Lucy Poskitt: Weaving the line
Lucy Poskitt is a Canadian textile artist living and working in Victoria, British Columbia. She studied within the Interdisciplinary Program of the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design University in Halifax, Nova Scotia, and on scholarship though the New York Studio Program.
A relatively new weaver, practising for 8 years, Lucy draws influence from her varied art practices including collage, installation art and painting.
In this interview, Lucy explains how combining traditional techniques with non-traditional materials informs her weavings practice and how keeping her process casual allows for spontaneity with some extraordinary results.
Discovering a natural artistic process
TextileArtist.org: What initially attracted you to textiles as a medium? And, more specifically, how was your imagination captured by weaving?
Lucy Poskitt: There’s a story I always tell about how I discovered weaving in university, but I think my attraction the textiles medium began much earlier in my life.
As a child and young adult, I was always making things with scraps of fabric and thread, little free-form embroideries, clothes for my dolls and later for myself, stuffed animals but never had the patience for following a pattern. I suppose I enjoyed the tactility and utility of textiles but always wanted to do things my way!
As I grew older, I broke away from textiles in a sense. I attended a visual arts high school, heavy on the traditional fine arts curriculum, which eventually led me to the Interdisciplinary Program at NSCAD University where I threw myself into all things printmaking, with a minor focus on art history, installation art and drawing.
I loved it at first. The history, the routine, rules and processes were all things that attracted me to printmaking… but I began to grow frustrated with it. There weren’t many opportunities to experiment, the flatness of the medium became a challenge, the rules and routine became constricting, the process often led to a big, disappointing reveal. The studio felt cold, competitive and anxious to have its work acknowledged as valid in the art world.
When the next semester came around I took a weaving elective and I found my antidote to printmaking: a warm, welcoming, proudly craft-based and tactile medium with a huge history in which there were rules and processes – yes! but also room and encouragement to experiment on and off the loom.
I found that I could create simultaneously as a craftsperson and an artist, that there wasn’t really a distinction between the two as my earlier arts education had led me to believe. I felt free to experiment and make something wild, while at the same time, on the same warp or even in the same piece, I could create within traditional methods and parameters.
What was your route to becoming an artist?
I can’t remember a time when I didn’t want to be an artist and in fact, I don’t think there was ever a time when I wasn’t, I’ve always had my hand in some art form or another. I consider myself very lucky to have grown up within a family full of artists and supporters of the arts, painters, illustrators, architects, designers, musicians, film-makers, quilters and calligraphers.
With so many wonderful influences around me I never doubted that being an artist wasn’t a valid path to take, never did I think that it wasn’t a realistic career. Although it was often pointed out to me that it wasn’t an easy route!
I was also very lucky to have the opportunity to attend a visual-arts high school in Ottawa, Ontario where I had wonderful teachers that encouraged me to try out different mediums, like printmaking and I began exhibiting my work almost immediately after graduation. From there it felt like a natural progression to get my BFA and that’s how I ended up at NSCAD. That was the easy part!
Post-university when the reality sets in was the hard part of becoming an artist for me. I spent a few years making nothing, I felt utterly drained of creativity and it was a huge adjustment to feel the will to make anything without a deadline looming over me. It took a long time with much insomnia and anxiety to learn how to make art on my own time and to discover a natural, not forced, artistic process.
Adapting to experimentation
How would you describe your work and where do you think it fits within the sphere of contemporary art?
That’s a hard one! I guess I would describe my work as non-traditional tapestry weaving? I’ve explained it in the past as ‘walking the line between traditional image-based tapestry and yardage weaving’ in the sense that I employ components of both methods in my work, tapestry techniques with non-tapestry yarns, lots of negative space, varying setts, and I use both high and low-warp looms interchangeably…but I also draw inspiration and techniques from everything from rug hooking to collage.
I suppose, maybe hope?!, that this is what makes my art contemporary, the mash-up of traditional technique with non-traditional materials and practices…and I think this is why textile art is surging in popularity at the moment; it is adaptable to experimentation while maintaining a firm link to the past and craft sensibility.
Do you use a sketchbook? If not, what preparatory work do you do?
