Pat Bishop: Intriguing to its essence
Artist Pat Bishop uses textiles as a medium because they provide a unique vehicle of interpretation with their vibrant colour, tactile nature and endless variety. Her work signifies the strength, beauty and simplicity of nature.
Pat is a juried artist member of SAQA (Studio Art Quilters Association) and currently has pieces traveling internationally with the SAQA exhibits ‘Two x Twenty’ and ‘Balancing Act’. She has ribboned at International Quilt Festival in Houston, Texas, with two of her pieces and won numerous fine art awards regionally.
In this interview Pat tells us how, as a young child, her love for art began by watching her favourite children’s program on TV.
TextileArtist.org: What initially attracted you to textiles as a medium?
Pat Bishop: I have always been a sewer since I was in fourth grade, when I begged my mother to teach me how to use her sewing machine. Actually, I was doing hand embroidery before then, not sure how old I was when I started. It was just something we did, my mother sewed, my two sisters sewed, it was just a natural part of my childhood. My mother sewed most of our clothes: skirts, jumpers, blouses, dresses, shorts and tops.
And, more specifically, how was your imagination captured by textiles?
I have always been ‘doing art’ whether it be watercolors, rosemaling or other artistic ventures. I’ve tried many things, but the tactile nature, the feel, the smell, and most importantly, the variety of textures and vibrancy of color have drawn me back to fabric. Quilting adds one more layer of texture which is sculpturally unique in art quilting.
A memory that still gives me satisfaction and pride
What or who were your early influences and how has your life/upbringing influenced your work?
Well, early on I was influenced by Captain Kangaroo and my kindergarten teacher. As the youngest of the family my mother allowed me to watch Captain Kangaroo, when the other four kids had gone off to school. My favorite part was when Captain Kangaroo got out his shoebox where he kept his art supplies: scissors, glue, construction paper. I would make whatever he was making right along with him.
One important memory of kindergarten was when we were doing an art project with yarn, glue and paper. We were to make a picture by glueing our yarn to the paper. I made a picture of George Washington and my recollection was that my teacher said mine was the very best one; whether this was accurate or not, it is a memory that still gives me satisfaction and pride. It may have been the start of my art career.
Art was always my favorite subject in grade school and high school, but I never considered it as a career, just a hobby. At that time I believed artists were born with talent, it wasn’t something you could develop with hard work. I now know better.
My parents both came from farming families; farmers are known for being self-sufficient, making do, and I think these factors influenced me to be a maker, using what was on hand, problem solving. To me it seems you can make almost anything from fabric.
It was time to pursue what I really wanted to do
What was your route to becoming an artist?
As a young adult I did a lot of crafting and sewing of practical things, like curtains, my daughters’ dresses, my clothes and eventually traditional quilts, starting around the bicentennial in 1976, when there was a resurgence in quilting. I also became interested in Norwegian painting on wood, Rosemaling and did that for several years, eventually teaching the class for a short time.
Another interest was watercolor painting, which I studied for a few years after I tired of Rosemaling, due to the smell of oil paints and permanent paint stains on my clothing and furniture.
After a hiatus from pursuing any art while raising my children and going back to work, I eventually went back to quilting. I became bored with traditional quilting, though I still appreciate it, and wanted to develop my own designs. My first grandson, Presley, was due to be born and I thought this was the time to get serious about pursuing my desire to use my own ideas in my quilts. His baby quilt was my first art quilt. Of course I didn’t call it an art quilt, I wasn’t admitting to myself, yet, that I wanted to be an artist when I grew up. Heck, I was only turning fifty. But really, my mortality was showing itself, I did realize it was time to get busy and pursue what I really wanted to do.
I have taken many, many classes from noteworthy art quilters and learned something in almost every class. I think it was important in my development as a textile artist to learn from all these artists, as well as my previous artistic educational experiences, so I could cherry pick the techniques, processes, and outcomes that appealed to my aesthetics. Some of the classes I really valued were those that related to basic art education, such as composition, value study and the use of color.
Tell us a bit about your chosen techniques.
I do a lot of raw edge abstracted fused work using strips of fabric, which creates a striation effect. I lay down many different textures of fabric while blending the color and value as if I were using paint.
I use very fine thread to do the machine quilting, which is fairly simple with mostly straight lines. I do not want the viewer to focus on the thread, but on the quilting and textural effects.
Trying to convey what I find intriguing to its essence
How would you describe your work and where do you think it fits within the sphere of contemporary art?
That is a difficult question, but I will try to answer it. My work is mostly inspired by nature, but not in a very realistic manner. I like to abstract nature, take something I am drawn to and refine it to the basics. I am trying to convey what I find intriguing to its essence and hope the viewer can appreciate what I feel.
My work has been exhibited alongside other visual art and seems to hold its own with no problem. Because of its tactile, sculptural quality it has a lot of depth and vibrancy, which makes it unique among other mediums.
Do you use a sketchbook? If not, what preparatory work do you do?
I will often work from a photograph of my own. If it is an unfamiliar subject, I will search out images of the subject, such as cranes, for example, and do multiple sketches and tracings to familiarize myself with the details of the subject. This is just to learn more about it. Then I will attempt to simplify and note the important aspects of the subject which make it recognizable.
I do value studies of my proposed composition, experimenting with placement by moving the light, medium and dark values to different positions to come up with the more interesting possibility. A Post-it note pad is what I use as a mini-sketchpad to start because it is small, un-intimidating and quick to try out different studies. I also work in an office full-time, so Post-it notes are good for quick inspirations and always available when I need to get something down on paper. These do get transferred to a sketchpad when I feel more committed to my composition and need to enlarge them. But sometimes I just use the Post-it as my reference.
