CLaire Renaut studied fashion at Esmod Paris and became a fashion and textile designer. Looking for a more creative outlet, she went back to school and received a Master’s in Textile from the Philadelphia School of Textile. Now she collects newspapers from her travels, cuts them up and spins them into yarn to create her detailed work.
How did you find yourself on an artist’s path? Always there? Lightbulb moment? Dragged kicking and screaming? Evolving?
I have always been surrounded with fabrics, yarn, and sewing machines. My great grandmother and my grandmother made clothes for a living. My mother made a rug that sat in the living room of my childhood home. Very early on, I started knitting sweaters and dyeing, cutting, and transforming my clothes.
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There was an “Aha” moment when I was 15 years old. A friend of my mother’s made a remark while she was observing me arranging pieces of fabrics to make a skirt: “Why don’t you go to the Academy of Fine Art?”
Loving textiles, yet not knowing how to make a living as an artist, I decided to study fashion at Esmod Paris. I worked for close to two decades as a fashion and textile designer. At some point I needed to find a more creative outlet. I went back to school and obtained a Master in Textile from Philadelphia School of Textile.
Tell us more about the unique materials and techniques you use to create your work.
While working on my master’s degree, I went to study traditional textile techniques in Japan. There, I learned Shifu, a method of spinning paper into yarn. I embraced this yarn-making technique while modifying it by using newspaper. The transformation from newspaper to yarn feels like an alchemic alteration. Once I make the yarn, I knit, weave it or sculpt it.
What motivates you artistically?
My artistic motivations were at first more a personal desire to express the world as I feel it. Now I am looking more for professional recognition as well.
When it comes to creating, are you more of a planner or an improviser?
I am an improviser that needs planning.
How do you manage your creative time? Do you schedule start and stop times? Or work only when inspired?
I am in my studio every weekday. I try to keep evenings and weekends for family and friends. I schedule each day with specific tasks, and the art making is done every day, usually in the morning.
Describe your creative space.
I have a good-size studio, with two windows with a view of a “wildflower meadow” that I made in our garden. Seeing the flowers and regular neighbors walking by with their dog gives me a sense of connection with the outside world while at work.
My studio is organized by area of process. At the entrance, on the right-hand side is the admin area with a computer. On the left is a long table for sewing. There is a large, elevated table in the middle of the room, where I cut newspapers and do most of my work. Next to it is the spinning station, the weaving loom is on the opposite side.
One wall has a “kitchen” counter with shelves and drawers where I can store most of my material. The facing wall is my “work of progress wall”, it allows me to look at the piece I am making, to assess, correct, add, or redo. I love my studio; it is the best place to find me.
Do you use a sketchbook or journal? How does that help your work develop?
I constantly use a sketchbook and journals. Having a sketchbook is vital for capturing ideas with a quick drawing. In my studio the sketchbook is always at the same spot with pencils next to it, to avoid losing the idea! When I am on the go, my phone has a little stylus, it is great to jot down ideas that are then added to the sketchbook.
I have many small (moleskin) booklets to write about each piece I am making. Each of my booklets is a journal of all the pieces that I make. The journaling helps me report the process and thoughts during the making of each piece. It makes writing statements easier.
What plays in the background while you work? Silence, Music, Audiobooks, Podcasts, movies? If so, what kind?
I cannot watch movies while working as I need to concentrate visually on what I am making. Silence is the best way when I need to concentrate on writing statements or presentations.
Otherwise, during the active making of the work, I listen to podcasts, audiobooks, French/German radio and talk shows.
How often do you start a new project? Do you work on more than one project at a time?
I work on many projects at the same time, there are at least two projects that run in parallel. I have a year-long project that I work on one day a week. Other projects come in and out and have shorter deadlines.
Can you tell us the inspiration and process of one of your works? How does a new work come about?
Going through all the steps before weaving, it allows me to know better what I have in my hands. Knowing how much time and effort it takes to get the yarn makes it valuable. I know the human value of it first and I approach the weaving differently, and that gives me time to revisit and think about the final step
Two years ago, I became older than my father will ever be.
Each year, I develop a new piece in his memory. For this, I decided to use all sorts of Newspaper from all the places I have lived or visited, as a nod to what I would have told him. Then I decided to weave one small piece a week on a small tapestry loom, this allowed me to bring him with me when I travel, and once a week might have been how much we would have communicated. When all the pieces were assembled with many different yarns it made a long narrow patchwork-like piece, the way life is a patchwork of experiences!
Which part of the process is your favorite? Which part is a challenge for you?
My favorite part is starting a piece. I find it exciting to envision something and see how it will evolve. Will it resemble what I see in my mind? Will the idea change as I go along? (The best is when the idea and result are one and the same!)
The most challenging is doing the finishing–stitch-hemming a weave, for example, or figuring out how to hang the piece.
When was the 1st time that you remembered realizing that you are a creative person?
Looking back at when I was a child and who I was then, it seems to me that I always expressed myself in an unconventional way.
As an early teen I used to transform, cut, dye, and sew my clothes; this activity was the pathway for viewing myself as creative. The concept of being an artist and how to become one took a few decades to fully understand. It is when I moved to the USA that I started calling myself an artist…and felt accepted as one.
How does your formal art education help your work develop? Does it ever get in the way?
My undergraduate study, at Esmod, Paris, was fashion design, and I worked as a fashion designer for more than 15 years. Then I pursued a master’s in Textile Science at Philadelphia University.
My education has always been very helpful and feels very linear in my progress as an artist. The best artistic education that has been transformative to me was learning traditional textile techniques in Japan, among them the Shifu technique of spinning paper into yarn, which I continue to this day.
Has your creativity evolved over the years? What triggered new ways of working?
I think my work is getting better with continued practice, it becomes deeper. It is a constant exploration of what can be done and how far I can push it despite the constraint of working primarily with newspapers.
The limits of newspapers have triggered a new approach and has pushed me to add fiber or other forms of paper to my work. I also am increasingly interested in working at a large scale.
Do you critique your own work? What is your process?
Yes! I constantly critique my work, pausing and thinking if the process is going in the right direction or if it needs adjustment. Sometimes, one can get in the flow and the work just goes along. That is a great feeling, but it doesn’t come every time.
I have a “wall of progress” when I pin work that needs to be reflected upon, seeing it on a wall from further away helps define the next step of if I should just discard it.
What is the best piece of advice you’ve received?
The best advice I received was “GO BIG!”
Where can people see your work?
On my website: www.clairerenaut.com
On Instagram: @CLaireRenaut
On Artwork Archive: https://www.artworkarchive.com/profile/claire-renaut
Interview posted September 2023
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