110 x 110 cm
Embroidered Floral Tumbleweed
– Free Motion Embroidery, paint and Applique.
Louise Gardiner has exhibited in an impressive array of venues, from London department store Liberty to the much coveted Saatchi Gallery. While the majority of her work is free machine embroidery she incorporates paint and appliqué to give a rich tactile quality in glorious colours. Her later themes generally evolve around flora and fauna with a fluidity and effortlessness that is rarely equalled. Trailing threads and vibrant hues make Louise one to watch to see where she goes next.
When did your passion for textiles start?
I am not sure really but I think I have always been drawn to blankets, cushions, clothes and tactile objects. I never imagined that I would be a textile artist and designer but I remember my A level teacher once saying that she thought I had a good eye for pattern and colour. I didn’t really take any notice as I wanted to be an actress!
I read that after your Textile degree at Goldsmiths you went to do an MA in illustration, why did you do this and was it beneficial?
Having gained a Batchelor of Arts – Honours Degree at Goldsmith’s College I immediately started exhibiting and hiring venues to sell my work. I have always loved parties so organising events seemed a good thing to do. After a few years I wanted to find work with a more commercial illustrative twist for magazines and newspapers. I felt that I needed more experience and training so I embarked on an illustration and Communication Design Masters Degree thinking that this would teach me all the computer skills I needed to be a designer and graphic illustrator …which of course it did not!
It did give me time to reflect and develop my work in as personal way as possible and looking back it was an important time for me to develop my creative imagination and have the time to experiment.
Can you briefly describe your textile career to date.
I have always had a very entrepreneurial approach to my work which I think stems from my childhood and upbringing on a working dairy farm. Aged about 14, I started selling milk out of a little window at our farm in Styal. I used my Mother’s best crystal cut glasses and when they returned they were a little bit cross but then offered me the chance to sell farm made ice-cream which I did for three years. I have been my own boss ever since! Its the only way for me as I am very independent.
I have been self employed for approximately 20 years with a couple of teaching stints along the way. My career is mainly studio and office based. I have spent a large part of my career embroidering artworks but now I spend an equal amount of time on the computer, marketing my work, doing social media and website development, contacting press, liaising with new design firms and now selling silk scarves and cushions.
I now occasionally lecture and do tutorials at Universities or Guilds and I also run between two and five private `SUPERSTITCHER’ workshops a year which became more concrete after teaching Kirstie Allsopp on Channel 4 and demonstrating to Jenny Murray on Woman’s Hour Radio 4.
I have completed seven large hospital commissions to date including a large 23 piece installation at Gloucester Royal Hospital, a book to promote Breast Feeding and recently a large embroidered artwork for the entrance for the Royal Oldham Hospital. I have probably sold between 300 and 500 pieces of embroidered art. But actually I have lost count and now my work is much more about quality not quantity. I gave up working with galleries because of the high commission rates, it doesn’t suit embroidery! I work to private commission only.
What have been your career highlights so far?
In 2010 I was asked by Liberty to create a large artistic quilt for their window display called ‘Quilty Pleasures’. I spent a very intense time at home alone developing a large and exciting multi coloured psychedelic quilt for their window. It was an absolute pleasure going to see it in their window followed by a glass of FIZZ!
In 2012 I created a five piece installation for COLLECT, the Craft Council’s select exhibition at The Saatchi Gallery. It was the most challenging project I have ever invented and completed, I felt as if all those years of training and creative development came to fruition and I was finally making work that was true to who I am as an artist. For that I was able to take the time to create work for myself and not confined to a particular commissioned theme. Seeing this work exhibited in The Saatchi Gallery space and inviting friends was very exciting if short lived! After two days I sold four of the five pieces to two different collectors which was a definite highlight of my career, I was desperate for the money after seven months intense embroidery. It is a shame I didn’t manage to get to keep the pieces together as a sequence but thats the problem – as an artist you always need to sell your work to make a living!
The other absolute highlight was when my little ‘Billy Fox’ terrier dog walked into my life and started to keep me company in the studio. He was a stray and I found him hungry and skinny on my doorstep on April Fools Day. I don’t know how I would work without him now, he has been a life line out of the isolation of the studio and I LOVE HIM! He keeps me company when I work on labor intensive pieces and he keeps me fit by taking me for walks everyday.
How do you describe your work?
I describe my work as a fusion of stitch, paint, ink and appliqué, although I don’t enjoy describing my work for some reason. I find it difficult! However, I do combine both traditional and high tech fabrics to create unusual combinations and exciting colour explosions. My absolute specialism is free machine embroidery and drawing with stitch creating intricate areas of intense texture and powerful colour.
Do you have a preferred colour palette and why?
I am somewhat obsessed by experimenting with different colour combinations and mixing colour. The are no limitations! It is addictive. Colour is so complex and interesting and I don’t think I would ever get bored of trying new combinations.
What materials do you use and when it comes to the threads is there a brand you prefer and if so why?
