Future Heirlooms – An Introduction

Hello and welcome to the bi-weekly post Future Heirlooms. I am very excited and honored to be a part of the Mr. X Stitch team and promise some very awesome and exciting features here.

Future Heirlooms will focus on featuring the work and words of some of the most exciting contemporary embroidery artists working today. Usually this will take the form of an interview. As a blogger, whom has been featuring contemporary embroidery artists work for a few years now I am so excited to get the opportunity to ask questions and get some insider info on some of the most inspiring artists working with the needle and thread today. I promise some inspiring stuff!

To start this feature off I figured what is a better way to get to know me the interviewer than through an interview. Coincidentally, I was just interviewed by a lovely fiber student, Tricia Johnson, from the University of Missouri, and decided this was the perfect way to intorduce myself and the fabulous new post Future Heirlooms. So here goes!

Where do you draw inspiration for your work?

My work is autobiographically inspired, I look at my daily life, daily emotions, and my relationships for inspiration. I make work about the beauty, seen in both the good and bad, of everyday life. Specifically, I focus on the moments that occur within the intimate walls of the home, domestic space, bedroom, and the arms of family relationships. Recently, I have been focusing on the role of the lover and partner. I am about to embark on the adventure of being a mother and will be curious to see how this affects the focus and subject of my work.

Is there a reason you are drawn to a kind of art making that is considered ‘women’s work’ i.e., textiles and embroidery?

I have always been interested in the feminist movement and making work that resides in the realm of the feminine. I enjoy making work that is obviously from the feminist viewpoint. When I began to to work in embroidery it felt very natural to the already present voice of my work. It simply made sense within the conceptual aspects of my work to utilize a process that is historically women’s work, specifically a decorative form of women’s work as opposed to utilitarian. As I continued to make work with text that focused on autobiographical language and free expression- I began to become more attached to the use of found linens. I feel that the found decorative linen can represent the female that did not have the societal right to express her opinions freely and by collaborating with her through my work I give both myself and her a voice.

How do you choose which kinds of textiles to work on?

I choose my textiles very intuitively. Sometimes I go looking for a specific textile for a piece that I have in mind. So I might be looking for a specific type of textile like a table cloth or pillow case, or I may be looking more for a specific size of linen. I always have my eyes open and am looking for special linens that might tell me what they want to say once they come into the studio. If I find an especially beautiful linen I will hang it on my studio wall for days, weeks, or even moths until the linen communicates to me what it should say and be. I really enjoy having the nature of the linen work perfectly with the expression or image that I create.

Where do you find your vintage textiles?

Almost all of my textiles come from antique stores and flea markets. When I lived in Massachusetts I was surrounded by a plethora of affordable linens but now that I live in NYC there are much less available and they are significantly more expensive. So whenever I travel to visit family in North Carolina or Ohio I do some linen shopping to stock up and always have my mom on the lookout in her community to add to my linen stash. I particularly prefer linens that are older and have some evidence of wear and tear to them. A stain or hole makes them all the better.

What is your process when starting a new piece?

For my image based work I am usually inspired by a photograph to make the work. I then search out to find the correct linen, blow the image up- currently I am projecting the image directly onto the linen- and then I trace the photograph. I make a lot of editing choices at this point as I like the drawing to stay simple and focus more on the necessary contours of the figure and space as opposed to getting overly detailed. I then start working. I do not start on any specific area I mainly am just responding to the drawing and image and just sit down and get to work. I do not plan out the colors or techniques very much ahead of time. I respond to the thread that I have available, the colors of the original photo, and the general feeling and sentiment of the work that I want to create.

I generally do not know when I will fill in or leave areas blank until I am actually working. Once the embroidery is finished I may choose to add applique, paint, or text or it may be left simply as just an embroidery.
With text work I usually begin with the linen and then through my own personal reflection and the nature of the linen come up with the statement that I want it to express. I freehand write the work out with water soluble marker- I never trace or use stencils with the text. I want the text to not seem overworked or over thought about. I then choose a color and work on the piece. I usually use either split stitch or satin stitch with my text works. Recently I have been working in a lot of neutral colors allowing the work to have subtly to it.

Do you focus on a single piece or work on several at a time?

I am always working on a few pieces at once. Generally, I have a larger scale more complicated work going on in my studio- recently this has been the large scale image based works.
But I always have small works that I can carry around with me in my bag and work on while riding the subway, in the coffee shop, or at the park and also have a work that I can work at at home.
The image based works are much slower and in process demand a lot more attention and thought so I like to balance this work out with a more straightforward text based work to give my brain and hands a break occasionally.

I saw in some of your work in progress shots that you draw the image out before you start stitching, do you work primarily freehand or from photographs?

All of my image based works originally begin as a photograph, my background and training is as a photographer and this is essential to my thinking and creative process. The act of taking the photograph is important. It helps me to frame the image and work with the quality of light. As a result the final work is a documentation of an actual moment as opposed to one that I imagined or remembered. I also like how by starting with a photograph I am often dealing with a lot of foreground and background and in and out focus.
All of my text based work is freehand.

How do you color your painted figural pieces?

The works that are painted are either painted with water colors or water downed acrylic paint. I decide after the embroidery and applique is finished if I feel that paint is needed. As I have started to work bigger I have started to paint more of my works. I prefer the airiness that the painted fabric maintains as opposed to the heaviness of areas of color filled in with thread. The actual act of painting is very intuitive and often feels a bit like jumping off a cliff. As soon as the paint brush touches the linen I cannot erase it so after the many, many hours of needlework it can be a tense moment in my studio practice. But I am always happy in the end that took the risk.

Any advice for young artists on how to become a full time studio artist?

Hard work, perseverance, and dedication. To be an artist, as your career, you have to approach it like a career you have to show up and make your work everyday. And the work of an artist is not just making the work anymore but also promoting it, finding ways to exhibit, and reaching out to people for exhibition support. I go to my studio everyday and work both on my art but also on my “career” through pr, gallery and curatorial correspondence, archiving of images, website, applying for show, etc., etc. Sadly, I think that the life of an artist has been over-romanticized in the media and a lot of young artists fall into a trap of thinking this is the only way to be an artist. In reality this is a very rare and unusual circumstance. Most successful artists careers have been made through a ton of hard work, a massive amount of dedication both in time and thought, and a true belief and commitment to what one is doing.

When you get started make sure that even if you have a full time job that you have a space and time reserved for your art practice. Even if you just sit in your work space and think or journal. Keeping the mentality that you are an active artist making work is essential to your studio practice. And apply for shows. Let your work get out there and be seen!

Most important — Be authentic to who you are as an artist!!

Thanks so much for Tricia for asking such great questions! I cannot wait to share many more insightful interviews with you. Next time look forward to a fabulous interview with the very exciting artist Lou Trigg.

Until next time keep stitching!

Future Heirlooms - An Introduction

Joetta Maue is a full time artist 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 online journal Hello Craft. Joetta lives in Brooklyn, NY, with her husband, two cats, a goldfish and a soon-to-be baby.