Episode Focus: Beginning a creative project
Productivity: How do you choose a creative project that’s right for you?
Podcast chat: Kapiti-based textile artist Lisa Call
Creativity: Talking about the joys and benefits of of slow creativity
Listen to the episode now – click below to play!
Podcast chat with Lisa Call
Originally from Denver Colorado, Lisa is a textile artist based in Kapiti. She has a fascination with making fabric do things that it doesn’t naturally want to do! She does abstract compositions as well as landscapes, often in a series of works. Lisa runs art and art business courses online and sells her work through her online shop. She also undertakes a limited number of commissions each year – that are in the style of her existing work.
In our chat, Lisa talks about the joys of making a series of artworks and shares some advice for new artists starting out on a creative project.
If you prefer to read the transcript from my podcast chat with Lisa, here it is below!
Jordan: All right. So well, Lisa, welcome to the podcast. It’s great to have you. You’re a textile artist. Tell us about your work.
Lisa: Well, first, thank you for having you on on the podcast. And my work is textile based, meaning I work with fabric, but it is also fine art. And so it is on the wall. I stitch all of my work onto a canvas.
Jordan: Amazing. I actually haven’t seen a lot of that kind of work. Do you find it’s a quite a unique kind of art that you create?
Lisa: You know, there are a lot of amazing fibre and textile artists in New Zealand, and if you go to those exhibitions, you will see some amazing work.
Jordan: So you’re originally from the American South West. How did you get to be here? Tell us about the journey and what the difference is between the Southwest and the Kapiti Coast of New Zealand.
Lisa: So it’s a you know, it’s the same story so many people have. I came to New Zealand to teach a workshop, an art workshop. So, I mean, I was teaching fibres arts in New Zealand and I anted to do some hiking, tramping, as you say. And so I planned on staying two months and I I came and I went down on a hike, the Milford Track, and it started raining this post season. I couldn’t do Kepler or any of the other ones. And so I came back up towards Wellington where I met a guy. And there you go. And I stayed.
Jordan: Oh, wonderful. And so how long ago was that? How long have you been here for now?
Lisa: I’ve been here six years. So, yeah, it it’s interesting to move countries because it really changes your artwork. It really changes the environment that you live in. I when I got here and I decided to stay, it was like spur of the moment. I really either had to go back or I had to commit to staying because I had a solo show in the States. I had made none of the artwork and I had three months to make all of the artwork after my trip to New Zealand. I was going to go back, heads down – make the work for my solo show, instead I decided to make it out here in New Zealand. And at that point I was in the Hutt Valley. And the Valley to me is a challenge because I’m used to the American Southwest, for the sky is really big and you can see forever. So the artwork I made was a series that compared the Horizon line of Colorado to the Horizon line of New Zealand, and I used to get up every day and walk to the top of Belmont Hill so I could look out over Wellington Harbour and see for a long way.Because I had I need to see for a long way, – which is why I live on the Kapiti Coast now, because I can go out to the beach and I can see forever. I need to be able to see forever. And I love that Kapiti Coast. For that reason, I have that ability to see a long distance.
Jordan: Is there anything you miss about the creative life in the US?
Lisa: You know, I definitely miss the U.S. I definitely… it is home, it is – will always be where I came from and I am very thankful to have been in New Zealand during your pandemic. And I do love it here. Also, I think one of the things I miss about the US is there are just a lot more people and so there’s more diversity. And diversity brings creativity exposed to more different ideas in such a large environment.
Jordan: Now, you like to create a series of works rather than one offs. What does that give you in terms of exploring an idea?
Lisa: Yeah, see, that’s like the million dollar question, because this is the class I teach and I can give you like a synopsis of it. But really, I teach this three month long class on why work in series. What does it bring a creative and why would you want to do it? But kind of in kind of in summary, one of the things that it brings you is the ability to really know what you think about that subject matter. And because we …we think we know and then we want to go make a piece of artwork about that idea. And as we’re making it, we get another idea. And then so we try and put that idea in there. And then we have another idea and we try and put that idea in there. And the next thing you know, we’ve made this piece of artwork that has like four or five or six different ideas that we’ve come up with. And we try and put them in this piece of artwork and then we get confused as to what we’re really trying to say. When you work in a series, you can say, here’s this idea and I’m going to make this piece and then I’m going to have this other idea that I came up with. I’m going to save it and I’m going to put it in another piece. And as we as we build this series of work, we go deeper and deeper into our understanding of what our artwork is about. And so it’s just a magical process. I’m not trying to cram too much into a piece of artwork.
