Future Heirlooms – Daniaelle Simonsen

I do not remember when I first came across the work of Daniaelle Simonsen but I know it was somehow via her blog. What I do know is that I immediately was drawn to her use of white, negative space, selective color, and the combination of careful drawn lines along with much more abstract and free shapes. Her work has a wonderful balance and maybe seems a little dreamy due to its “gauzy” texture and color palette. I have been watching Daniaelle’s work for awhile now and have truly enjoyed seeing it grow and evolve.

It was my pleasure to exhibit her work in Play and finally get to meet her and her husband at the opening. Let’s learn more about here work together.

Where do you live? Does this affect your work?

I live in San Gabriel, CA. The area isn’t very inspiring. I often leave the studio in the early stages of projects to find inspiration elsewhere.
I have my studio space set up in one of the bedrooms in the apartment. This is good and bad. It’s very convenient for me to start work and work as I please throughout the day. But sometimes I find myself in the kitchen grabbing a snack when I originally got up to get fabric from a shelf. It’s hard to get motivated to start a new project while at home. Once I get going on a piece, when I start sewing, cutting, and stitching, then I am able to work at my desk all day without getting bored or distracted.

I found this same issue when I had a studio in my home, many years ago, I loved it for its convenience but also found myself so easily distracted by my life and home.

How did you start making the work you make?

I graduated from Art Center in Pasadena where I studied Illustration. Gradually, I veered away from traditional illustration and began to incorporate sewing and embroidery into my work. I took what I learned from my illustration classes (learning from the most amazing illustrators!) and applied that to my embroidered work.
As far as sewing, when I was younger my mom let me borrow her sewing machine for a bag I wanted to make. She showed me how to turn it on and thread the needle. I picked up the rest from there. It’s been years and years and I’ve never given the sewing machine back to her (oopsies!). I guess all of this makes me a “formally self-taught” artist.

What drew you to embroidery as an art form?

I began embroidering my work in college. I have always been interested in fabrics and embroidery. I like to use the sewing machine. I like how specific and unruly it can be at the same time. (love this statement) The more I sew the more interested in sewing I become. There are so many different materials I want to work with. The possibilities of what I can do and what I can sew and embroider with keep me curious. I also love the inherent softness that embroidery possesses. It’s very feminine to me. I am very drawn to the handmade aspect of it. Every stitch has intent – there’s a thoughtfulness about it to me.

Can you talk about the ideas and concepts behind your work?

I am drawn to nature and human nature. I’m intrigued by problems and fears that we face everyday. The Fight series focuses on struggling with self-doubt. The animals, mirroring each other, fight themselves – fight their own kind. It’s a chaotic event but also a beautiful moment. Seeing our fears in front of us means we recognize what is holding us back. Understanding the problem means there is a solution.
I’m also a sucker for fashion! So whenever I’m in a rut, I draw a pretty girl in cute clothes. 🙂

Your work often has people or animals interacting can you talk about how relationship and the role of relationship is explored in your work.

I use different types of relationships and interactions to convey concepts or ideas. The Fight series focuses on violent interactions representing insecurities. In Bear Fight, one bear is towering over the other, baring his teeth. Fear is conveyed through the two animals in that piece. In most of the Fight series, there was always one animal more dominant over the other. The recent piece I did for the Play exhibition really took me out of fight mode! When I was young, my sisters and I would play together for hours and hours everyday we were together. Unfortunately, we all didn’t live in the same home, so our playtime was very precious to us. I wanted to show the sameness of us and our time together as kids in the piece, Let’s Pretend. I sewed myself and one of my sisters in the same pose, both of us pretending to be deer. It feels peaceful and nostalgic to me.


How does the practice of embroidery affect the conceptual aspect of your work?

With the Fight series, the embroidery contrasts with the chaotic imagery of a struggle. The fight appears more delicate and lovely. A lot of the references I was looking at were pretty intense. I wanted to keep the intensity by emphasizing the lines of motion and action of the fight and embroidery really allowed me to achieve that.
As for other work I’ve done with more docile imagery, embroidery naturally lends itself to that. The soft fabrics I use and the long threads I leave hanging on some pieces make them feel more delicate and fragile.

You incorporate applique significantly in the work- can you talk a bit about your process and intention in this?

My process with the applique is quite organic. I play a lot with shape, color, and layering. I think about whether I want the applique to lay over the sewn drawing or be sewn into. It depends on the look I’m going for with the piece. If I want to emphasize certain areas I will use a lot of applique in that area, maybe even add a lot of contrast by doing several appliques in one condensed area.
Some pieces, like Wolves, I want to exist sort of like a memory and used very little applique, so there is nothing really breaking up the space.

