Spotlight: Ana Paula Brasil, Textile Artist
With roots in Brazil and at home in Canada, Ana Paula Brasil creates exuberant fiber art full of color and personality. Her art quilts, often created in series, convey stories and messages to engage the viewer and give the art greater meaning. Her exhibition, Glow in the Dark, at the International Quilt Festival in Houston, introduced us to her, and we had to know more!
Tell us a little bit about you and what you do.
Just a little bit is enough to write a book….LOL…but I promise to be brief.
I started sewing at the age of 8….I am kidding, I don’t go that far but I really started at age of 8. And I am a Brazilian artist living in Canada since 2013, graduated in fine arts studio and photography.
I am a fabric designer, writer, publisher, and pattern designer currently working with textile arts to express the happiness of life and explore the possibilities on fabrics. I love to travel and explore new cultures, exchange knowledge and exhibit my work around the world.
Since 2009, I am attending international quilt and fabrics shows, and my work could be seen in public exhibitions, museums, and art galleries. I also love to share my knowledge and spread the needle world so I have some time dedicated to teach classes, workshops, lectures, and trunk shows. I’m always filled with humor, high energy, stories, ensuring my time with the public are non-stop education and fun.
In 2018 I had many achievements like a solo special exhibit at the Houston Festival, two art books published and an entire fabric collection designed by me. The fabric collection named Fancy Lady is very colourful and 9 prints each for 8 collections in a total of 72 designs. It’s one of a kind print that I dedicate much time and study to bring a unique but different option to the market. You must see it!
The fabrics came to the market at the Houston Festival 2018 with my first solo exhibit with 28 quilts named Glow In The Dark. This exhibition is one of a kind and I show to the public an out of the box way to play with glow in the dark thread lines. The exhibition was amazing, the public loved and it was a blast. Do you want me to tell more…okay. I cannot talk in much detail to people from the exhibition when it’s still on, so I publish a book about the exhibition Glow In The Dark. All 28 quilts are in the book so people can bring a piece of art quilt back home and read the poetry behind each piece.
Last but not least is my second art quilt book, the first art quilt book in Portuguese and a landmark for the art quilt in Brazil. “Restlessness” is the English translation for “Inquietude”, my project with cooperation of three other artists shows to the public a thinking process as well some other elements that are influences for artists. There are some talented quilters in Brazil and I hope this book will inspire and develop the Brazilian art quilt.
I am currently working on a new series for my YouTube channel, as well some other top secret projects that will be amazing, so I hope to share that news very soon with you.
Oh I almost forgot to tell a little about me…. just kidding.
When and how did you discover your talent? Does your creativity come naturally or do you have to work on it?
Okay, but now you want to know a bit more….because remember, I started very young and at the age of 8 I was an artist child. Due to my parents work schedule I spent most of the time with my grandmother. She’s a skillful seamstress, excellent hand crafter and the most lovely person I have ever met, and yes, she is because she’s healthy and turning to 97 years old. My brothers and sister used to spend time in front the TV but me, I was always hanging with my granny.
Under my eyes my granny was an alchemist because she turned wool into a scarf, socks or blouses. Pieces of fabrics were turned into a bed quilt, “solid boring” white fabrics into a stunning wedding dress, natural oils into soap, and so on….that was my kindergarten. I had so much information and creativity coming from my home source because after my grandma my mom is a poet and there are more talented artists in the family like singers, songwriters, all dedicated to the arts.
My creativity comes naturally. I was stimulated and encouraged at tender ages. To become a better professional, I dedicated lots of time for studies and learning because knowledge is never enough and something you keep forever to share with others. But please let me share something very particular. “I have difficulty stop creating.” That’s true, my mind is constantly on creative mode. I can be inspired by the air, environment, or in a conversation with someone else. From time to time I feel the need to isolate, it’s time for cleaning, refresh the ideas and the remedy for such matter I found at the “Santiago’s Way”….but that’s another story.
What are the biggest challenges you have faced as an artist?
