged to continue onto a Textile degree. I have been very lucky to have some amazing tutors that really inspired me along the way helping me find my style and encouraging me to take the next steps.

Gillian Bates, Robin

Gillian Bates, Robin

What was your route to becoming an artist?

Once graduating in 2007 I became determined to put what I’d learnt into practice and in April 2008 I became a full-time textile designer/maker and I haven’t looked back since.

How do you use your chosen techniques in conjunction with stitching?

My current work is created using a combination of hand painting, machine embroidery and embellished with traditional hand stitching techniques.

Gillian Bates, Sparrows

Gillian Bates, Sparrows

Creating contemporary textiles

How would you describe your work and where do you think it fits within the sphere of contemporary art?

Although I don’t believe I’m creating contemporary art I do believe I am creating contemporary textiles. I have always felt that my work can sit comfortably within the Arts or Crafts, something that can definitely be used to my advantage especially when considering exhibitions and shows.

Gillian Bates, Barn Owl

Gillian Bates, Barn Owl

Gillian Bates, Barn Owl (detail)

Gillian Bates, Barn Owl (detail)

Do you use a sketchbook? If not, what preparatory work do you do?

I do use a sketchbook, I believe it’s something important to my work, as I often work from photographs it is great preparation for my stitched work. I will then create my stitched pieces from my sketchbook work and only then use the photograph for reference. The advantage to this is that it creates a unique textile.

Tell us about your process from conception to conclusion.

I will have a primary idea and then sketch a few composition ideas in my sketchbook until I feel happy to progress and then begin to create the textile. I under paint the fabric for added depth and then I like to build up a number of layers creating a back, mid and foreground with coloured machine and hand stitch work as a painter would use paint.

Gillian Bates, Bumblebee

Gillian Bates, Bumblebee

Making brave decisions

What environment do you like to work in?

I have a home based studio and I enjoying working in solitude during the day I work very intensely, and once I’m in the ‘zone’ it’s nice not to have too many distractions. One thing I love about having a home based studio is that I can work a 12 hour day without realizing!

What currently inspires you?

My current obsession is British wildlife I have always created work that is a celebration of everything quintessentially British. But I am really enjoying how the stitched textures I create translate so easily to feathers and fur.

Gillian Bates, Badger

Gillian Bates, Badger

How has your work developed since you began and how do you see it evolving in the future?

I first started to create seaside landscape scenes, I live in Eastbourne a sleepy seaside town and one Mother’s Day I went down to the seafront with camera in hand and started capturing snapshots of families promenading along the seafront against the background of the elegant Victorian architecture. I began to create bright linear stitched studies.

It’s only this year I decided I wanted to evolve my work and move away from the seaside theme. I began to create more textured work and began to introduce paint as a medium. I felt it was a brave decision that had to be taken to gain as an artist. I feel I learnt a lesson there that I’m not a one-woman factory but I am an artist and I need to allow for growth in the future.

Gillian Bates, Starlings

Gillian Bates, Starlings

Gillian Bates, Starlings (detail)

Gillian Bates, Starlings (detail)

The joys of textiles

What advice would you give to an aspiring textile artist?

I do believe you really need a unique selling point, especially with textiles, you want to wow the viewer and make them question how you made your piece was created. I also work at a local university a few sessions a month, I teach the degree students the joys of textiles. I always encourage my students to follow their passions and just go for it!

Gillian Bates, Honey Bee

Gillian Bates, Honey Bee

What piece of equipment or tool could you not live without?

I have to say the Internet is my most important tool. In the early days of self-promotion of my work the internet became invaluable enabling my work to been all across the globe. It’s a great way to just even get instant feedback on a new piece not to mention the majority of my sales come via online.

Where can readers see your work this year?

Forge2 – Summer Exhibition, July 2016 – October 2016 – High Street, Culworth.

Fisherton Mill Gallery – Material World 2nd July – 27th August 2016. 108 Fisherton Street, Salisbury, Wilts.

Gillian Bates, Wren

Gillian Bates, Wren

For more information visit:

Let us know what your favourite aspect of the artist’s work is by leaving a comment below.

Saturday 19th, October 2019 / 02:38

About the author

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5 comments on “Gillian Bates: Feathers and fur”

  1. Rachel Biel says:

    Lovely work and so expressive!

  2. Gorgeous concept, paint, machine sewing, hand stitching a painting which makes one want to touch the canvas. Thanks, Mrs. atk

  3. nusrat bibi says:

    Marvellous work.

  4. Pat says:

    Exquisite pictures – I particularly like the dramatic bumble bee.

  5. Fran Wessel says:

    I am awe stricken! The starlings with the blue glints is more than amazing. I want to do it too!

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