Amy Sheridan is freaking cool.
Let’s just get that out there. It’s almost impossible to look at her work and not feel the pounding of a funky bass line or imagine the wild light cast by neon signs. The woman has an edge and it comes out in thread.
Much has been written about her embroidered Kanye West tweets. Her work has appeared in West Coast galleries. She toured Colorado as a traveling “artist in residence” for the New Belgium Brewery Pro Cycling challenge. Her Instagram feed is a daily treat of art, wacky vintage finds and Southern California life. Hell, even Lena Dunham tweeted a selfie with an embroidered portrait Amy made of her for a commission.
Amy is a wickedly funny, passionate, self-taught artist based out of Long Beach, California. She mostly works in hand embroidery, but also paints and takes photographs.
“I have zero formal training. Everything I know about any kind of art has been learned from books, the Internet, trial and error, or by picking the brains of other artists. (I’m curious to the point of being nosy about other people’s work and processes.)” she says.
What follows is a conversation we had over email in December 2014 and January 2015. I only wish it could have been face-to-face, over a cocktail, in her favorite bar.
Much of your source imagery comes from pop culture (films, music, books) which you approach with humor and irreverence. Can you tell us about the first time you translated an iconic, pop culture image into stitch? How did you make that leap?
I’m definitely pop culture-obsessed. When I first started stitching, I did what I do with all new hobbies — I jumped in head first. I wanted to try every kind of stitch and every kind of picture and every kind of portrait.
I read an article about stump work and I couldn’t wait to try it, but I had to figure out the perfect image. I decided that Gene Simmons and his tongue had to be translated into thread. I made a KISS portrait with an 8″ bendable tongue.
I’m wondering about your process transforming imagery into embroidered work. Do you keep a sketchbook? Electronic clip file?
Organization isn’t one of my strong suits, so I have ideas EVERYWHERE. I have five or six spiral notebooks laying around the house with half-completed sketches. I have a folder on the desktop of my laptop with images I’ve found online that I plan to eventually use for reference. And I have a document on my phone for when I can’t write down or sketch something.
I adore the humor of the stitched Kanye West tweets. There is something so clever about marrying the ephemeral, digital product of Twitter to the centuries-old tradition of embroidery. Can you tell us about how you came to that project? What is currently happening with it?
You absolutely nailed why I stitched my first tweet. Hand-embroidering something as forgettable as a tweet was the most ridiculous thing I could think of – taking so much time to commit to thread something that someone had most likely forgotten five minutes after he or she had hit ENTER. And the most ridiculous Twitter-er at that time was Kanye West because he was the first celebrity to be totally unfiltered on Twitter with random tweets about water bottles and antique fish tanks and marble conference tables. (Also, he’s generally got good grammar, punctuation and spelling, which matters to me).
I’ve always been a fan of his music and his Twitter really made me love him, so I decided that the only thing more ridiculous than a stitched tweet was going to be a stitched Kanye tweet. I really stitched it because I’d never seen a tweet embroidered before and I had no idea whether anyone would like it or get it.
I posted it online and was shocked, amazed and completely happy when people liked it. I got really lucky to get so much attention to that project. I got some amazing publicity and it’s given me an incredibly wide audience for my art. I’ve met so many other Kanye fans from all over the world. It’s given me so many opportunities I wouldn’t have otherwise had. I can say, without a hint of irony that Kanye West changed my life.
I still get requests for the tweets every day. Most of them are Kanye tweets, but I’ve also done personal tweets for people’s birthdays and anniversaries, tweets from other people like Fifty Cent and the Dalai Lama, and tweets to mark momentous occasions. (A friend of mine won the chance to play a game of H.O.R.S.E with Kobe Bryant and he wanted the tweet and DM Kobe had sent him.) I love being able to meet all these people and hear all these bizarre and wonderful stories. It’s been a blast.
Following you on Instagram, I’m amazed by how prolific you are. Embroidery is a slow process, and yet you manage to produce so much quality work. How do you make decisions about what to work on? Are you driven by commissions, art shows, whatever catches your imagination at a given moment? When and where do you usually work?
I’m not always great at time management when I’m working on my art. (Usually it’s my sleep, my housecleaning and my personal relationships that suffer.) But I try to give priority to pieces with deadlines, commissions for customers and pieces for art shows. There are many times, though, when I get an idea in my head and I have to have to have to have to at least start stitching it because I can’t wait to see how it will turn out.
I get inspiration for pieces EVERYWHERE – movies, music, conversations… I even have a friend who will throw ideas at me just so see if I can do it. (I love a challenge, so I will never turn anything down).
There’s a spare room in my house which has been designated as the “art room”, but I have to work in the living room – I need noise, I need activity, I can’t do anything if it’s too quiet. I’m usually nestled on my corner of the couch, surrounded by my pets and about fifty square feet of craft supplies.
I try to learn something from every piece I do, whether it’s a better way to do a certain stitch, a different way to look at an image, or a new way to blend colors to achieve a certain shade. The great thing about embroidery is that fabrics and threads are relatively inexpensive, so I don’t beat myself up too badly if I decide to start over.
Looking back over the body of your work so far, can you tell us about a particular piece that you especially like for any reason? Can you talk us through the process? How did you get the initial idea? How did you design it?
Some of my favorite pieces I’ve done are the horror movie pieces I’ve done because I tried out a lot of new textures and techniques to capture the iconic images.
I like the piece I did that was a twist on Rose from Titanic because I worked on improving my shading techniques on that. (For Stitch Fetish 3, curated by Ellen Schinderman and opening at The Hive Gallery, Los Angeles, on February 7, 2015.)
But my all time favorite piece I’ve ever done is an image from Kanye West’s Yeezus tour. It was difficult because starting on black fabric is always tough, and then only stitching the highlights was a first for me and it was also my first time adding rhinestones to a piece.
One of the things I love about Amy is her humor. She is always poking gentle fun at pop culture, social media and, most of all, herself. But she is a hardworking, serious artist. Despite the success and recognition she gets from her work, she continues to push herself, learning new techniques and perfecting her craft.
And, like her, that is freaking cool.