I faced many challenges. Some were very relevant some not so much and some will make us laugh a lot. Blocked roads are constantly in our path, and I believe it only depends on you and how you approach each situation.
For some time the big challenge was space, a big studio to support all crazy ideas I have. Problem solved, and now my challenge is that I don’t have the tools that I want and I need. Better speaking, I refer “tools” as those beautiful longarm quilting machines. I turned that challenge into two masterpiece machines that I use for quilting. Each machine has a specific meaning of use. Those I consider “material challenges”, things that with time a well-managed business will overcome.
One of my worst enemies or challenges is related to Time. Because you know, there’s always a deadline to reach and we are always busy with something. So, for my experience in Houston 2018, the organization asked for 28 quilts and I had a short time to deliver the exhibition. I gave my word for delivery on Time, so in less than four months I did what seems to be incredible. Quoting Albert Einstein “Time is an illusion,” and is actually a unit of measure to separate past, present, and future. As we measure time we bring as much space as we have. Going back to Einstein is how I solve my challenge. The famous “General Relativity Theory” is that “time is not a constant, it’s not the same in every situation and much depends of velocity”….the faster you go, the slower YOUR time passes.
For any reason I like to be face to face to my challenges. Also last year I was dedicating time to design my fabrics collection. At the end I came up with 22 collections and now my challenge is to select which one will be released. Finally I pick my best 8 for the Fancy Lady Fabrics Collection.
Now I want to share something because I believe the biggest challenge for every international artist is to speak fluent in local language. Think! I came from a foreign country and Portuguese is my first language so I can lose business opportunities not being fluent, until in one of my workshops – in English, a very kind student told me, “Teacher, your English may be funny, but your work and art speaks for yourself.” From that day I know my work speaks for myself, my eyes and smiles are in my work, and I don’t have to worry because sewing is like a universal language and no matter what, we can make it happen.
Who or what has helped you to persevere and not quit?
Overall I am a very positive and persevering person. I do not remember giving up something or letting a work go unfinished. My grandmother taught it in my childhood: never do anything in half, never give up something that you believe. If you gave up, it was because you never believed and if you did not believe, you should not have started. I grew up hearing that … and other things because today I know my granny is a great positive influencer. I’ve never given up on myself, and in the last 20 years for my children. My family support my work and I support my family, that’s how we keep moving.
How would you say your art has evolved over the years?
I like your question because it comes to my mind the first self portrait I quilted. That time I thought my piece was fabulous and nowadays I can see the roughness of a beginner job. As Malcolm Gladwell’s theory said, we need 10,000 hours practice to master a particular skill, in any field. So really depends on each of us to to become world-class and master any job because working regular hours you can reach the expertise in 5 to 10 years. It’s a long term investment in something you believe. Put time on it, dedication, and you will have the results.
So the same is my art. Every specialization, every seminar, every workshop feeds my knowledge and improves my art. Every time I’m sewing or quilting is an investment in my expertise. After all those years, evolution is natural in my work.
Nowadays I teach classes for self portraits with different techniques that I improved, mixed, and turned into easy methodology for beginners so they don’t fall over the same mistakes I did.
By the way, I’m workaholic and I do what I love and I love what I do.
What inspires you? Are there recurring themes in your work? Do you do series work? How does that affect your approach?
I can say everything is inspiration for my work. My lifestyle, miles on the road, time at the cottage, people and the main character presented in my art are women. Yes, women, but please I’m not feminist. The female character, a woman and her curves, shapes, colours, size, texture, distinct characteristics only presented in a woman body. I get inspired and love to sketch women so I take attention in the streets, at the mall, theatre, events or whatever is the event, If someone calls my attention, I always have my sketchbook handy or I can ask permission for a picture and after I will work that inspiration in something tangible.
Let me share something with you! When I watched Big Eyes for the first time I had a personal identification with Margaret Keane on the way she can see people. I have the same picture in my head because I look at someone and I can see a character, an illustration and believe me, some people are ready to become a print.
