Laurel Izard grew up in a family of artists and has created since an early age. However, she didn’t define herself as a fiber artist until she had an idea to make hand-embroidered works of art inspired by the tarot. Laurel uses embroidery in unexpected ways, always trying new things. She makes social statements with embroidery on vintage baby quilts, as well as creates art quilts with her hand dyed fabrics.
When was the first time that you remember realizing that you are a creative person?
I grew up in a family of artists and it never occurred to me that I wasn’t creative or wouldn’t be an artist. As a child I can remember being very frustrated because I had many ideas about things to make, but not the necessary physical ability. I was sewing by the age of 5 and made my first stuffed dinosaur at 6. It leaked stuffing, but I was thrilled.
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Why textiles? How does that medium best express what you want to communicate through your art?
I have always been involved with textiles in one way or another. My MFA is in ceramics, and although I made clothes, embroidered, and made a couple early quilts I didn’t begin to define myself as a textile artist until 2011. I think making textile art had been at the back of my mind, but it took until I got the idea to make hand-embroidered images inspired by the tarot to define myself as a textile artist.
How did you get into what you do creatively?
If you are asking me if how I get in the mood to create, I will have to say that I am always in the mood to create. My motto is “I gotta make stuff”, and I spend much of my day doing just that. I cannot hand-embroider all day because it’s hard on my hands and shoulders, so then I may start drawing, machine sewing, or dying fabric. I usually work on 3-4 projects at a time and rotate the kinds of physical activities needed as I work throughout the day. If I get creatively stuck on one project, I start working on something else.
An important part of my creative day is playing in my sketchbooks. My one sketchbook rule is to not judge what I’m putting down on paper. This practice really unleashed my creativity and ability to embrace the flow. Although many of these doodles, drawings, and collages will never become an embroidery or quilt, I had fun in the creation.
Is there an overarching theme that connects all of your work?
My love for embroidery, hand-stitching and fabric is the one thing that unites all my work.
There are two major themes in my work. The first is my embroidered tarot card images. The ideas for these come from my doodling/sketchbook practice. Allowing myself free range non judged creativity really opened me up to so many more possibilities in my work. I choose the tarot as an inspiration for this work because I collect tarot decks, do tarot readings, and am fascinated by tarot symbols and archetypes. I am finishing card 67 out of 78 cards in a full tarot deck. These intense little embroideries (usually 6 x 4 inches) take a long time and this style of embroidery is hard on my hands and shoulders, so I can only hand stitch 2-3 hours of the day. However, It’s the high point of my day.
The second theme are the messages about social justice, culture, and the environment in my quilts. I have made several machine stitched quilts with fused fabrics, but most quilts started as vintage quilt tops that I’ve repurposed. My latest series is based on Mid-Century baby quilts and blankets and my embroidered response to the imagery on them. I began collecting baby quilts during the pandemic as a homage to the many people born mid-century who were early victims of COVID.
The message in these quilts depends on contrast, such as the play between cute little teddy bears with a real bear, nursery rhymes and nuclear bombs, or clowns and toy soldiers. I feel that this contrast allows us to see the dangers and contradictions in modern life in a new way. I’m exploring how icons and images we surround children with has helped to define who we are, and how we are expected to move through adulthood. I do not have answers but am inviting viewers to take a fresh look at the imagery we surround children with and what role it plays in our adult identity.
Do you plan your work out ahead of time, or do you just dive in with your materials and start playing?
I plan most of my work and my sketchbooks are some of my best artistic tools. The hand-embroidered pieces require color sketches before I get started, although there is quite a bit of interpretation in the colors and textures used in the embroidering. There is quite a bit of planning and research needed for embroidered quilts and I create several drawings to get the composition sorted.
I have recently created a series of intuitively pieced quilts made from fabrics I have printed with thickened dye. They are a blast to make and a nice shift from my hand work and the intense planning needed for the embroidered work.
How do you know when a piece or project is finished and needs no additional work?
This is usually not a problem for me, as most projects are planed out from the get-go, yet there may be a certain amount of revision for some pieces before they are done.
Do you have a dedicated space for creating? If so, what does it look like?
Basically, most of our old Victorian house is my studio, and it’s a good thing that my husband is an artist with his own studio. He is OK with a semi-industrial sewing machine in the living room, hand-stitching in the dining room, and hand dying on our second floor.
Can you tell us about the inspiration and process of one of your works? How does a new work come about?
My latest series of quilts loosely entitled American Childhood is often inspired by a particular baby quilt or blanket that I have found online or in an antique store. There are also plenty of serious contemporary issues that we are contending with.
Clowns and Soldiers started with a Mid Century baby blanket filled with hand embroidered clowns, which I found to be a bit creepy. I decided to embroider little green army men over the clowns to Illustrate the contrast between the cute and sweet images we surround infants with and the violent toys many of us played with as children. This quilt shows the disconnect between the humorous and the deadly seriousness of war. The day after I finished it, Putin invaded Ukraine.
Which part of the design process is your favorite? Which part is a challenge for you?
Hand-stitching, whether embroidering or hand quilting is my favorite part of my work. I love planning and drawing new ideas. I am not in love with finishing quilts, getting work photographed, or applying for shows.
What was the biggest challenge that you encountered on your creative journey? What did you learn from it?
An ongoing challenge I face as an artist is getting rejected from shows. The lesson here is to keep making the work that comes from my heart and focus on the support and confidence that comes from within. I’m not saying that I enjoy rejection, but rather I choose to learn from it and move on.
Where can people see your work?
My work can be seen in several juried shows across the country and solo or group exhibitions in Northwest Indiana and the Chicago area.
Learn more about Laurel and her work:
Interview posted July 2023