Jordan: That’s a fantastic way to think about it, because I’m sure I’ve been guilty of doing that many times.Of getting excited, but just keeping the ideas kind of flowing and pouring them into one piece. And it just it’s too much for one… to hold it in one piece.
Lisa: I mean, there’s like a million other positive benefits of working in a series, you know, so much easier to market your work. You’re clear on what you’re doing. It you it’s like cheating also. Because when you walk in and there’s that age-old, if I want to be creative, staring at a blank canvas, it’s really, really hard. Yes, right. How do you start? Well, when you’re working in a series, it’s a really easy answer. You make the next piece in your series, so you’ve already eliminated ninety nine point nine percent of the possible things you might make. And it’s so much easier to start. So you’re… I find I’m much more prolific. I’m much more efficient because I’m not distracted by all those bright, shiny objects. I’m making work in my series and it feels like it’ll be really claustrophobic. Like if I do that, I’m going to get bored and making the same thing over and over again. But it’s interesting in that, you know, I see from students over and over again, they they’re amazed the magic of working in a series is really they’re more creative. They come up, they find that they that they really grow more as an artist if they work in a series versus bouncing from idea to idea.
Jordan: It probably does a few things. It gives it gives you a framework and some boundaries to work in. Right. And it probably narrows your attention, doesn’t it? So, kind of you go more deeply into that thing that you’re doing.
Lisa: Yeah. Yeah, absolutely.
Jordan: And do you have any kind of storytelling process when it comes to sharing a series with an audience? So if you exhibit, how do you go about kind of talking about the work of a series?
Lisa: Yeah, it depends. Like the that exhibit I told you about, which was comparing Colorado to the New Zealand landscape that, you know, given artists talk in the gallery and I write about it. I write a blog and do a lot of blogging and and sharing what it is it is all about. So being able to take notes and writing in my sketchbook as I’m making the pieces to capture all of those ideas so I can then communicate them then with my audience. It’s really hard, right, because I’m a visual artist.
I am way better with the visual than the words. That’s why along the way I try to capture what I’m doing so I can then share that later because people like the words to understand what they’re, what they’re doing.
Jordan: Now you’ve also spoken about there being four steps to creating an artwork in your practice, one of those four steps, and how do you kind of walk through them?
Lisa: So because I work with textiles, I, I it’s a dry process, you might say, you know, I am covered in thread and it’s it’s a fairly structured process. Fabric is a very structured material, so I want some of that messy stuff.
I want like finger painting, so I dye my own fabric for that reason because you’re just an … I don’t you know, you can use formulas to get the colours you want, but I’m more like dumping and pouring and making this big mess.
And I so I start with white fabric and I die a whole bunch of colours and I might have an idea in mind. I did a series about hiking in the Grand Canyon and so I just I don’t use formulas, but I go in and I think, you know, earthy tone colours and I create. A grouping of colours that fit that idea, and it’s a huge mess, so that’s like the first sub-processes. This dying of fabric, it’s completely different than anything else I do. And so it also needs heat.
So it’s only done during the summer because you got to have a lot of heat to to get the dye to set in the fabric. So I that’s the first process. And then after that, I take the fabric out and I pick the colours and I think about the composition that I’m making and my studio walls are covered in flannel. It’s my palette, it’s my it’s my easel.
So I you know, when we’re working on work, we need to see it up on the wall to know what it looks like. It you can’t, there’s really no other you know, if it’s on the floor or or any sort of horizontal surface, it’s not the same as seeing it on the wall.
So I cut out the shapes that I want and I stick them up on my wall and I can move them around and they stick because it’s flannel, it’s so it’s like a magic board and things stick. So I figure out what I want. And then I sew that together.
And that’s kind of the basic composition for the piece. And from there I add paint. I do mark making. I love this process of making my own marks and that’s something that doesn’t. That’s a little bit harder with fabric, and so I then go to paint to add that mark making aspect of it, so I do mark making over the surface of the fabric that I’ve stitched together.
