Coming from a hands-on family, textile artist Arounna Khounnoraj learned both the intrinsic and extrinsic values of making. As she branched out from her art education focused on sculpture to working with textiles, she found a means of expression that combines imagery and process with more immediate results. Arounna is open to exploring new techniques and working with non-traditional methods that she develops herself and finds very satisfying.
Tell us a little bit about you and what you do.
I am a textile artist living in Canada exploring embroidery, punch needle and sewing. Much of my work has been utilitarian in nature such as bags and home goods, always handmade, but lately I have been exploring more one of a kind fibre art pieces.
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How did you find yourself on an artist’s path? Always there? Lightbulb moment? Dragged kicking and screaming? Evolving?
As a child I was always making, and as a family of immigrants both my parents were makers too. It was out of necessity, but also out of the belief that if you could make something you should. So it felt like the natural thing was to go to art school and follow a creative path.
What motivates you artistically?
I’m the kind of person who likes to keep busy and that is a big motivation, but my curiosity for different processes and techniques is also a great motivator. I love trying different things and seeing where it will take me.
Why textiles? What is it about working with fiber that appeals to you?
While in art school I worked mostly with clay and various forms of sculpture, so my work tended to be object based. But I also really enjoy process which is probably why I also love printmaking as a means to explore imagery. What drew me to textiles was the immediacy of everything – the materials and the techniques. I can stitch on cloth or dye fabric and the results are immediately there as well as easy to control; the forms of surface decoration can be so broad.
What is the most important takeaway you want readers to gain from your books, especially your new title, A Modern Guide to Botanical Embroidery?
I want the books to not only be a source of information but also to be inspiring. I encourage people to try creative things and I want the books to spark that interest. With the new embroidery book in particular I wanted to inspire them to try something different or to build on skills they already have. I’m a firm believer that creativity doesn’t have to be specific to a certain single idea but can be open ended combinations of ideas.
Are there recurring themes in your work? What is it about a subject that inspires you to continue exploring it?
I suppose there are a few constants in how I approach work and the kind of work I make. Firstly, no matter what I do it has always been what would be considered “hand made”. I don’t tend to use digital processes and that certainly reflects the types of drawing I do. The qualities of drawing by hand for me can’t be found any other way. And in terms of images I certainly love all types of patterning, but botanical images in particular have always attracted me.
How does your formal art education help your work develop? Does it ever get in the way?
I don’t see formal education as something that gets in the way. Initially it allowed me to try a wide range of techniques and materials, and that stays with me. I think that despite any formalities, art school allowed me to keep the idea of exploration in the forefront. That is important to remember, especially now that much of my work involves products and production. I think that time in school also helped with my confidence to pursue ideas without feeling like I needed a specific end result – to enjoy the process and learn from each step. In the end, which ever studio I’m in is a place of learning as much as a place of work.
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve received?
The best advice I received was to not to sweat the small stuff. I try to focus on the larger picture in both my life and in my creative practice. This type of thinking has helped me to not retreat when things got hard, but to push through. In the end, I know that it all works out someway.
What do you do to develop your skills? How do you get better at what you do?
I think in essence it’s quite simple. As with any skill it’s about constant practice that makes you better. Learn from your past, and what others have done before you, talk with other artists and makers and ask questions. Every day I have a number of projects on the go in addition to production work, so in the end it’s just about work.
What do you do differently? What is your signature that makes your work stand out as yours?
I started working with textiles after graduation from art school, so in many ways I am mostly self taught. As a result, I think that my approach to fibre arts is informed somewhat differently. I don’t always do things in a traditional sense and that makes my work a bit different. For example, when I started punch needle work I approached it in terms of what I liked rather than through traditional methods. I preferred the back side of the stitches, which to me mimicked embroidery stitches, rather than the loop/pile side which is traditionally the front of the work. Also, as with my embroidery work, by adding different mediums like printing and painting I can work in a less typical way.
If you could interview a creative person (past or present), who would that person be? What is it about that person that intrigues you?
There are plenty of artists that I have always admired, but two that easily come to mind would be Louise Bourgeois and Kiki Smith. Each works with many different mediums, but they always go beyond any material qualities to really explore who they are on a personal level and how they interpret the world we live in.
Do you think that creativity comes naturally to people? Or do you think creativity is a skill that people can learn?
Both. We are all creative in so many ways, specially as children. But a lot of us either forget or just move on. I think that everyone can learn, and it’s quite often their lack of confidence or access that holds them back. In fact most of us are taught to not be creative. Most of our lives revolve around experiences and activities that others format for us. I think that finding a creative life is really important for at least part of our lives and people should enjoy the process of making. But the stigma of failure is a difficult thing to overcome. I think it’s natural to compare ourselves to others, and those who have spent more time on their craft may appear to do it better.
When it comes to creating, are you more of a planner or an improviser?
I would say I am a bit of both. I like the intuitive shapes and patterns in mark making but when I work on embroidery or my sewing I like to plan it out with drawings and prototypes before I venture on to the project. Working in both ways allows for real creativity for me. It can also save time and make the process go a bit smoother.
Do you have a dedicated space for creating? If so, what does it look like?
Yes, we have building that consists of studios and a storefront on the ground level with our living spaces on the floors above. The shop area has two sewing machines where my mum and I sew. In the back we have a shipping and printing area as well as a large table for cutting. On the second floor I have a space that is more for quiet stitching or punching; It’s also where I create all my process reels on Instagram. I like that we have everything we need on hand and the space to create.
What are the indispensable tools and materials in your studio? How do they improve your work?
When working with textiles the tools that are most important are my scissors and my sewing machine. I don’t think I could make what I do without those two things.
Do you use a sketchbook or journal? How does that help your work develop?
I used to regularly draw and paint in a sketchbook which has always been a really important part of how I work. For its convenience I also draw on my iPad, which is something I can take with me outside of my studio. For some projects working on a tablet saves a lot of time, especially when I am collaborating with someone and images need to be sent back and forth. But I do enjoy working with wet paint and ink on paper.
What plays in the background while you work? Silence? Music, audiobooks, podcasts, movies? If so, what kind?
When I am sewing I usually have a movie on in the background; when I am doing a task that needs my full attention I usually have the radio on. We are big CBC listeners in the studio.
Tell us about your website. What do you hope people will gain by visiting?
My website is set up as a selling platform, but I hope to expand it in away that shows more licensing and art work. I think that by giving more info on what we do it can help expand our range that we offer.
Interview posted April 2022
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