Jean Draper interview: Hand stitched landscapes
Jean Draper is perhaps best known for 2D and 3D textile art, often the result of studying extreme landscapes in the UK, Australia, and America. What sets apart her work is the almost sole use of hand stitching, as well as ample research into the subject matter of any piece.
Jean is a formally educated teacher, having studied at London University Institute of Education..
In this interview, Jean shares with us her passion for stitching by hand, her thorough process for researching and sketching a new idea, as well as the inspiration she draws from travel.
TextileArtist.org: What initially captured your imagination about textile art?
Jean Draper: The texture of cloth and learning possibilities for its use.
What or who were your early influences and how has your upbringing influenced your work?
Our family home, before the widespread ownership of television sets, was always a hive of industry – mending and making out of necessity. I now realize how skilled my mother was in making our home pleasant and comfortable, and in dressing three daughters beautifully on very limited money. Because I wanted to join in and with my mother’s encouragement, from a young age I learned to knit, crochet, sew, darn, and embroider from transferred designs. In my teens I made many of my own clothes…
At my formal girls’ grammar school, my abject failure in Latin led to my demotion to the ‘B’ stream, enabling me to take Needlework as a GCE subject and so influenced my whole career.
What was your route to becoming an artist?
I had always enjoyed art in school, and was fortunate enough to be encouraged by my parents to go to Art College where I did a four-year course leading to the NDD (National Diploma in Design) qualification. In the Intermediate two years a huge emphasis was placed on drawing alongside obtaining skills in using a variety of materials within different disciplines. For my second two years, I chose to specialize in Dress Design and Embroidery.
A further year of training was undertaken at London University Institute of Education where the ATC qualification prepared me to be an art teacher.
Deceptively fragile appearance
What is your chosen medium and what are your techniques?
My chosen medium is mostly hand stitching. For many years I worked more conventionally with a variety of threads on various background fabrics, sometimes stretched on a frame, latterly in the hand so that I could manipulate and raise the fabric surface with densely worked whip stitch. These raised pieces led to completely three dimensional work and constructions incorporating hand stitching, some machine stitching, wrapping, and mixed media.
Some pieces are hand stitched on soluble fabric which, when washed away, leaves a structure of deceptively fragile appearance. A current way of working is to make many small elements that are then assembled to make sculptural pieces.
How would you describe your work and where do you think it fits within the sphere of contemporary art?
Formerly, as a contemporary embroiderer, I liked to describe myself as part of the ongoing, developing tradition of embroidery. Now that my work has gradually changed and is made from a variety of materials such as clay, paint, wood, wire together with fabric and thread, I see it as being broader based and no longer pure embroidery.
A great deal of sampling
Tell us a bit about your process and what environment you like to work in.
My process – or the way I work – relies heavily on ongoing research. This comprises traveling, looking, drawing, taking photographs, making notes, reading, visits to museums and galleries and a great deal of sampling of my ideas in different materials.
I work in a variety of places. I am fortunate in that my teaching has enabled me to travel quite widely and I take photographs, draw and make notes wherever I am. At home I have a studio, but I often work making the small elements, mentioned above, at the kitchen table or in the evenings in front of the television.
I have to confess that I think about work a great deal of the time.
Do you use a sketchbook?
Constantly. My books are usually sketch and notebooks combined because I tend to see and translate what is before me in terms of developing ideas for my textiles. I therefore like to have my notes alongside the drawings, reminding me of particular moments and my thinking at that time. These books, even older ones, are invaluable in that they are a constant source of ideas that I may have chosen not to pursue earlier.
The Penultimate App on my iPad is also very useful.
What currently inspires you and which other artists do you admire and why?
My work has always been concerned with landscape, particularly places that I have visited often and know well. The sense of a place and its associations is very important to me and I often reflect upon the people, past and present, who have lived and worked there. I respond strongly to dry, barren landscapes where the ‘bare bones’ and extreme shapes of land and rocks are very visible along with the effects of time and the elements.
Several years ago, I witnessed the immediate aftermath of a huge, devastating wild fire in Arizona. The memory of that place haunts me still and I have made a great deal of work about it, including ‘Aftermath’, ‘Burnt Books’ and ‘Black Dots’ – all illustrated.
Although landscape has been my inspiration for many years, the work, apart from a few early pieces, has not depicted vistas and has gradually changed as my interest in different aspects of the subject has grown. Recent work has an overall title of ‘In Detail’ where, in terms of textiles and mixed media, I am exploring minute features observed in the land.
I admire and learn from many artists, past and present, of many disciplines, particularly those whose work is about landscape and surface.
New ideas are developed
Tell us about a piece of work you have fond memories of and why.
The instillation ‘Black Dots’ is special to me because it strongly brought about the realization that I could make work without a background fabric or any kind of frame.
How has your work developed since you began and how do you see it evolving in the future?
I have come to see that my work has always been about surface and surface texture, whether it is the densely worked earlier pieces where the stitching emerged from and altered the fabric, or the more recent pieces. The land is a constant source of inspiration and will, I imagine, continue to be so, although I expect it will continue to change as new ideas are developed around what I observe about the subject.
What advice would you give to an aspiring textile artist?
Find subject matter that you feel passionate about and develop it until your work has your own personal signature. Do not rely on technique alone but concentrate on the interpretation of your subject matter. Also, draw, draw, draw.
Do you give talks or run workshops or classes? If so, where can readers find information about these?
I do very few workshops now as I wish to concentrate on my own textile work and writing.
Where can readers see your work this year?
At any number of 62 Group exhibitions.