And then from there I add all of the texture, which is what makes it such a fabulous work, is it is stitching. And I do really, really dense stitching almost sometimes just completely encrusted with thread over the top. And I do like two passes through. I do the first pass and then I’ll do a second pass, which stitches it onto the stretched canvas.
Jordan: And how much of that manual and how much are using a machine.
Lisa: I use a sewing machine for all of it. It’s all done and I have this tiny little sewing machine. I bought it right before my son was born. I was going to be a stay at home mom. I knew I was going to have no money, so I bought a brand new sewing machine. So that sewing machine is twenty nine years old now. It’s a tiny little sewing machine, but it’s recessed down into a table so it doesn’t move. So I have a big flat surface to work with.
Jordan: And for you, how much of it is an intuitive process?
Lisa: I work pretty improvisationally. I am not sketching out my ideas, but because I work in a series, it it’s like the previous work is feeding into the ideas for the next work. But I don’t I do a lot of sketching and drawing, but that’s mostly about. You know, practicing training my eye and but the the thing that comes out in the artwork isn’t pre-sketched, it’s very improvisational.
Jordan: Now, I particularly love some of your most recent work, there’s lots of circles going on there and I’m a huge… I, I work a lot in circles. I love the whole philosophy of a circle. So tell me about the series that you made that had so many circles in it. I think it was called the Travel Patterns series.
Lisa: Yeah. So circles, you know, there is you know, we can make circles and life and, you know, there’s all of that. And so they’re very appealing for that reason.
But personally, in addition to all of that, that series of travel patterns series is is really about looking at how did I end up in New Zealand. This travel that I’ve done, I’ve done a lot of… I’ve lived in many places in the United States.
And then you know coming here to New Zealand. And so there’s a lot of pathways through it. But the reality is, is that travel involves wheels. So this circle is very connected to the wheel itself, because that’s how how humans have figured out how to get around a lot easier even an aeroplane needs wheels to get up off the ground.
You know, if we had a helicopter, maybe we don’t need those wheels, but so that’s what the circle to me is signifying there. But it was interesting, I, I broke my blog a few years back and I couldn’t … my web website was loading so slowly and I am like, oh, so I just deleted on my blog post, which was really dumb because I had twelve hundred of them, so twelve hundred gone and so I’ve been slowly putting them back. I of course saved them off but they’re each in a separate file. It’s not a simple upload.
And so I’m like rereading all of them. And I was looking at a blog post I had written after a trip to New Mexico, which is where I grew up, and they were pictures from Bandelier National Monument, which is a national monument that was just right down the road from my house. It’ the Anasazi Indian ruins, and I’m looking at these photos and there’s all of these circles in line on the wall, and it’s from the top of the houses, the pueblos that went into the rocks.
So those are where the sticks went in. So I grew up looking at pattern and it’s just like in my head that’s a pattern. And these rows of circles, they are just part of who I am. And so to see that connection, because I’ve been thinking, why do I keep making these rows of circles? And to me, it goes right back to that. It was so interesting to you know, that’s a good thing. I deleted all my blog posts and forced me to go back and read them.
Jordan: Now, one final question for you. If you had one tip for people, if they wanted to kind of get into some kind of creative practice and enjoy creativity, what would it be?
Lisa: So my tip would be, is that the word enjoy is a tricky word when it comes to creativity, because it’s hard and it um… And the reason it’s hard is that we have in our mind this picture of this amazing thing we’re going to create and then we make it and there’s this mismatch between what we’ve made and this vision for what we wanted to make.
And certainly when we first start out, there’s a really big mismatch. And the best metaphor I’ve seen for that is like it’s the length of your arms. When you first start out, you’ve got these really long arms because your hands are very far away from the vision in your brain. But the more you make it, the shorter your arms get and the better you are at making the thing you think you’re going to make. And so my tip is to keep going until your arms get shorter and stop comparing yourself to the people that have been doing it for so long that they are being they are able to make it so, you know, enjoy is tricky. To enjoy it you need to let go of the need to to have it right the first time.
Jordan: Thank you, Lisa. That’s a great insight. And it’s been really great to have you.
Lisa: You’re welcome.
More about Lisa
If you’re interested in finding out more about Lisa and her artwork, you can find her through the links below.
Artworks in this post (from top of page): Round and Round, Approximating Certainty, Long Way Home, You drive I’ll sit in the back with the possum, At the end of the day.