With training as an architect and the improvisational instincts of an artist, Jen Broemel creates fiber art that is both structured and free-flowing. The layers of hand stitch that float atop her pieced fabric compositions add an ethereal quality to the underlying structure of the quilt. It’s not until you step closer that you realize the subtle color variations result from thousands of carefully placed hand stitches.
How did you find yourself on an artist’s path? Always there? Lightbulb moment? Dragged kicking and screaming? Evolving?
I studied and practiced architecture until my third child was born. During the early stages of motherhood, I found myself constantly making. All kinds of things, and it was during this time that I began exploring art making. I took some classes at my local art center, but it was through a friend that I discovered quilting. I joined her at her mother’s while she tried to teach us to quilt.
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From the get-go I wanted to explore and experiment making in my own way and quickly learned that following a pattern was not for me. I think it comes from the architecture background and having a sense of how things go together, but knowing there are many ways to do it, knowing that good design pushes the limits of how you are supposed to do it. . . that things don’t always go together the way you plan, so you often need to improvise. Here is where my interest in improvisation began, and I guess I owe it to my kids. They set me on the artist’s path, and if not for them I am sure I would still be working as an architect. It was a wonderful profession and I am grateful for the experience; it definitely has had its impact on my work. . .
Who or what has inspired/influenced/empowered you?
I am easily inspired. I find it everywhere, and I believe all we experience influences us. . . but I think I owe a lot to the many artists/writers who have shared their thoughts on art, and about art making/writing as a life and less about the product. Currently I am rereading a favorite by Kent Nerburn called Dancing with the Gods which reinforces my beliefs that art making is important, that we are all creative and that sharing our art makes a difference in the world. I wholeheartedly believe this and wish more people trusted their creative callings.
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve received?
Just do it. Jump before you’re ready and know failure is a gift. This is how we grow progress and get to the good stuff.
Why textiles? Why quilting and embroidery?
I am drawn to textiles because I love the process of sewing. I have recently been referring to my work as paintings of cloth and thread. The cloth is my underpainting and the thread my mark-made overlay. But other reasons I love the process of working with textiles are that you can easily back up and start over if you need to. It isn’t very messy. It is portable, so I can do it often, pick it up and put it down, and I love the results. Also, the material is abundant, and I love the challenge of using what is at hand and readily available, even trash to some.
What do you do differently? What is your signature that makes your work stand out as yours?
I think it is in my mark making with stitches and my way with layering vibrant colors of cloth and thread that really shows my hand. My design background breaks through with my use of the grid, pattern and the way I improvise as I create, I think once you let go and trust the process, your voice is free to find its way into the work. I think the fact that I trust in this is evident.
How does your experience as an architect influence your work?
Again I think all that we experience influences us. In studying design and architecture, just the exposure to art and architecture and those who have created work and shared it, it all sinks in and then finds its way through. When you are open to exploring, amazing things can happen. Specifically in my experience, I would say the grid and the desire to explore how things go together and pushing the boundaries of the way you are supposed to do it. I think I owe that to knowing a bit about how buildings get built and the problem solving involved when things don’t go as planned.
When it comes to your art, are you more of a planner or an improviser?
Definitely lean toward improvising. It is where I find the best work comes through for me because no matter how hard I plan, I can’t get away from the improvising, and ultimately I’ve embraced it, realizing that it brings me the most joy while making. But I do enjoy sketching out ideas and being organized about certain aspects of the process. Once I became a mother, I became much more open to going with the flow, and it was not an easy transition, but I am very grateful to have found it and found a way to be at peace with the things that I cannot control.
How does your studio organization contribute to your work process?
My studio space is not very organized, but my routine around my studio practice is very organized. That is just how I roll. I am messy. And I think it inspires me. I come across things that I’ve set aside, and it sparks a new idea, a new direction. Yes, I do get distracted and, yes, I lose track of things as well, but sometimes getting lost is exactly what I need.
What are the indispensable tools and materials in your studio? How do they improve your work?
I work with what I have and like the challenge and limitations of that. I have learned there is a tool for everything, but I just like to figure it out with what I’ve got, what I know. . .
Do you use a sketchbook or journal? How does that help your work develop?
I do use a sketchbook. I have many scattered about, and I am always sketching, writing and in general keeping track of ideas that come to me. In addition I have places on my phone where I keep track of things, and just got a new iPad where I am learning Procreate and how to sketch things out there as well. Never at a loss for ideas. . .
What plays in the background while you work? Silence? Music, audiobooks, podcasts, movies? If so, what kind?
I like silence more than most, but I go through phases. Sometimes I crave music. I don’t do podcasts or audio books too much while I’m working because I find they distract my thoughts about the work, and I want to be open to that.
Can you tell us about the inspiration and process of one of your works? How does a new work come about?
It varies a lot. Lately I’ve been about exploring the possibilities of color with layers of pattern. I am finding comfort in the meditation of repetitive mark making and creating patterns to change or enhance the feeling I am getting from the colors.
If you could interview a creative person (past or present), who would that person be? What is it about that person that intrigues you?
If I could go back in time, I would go study art with Sister Corita Kent at Immaculate Heart or head to Black Mountain College and study with the many talented artists that taught and studied there. I am obsessed with learning all I can about these two institutions and how they ‘taught’ art so generously.
Do you think that creativity comes naturally to people, or do you think creativity is a skill that people can learn?
Both. I think it comes naturally to some, but I truly believe that we are creative beings – we are all creative. Some of us are just much more interested in it, more interested and open to exploring it. Like any skill, you need to practice it.
What advice would you give to emerging artists?
Trust. Trust yourself and your interests and your ideas. They are important. Start. Start exploring what you love, just for the sake of loving it. Life is short; make more art.
How do you jumpstart your creative process?
Daily ritual and making are the main ways I stay on track to help me deal with the ebb and flow of the creative process. I feel productive even when I am in a rut, and it keeps things fresh when I hunker down with an idea in process. So I always have a daily making project going, usually more than one.
Tell us about your website. What do you hope people will gain by visiting?
I’ve recently updated my website and I really love the way it communicates who I am and what I make. I think having a website has helped me in a lot of ways. It is a wonderful place to keep track of the work and the things I’ve accomplished with it.
What is on your creative bucket list?
I am more go with the flow, and kind of a homebody, but my new thing is saying yes to things, especially things that scare me a bit, and I have no doubt that this will lead me to a bucket full of adventures. . .
Check out Jen’s website
Interview posted July 2021
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