Sue Hotchkis interview: Working intuitively
Textile artist Sue Hotchkis has won awards such as the Mourant Artist of the Year Prize and her work has been featured in Fiber Art Now magazine as well as the book Textiles: The Art of Mankind.
She has a passion for texture, surface and space, which leads her create fascinating and intricate printed and stitched abstract pieces. She is heavily influenced by her environment and has travelled widely, always taking photographs. Sue uses various textile techniques and pieces can take anything from a few days to many months to complete. Initially she dyes or hand paints cloth, then she employs screen printing and discharge printing to create a further layer. The piece is manipulated further with hand stitch or free motion machine embroidery.
We’re delighted Sue has shared some insights into her processes and inspirations in this absorbing interview.
Combining art and needlework
TextileArtist.org: What initially captured your imagination about textile art?
Sue Hotchkis: Art and Needlework, as it was called when I was at school, were always my favourite subjects but it wasn’t until I did my foundation course in 1994 that I discovered how much I would enjoy combining the two.
What or who were your early influences and how has your life/upbringing influenced your work?
As a child I was constantly making things, painting and drawing and my parents encouraged me, with endless supplies of paint and glue. My father was very skilled at carpentry and although I never knew my grandfather, who was a painter, I was certainly fascinated by the marks and textures in the few oil paintings of his that my father owned. I would try to reproduce them in my own basic oil paintings.
My mother and grandmother were always knitting and sewing, so as a child I was surrounded by fabric and suchlike. I had my first sewing machine at seven years old and would make my own dolls clothes.
A delayed start
What was your route to becoming an artist?
I had a rather delayed start as at 19 I got a job that was only meant to be for three weeks experience and nine years later I was still there. I knew I didn’t want to spend the rest of my life trapped behind a desk and always regretted not doing a degree.
So at 28 I enrolled onto a foundation course as a mature student and loved every minute of it. I graduated in Embroidery at Manchester Metropolitan University in 1998, and then went on to complete an MA in Textiles also at Manchester Metropolitan University. I did the MA over two years part time which enabled me to teach at the same time. I continued teaching until 2007 when a change in my circumstances allowed me to give up working and provided the opportunity to focus on developing my own practice.
What is your chosen medium and what are your techniques?
I use various processes. Initially I dye or hand paint onto cloth and then I screen and discharge print onto the same cloth. I prefer machine stitch to hand but I do use both. I particularly l enjoy free motion machine embroidery and I have a computerized sewing machine that I’m constantly discovering new ways to use.
I’m not too precious about the art work so will often distress my work using a heat gun or soldering iron. I use whatever is needed to achieve what I’m searching for.
How would you describe your work and where do you think it fits within the sphere of contemporary art?
I make fragments; unique abstract pieces aiming to capture the fragile transient beauty found in the inherent processes of ageing, and decay within the surrounding landscape, urban or rural. As in the Japanese aesthetic wabi-sabi, I treasure imperfections found in the natural changes that occur in such things as weathered wood, crumbling plaster and peeling paint.
I prefer not to be put into a ‘box’ or categorized; trying to succeed is hard enough as it is without putting boundaries on yourself and limiting your opportunities. I’ve always considered myself an artist and have exhibited my work as such. The ‘is it art, is it craft?’ debate is always there because I work with fibre and not oil paint. If people want to describe me as a craft/maker that’s fine too; as long as they appreciate what I do, it doesn’t really matter and I would take it as a compliment.
Drawn to the insignificant and overlooked
Tell us a bit about your process and what environment you like to work in?
I love working at home on my own, usually in silence as I find the radio can be too distracting. Occasionally I’ll have music on if I’m doing something I don’t need to think too much about. I’m fortunate at present to have two spaces that are completely my own, an area in which I can print and experiment and a room that is my studio containing my sewing machines for free motion machine embroidery, fabric, threads etc.
This also doubles as a time machine, as five hours in there can seem as though five minutes has passed. I’m passionate about surface and texture and I’m drawn to the insignificant and overlooked. I record these elements with my camera and use the images as my initial inspiration. I work with its qualities, colour, form, texture and composition. I work in my sketchbook, to create images that can be put onto screens for printing or sometimes I use Photoshop.
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I work intuitively responding to what develops. I use embroidery techniques and I enjoy the discovery part, manipulating and experimenting with the fabric, responding to accident and chance, exploring and finding new ways to create marks and surfaces. The work is often pieced together with parts being added and removed until I’m happy with it. I often work on several pieces at one time moving from one to another each at different stages of development. The artwork evolves over time and can take anything from a week to several months.
What currently inspires you and which other artists do you admire and why?
I’m currently inspired by my collection of photos that were taken in Naples, Herculaneum and Pompeii. I’ve also been experimenting with drawing onto Acetate and I’m excited to see where those drawings take me. I admire many artists such as Howard Hodgkin, Michael Morgan, Mark Rothko, David Hockney, Turner, Jock McFadyen, Gerhard Richter, Kate Malone and numerous textile artists such as Jo Budd, Jane Mckeating, Alice Kettle, Joan Schultze and Janet Echelman.
Textile artwork for myself
Tell us about a piece of work you have fond memories of and why?
I’m fond of the piece Unseen Beauty. I’ve often been asked to sell it but I’m loathe to part with it. This not because I think it’s a masterpiece and indeed there are several parts of it I would change if I could. Rather, it is because it was the first piece I created once I’d decided to concentrate on making my own work.
I was still teaching at the time, working through my final term and it was a real pleasure and awakening to get back to doing textile artwork for myself, concentrating on my own ideas, something I’d let slide whilst teaching. Although ‘Unseen Beauty’ is a special piece to me, I also do tend to favour my latest creation until the next one is made.
How has your work developed since you began and how do you see it evolving in the future?
The shape of the artwork is always a changing element. The scale has also changed, sometimes I would like to work on a larger scale but I’m working smaller for practical reasons, time, cost, space and delivery can all factor into the end result, where I’m working effects it also. When we were living in a small flat my work was very stitch orientated, using free motion machine embroidery and hand stitch, because I only had room for my sewing machine.
Currently I am able to print and this has led to me focusing on developing print based work. I also want the work to become more sculptural, something that’s already beginning to happen by using Trapunto. The next step is to look at ways of breaking it up more, so it’s less solid.
Do you give talks or run workshops or classes? If so where can readers find information about these?
I occasionally give talks if asked but I have declined the opportunity to teach workshops. Having been a college lecturer I know how much time the preparation for teaching and teaching itself can take. At the moment I want to be selfish and I’m fortunate that I can concentrate my free time on developing my own work.
How do you go about choosing where to show your work?
I use the internet and utilize social media, to network with other creative people. I also subscribe to various magazines and call for entry sites. I’m also a member of various groups such as SAQA, CQGB. SDA.
Where can readers see your work this year?
The piece entitled ‘Once’ is currently in Fiberarts International 2013 in Pittsburgh April 19th to August 18th at the Society for Contemporary Craft and then will move to San Jose Museum of Quilts and Textiles CA, and the Art Museum of Myrtle Beach, SC. I also have a piece entitled ‘Blown’ which will be in the SAQA touring exhibition ‘Metaphors on Ageing’ which commences at the Festival of Quilts NEC in Birmingham in 8th – 11th August and then moves on to Johannesburg S Africa. I have some smaller work to be shown in the Pictures Gallery in Guernsey throughout June and I also entered the Button project at the Macclesfield Silk museum 14th June to 8th August.
Let us know what you like about Sue’s incredible work by leaving a comment below.