Spotlight: Libby Williamson, Fiber Artist
Growing up with artists as parents, Libby Williamson explored many ways of creating, and that is reflected in her fiber art today. With complex layers of fabric, paint, dye, print, thread and more, Libby’s work surprises viewers with the abstract detail you see when you get in close.
How did you find yourself on an artist’s path? Always there? Lightbulb moment? Dragged kicking and screaming? Evolving?
I cannot remember a time in my life that I didn’t identify as an artist. With wildly creative parents, (they met at Rhode Island School of Design), my childhood was rich with creative opportunities. Mom says all I needed as a kid were an endless supply of scrap paper, Scotch tape, and scrambled eggs. So I learned to make fabulous messes, one of my enduring super powers.
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Reflecting back, a lot of my projects involved complex spatial planning. A village of tiny paper dolls with sprawling cardboard homes, elaborate paper furniture and miniature accessories covered my bedroom floor. Barbies weren’t my thing but I couldn’t get enough of those Trolls! And they lived in high-style in glorious, shoe-box houses. Quilting, sewing, knitting, weaving, embroidery…I loved it all.
In 3rd grade I entered the workforce selling bookmarks at the Women’s Exchange for 25 cents each, (flowers smushed between layers of clear contact paper). Later I stitched bargello samples for a local needlepoint kit designer. My booth at the annual high school craft fair had an eclectic assortment of soldered copper-flower sculptures, ceramics, and hand-sewn stuff. So my art career was launched.
I sailed through school by accompanying each assignment with a kick-ass, extra-credit art project. Then college was a four-year study in printmaking and art education, I earned a BA in Fine Art, and I am a credentialed art teacher in NY and CA.
Do you have a dedicated space for creating? If so, what does it look like?
I have several dedicated spaces for art making. A large warehouse in a business park close to home is my main studio. So this is my haven, filled to the brim with cabinets and shelves and crates and boxes filled with supplies. It is color and chaos.
In my home is another designated studio, also jammed with supplies but with limited floor space. So that leaves the formal living room, which I fondly call ‘My Room of Shame’. Sitting on the opposite end of the house, away from the main living area, it was rarely used beyond a visit from Santa. So inch by inch I moved in my stuff, no one complained, and I now call Squatter’s Rights.
Why do you call your blog “Art Soup”?
My art takes many forms, so it incorporates a wide variety of mediums and techniques. When I visit a ceramic exhibit, I want to build more clay-slab vessels. Then I’ll fire up my soldering iron to make jewelry, dabble in sculpture, or pick up a paintbrush. At one time I studied drafting, envisioning a career in architecture. (I learned quickly that I lack the discipline for precision drawing.) But above all else, fiber art is my passion. If ever forced to purge my supply closets, my sewing machine, my cloth and my precious threads will be the last to go. My work is a great big bowl of ‘Art Soup’ so my blog chronicles the many forms of my artistic life.
What do you do differently? What is your signature technique?
Hand-sewing, free-motion machine stitching, painting, dyeing and printing on fabric all find their way into my art. My current work explores the exhaustive use of recycled tea bags as fragile substrates for collage and stitching. Another series incorporates cotton clothesline and hemp rope as the inner layer beneath cloth, which, when stitched, adds thick ridges of texture.
I’m intrigued by the challenge of stitching through cloth so heavily paint-encrusted I sometimes need pliers to yank the needle through. There is something about the dichotomy of soft fabric ladened with thick paint that compels me to further explore.
My work is not neat and tidy; it lacks measured stitches and clean seams. I much prefer raged, torn edges and I embrace imperfection. I use my sewing machine predominantly as a drawing tool; with strong, black thread I work intuitively and spontaneously to make scratchy lines, stitching with reckless abandon.
Do you think that creativity comes naturally to people – or do you think creativity is a skill that people must develop?
Teaching art has bolstered my belief that we all have natural creativity. But many of my students recall their early art experiences fraught with self-doubt. I’ve rehabilitated many women who’ve suffered The Trauma of 7th grade Home-Ec. My approach to art and sewing is very loose, joyous and forgiving. So come play with me and we will make wonderful magic!
Do you work actively on more than one project at a time? What plays in the background while you work? Silence? Music, audiobooks, movies? If so, what kind?
I work best when under the pressure of deadlines. But if I could accomplish work at that same pace all the time, I’d save myself a lot of stress. As an introvert, I covet the solitude of my studio, with music blasting (70’s soft rock), or in complete silence. I have several projects going at once, in different stages of completion and my brain is stuffed full of ideas to explore.
Do you enter juried shows, lecture or teach workshops? How can students/organizers get in touch with you to schedule an event?
In addition to making art for juried exhibition and sale, I teach classes in my studio in Orange, CA, and at art retreats, museums, guilds, and art stores across the country. A workshop in The Netherlands next summer will be my first international venue. My classes vary from the intensive focus of specific techniques, designed for experienced artists, to a relaxed, joyous art experience for those of all levels.
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