Dawn Thorne interview: Seduced by fabric
Dawn Thorne has had a lifelong love for design and fabrics; this inspired a successful soft furnishing business, selling textiles for interiors. Her passion for architecture, especially steel and glass structures, informs much of her work as a textile artist. Primarily her process involves textile in construction, but she also makes use of photography and plastics in order to bring a sense of depth to her work.
Having seen her work exhibited as part of the Society of Designer Craftsmen exhibition at the Mall Galleries, we were fascinated by Dawns’s use of colour, structure and texture. In our interview with the artist, she talks us through her working practice and how she brings together a variety of techniques to give her work its unique and mesmerising quality.
Art, fabric, print, stitch, fashion
TextileArtist.org: What initially captured your imagination about textile art?
Dawn Thorne: I’ve always been seduced by fabric and design and from a very young age have always drawn. Art, fashion, textiles, stitch, textiles for interiors, have been a main part of my life.
The first realisation of the world of stitched textile art was a visit to an exhibition at my local library in 1992. The exhibition showcased the work of three artists, who had just completed their City & Guilds in Embroidery. The group was called Troika; I was just blown away by the diverse nature of the exhibits. The whole show combined art, fabric, print, stitch, fashion, beautiful hand-made books and so on; there and then I thought – ‘I’ve found it – this is me”!
What or who were your early influences and how has your life/upbringing influenced your work?
I suppose my early influences have to come from both parents. My mother always sewed, from coats, jackets, trousers and all mine and my brothers’ clothes. Mum embroidered, knitted, you name it she did it. Her tailoring skills were wonderful and it never occurred to me that I could not or would not do the same. So from a very early age I too, sewed and made clothes.
I always just had an idea of what a dress or skirt was going to look like so that when I went straight in with the scissors the pattern pieces were cut by eye – much to the horror of my trained Mother.
My Father in contrast was a wonderful artist, whose pencil and pen drawings were incredibly detailed. My Dad was a draughtsman and did a lot of technical drawings for private clients in addition to his 9 till 5. I was so fascinated by the accuracy of these architectural plans and graphic grid like structures that covered the wonderful quality of the translucent drafting film they were worked on so I think that they subconsciously influence all my work today.
What was your route to becoming an artist?
After being wowed by the Troika exhibition I found out about City & Guilds courses and put my name on a waiting list at my local college but there was a two year wait, so instead I went to an evening class run by the C&G tutor LLinnos Spriggs. A job move for my husband to Windsor in 1996 became the best thing that could happen. I was able to get a place on the C&G Embroidery course at Windsor College run by Jan Beaney and Jean Littlejohn – I completed my four years C&G Certificate & Diploma in 2001 and then went onto do the H/E Dip in Stitched Textiles validated by Bucks New University, again at Windsor. I was fortunate enough to have amazing Tutors such as Louise Baldwin, Jeanette Appleton, Deirdre Hawken – to name but a few.
During my first year H/E Dip I undertook the Adult Education Teachers Training Certificate and took over teaching the C&G Certificate course, this followed with taking over the Diploma course too.
In addition to the stitched textiles courses I have done all aspects of printmaking and the practical module for the BA Silversmithing/Jewellery course at Bucks. Due to teaching commitments and time constraints of running a textile school; I am currently working towards achieving the final part of a BA (Hons) in Creative Arts through the Open College of Arts.
Textiles for interiors
What is your chosen medium and what are your techniques?
From wanting to create bolts and bolts of glorious printed cloth I found myself working with rigid materials and constructing cloth from free machine embroidery.
I have three areas within textiles where I channel my process. Firstly, and primarily I work with Acrylic sheet – fabricating the material myself from large sheets, so I can pretty much cut any size and shape needed. This material is used for its transparent and reflective qualities which I feel enhances the textile and other mediums I combine within a piece of work. So very much mixed media approach incorporating, resins, constructed stitched textile, screen print, etched and metal processes.
The other technique I use is printed processes onto dyed cloth, creating one off small printed fabrics and scarves or wall art. Finally my playing around technique is purely hobby indulgent hand and machine stitch creating rich textured surfaces. The problem for me is teaching City & Guilds – so many techniques, so many teaching samples to do – all wonderful – which do I choose!
How would you describe your work and where do you think it fits within the sphere of contemporary art?
My main work uses acrylic and mixed media and is aimed at the interior market. The Perspex works can be made any size and be used as screen dividers, window filters and free standing sculptural decorations. The printed fabrics – again are textiles for interiors or fashion accessories.
The use of sketchbooks
Tell us a bit about your process and what environment you like to work in?
I start with considering where I want to see the finished work, where is it going to hang, what purpose is intended for. This gives me an idea of scale and to a certain degree, what materials I might need to use. Then I begin to make drawings and sketches, my current personal work is inspired by glass and steel architectural structures and enhanced with details from imagery from the natural and man-made landscape, so I record thoughts and ideas, sketches and details in a sketchbook for each specific project.