Most of my works are series from a theme. Since college I have been working to exhibit my art in galleries, museums, exhibition centres. I push myself to create and explore a theme so I always end up with a series to explore in depth if it is needed. Like happened Houston 2018 when my proposal was supported by 8 quilts and I have a theme that I could explore for a big series. The festival organization loved my idea but they asked me something bolder with more quilts. After some discussion I proposed 28 quilts because I know the theme will turn that possible.
That is important and affects the way I approach my work, and remember creativity is endless. So I end up with a solo exhibition at the Quilt Festival Houston presenting 28 quilts. The exhibition called “Glow In The Dark” has as theme “the achievements of my goals, steps, and overcoming”.
Do your quilts have stories to tell? Do you ever create hidden meanings or messages in your work?
Yes, yes, yes, no matter the project. My geometric quilt will tell a story, otherwise there’s no meaning for my art.
I believe every quilt tells a story and I take very seriously my legacy as an artist. I always express my feelings, tell my stories, the history behind landscapes. And I love to share with people where comes that energy to move a needle up and down to turn into a masterpiece.
When you asked about series work I can sew it to quilt stories. As I mentioned, my recent exhibition Glow In The Dark presented 28 quilts and those quilts tell my story on how I made my way to Houston Festival. This story is reflected in years because it’s a long way. When you come to an exhibition take time to look at the quilt and after you read the artist statement. It’s important. And take a look back at the piece again because now you may see something different that only the artist knows.
I always have messages in my quilts. Some are hidden and some are not, but you will always find out if you read my artist statement. Nowadays the thread line industry gives us opportunity to work with different threads and there are two of those that I like to play with, like the “flasher”. Those special threads have a reflective light which means you will only see the content if you shine light on the piece.
What piece of work makes you most proud? Why?
That’s a hard question to answer because I love all my work. If I don’t like the result I keep working until I’m satisfied.
So I don’t have a single piece I’m proud of because I believe we are in constant change and a piece made years ago can be done different nowadays and probably you will like more than before.
I feel very proud with my quilts and to answer what makes me most proud, I have to answer that is not a piece but a technique I develop to teach people how to quilt free motion. I have a 6-hour class to teach students to draw your self portrait and 22 free motion quilting movements. With my methodology the students explore something new, something that needs practice to surge, and I share how. The result at the end is amazing.
Do you enter juried shows? Do you approach your work differently for these venues?
I usually don’t submit quilts for juried shows. I have a deficit in one of my arms and at the beginning I didn’t feel confident because I thought my quilting was not perfect due to the deficit. After time I improved my quilting, but then I listened to my students saying to me not submit otherwise they don’t have a chance competing against me. I listen that so much that I end up getting in contact to the show organization and propose a solo exhibition. Doing that I was not competing with anybody and still present at the show. I did that many times.
When embarking upon a project, do you pre plan your entire endeavour or do you simply follow where your inspiration takes you?
I like your question. Every project is different and I don’t have a pre plan to follow through, what I have are deadlines. Deadlines are my nightmare but I don’t live without. I don’t submit quilts for juried but I do for exhibitions and for my curators as well, and that’s a lot of planning, study, and research. My work style has lots of studies and thinking processes because there’s a time of the year where I don’t work the sewing machine, just the books, paper, sketches. When it is sewing time, I need to be aware because there’s always something new and big to work in between.
How do you make time for creating? Do you try to create daily?
That’s kind sensitive for me because I don’t have hard time creating. For me to create daily, is natural, something that’s always on. And that’s kind of sad because it is difficult to stop creating which means I am working all the time. When I sit down to watch a movie I bet something will call my attention and I will make a note for a future work. And remember I am a writer too so I have a lots of notes. Something always handy is my sketch book and a pencil. Another particular is that I always have my mind working. That’s a tip and also an exercise for everyone who wants to work their creativity. Make crochet or another handcraft. It’s very good to stimulate your creativity.
What does your studio look like? Where does the magic happen?
