Once Upon A Time (2017)
60 cm x 75 cm
Wool, needlepoint tapestry
Niki McDonald lives in Sydney, Australia. Her contemporary needlepoint tapestries explore the urban landscape and experience. ‘Faces, spaces and attitudes,’ are all themes in work which often depict strong women against a colourful background that includes cultural references to today’s society.
What is your background in textiles?
I completed a Bachelor of Creative Arts with a Major in Textiles and a Minor in Printmaking at Wollongong University in NSW, Australia. It was three years of weaving, dying, spinning, stitching, printing, creating and falling in love with textiles as an art form. Art in the form of needle point tapestry has been part of my life since I was eight years old. Wool is my paint and I love it because it’s clean, portable, fluid and primal.
How do you describe your work?
Urban faces, spaces and attitudes made permanent in wool, it’s the sass of urban life balanced with the pace of needlepoint tapestry.
I’m inspired by the ephemeral and drawn to the mechanical nature of my textile arts practice. Within the repetition and toiling is a space that allows me to connect with my intuition and inspires me beyond the daily grind. I feel my spirit pulsating as the piece unfolds and takes shape. My heart races as I connect with the art and the process and the piece that will never really be complete or static or resolved. Every eye that falls upon my art sees what they have earlier sown, their spirit imprints its own.
Wool like the spirit absorbs light and sound, it’s rich and tactile and comes from a source that has been nurtured and grown. When cared for and cherished it calls to all and sings a new song and an old song a song.
How do you work?
To begin a new piece I start by taking photos of our ephemeral and layered urban landscape. The pictures are the inspiration to start painting the tapestry canvas background. I try to recreate the layering found in our urban environment, my work begins with an abstract background then I use key black lines to pull it all together. I paint strong images of women’s faces over the backgrounds and allow the colours to show through. I’m saying that the colours and shapes from our streets empower these woman and give them sass and individuality.
Do you use the same type of stitch?
I use the repetition of the half cross stitch to emulate the pixilation in dot matrix and at other times I try to create a more chaotic experience by changing the cross stitch size. When I use the double spaced half cross stitch it reveals the painted back ground. In my earlier pieces I used the sewing machine zigzag stitch to collage photos I’d taken and printed onto fabric. The use of printed photos provided relevance, texture and layering. I think of myself as an artist and needlepoint tapestry as my medium for expression. Stitching works on so many levels for me, I can sew as I go; in cars, on trains, planes, at picnics and at home. My process can continue where ever I am and that’s important to me as I have kids, a job and lots on my calendar that try to compete with my art making.
Do you use one brand of wool?
I am drawn to colour, ply and texture and seek the wool that will best represents my intention. I try to limit my colours to around six and bring the image together with key black lines. I have used every brand of wool in pursuit of capturing my vision. Recently I have been sewing with KPC Yarn as they have invited me to exhibit in one of their Pop-Up shows and I’m enjoying the vibrant and varied spectrum of their colours.
How long does a piece generally take?
I work on a couple of pieces simultaneously. My bedroom floor is littered with needle point tapestry canvases that I dip in and out of. Each body of work includes around six pieces, I paint each one over a couple of days then spend the next four or five months sewing them up. I am tunnel vision about the series and can’t think outside of it until they are complete. After devoting around half of the year to complete the pieces I have a small break and either work on a commission or spend my time painting. It seems impossible to launch right into a new body of work without a big creative pause.
Where do you find inspiration?
I find my inspiration in our urban environment, I’m attracted to alley ways and city side streets. I love the walls layered with tagging, graffiti and bill posters that are an inch thick with decaying advertisements. The patina of the paint work mixed with the energy of city life works its mystery on me and I feel compelled to capture it and make it permanent in wool. The city lights, smoggy sunsets and neon signs reflect on passerby’s faces, it’s a visual feast. The internet and social media platform have opened up a world of inspiration to me, I always feel privileged to be invited into another artists journey, gallery and process. Today textile art is applauded and supported by so many like-minded people globally and that inspires me to push myself to be the best that I can be.
What has been the highlight of your career so far?
I have had many highlights largely because I see my practice as a diamond in the mine of daily responsibilities. The sheer pleasure of unwinding with some good solid stitching after a big day of teaching high school students and getting my own kids sorted is an absolute winner for me. I am also honoured to have won the International Women’s Day Art Prize and other art prizes.
Do you have any advice for aspiring textile artists?
Get inspired by reading Textile Art Blogs and Instagram feeds, see what others are doing by flicking through Etsy and Pinterest. Thread up a big needle with some wool that calls to you, then sew and sew and sew. Once you have a few pieces start an Instagram account and post some photos, hash tag them with textile related names. Soon you will find yourself within an amazing textile community that will support your creative highs and lows.
Is there anything you would like to add?
I believe that textile art and crafts are trending right now as people need something real to point to at the end of the day to reinforce their humanness. Hours spent on a screen at work and home are just not soothing the soul. Anxiety and depression is at an all-time high and people are in danger of being frazzled and disconnected. The process of making, problem solving, evaluating and extending creativity brings people back to their ancestral roots. I could not have seen this more clearly than at my recent tapestry workshop in Gallery One88 in Katoomba, NSW, Australia. Adults, couples, teenagers and kids signed up for my workshop. Everyone received a 30x40cm 5ct tapestry canvas that I had painted with simple shapes and colours. The group learned quickly and it was a smooth transition to them finding their flow. People were selecting their wool, threading up, stitching and admiring their handiwork. There was no WI-FI or screens and I could literally see the makers being soothed by the act of focusing and creating. The next day I had parents report back to me that their kids took their tapestries to dinner, sewed them over breakfast and were completely screen free which was a miracle in the age that we live in. Textile art pieces are achievable with some initial skill building and after that the makers can go onto a lifelong love of making and creating.