I have other general sketchbooks which can also help with a concept or idea. When working my dimensional pieces 3 dimensional elements are explored through creating 3D drawings with, paper, card, string, wire – anything in fact that will help me visualise the shape or form I want to achieve.
Once I know where I am going and how I will achieve it, I start on working the piece. Sometimes if a process is one I haven’t used before I will sample and explore through technical trials, otherwise I generally know that if I do this, select that, then this is how it will look. So the actual making is pretty quick in comparison to the groundwork. Some processes such as etching into the acrylic, and some more complex machine structures can take longer, but I generally time how long a single detail takes, so if something takes me 20 minutes to etch and I have 70 pieces to do then I can work out whether I will need 7 or 14 days to complete the work. I always factor in an extra couple of days to allow for unanticipated problems.
When I work I tend to do most of the ground work and textile processes in my Studio, but I fabricate, saw, drill and bend the acrylic and work with resin either outside or in the garage. I do sometimes, weather permitting, set up my sewing machine at the bottom of the garden.
I did felt a big bluebottle once into a large felted throw I made for a City & Guilds project – well if it did choose to land on the wet fibre!!!!!
Reflections, cast shadows and the impact of light
What currently inspires you and which other artists do you admire and why?
In addition to finding inspiration with reflections, cast shadows and the impact of light onto a surface I do find I am drawn to repeat, repeat forms, repeat pattern, repeat process, natural rhythms and balance. For me the idea that a single insignificant element or simple form that is looked over when of a number of just one, is totally transformed into something that is truly noteworthy and powerful when used many times over is quite remarkable to me. I find that seductive and medative rhythms come into play and dance across the surface. I am in love with lace and open structures, networks and weavings – when I think about it, these are worked in repeat too.
I admire the work of Maxine Bristow. How the humble buttonhole can be so mesmerising is a wonderful testament to this incredible artist. I also find a huge connection with Zilvinas Kempinas and the work of Alyson Shotz.
The most memorable exhibition for me has to be the LOST IN LACE exhibition – words are too few to describe the impact upon me.
Tell us about a piece of work you have fond memories of and why?
I would say my favourite piece of work usually is always my last one. However I do have a particular fondness to the first of my series of smaller screens, this work entitled Deep Waters was the first I sold in a large exhibition. Many repeat works and sales came from this.
How has your work developed since you began and how do you see it evolving in the future?
My work as I see it has simplified in the amount of techniques being incorporated. The work has gone more architectural and has also been adapted for easier handle in transport and hanging. The Acrylic is now jointed in construction to allow for more flexibility to enable me to produce much larger works but still allow it to be transported with relative ease.
My aim and ambition for my work is to produce much larger installation artworks for large atrium spaces (my ultimate goal). Working with a corporation on a large project would be a wonderful challenge.
Do you give talks or run workshops or classes? If so where can readers find information about these?
Coming back to teaching – yes I give talks and workshops both here and abroad. I get invites from guilds and textile groups. in 2011 the funding was cut from the textiles department at East Berkshire College, Windsor, and this initiated my colleague, Amarjeet Nandhra and myself to set up an independent textile school – WSTA – Windsor School of Textile Art. We operate from South Hill Park Art Centre where we rent studios and run City & Guilds Creative Stitched Textile courses as well as advanced textile workshops, short courses and mentoring sessions.
We also offer distance learning courses, both recreational and certificated City & Guilds qualifications in Creative textiles and creative sketchbooks. We offer a programme of workshops throughout the year and hold an annual summer exhibition in July, which showcases the work of our students. for more details visit our website www.wstatextiles.com
How do you go about choosing where to show your work?
Often I am invited to exhibit, or I put in an application or proposal to prospective galleries.
Inspiration in the environment
What are your top five resources?
I would say my main resource has to be the environment. Inspiration is everywhere and this can be accessed at all times no matter where you are. Books, museums and gallery visits come next, then I would say interiors magazines. The internet does provide an huge part of research, but I still prefer to flick through the pages of a book or magazine and connect with that physical process.
Where can readers see your work?
Amongst other roles (Vice Chair of the Society of Designer Craftsmen for one), I am currently Chairman of an exhibiting group called Studio 21 and we have an ongoing collaborative venture called Chinese Whispers, we exhibited this latest group of works at the NEC in Birmingham in the early part of this year and we are extending upon the dialogue within this theme which is resulting in an exhibition at the Bracknell Gallery, South Hill Park Art Centre, Bracknell, Berkshire this October 14th – 27th 2013, details can be found on the Studio 21 website: www.studio21textileart.co.uk
I also hope to exhibit new work at the Designer Crafts Exhibition at the Mall Galleries in January 2014. And will be exhibiting at the Gallery for the Society of Designer Craftsmen at Rivington Street, London.
For more information about Dawn and her work visit www.DawnThorne.com
If you found this article interesting, why not let us know by leaving a comment below. What do you particularly like about Dawn’s work?