You tend to use translucent and thin fabrics- what about these fabrics attracts you and how do they change the work?

I love the delicate nature of chiffon and silks. I can manipulate them more easily in smaller areas than thicker, heavier fabrics. The thin fabrics appeal to a more delicate sense of touch, which I like to use as a contrast with my sometimes harsh subject matter. The softer fabrics add a different level of texture in my work, a more visceral texture. The transparency of the fabrics also allow me to layer colors.

Your use of color is limited and therefore very powerful. How do you go about making decisions about colors and when and where to use them as well as the palette choices.

I want the color to explode from the focal point of the piece and dissipate out from it. I want the colors to exist like little fragments of energy focusing the eye to the most intense part of the piece. The farther away the color is from that focal point, the less saturated it will be. I like to mix textures from magazine images together, keeping similar values grouped together. When I start a piece I pick out a ton of magazine pages and lay them all out. I’ll play around with which textures and colors I like together and I use that in the piece.

earlier work.

How has your work evolved since you first began working with embroidery?

I just found the very first thing I embroidered this past weekend! I sewed these doodles onto thick paper and strung them together like a kite. It feels a bit similar to my work now. The contrast and colors are there, although the approach is completely different.
I feel that my work has definitely matured and I have a stronger voice. My work has grown with me. There was a period in the beginning when everything I did was pretty awful. I was frustrated because I knew how I wanted something to look but I didn’t know how to get there. It was difficult working in a new medium, trying to find the clearest way to translate my drawings into embroidery. I experimented with a lot of different materials like paper, different fabrics, dyes, types of threads.
I take a lot more risks with my work now. I even ask myself before I start a new piece, what can I risk with this piece? What would I be afraid to do with this piece? Then I do that thing.

an exhibit of work.

What is the next direction or step for your work?

I am working on a piece now that has bolder shapes, also I’m using more chiffon and layering, like Atonement and Wolves. (although Wolves is very subtle, but incorporates a lot of texture). My work is getting larger. My smaller pieces are usually half the size of my desk. I imagine one day I will cover a huge wall in a gallery with one of my pieces.

Describe your studio and studio practice.

I’m really lucky to have the studio space I have. I can work on my desk, throw stuff on the floor without worrying about walking all over it, there’s plenty of storage space, and the light is really great! I usually work at my desk or the floor or walls if something is really big. While working on a project, everything I’m working with usually ends up on the floor, that way I can keep my desk clear for embroidering with my sewing machine. I’ve also taken over the living room more than once.

What else do you spend your time doing?

I make children’s books. I just finished making one about animals and their favorite places. It’s not an embroidered book – although I really want to make a children’s book with sewn images! My husband and I go hiking fairly often. I love being outside! I used to hate being surrounded by nature when I was younger because I was afraid of bugs and sweat. My family still makes fun of me for that. Hiking and climbing makes me feel so adventurous and I want to be that same adventurous person with my work.

Give us an idea of a day in the life of you.

My day starts very early at the gym with my husband. I’ll get some chores done around the house in the morning so I’m not inclined to procrastinate with doing them in the middle of the day. After taking care of things around the apartment, I get to my desk and write down all I want to get done that day. This helps me keep focused during the day. Then I will email applications for jobs and submit work to galleries. I’m looking for work right now, so I have free time during the day. This is great since I have a lot of new work to create for a show later this year. Since I’m working on new work and I’m in the very beginning stages, I’ll spend a good amount of the day researching, writing and sketching.
Since I work best in the afternoon, towards the end of the day I’ll start creating, whether it’s drawing or embroidering. Lately, I’ve been playing around with embroidery for the show later this year.
I usually start cooking dinner around the time my husband gets home. Most of the time I curl up on the couch with my man and watch Kitchen Nightmares (or some other ridiculously addicting reality show).

Where can we see your work?

website: daniaellesimonsen.com
blog: daniaellesimonsen.blogspot.com
store: daniaelle.etsy.com

Thanks so much Daniaelle for sharing your work and more about your process with us.  Through this interview you can clearly see how thoughtful she is as an artist and this is evident in how inspiring her work is.

Until next time keep stitching.

Joetta Maue is a full time artist, curator, and arts writer primarily using photography and fibers. Her most recent work is a series of embroideries and images exploring intimacy. Joetta exhibits her work throughout the United States and internationally, and authors the art and craft blog Little Yellowbird as well as regularly contributing to the Textile Arts Center Blog. Joetta lives in Brooklyn, NY, with her husband, son, two cats, a goldfish.