Jennifer Collier: Paper & Stitch
Stafford based artist Jennifer Collier works from a studio in her gallery, Unit Twelve, with six other artists. Her practice involves stitching recycled papers to create delightfully detailed objects. Jennifer graduated from Manchester Metropolitan University in 1999 and has since won several awards including the BCTF Award for Excellence in 2004 and ‘Best in Show’ award at the The London Craft Fair in 2007.
In our interview with Jennifer we talk about her move from fabric to paper and her passion for reusing and transforming unloved discarded books.
TextileArtist.org: What was your route to becoming an artist? (Formal training or another pathway?)
Jennifer Collier: I trained in textiles completing a BA (hons) Textiles, at Manchester Metropolitan University, in 1999. This was a traditional textiles course specialising in Print, Knit and Weave. When I first graduated I did an Artist in Residence at a gallery in Northwich, Cheshire, which threw me into art workshops, as this was one of the things I had to run. I realised pretty quickly that I would need an income to support my practice, as sales can be sporadic. After this I went on to a North West Arts Board Residency at The Museum of Science and Industry in Manchester, where I had a public studio space based in the gallery of ‘Fibres, Fashions and Fabrics’. I now run art workshops from my own gallery, Unit Twelve, in Staffordshire.
What is your chosen medium and what are your techniques?
All my work is stitched papers, so a contemporary twist on traditional textiles. The papers are treated as if cloth, with the main technique employed being stitch. The papers themselves serve as both the inspiration and the media for my work, with the narrative of the books and papers suggesting the forms, for example a sewing machine made from dress making patterns, or a camera out of vintage photographs.
How would you describe your work and where do you think it fits within the sphere of contemporary art?
I describe my work as Textiles, as the main technique I employ is stitch, and believe it fits into contemporary craft, due to the fact it is rooted in traditional skills and techniques.
Charity shops and flea markets
Tell us a bit about your process?
I tend to find papers, by scouring charity shops and flea markets, then investigate a way in which they can be reused and transformed; giving new life to things that would otherwise go unloved or be thrown away. I love the fact that I am saving these beautiful, but undervalued papers from landfill, and adding value to items overs would overlook. I enjoy nothing more than finding a cook book splattered with food stains or a water damaged paperback that I can save from land fill and transform into something beautiful. Utter treasure to me are books that a child has loved enough to take the time to colour in the illustrations… I tend to have items for a while, sometimes even years before I am ‘brave’ enough to use it and cut it up, but very often the narrative is obvious as soon as I see the paper, Such as my Paper Watering Can from the nursery rhyme ‘Mary, Mary, quite contrary’
Do you use a sketchbook?
I REALLY wish I had time. I truly miss doing sketchbooks and this is something that is on my resolutions list each year!
What currently inspires you and which other artists do you admire and why?
The materials themselves are my main inspiration. But I have had many makers who have been influential and supported my practice over the years. Amanda Clayton was my tutor on my foundation course; I honestly believe that if it were not for her I would never have developed a love for stitch (or be brave enough to ‘drive’ a sewing machine). Until that point I had assumed I would be a fine artist, as all my A-level course had offered was drawing and painting, but luckily I met Mandy and she showed me the many facets of what textiles could be and she was always very patient, no matter how many needles I snapped! Susan Cutts briefly mentored me in my very early stages of starting out, whilst I was on the North West Arts Boards ‘Setting Up Scheme’, years later she sent me a very sweet email saying she had just received a piece of my work as a gift and how pleased she was too see that I was still in business. And Julie Arkell is a constant inspiration and joy to behold whenever I exhibit in London; she always make the effort to come and chat, and has been very supportive of my practice over the years. All these inspirational ladies have already exhibited at Unit Twelve, again something I am very grateful for.
Books and papers
Tell us about a piece of work you have fond memories of and why?
Making the cover artwork for Orange Prize for Fiction winning and Booker Prize shortlisted author Linda Grant’s ‘The Thoughtful Dresser’ – I love her work anyway, so was truly honoured to be asked…
How has your work developed since you began and how do you see it evolving in the future?
I originally trained in Textiles, but over time my work has evolved into paper, with all of the techniques I use in my work now being things I have taught myself since graduating by experimenting with different media and techniques. Probably more than half of my work never sees the light of day, but through the other half I have discovered something truly unique. It got to the stage where books and papers were my main inspiration, and I was always trying to emulate this quality, so it just made sense for them to become the media for the work too.
As my work continues to progresses I am trying to incorporate as many traditional embroidery techniques as possible, such as covered binding, button loops and covered buttons, Cathedral Squares, Bullion Roses, pleating and patchwork. I hope to continue to push the boundaries of what paper can do, and showcase the fact that all my work is just stitched paper.
What advice would you give to an aspiring textile artist?
Develop a thick skin, and even if people say no keep asking till they start saying yes.
Unit Twelve Gallery
What other resources do you use?
I don’t get much time to look at websites and blogs (as I thankfully don’t have internet access at my studio to distract me!), so it is mainly just what I see other makers share on Facebook and twitter. My main resource is actually visiting exhibitions – seeing a picture just isn’t the same as seeing a piece of work ‘in the flesh’.
What piece of equipment or tool could you not live without?
My Bernina. I jointly bought this with a flat mate in my first year at university in 1996 for just £80, but I got custody when we left university.
Do you give talks or run workshops or classes? If so where can readers find information about these?
Yes, from my gallery Unit Twelve which hosts a regularly changing programme of selected, themed exhibitions of high quality contemporary craft, with complementary art workshops run by myself. Once a month one of the exhibiting artists runs an workshop to tie into the exhibition. We offer group bookings or private parties for 6-12 people and there are also 4 other artists with their studios based here. Unit Twelve is open Thur-Sat, 10-4pm.
How do you go about choosing where to show your work?
Galleries that have a good reputation and a track record of showing high quality contemporary craft.
Where can readers see your work this year?
2nd May – 29th Jun 2014
Ferrers Gallery, Ashby de la Zouche
Pinnies From Heaven
17th May – 6th Jul 2014
Craft in the Bay, Cardiff
A Room with a View
5th June – 30th Aug 2014
Unit Twelve, Stafford
In The Window
1st – 31st Oct 2014
Bluecoat Display Centre, Liverpool
You get to have the final word
I am always asked how I do things, but what I honestly feel is most important is to learn a new skill and then to push it forward and make it your own. There is no point making works like someone else’s, you should strive to make work that is your own – innovate don’t imitate. Don’t be afraid to have happy accidents and spend time playing with materials, as this is when you discover something truly unique.
For more information on Jennifer please visit: www.jennifercollier.co.uk