Very rarely do I use a sketchbook, although I often wish it was part of my routine! If I do any drawings beforehand they’re rough and usually on a scrap of paper that I immediately misplace!
For prep work, I’ll often start with a simple image in my mind or a photograph which then leads me to a palette. I’ll also do some random shape collage if I’m feeling very stuck for inspiration, basically just shuffling roughly cut scraps of coloured paper around on a black background until I come up with a sequence that ‘works’.
I also collect different textures, rug and fabric samples, photographs of bark and moss, different yarns… all which inspire and inform a piece.
Tell us about your process from conception to conclusion.
I have a real tendency to overthink things with often terrible results so I actively try to keep my process casual. A lot of my best ideas come mid-way through a piece so I try to leave room for experimentation and spontaneity.
Maybe this is a funny way to work as a weaver, there’s a definite progression to our work, bottom to top or vice-versa, so impulsive design changes are often out of the question unless you want to spend a lot of time unweaving… I guess my method works for me as my pieces are often very simple and abstracted.
I have an ongoing collection of images that I’ve saved on my phone gathered from Instagram, I’m a big fan of the NASA and National Geographic accounts but also follow many photographers, painters and designers and my own travels. I’ll often refer to these to see what’s been inspiring me lately, certain colours, textures, themes or shapes jump out and I might use this as a starting point.
From there I’ll come up with a simple image in my mind or loosely re-create a composition I’ve been inspired by and then get to work choosing materials. I don’t like to limit myself by using only tapestry-specific yarns so I’ll gather my materials from all over: knitting and novelty yarns, ropes and twines, etc.
While I’m doing this a more complete image of the work is forming in my mind, always changing and mutating depending on what I’m being influenced by. A rough cartoon is drawn out and I’ll begin to weave.
What environment do you like to work in?
I work alone in my studio where I can make as much chaos as I want to!
A lot of my preparatory work is very messy, sorting yarns obviously requires that I dump them all out onto the floor (wink-wink), cutting up pieces of paper to shuffle around… and I prefer to not have anyone interfere with this process or judge me for my hectic ways!
I always have some sort of background noise going on like the radio or a terrible Netflix tv series that I can half-ignore. I’m most productive when I have a good podcast to listen to. I just finished S-Town and it was as amazing as everyone says it is, or an upbeat playlist that helps me keep motivated.
Simple geological formations
What currently inspires you?
I’m always inspired by my surrounding landscapes. I feel very fortunate to have lived all across this huge country, literally from coast to coast and in between, and I still draw inspiration from my memories of these places. Coastlines draped in fog, endless prairies, foreboding mountains and emerald lakes.
I find a very deep, powerful and moving energy in simple geological formations and try to convey these feelings through my work. The ambiguity of familiar-seeming places, the way we form connections to and stories about certain curves of land… this is my major source of inspiration.
Tell us about a piece of your work that holds particularly fond memories and why?
My final project for my intro weaving class in art school was an ambitious blanket that incorporated samples of my first hand-spun yarn. The blanket is imperfect in so many ways, I really had no idea what I was getting into, but reminds me of great memories: Staying up late in the weaving studio by myself, finding the rhythm of loom and shuttle, creating a Useful Thing from scratch, yarn and all!
Even though I’ve never made anything like it again, it was a totally magical experience that I’ll never forget, and one that I credit for starting me on this path that I’m still on.
How has your work developed since you began and how do you see it evolving in the future?
When I first started weaving I was creating mostly yardage, scarves, blankets, runners, cloth etc…I think in my weaving classes we devoted only 2 or 3 weeks to tapestry weaving and so I came about the skills I have now from much trial, error and research.
At first, I was very much ‘there is a right and wrong way to weave!’ and I felt I would never deviate from ‘the rules’. However, as I’ve mastered more traditional techniques I feel there is also a loosening in my resolve to only do things a certain way. I get bored easily and if I didn’t allow myself to experiment and invent new ways of expressing myself through this medium I probably wouldn’t still be weaving.
I teach my students that a firm knowledge of technique allows for successful, confident, intuitive exploration and I very much practice what I preach. I can only hope for more ambitious experiments in my future!