Tell us about your process from conception to conclusion.
My work begins with either a photo, a doodle or occasionally the fabric leads the way. I use a design wall or table for laying out the fabrics, before fusing them down. A table is easier because the fabrics don’t fall off and I don’t need to pin them down. Fabrics are backed with fusible web, so when I am pleased with the layout, I can iron it to the batting. I use mostly Eco-Felt for my batting, which is recycled plastic. It makes a firm base which is easily quilted with a domestic sewing machine. The quilting is done with 100 weight fine thread, in a simple manner, usually straight lines, giving texture without detracting from the subject matter. I sometimes like to wrap my quilted work over canvas frames at this point to give them more presence and depth.
What environment do you like to work in?
I have a bedroom studio in my home dedicated to my artwork, where I have a work table, sewing space, ironing surface and design walls, oh, and lots and lots of fabric. Most importantly, it has a window so I can look at the birds, trees, sky and anything else happening just outside. In the summer, I love working up at our cabin where we have a huge screen porch, surrounded on three sides by woods; this is where I set up my machine.
I work best when I am alone.
Being an artist is about working hard and doing your homework
What currently inspires you?
Nature is almost always my inspiration. Trees, woods and birds are a recurring theme; they are each so unique and interesting. Being from the Midwest and a descendent of farmers, I also appreciate broken down barns, outbuilding and farmers’ fields.
Who have been your major influences and why?
One of the teachers who really got me going in the pursuit of artistic expression was Laura Cater-Woods. She posed the question to the group: “Why are you here and what are your goals?” My response was: “I want to be an artist.” It was the first time I said it out loud and it was a turning point for me. It was scary to admit, because I was afraid I wasn’t good enough, but I have learned that being an artist is about working hard and doing your homework, to keep learning, experimenting and building on that. The desire and passion is the most important part.
Tell us about a piece of your work that holds particularly fond memories and why?
One of my favorite pieces is ‘Walk of the Cranes’. It was inspired by a photo I took many years ago at my parents’ cottage of a family of cranes that would stroll through the yard in the early morning. I had that picture for quite a few years, before I figured out how to interpret it in textiles. It has become a signature piece for me. It reminds me of the wonderful times we have had at the lake.
How has your work developed since you began and how do you see it evolving in the future?
I think my work was more rigid in the past, I see it becoming more free flowing and simplified. I attempt to bring things to their simplest form, but sometimes the right side brain takes over and gets carried away in the details.
Concentrate on good composition, color and value
What advice would you give to an aspiring textile artist?
My best advice would be to do the work, just keep doing what appeals to you, take lots of classes in art as well as technique. Some art quilters are hung up on the traditional rules for quilting, including perfect seams and perfect stitches; you need to let that go and concentrate on good composition, color and value. The nuances of raw edges of fabric, uneven stitches and torn and worn fabric give character.
Can you recommend three or four books for textile artists?
Elizabeth Barton has two wonderful books, Designing an Art Quilt and Working in a Series. Both books are very well written, thorough and easy to follow. Also Jane Dunnewold has several books on finding your artistic voice. I would not limit myself to the subject of textiles but expand to visual art in general. Both Elizabeth and Jane recognize this need, so these books are a great place to start.
What other resources do you use? Blogs, websites, magazines etc.
As a member of SAQA, I derive a lot of inspiration and knowledge from these artists through the online group. I also still enjoy reading Quilting Arts Magazine. I believe Quilting Arts Magazine was a major influence in the expansion of interest in art quilting and textiles being accepted into the mainstream visual arts.
What piece of equipment or tool could you not live without?
My sewing machine, I am not much of a hand sewer and I enjoy the speed of machine quilting.
Do you give talks or run workshops or classes? If so where can readers find information about these?
Yes I do give talks and am available for classes. I don’t have a dedicated location but would be very happy to travel. My website: www.patbishop.info
How do you go about choosing where to show your work?
I prefer to show in gallery settings, along with other media, but also exhibit with textile art groups. Currently I am curating an exhibit with the Fiber Artists Coalition called, Wabi-Sabi: Finding Beauty in the Imperfect which we plan to start showing in 2016.
Where can readers see your work this year?
The following is a list of exhibitions of my work in 2016:
Pat Bishop, Featured Artist – Elisha D. Smith Menasha Public Library, 440 1st Street, Menasha, WI 54952 ………. January, 2016 ………. www.menashalibrary.org
Deeply Rooted, SAQA – Anderson Art Center, 6603 Third Ave., Kenosha, WI 53143 .. January 24 – Mar 20…… Reception January 24, 1:30 – 4:00 ……. http://www.andersonartscenter.com/exhibits.html
Balancing Act, SAQA – International Quilt Festival, Chicago, IL…… April 7-9, 2016
Deeply Rooted, SAQA – International Quilt Festival, Chicago, IL ….. April 7-9, 2016
Salvage and Selvage – Schauer Arts Center, Hartford, WI…. April 8 – May 8, 2016…Reception – April 15.
Two by Twenty – SAQA – Quilt Expo Beaujolais at ParcExpo, 221, avenue de l’Europe
69400 Villefranche sur Saône, France ….. April 13 through April 16, 2016 http://www.quiltexpobeaujolais.com/
Wabi Sabi, Fiber Artists Coalition – New Visions Gallery, Marshfield, WI …. April 25 – May 21, 2016 … http://www.newvisionsgallery.org/
Two by Twenty – SAQA – Quilt Festival Berlin, Berlin, Germany……………….May 2016
For more information about Pat please visit www.patbishop.info
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