Gwen Rucker has found art to be a soothing activity for as long as she can remember. She is inspired by tiny details, shapes and color combinations in unexpected places. During the pandemic her confidence shifted and she began making things that were a truer reflection of herself.
Tell us a bit about your journey to become a textile artist. How has your creativity evolved over the years? What triggered the evolution to new media/kinds of work/ways of working?
For as long as I can remember I have been a maker of some sort. I find art to be a very soothing activity especially in times of stress or personal growth. It was in one of those times that I fell in love with the textile arts.
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In 2016 while transitioning between jobs as a graphic designer, my new job fell through. When it became increasingly harder to find a replacement job I decided to try to learn a new skill instead. I began with learning hand embroidery which I immediately loved. It has been a very organic process of following my excitement and learning new ways to work with fabric and fiber.
Where do you find your inspiration for your designs?
I find inspiration anywhere I can, I love noticing tiny details or shapes or color combinations in unexpected places. I have been known to pause TV shows and run up to the screen to take a picture of the pattern on someone’s old shirt or in the tile on the floor.
My big muses from childhood were Doctor Seuss, Jim Henson, and Chuck Jones. I loved their whimsy and color play.
What inspired your hand pillows? How did they come about? Where do you source the unique materials for the hands?
After the pandemic hit, I felt a large shift in my art and my confidence to make things that were a truer reflection of myself. At the same time, I was doing a lot of nesting and looking at home interior inspiration.
I remember seeing a very upscale decor picture that had these cool stuffed hands. I have always had a fondness for hands. They say so much about someone and why are they so hard to draw?! I decided I wanted to make a giant couch pillow size hand using some of my vintage fabric stash. Many pattern demos later, the Happy Gwensday hand pillow was born. The fabric comes from various places like estate sales, thrift stores, or etsy. Oftentimes my wonderful community of thrift hunting friends will also share finds which have been so fun and helpful too.
When it comes to creating, are you more of a planner or an improviser?
I’m an improviser. I like to dive in and figure it out as I go. Later I write down the parts of the process that worked so I can recreate it later.
How do you manage your creative time? Do you schedule start and stop times? Or work only when inspired?
I wish I were a more regimented schedule person but sadly it’s all or nothing with me. Either I spent all week on a project or my house is clean, there seems to be no in between!
Are you a “finisher”? How many UFOs do you think you have?
I tend to get excited about an idea and throw myself into it until I reach a certain point of satisfaction and then I set it aside partly finished. I’d say at any time I probably have five of these projects sitting around. When the inspiration comes back, I’ll finish one. It has taken me a long time to realize the way I work. When I figured that out it really gave me permission to let go of guilt and start as many things as I wanted.
What does your studio look like? Where does the magic happen?
My studio is the back bedroom upstairs in my home. The room is painted a very light tranquil sea glass color and I’m surrounded by fabric, random vintage trinkets, old paintings, and a lot of soft mood lighting. I like my workspace to have a feeling of calm, quiet, and seclusion, with a little excitement thrown in. I think my dream room would be behind a secret entrance or tucked away in an attic space, just far enough to disconnect from the rest of the world while I create.
What plays in the background while you work? Silence? Music, audiobooks, podcasts, movies? If so, what kind?
I almost always have headphones on during the day. I’ve noticed that listening to people talk helps me work and I love podcasts. My current favorites are Armchair Expert, Conan O’Brien Needs a Friend, and Wiser Than Me with Julia Louis-Dreyfus
How does your formal art education help your work develop? Does it ever get in the way?
I don’t have an art degree which made it hard to take myself seriously as an artist at first. One day I decided I like making things for the joy of making regardless of whether I had an official education. I’m sure there are things I’ve missed out on as a result. For now I’m very happy to learn to make things that interest me through online tutorials and youtube videos.
How is your work different than it was in the beginning? How is it the same?
My work has always had an intense focus on color. In the beginning, it was a lot more regimented and singularly focused. I had a few embroidered doll designs which I offered and that was it. Nowadays I have a more relaxed approach. I prefer to try ideas outside my comfort zone, experimenting with size and adding mixed mediums.
What was the biggest challenge that you encountered on your creative journey? What did you learn from it?
The biggest challenge has been trying to stay motivated during times when I don’t feel inspired. If I haven’t made anything in a while, I start thinking oh no what if this is it and I never make anything again?! That’s just part of the deal when you’re creative. Sometimes you need time to recharge those creative batteries and crazy person about it.
How do you know when a piece or project is finished and needs no additional work?
This is a lesson I’m still learning, I have such a hard time putting things down! When that starts to happen and I suspect I’m overworking something I’ll set it aside for a while and come back to it with fresh eyes later.
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve received?
Don’t forget to look back and remember how far you’ve come. There is a past version of yourself who wishes they were right where you are now. Also the best way to shift your mood is to move your body. I like to go on walks or dance in my kitchen.
When was the first time that you remember realizing that you are a creative person?
I think I knew early on when adults always liked the drawings I made, and then it was cemented later in life when people would always introduce me as their weird friend (By the way, weird is where it’s at. Weird means new and different and that leads to innovation, so I say always be weird).
Where can people see your work?
I’m currently working on a website so for now you can see it on my Instagram @happygwensday
Interview posted May 2023
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