Forge your own way forward
What advice would you give to an aspiring textile artist?
Find your own way! I’ve often heard people saying that copying another’s work is okay when you’re first starting out as an artist… and I couldn’t agree less. We learn from our mistakes and it is essential as artists that we never stop making them.
Begin with an idea, any idea! and just go out and attempt it, terrible results and all. You’ll learn so much more from forging your own way forward rather than following in someone’s footsteps. I always think that you have to make a lot of crap before you make something good and that this is just part of the process, you need to get it out of your system!
Secondly, don’t commodify everything you make. If you’re just creating things for other people, pieces that you think are on-trend and popular, you’ll never be ahead of the curve.
Thirdly, if you do sell your work, charge a fair price! When you give value to your work, others will recognise this and give it value as well…My heart breaks for all the $30 tapestries that might end up in the Goodwill in a couple of years. If you feel it’s not good enough or you can’t sell at a fair price for your time, creative energy and materials, keep it or give it away.
What piece of equipment or tool could you not live without?
I underestimated fancy fabric scissors for years! Now nothing is more beautiful to me than the feeling of a clean, crisp, heavy snip-snip.
Do you give talks or run workshops or classes? If so where can readers find information about these?
I run beginner and intermediate weaving workshops about twice a month in Victoria and Vancouver. They’re always listed on my website.
For more information visit: www.lucyposkitt.com
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15 comments on “Lucy Poskitt: Weaving the line”
Thanks for this article. I just started tapestry weaving and enjoyed reading Lucy’s journey.
Thank you so much, Judy!
I really enjoyed this article! I tend to work in a more chaotic manner and it makes me happy to know that someone else does as well. I am not a professional tapestry weaver or artist but I do enjoy trying things. It also makes me appreciate the art I see as I learn more and understand the processes involved.
I totally agree, Terri – the more we learn about different art process the more we can understand and appreciate the work itself. Tapestry has such a rich an important history but can be so limiting sometimes – it’s always interesting to me to see how other artists are bending the medium to suit their needs. Glad you enjoyed the interview and happy to know I’m not the only one that needs creative chaos! 🙂 Lucy
tapestry is so interesting!!
I always enjoy your posts but this was soooo relevant. I am on holiday in Australia (from UK) and have time so using a cobbled together frame to do small tapestries. I have taken my inspiration from colours of native birds. Really enjoying peace and concentration…..
The work “Recluse” is so evocative a “song without words”
Thank you so much Janette. It remains one of my most favorite pieces to date!
Great article, I particularly liked Lucy’s advice on forging your own way.
Thank you Leisa! 🙂
Ah it was such a relief to hear from someone whose natural process is so like mine. Especially the bit about taking a year or two to get your flow. Very encouraging – thank you
I could really relate to this article, it sounds as if she works in very similar ways to me though I never learnt cloth weaving. I also don’t use sketchbooks but wish I did. I work intuitively or from photos. I love this phrase ‘I found that I could create simultaneously as a craftsperson and an artist, that there wasn’t really a distinction between the two as my earlier arts education had led me to believe.’ its how I feel as well and I love Lucy’s work
Thanks for this article it has helped me believe in my own way of working
Thank you, Deborah! I’m happy to know that you relate to this article. Creating as an artist and craftsperson at once… I credit that moment of discovery to so much in my artistic career and I’m glad you feel the same way about it – looking back on my arts education it seems so old-fashioned to make such a firm distinction between the two. Although I recognize the importance in a historical sense it seems kind of cruel to encourage young artists with the idea that capital-C Craft is always below Art on the ladder.
Thanks for the post, I began tapestry weaving, then second semester on loom weaving from a teacher from Thailand. I can relate, I try different things,but I do love the weave of tapestry. Best wishes on a great future!
I’m not a weaver but so much of what you say is relevant to anyone making textile art of whatever variety. I especially think that your comments about not copying but finding your own way and having a go at things. Yes, we do need to fail so that we learn from these failures and move forward. Sometimes a failure is really powerful because through it you find out what you don’t want to do as well as what you really do want to do. Lots of good sense in this article – thank you. Lucy.