Creating has always been central to Cameron Mason, from artful childhood time with paper and cardboard to her current work with surface design creating fiber art in two and three dimensions. Her performance pieces and installations, as well as her gallery work, incorporate her own unique dyed fabric. You might catch a glimpse of her work at Solstice events, Burning Man and the Foster/White Gallery in Seattle.
Tell us a bit about you and what you do. How did you get started making art? Why do you do it?
I’ve always been a maker, but my path to becoming an artist has been anything but direct. Growing up with a single mom, we struggled financially and moved a lot. Always the new kid, I had trouble fitting in and a lot unstructured time alone. I created objects from what was around, mostly paper and cardboard. Then in high school I became a total theater nerd. There I found a place where I was accepted for who I was and I fell in love with the sense of community theater inspires.
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I went to University of Washington for a few years but didn’t have a clear direction. I worked at the box offices of local theaters and started doing collage for fun. That led me to go back to school to become a graphic designer, not really even knowing what that was, and never having taken an art class.
While in school I got involved with the Fremont Solstice Parade. The Parade combined the making I’d always loved, the sense of community I’d experienced in high school theater, and a healthy dose of fun and activism. I met many of my life-long friends (and my husband) creating the Parade and was involved for over 20 years.
I took a few years off to raise my kids. Then when I was ready to go back to work, I realized I didn’t want to go back to work creating things for someone else. Instead, I wanted to make my own work.
In 2000 I took a Master Class with a British artist, Ali Pretty, who used batik on silk to create light-weight, large-scale festival works, and I had finally found my medium. And now, almost 20 years later, I am still fascinated by the many ways I can create marks on fabric and manipulate it to create artwork.
From my artist statement—
Fabric is fundamental to my artistic process. It is an intimate part of our lives. It protects us from the elements, gives us comfort, and is a means to express ourselves. It is sensual and essential. I am drawn to fabric because of its changeability and its constancy.
What are some of the challenges of creating three-dimensional work with fabric?
But seriously, there are limits to scale in my sculpture because of the materials I use. I don’t use any wire or interior rigid structure in my sculptures. Because it is all made of soft materials, I can’t make anything larger than about 40 inches without creating integrated interior support.
When I do installation work, the first thing I have to think about how is how does it stay up? Do I need to build a structure for support or are there walls or ceilings to hold it up? When I install outdoors, especially at Burning Man, how do I work with environmental influences like the wind? Do I need to secure it against theft or vandalism?
What inspires you? Are there recurring themes in your work? Do you do series work? How does that affect your approach?
My gallery work is always created in series. When working in series, I have an opportunity to go deep into an idea, producing multiple works within an overarching theme.
From my artist statement—
Nature closely observed and recorded, and the evidence of human hands upon it, are the themes of my artwork. Time is the inexorable subtext. My work is rooted in the Northwest, highlighting the challenges of a changing environment by looking closely at our geography’s emblematic natural forms.
How often do you start a new piece? Do you work actively on more than one project at a time?
Perhaps it is from my time as a graphic designer, but I need deadlines to get things done. I am organized and create a work plan. I’m always working until the last moment, but I’m not really a procrastinator, it’s just that I want to be able to make as much art as possible in the time I have.
I work on a body of work as a whole. There are quite a few steps to create my works: concept, dyeing, drawing, design, constructing the fabric panels, machine stitching, making wooden panels for the wall-hung work, and putting it all together. It is much more time-efficient to work on sets of pieces in stages rather than each one from start to finish.
For example, I had dyed all the fabrics for my show at Foster/White by the end of this last summer. Then I pulled other fabrics from my stash and created rough designs for the entire show in September/October. I worked on them through the fall, taking sets of pieces to completion. There were a few major unplanned hiccups in the work for this show, including having my sewing machine in the shop for nearly a month. I continued working through the delay, but I wasn’t able to finish most of the work until near my deadline. It was stressful but I couldn’t have done it if I hadn’t been working all along.
How do you make the leap from an idea in your head to the art you produce?
Drawing, thinking, research. At some point, I just have to put my hands on materials. It is often through manipulating materials that I can work out answers. Then the making informs the finished piece.
In my installation work I have to collaborate. So I am lucky to know wonderful and talented people who have knowledge and skills that I don’t, including working with wood, metal, lighting, electrical, and sound. My job is to create and hold the vision. But I have to be open to additions to the work that expand and deepen that vision and edit out those that would dilute its meaning while still fostering healthy collaboration. So lots of communication, lots of hard work, mutual respect, and lots of laughter help keep things running smoothly.