My studio is well organized and it’s divided by stations of work. I call that as “Ana’s Land” or “Ana’s World”, whatever you like. In the textile and sewing station I have different sewing machines, one longarm and one longarm sit-down, embroidery, serger, a big table with cutting mat. It looks like a place that was built for creations. At the wall I have lots of inspiring things, another wall I have all my threads in a handcrafted display and there’s a corner with gifts from students or people that follow my work all over these years, and of course cabinets with many, many yards of fabrics.
I have my craft station where I paint canvas, dye fabric, do some renovations. So this is the place where I can do all the mess I want without dirt everywhere. Then we go to the creative station with my computer, paper and colours, board to hang ideas, light table, so everything I need to create. Last but not least is the photograph station where I have all my photograph equipment, lights, and a hang wall of course to take all the pictures I love.
It’s a complete space that invites people to be creative and inspirational.
How does your studio organization contribute to your work process?
That is essential, extremely important otherwise I cannot work. I think I’m little OCD, obsessive for organization in my case. As I told, my studio is divided by stations of work. That division allows me to work different projects at the same time without getting interference one to another.
Organization is rule number one in my studio and I cannot work in a messy place because I believe everything in harmony is positive for your work. For some time I used to arrange my pins by colours but now I am not so addictive. But you want to know something cool….I have 100% use, recycle in my studio for everything. No waste from threads to fabrics. This organization allows me to work three quilts last year for my book “Inquietude”. All my quilts for this book were done from recycled materials I collected all over the year. What most of quilters throw away I can create a master quilt. I can see art on everything, I’m 100% artistic.
Are there indispensable tools and materials in your studio? How do they improve your work?
I can run from North to South about tools. Because I learned from my Granny. I look at her sewing garments using a scissors and patterns she makes herself using carton boxes. Don’t look for any excuses. But in my case I just need a scissors and a t-shirt or a piece of fabric. I can take the fabric from the shirt and make a toothpick as needle. That’s for survival…
There are some indispensable tools for me like a longarm, light table, digital table, micro scissors, freezer paper and glue stick. Of course for a beautiful project I need my fabric collection to create masterpieces. That’s me at the extreme.
Today we have tools to turn the process easy and simple. These tools will help the construction not the creativity. Really indispensable is the power behind a quilt.
If you were no longer able to use the medium that you are now working in, how else would you express your creativity?
For the happiness and health of everybody, would not be singing ….LOL
If I could not work with textile I would be expressing my creativity as a writer. That’s something I’m good at. I have already 40 books published where I express myself somehow through poems.
It may look funny but I have a typewriter. Because I know at the certain circumstance that I will not have power for my batteries. So my buddy will be my typewriter.
If you had the opportunity, what creative person, past or present, would you like to work with and why?
With my grandmother, no doubt. Today she is 96 years old and still creative and fun. The problem is that we live far North and South of the Americas. A few times a year I can visit her it’s party time. She shows alternative ways and opportunities to create fantastic things that make everyone happy. My grandmother was always a woman ahead of her time. She simply and sensibly taught me a lot about life, how to live easy, honestly, working hard. I have not met anyone like her who, even on hard days, smiles in her soul in celebration. I have memories sewing with my grandmother at different times of my life.
When you’re not making art, what other interests do you have?
That’s rare, very rare because art is part of me, part of my soul is art.
But when I’m not working textiles, I like to walk long distances. It gives me time with myself and brings peace for my soul. I like to write my books. I am writing a book for 17 years, and I am excited for the end that I don’t know. So I have a second book in process. It’s a self-help book to help women to overcome challenges.
I’m also interested in police stories, CSI, and I believe I would be an excellent Florence Police. I did a class about body language that I use to help me identify my students in class. That’s helpful to approach everyone in a easy way.
Do you lecture or teach workshops? How can students/organizers get in touch with you to schedule an event?
Yes, Yes, Yes…I love to share my knowledge, I love to tell my stories!
I do lectures, workshops, trunk shows, classes. This is part of my time that I dedicate to share my knowledge and learn from people.
To know more or contact social media you can search for ANA PAULA BRASIL and CANADA PAULA BRASIL on Facebook and Instagram. I am very active on social media and you can follow my agenda.
Interview published January 30, 2019.
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