I use all sorts of different materials but I don’t have a huge array of things as I don’t like too much clutter. You need very little to be creative and sometimes limited materials, colours or fabrics can be the best kick start.
Why do you leave threads trailing?
For the first ten years of my career I was hell bent on creating neat and professionally finished work which was then framed behind glass. Often people didn’t realise that the pieces were embroidered until they got up really close. It took an amazingly long time for the penny to drop and realise that there was no point being an embroidery and textile artist if I wasn’t celebrating the character of the materials I was using.
Did you always know you wanted to specialise in free machine embroidery or did you try other forms of textiles?
I have experience of silk screen printing and was trained to try many different types of textile creativity at Goldsmith’s College but Machine Embroidery was spontaneous and instant. It was also a medium that I could take back home with me and easily crack on with once the luxury of college was over.
Can you briefly guide us through the process of one of your gallery works from start to finish.
Idea. Time. Idea. Time. Idea. Time. Idea. Idea. Time. Time. Drawing. Stitching. Painting. Drawing. Stitching. Painting. Applique. Stitching stitching stitching. Stitching stitching stitching. Stitching stitching stitching. Stretching. Framing. Hanging. Talking. Selling. Delivering. Goodbye piece. NEXT!
I know this is a very open ended question but how long does a piece generally take?
I have completed a 25 piece embroidered book over an eight month period, a newspaper illustration in 24 hours, a commission over the space of three months and a workshop demo in 20 minutes. Pieces take anything from 10 hours to 300 hours depending on the scale and purpose of the work. Some pieces have been sitting in my head for years and still to be created. However, there is no getting away from the fact that this is an extremely labor intensive medium which requires both mental and physical tenacity and more than likely a lot of physio therapy and ibuprofen!
You sometimes do a number of variations on a theme, is this for exhibition purposes or do you find this a more inspiring way to work?
Quite honestly I have always tried to explore different themes but my favourite are the more emotionally inspired themes that relate very much to natural forms and processes such as seeds popping or buds bursting. The figurative embroideries are usually humorous and have an important place in my ‘commercial bread and butter world’, the tumbleweeds and floral spinning pieces are often based on emotions and states of human existence, they are exploratory and have a strong association with how I feel about the world. The birds and animals are some where in-between. It is a very difficult balancing necessary commercial work and independent creative exploration which is probably what will get you where you want to be. Occasionally you are blessed to meet a person who will pay you to have free reign on a commission and create something unique but that is very rare.
Where do you find inspiration?
I find inspiration EVERYWHERE. But most of all inspiration is inside your head … searching your own feelings and responses to life is an endless resource to explore and fathom. Working out who we are and what we feel and expressing that is I suppose what makes you very much an artist and not someone who makes things of commercial value.
Your workshops sound really inspiring and you also have a range a scarves and cushions. Do you find it hard to make time to do your art work?
I am increasingly finding it difficult to work for long periods of time on the sewing machine as my body won’t allow it. I also spend an extraordinary time on the computer replying to emails, answering press enquiries, setting up workshops, marketing scarves and cushions, designing, promoting, doing administration, website development, social media, accounting and uploading and editing photography. I would say that only 20% of my time is actually making these days which is sad. I am hoping to do something about this once I have secured a steady game plan for my range of silk scarves. I have a wonderful mountain of ideas to express and new ways of working that I would like to explore so finding more peaceful time in the studio is important if I want to realise the work that is still inside my head!
Do you have any advice for people wanting to be a professional textile artist?
My advice to any aspiring textile artist is to be very realistic about what it is to be an artist. You need to be commercially savvy, relentlessly optimistic, tenacious, endlessly professional, a jack of all trades. It is most unlikely that you will ever be financially rich and it is also an emotional roller coaster ride, don’t be fooled thinking it is just a romantic profession. Find a balance between studio practice and social interaction. When the highs are high it is the best profession in the world … but then lows are hard. Take criticism wisely, it is the most important feedback and always listen to others. You can then make your own mind up!
Any exciting future plans you can tell us about?
I have recently completed a second large quilt commission for LIBERTY to celebrate the 140th Birthday which will be on display in the Haberdashery department at Liberty for most of 2016. I will be exhibiting at The Great Northern Contemporary Craft Fair and in the next year or so I am working on a book called ‘Superstitchers!’
I am in love with my new scarf collection as it brings my embroideries to life. Silk is so easy to wear, so luxurious and so resilient. Lets embrace colour and high quality clothing instead of all the rubbish which is feeding the mountains of land fill. I am also planning a solo show for 2016 which I hope will celebrate a new body of work based on the need for people to listen up when it comes thinking about the way we live! I am getting more responsible and caring more about our beautiful planet.
Anything else you’d like to add…..
Enjoy your work and be original.
How can people get in touch if they are interested in your work?
Sadly I cannot answer all student emails but I do try to fill my website and my blog with as much interesting press and info to help people with their personal projects and textile studies. I am available to book for University lectures and tutorials.
Lou Gardiner – Contemporary Embroideress