What do you do differently? Do you have a signature that makes your work stand out as yours?
There are lots of fantastic fiber artists working these days, including many working in three dimensions. Lots of artists are dyeing their own fabrics. Because I was afraid I would end up competing with my own students, I used to worry about teaching my techniques.
But I let go of that worry a few years ago when I realized that, even though there may be other people who come to similar work with or without imitation, my voice is my own. As long as I keep working from my aesthetic sense, my work will be unique.
How has your work changed over time?
I like to think my work has gotten deeper. I think much more about content than I did when I was starting to make work. The danger in creating objects of beauty is that people will miss the deeper meaning below the dazzle of its surface. So each body of work speaks to a theme about the environment. I try to help people look harder at the beauty of nature and question their own personal stewardship.
What do you do to keep yourself motivated and maintain a consistent studio practice?
I tend to work cyclically. So having just finished a big push for my current show, I’ll take some time off. Travel, or even just a walk with my camera through one of our city parks, will inspire me. Once I get back to the studio, I’ll do a deep clean. Clutter distracts me. So I keep my walls clear of everything except what I am working on. A library of surface design and art books shares the studio with an old comfortable couch where I can look through these books for inspiration to experiment with new techniques or to revisit old ones. I need open time between projects to generate ideas, to let a sense of play come back into the work, and that open experimentation often inspires new work.
How does your studio organization contribute to your work process?
I hate to waste time looking for things! So I keep my studio very organized, a little obsessively so. I can generally put my hands on whatever I need pretty quickly. I have a lot of stuff in my studio and I pretty much know where everything is, unlike my house.
Are there indispensable tools and materials in your studio? How do they improve your work?
I had a 10 x 4 foot work table made with storage underneath. The top is padded and works as both a printing surface and for ironing. I also have a big industrial, stainless-steel sink with a restaurant-style sprayer, great for cleaning silkscreens. I’m only 5’1” so I’ve adjusted all my work surfaces to be a couple inches shorter than standard counter height so that I can work comfortably.
What is your favorite lesser-known tool for your trade? Have you taken something designed for another use and repurposed it for your studio?
I use a lot of non-art specific things for mark-making: antique textiles, placemats, plastic fencing, really anything textured.
What plays in the background while you work? Silence? Music, audiobooks, movies? What kind?
It depends on what I’m doing. A lot of music, some podcasts, a lot of silence in the mornings – never news.
Do you think that creativity comes naturally to people – or do you think creativity is a skill that people can learn?
I like to think that everyone has a spark of creativity. And I definitely think that spark can be fostered and directed and that is part of why I love teaching. I tried a lot of creative pursuits before I found the medium that fit best for me. I believe creativity is a powerful force that needs exercise. If I’m not making something I get depressed. It is an essential part of who I am as a person.
Do you lecture or teach workshops? How can students/organizers get in touch with you to schedule an event?
I love to teach. Unfortunately, it’s difficult to fill classes these days. I’ve scheduled workshops and had them canceled because of low enrollment. Adults need value themselves enough to make an investment in their own creativity. People don’t hesitate to sign their children up for art classes but don’t do it for themselves.
I am open to teaching workshops. I can be reached at [email protected].
Do you have gallery representation? How did that relationship come about?
Foster/White Gallery in Seattle represents me, and I have a solo show there, Fields, March 2019. I still pinch myself after almost 10 years of representation there. My gallery is super supportive of me and wonderful to work with. Due to a few lucky breaks that brought my work the gallery’s attention, they asked me to show with them.
I have thought of looking for further gallery representation in other states, but having only one gallery and a solo every other year allows me to travel, have a life, and also do the installation work I love. So it works for me!
One more thing—
I have had some lucky breaks as an artist, when in the right place at the right time. I put myself out there, working a room and schmoozing, even while I am nervous or afraid. Sometimes I draw on my old theater training and pretend I am playing the role of the fearless artist to get through these situations. But having lucky breaks only goes so far. You have to demonstrate that you have done the work, the hard work, to take advantage of those breaks when they come. Finally, continue to do the work, demonstrating that you are dependable. It’s called artWORK for a reason.
My website http://www.cameronannemason.com/
Interview with Cameron Mason posted February 2019
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