Spotlight: Brian Haggard, Embroidery and Mixed Media Artist
Brian Haggard has a gift for seeing vintage items and reimagining them combined into a cohesive work of fiber art. He artfully blends old with new to create an entirely new piece that speaks with a unified voice.
How did you get started? How did you choose your creative outlet?
My grandmother introduced me to the needle arts when I was very young. I loved spending time with her, and with a 69 cent spool of crochet floss she could keep me entertained for hours, so I started honing the craft.
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What inspires you? Are there recurring themes in your work?
In general, I love building texture on texture. You’ll find a lot of clocks, flowers and foliage in all of my work. I was a professional florist for 22 years, so the flora is a natural outgrowth of that. I love antiquity and I love the evolution and artistry of timepieces.
What do you do differently? What is your signature that makes your work stand out as yours?
I recreate, in a modern way, a vintage style. Seamlessly blending old with new is my trademark. Also, I’m known for color and the use of color.
What is the most important takeaway you want readers to gain from your books, especially your new title, Blended Embroidery?
I’ve been thinking about the ideas in this book for several years. Beginning with antique and vintage artifacts and creating a brand new piece, blending the elements in a way that makes it hard to tell old from new.
Does a vintage item inspire the art, or does the art inspire a search for the right item?
Certainly both are true. I may be working on a piece and remember a treasure from my (substantial) stash that will blend in perfectly. Or I may be out and about, see one special piece and it’s immediately obvious how it will be the focal point of a new project.
Have you always been able to see the potential in a forgotten, neglected or discarded item? Can a person learn to see this way?
Yes, I’ve always been able to imagine the possibilities with any item–even at a young age and see it being used in an unusual way or as the inspiration for something bigger. To an extent, practice makes perfect and I believe anyone can learn to see beyond the obvious when out in the universe. However, I am aware that this comes easily to me and maybe not so much for others. Two sewing friends of mine were visiting, then they went shopping in the antique mall attached to my studio with the specific mission to “look at things the way Brian sees them” to find unusual uses for everyday items.
When you begin to create, do you visualize the finished piece? Or does the work evolve?
The work definitely evolves. I’m never entirely sure of the direction a piece will take and quite frankly, I don’t want to know. I love letting it unfold as it happens. One of the reasons that I don’t specialize in traditional quilting is because I don’t want to work from a pattern–even if I happened to draw it.
How would you say your creativity has evolved over the years? What triggered the evolution to new mediums?
I’d say that it’s gotten more refined and professional looking. I pay a lot more attention to the finishing details now than I did in the beginning. I’m always wanting to add to my toolbox of tricks–whether it be new techniques, new materials, new tools, new ideas from friends, the Internet, wherever. Honestly, avoiding boredom is a serious motivator.
What do you learn about who you are through your creative endeavors?
I love that I can do something that’s out of my wheelhouse that usually comes together into something I’m proud of. When I was younger, I feared that I would run out of ideas and be left without new challenges. Now, I know the ideas don’t stop (although sometimes my head hurts and I wish they would slow down a bit) and I have the confidence to know that I’ll be able to turn the ideas into art.
Do you think that creativity comes naturally to people – or do you think creativity is a skill that people can learn?
I believe that, for the most part, creativity is innate. Some people have tons and can hardly control it, while others have a little and with nurturing it will becomes easier to embrace. Of course, it’s a continuum, but I’m guessing if someone is reading this there’s definitely a creative genie wanting to get out of a bottle.
What was the biggest challenge that you encountered on your creative journey? What did you learn from it?
Without doubt: dyslexia. For one thing, when I was young it wasn’t understood at all and it was a hindrance to traditional learning. One of the reasons I make my own designs and patterns is that I have difficulty following others. On the other hand, I do believe that my ability to see things somewhat differently than others is related to to the dyslexia and I’ve definitely been able to compensate with my creative endeavors. I also learned that by surrounding myself with individuals who have other strengths that I can achieve goals that I never thought possible–for example authoring four books!
Do you have a dedicated space for creating? How is it organized?
I do. The work surfaces need to be clutter free and stored items artfully organized. I call it living in Technicolor–my raw materials are displayed pleasingly in wooden bowls, glass jars, on antique furniture–there’s nary a plastic tote to be seen. I love being in the studio when I’m working or relaxing. Now, I will say, that’s the open spaces. But peek into the closets at your own risk.
Are there indispensable tools and materials in your studio? How do they improve your work?
Indeed there are: pincushions, needles, a comfortable chair and a bright light. The more relaxed I feel, the more likely I am to lose myself in the work.
How do you stay organized when working with multiple design ideas and processes?
I organize the “story” (fabric, threads, trims, findings, etc.) for each project into antique trugs (cutlery trays). Then each project has its own home and I can grab one and go at anytime. When the project is done, all of the unused materials are returned to where they came from and I’m ready to put together another project.
What plays in the background while you work? Silence? Music, audiobooks, movies? What kind?
Silence or pop music vocals or musical theatre. “Alexa play. . .”
When you travel, do you stitch on planes and in waiting areas? What is in your creative travel kit?
I will stitch anywhere at anytime! If I’m in the car, I just grab one of the project trugs. But I should clarify that I don’t sew AND drive. I happily occupy the passenger seat so I can sew the miles away. On a plane, I transfer the contents to an old leather shaving kit that zips up for safe keeping.
How often do you start a new project? Do you work actively on more than one project at a time?
It’s all over the board. I’m an Interior Designer by day–and sometimes that work demands all of my time. When I have time to devote to stitching I prefer to work one project from start to finish but then once in awhile I get a spark of an idea for a project that I’m compelled to start right away and will set the first piece aside for a bit. And, then, sometimes publication deadlines demand that I multitask.
Do you lecture or teach workshops? How can students/organizers get in touch with you to schedule an event?
I do, I do and it’s quite honestly my favorite part of what it is that I do. I love classroom time and teaching others the joy of hand embroidery. So I’m always willing to hear from shops, guilds or any willing student. Drop me a line at email@example.com. You can see more of my work at http://www.brianhaggard.com/.
Interview posted April, 2019.
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