This month Felter Skelter has a visit with Canadian textile and mixed-media artist Tanis Alexis Laird.
With a combination of techniques and materials (including wet felting, stitchery, painting, screen printing and more) and a passion for compassion, sustainability, and exploration, Tanis’ work can be playful, comforting, and challenging as well as beautiful.
What attracted you to fiber art in general and felt-making specifically?
Well, to be completely honest. It was the affordability. Wool isn’t particularily expensive, thank goodness, and in terms of wet felting all you need is wool + water + friction/time = felt. With such a simple equation it made the alchemy of producing my own natural textiles even more magical and empowering!
Once I became hooked to those sorts of thrills, I began to realise how versatile and experimental of a medium it is, and that took me to a whole other level and continues to do so.
Can you tell us a little about your process? How do you take a mixed media concept from spark to completion? When do you decide what materials you need to express your ideas?
I think my process varies greatly depending on what I’m working on. There’s a lot of experimenting, which is where I retain my interest in making things. I do know myself enough that I have to keep the process loose and improvisational, so my mind doesn’t create traps for me, or expectations I can’t fufill. I try to maintain my focus on the bigger goal, but if it’s light and experimental along the way, I can feel as though the energy is fresh and interesting.
I have written some ‘rules’ for myself that I try to follow while I’m in the zone. Such as:
- Always sketch thumbnails before executing a large idea.
- Unsure of an idea or material? experiment and always give yourself room to play.
- Don’t take yourself too seriously.
- Trust yourself.
- Time is never wasted.
- When it gets difficult, push. When it gets uncomfortable pushing, push a little harder.
- Take your time.
- Walk away and come back with fresh eyes.
What kind of fiber do you like to work with the best? Why?
Superfine merino is the filet of fiber to me. I do believe it is what clouds are made of.
I use a lot of undyed white polwarth batts for my large pieces (especially if I am printing or using mixed media) because it’s like a fibery canvas or blank page in my eyes.
One of the themes in your work seems to me to be about connectivity. What does being connected mean to you?
I like to think that everything is connected, right down to a quantum level. There’s a lot of magic going on around us, that we don’t always see with our eyes. I also like to think that this place or level is responsible for the manifestation of ideas.
What can you tell us about thought bubbles?
I think this is in the same realm of connectivity. What do peoples’ dreams, ideas, hopes, wishes, prayers, and thoughts look like? I think we all have some sort of thought bubble over our head, don’t we?
Do you have any examples of your work that demonstrate a statement you are trying to express to the viewer? How about one that embodies a question/concept you’re exploring with the viewer?
With my process being what it is, I’d like to think that the majority of my work is a concept I explore alongside the viewer, but surely that’s not always true.
Here’s one example of expressing a feeling to the viewer:
Feelings of anticipation, curiosity, excitement, hope and wanderlust. These were all places I was visiting with myself during a pivotal time in my life. That same year I married my best friend.
The ‘we shall live here‘ series is a great example of exploring with the audience. What is a home?
The answer is subjective to the viewer.
Additionally, as I continue to work with the concept, the meaning of ‘home’ continues to transform with society. Elevated interest is geared towards urban farming and homesteads, unconventional handmade housing, green living, self-sufficiency, tiny homes, nomadic living and even off-grid or slow living! So I’m gathering more and more dynamic variations on what a home is. I also gather a lot of input from the audience, I’ve made a few custom pieces for people who want a physical representation of their dream home. It’s all been really inspiring to me.
Have you ever been surprised by or had an epiphany from, your own work?
I am always learning, that’s kind of like little epiphanies in my world.
I took a painting course at the beginning of this year. It was great to get back into the painters seat after taking a break from it for the last few years, creating textiles and mixed media pieces. Throughout the whole class I kept experiencing a lot of surprises about my style that I hadn’t consciously realised through producing mixed media work. I realised that a lot of it translates to the other work.
It was like a bright light coming on, after being in darkness. Or a hard slap in the face from a loving friend.
Do you have any thoughts/frustrations/wisdom about fighting fear/lizard brain while working creatively?
Did you know that most brains nowadays come equipped with a really cool feature?? Yeah! Sometimes, it’s hard to find in there with all that stuff going on, but when you luck out, you’ll stumble upon a shiny volume knob. Use that to turn down the suck, as the kids say these days. Filter the bullshit, as I say. It can take time and a bit of work to find it some days. But it’s in there. I find that it works for a lot of other things in life.
I use have a bunch of various strategies that have worked for me in the past. Like I mentioned before, in regards to my process, some days it just takes tricking myself into creating art.
Other fiber artists that you are inspired by?
Here are just a few of the fiber art (and artists) that I admire, there are so many amazing pieces of work, I can find myself often getting lost viewing work from around the world online: tiny toadstool, cocoon designs, bennylove, beatjuice
What excites you about your future creative life?
I have a art exhibit of my “we shall live here” series opening this month at the Port Moody Arts Centre. I’m getting a bit excited by it all now, and looking forward to seeing all the pieces together in one happy family.
Moxie is an artist, fiber pusher and genuine human being. She likes you very much indeed.
What Technique Is This?
Needle Felting is the process of using a notched or “barbed” needle to compress layers of wool into denser felt that can be manipulated to create 3D sculptures. It is different to wet felting, which uses water to combine wool fibres, and these days there are a range of felting tools available that can enable you to make your own soft sculptures with ease!