Unlike many artists who create work primarily for others to see, Janice Gatti is more private about her art. When she gets home from her demanding day job, she will pick up one of her myriad in-process quilting, beading or embroidery (oh my, the French Knots!) projects and focus on her fiber art. She works on the pieces that speak to her in the moment and carries on a dialog with them until they are finished. Maybe we can convince her to treat more of us to the pleasure of seeing her work!
What is your favorite way to create, and how did you find your niche?
I’ve always felt most comfortable creating on my own. I am a very private kind of artist. Prolific but private. I think this stems from being raised in a family of 6 kids and never having a Private Space all my own.
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Do you think that creativity comes naturally to people? Or do you think creativity is a skill that people can learn?
I believe that creativity comes naturally to people who listen to their inner self. But I also believe that those that do listen, still need to “learn”…it’s how they improve. I guess the bottom line is I think you can’t have one without the other.
What inspires you to create?
My life’s experiences. For example, when my 28 year old son moved from Seattle to New York a couple of years ago, I spent the next year ice dyeing fabric and making one quilt after another. The process of ice dyeing has a wonderful element of surprise. That for me brought a certain comfort as I worked through my only child being 2800 miles away from me. I must have dyed 20 yards of all sorts of fabric, and with each dye bath the quilt ideas just popped out of my head. So by day I was dyeing, and by night I was creating/sewing quilts. That’s just one example. My work speaks of my life and the finished pieces I have hanging in my home is my journal.
I also believe that nature also plays a very pivotal inspirational role. I love to garden, and a perfect way for me to work through a pesky piece is to go out and play in the dirt, move plants, dig holes or create a new flower bed, all the while working through the piece in my mind. It works every time for me.
Are there recurring themes in your work? Do you do series work? How does that affect your approach?
Yes, there are recurring themes in my work. I gravitate towards people images…not portraits, but whimsical figures. Sometimes they are family related, but other times they are simply images of fanciful characters I’ve thought of in my mind. I also work in cycles. I may work on creating quilts for a year or two, and then something switches on (or maybe off) and I work exclusively on embroidery or beading. Right now I am in the midst of a beading frenzy. I love working like this; it’s freeing to me.
What was the biggest challenge that you encountered on your creative journey? What did you learn from it?
My biggest challenge that I’ve encountered and still encounter is allowing people to see my work. Very few people have seen the full scope of what I do with myself. I have a very demanding day job with the Seattle Youth Symphony, and the people that I work with or serve have absolutely no idea what I do creatively.
Do you create your works for yourself or to share with others?
I do what I do first for myself. It is my way of dealing with all that life has to offer, good and not so good. I have a small circle of friends who I have shared the finished product with, but I can count on one hand the number of people I have truly let in to the actual development of my art. Susan Brandeis and Julie Simms are my two most favorite “partners”. They inspire me daily, either by their communications or simply by memory. For me these two women are my kindred spirits.
How do you make the leap from an idea in your head to the art you produce?
I use the “hit and miss” approach. If what was initially in my head doesn’t work once the piece is produced, I try again, changing a color, a technique, a bead and/or stitch. One of the best pieces of advice I ever got was from a woman that introduced me to bead embroidery. She said, if you don’t like the way the piece is looking, don’t give up. Keep going. There’s a limit to my doing that, but I’d say about 90% of the time it works for me.
Do you use a sketchbook or journal? How does that help your work develop?
I use a sketchbook to record dye projects, to record my finished quilt sizes, colors and techniques and do whatever math I might have to utilize to make a certain quilt. I’m not all that dedicated to creating from what I put in the journal as much as recording what I have done. Does that make sense?
Do you focus on one piece exclusively from start to finish or work actively on more than one project at a time?
I always have at least three pieces going at one time and sometimes more than that. I’ll work for a while on something and then I will go onto something else, while the previous piece sits on my design wall for me to contemplate. Right now I probably have a dozen or so pieces on the wall; some are years old and others just weeks.
How do you prepare yourself for a session of creative work?
Some days, all it takes is for me to either get out of bed or walk through the door after work. I usually have two or three pieces going at a time; how I feel determines what I immediately focus on. If I have an abundance of energy (early part of any day), I like to work with my quilts. Later in the day, and the energy level is low, I can choose from French Knotting or beading or small quilt pieces. If I have had to stop midway through a particular piece, it’s easy for me to resume as I have a plan in my head and execution is all that is left.
Do you have a dedicated space for creating? If so, what does it look like?
Yes, I have a living room/studio. My apartment is small, so I have created design space for my quilts on a bedroom wall, and the main working table is in the living room.
What is your favorite storage tip for your fabric and creative supplies?
Dressers for my fabric and plastic divided boxes for both my beads and embroidery thread. After dyeing, I spend hours ironing and sorting the finished fabric and then I can store the finished pieces in a “filing kind of system”. Colors are separated as well as different types of fabric.
What are the indispensable tools and materials in your studio? How do they improve your work?
I’d have to say first and foremost I have to have a particular sewing needle. The Richard Hemming and Son’s size 12 needles are a must for my French knots. They give me just the right size of knot to shade, mix or blend. I’ve also become quite attached to my “hoop holders”. About 5 years ago, arthritis, carpel tunnel and other hand ailments forced me to rethink how I produce my pieces, and I found this particular tool. It took a bit of time to get used to but now I find it invaluable.
What plays in the background while you work? Silence? Music, audiobooks, podcasts, movies? If so, what kind?
Mostly TV. I am not one to sit and watch a show…but I do like having the “noise” as I create. If I am working on quilts I’ll more than likely have a nature show (thank you Netflix) on. I can listen with one ear and learn a bit about lions, monkeys, other countries and or people all the while sewing. Right now, I am really stuck on Jurassic Park but only when I am beading. When I am dyeing or sorting through my “stash” of fabric, music is my choice. Having music playing in the background frees my mind to envision my next piece. Once the TV comes on it is time to execute.
When you travel, do you stitch on planes and in waiting areas? What is in your creative travel kit?
I used to, but holding a hoop is hard on my hand so I tend to write/draw (if you can call it that) or doodle.
If you were no longer able to use the medium that you are now working in, how else would you express your creativity?
This is a question I have asked myself more and more as I have gotten older. The truthful answer at this point in time is, “I haven’t a clue”. The mere question makes me anxious as I have had so many many wonderful years of working with fabric that I am not sure which path would captivate me. Honestly, let’s hope I never have to find out.
Which artists do you admire? What draws you to their work?
The Impressionist period has always been my first love. As I tend to gravitate towards the pastels in my own work, Monet’s work is an important influence. Quite honestly though, Andrew Wyeth’s paintings also hold a special place in my heart. When I was in my early teens I was lucky enough to see an exhibition of his work and his portrait (of sorts) “Christina’s World”. I was fascinated and a bit fixated by it. My dad bought me a poster of the painting and took the time to frame it for me. Not only was I thrilled to have “her” in my room, but my dad’s kindness in making the frame told me it was “ok” to want to be an artist.
When you’re not making art, what other interests do you have?
I love to garden and putter around the yard. There is something magical that happens when I am outside and playing in the dirt. If I’m stuck on a certain piece or looking for a new path, I seem to find the answer in the dirt!
Interview with Janice Gatti posted November 2020