Lisa Thorpe grew up in a multigenerational home with women who stitched for utility but always made it their own. She creates mixed media art inspired by a word or phrase, incorporating images she takes with her phone on walks.
When was the first time that you remember realizing that you are a creative person?
I have always felt like an artist. As a child I was a maker, a crafter, a creative inventor. My parents were indulgent of this vision of myself and always cultivated my endeavors. So I’m lucky, I don’t remember a time when I didn’t feel like an artist.
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How did you find yourself on an artist’s path? Always there? Lightbulb moment? Dragged kicking and screaming? Evolving?
As I said I always saw myself as creative and had the room to explore. Both my mother and grandmother (who lived with us) were sewists, most of their motivation was practical: school clothes, napkins, pillowcases, bed quilts. But there was always personal expression involved too. In this way they showed me that being creative and being practical were not an oxymoron. I may have taken it to a different place but they held the lantern.
Do you think that creativity is part of human nature or is it something that must be nurtured and learned?
Creativity is both human nature and it needs to be nurtured and learned.
We know from the deepest caves of Lascaux France, where figures and stories and reverse hand prints can be found from the prehistoric times, that humans have a drive and desire to tell a story in visual form. In this way I think creativity is a natural part of the human drive to express oneself.
On the other hand, there is the societal notion that creativity or skill is gifted from the universe. Many of my students will say “I’m not creative” or “I’m not artistic” or “You are gifted, you have natural talent” but I don’t feel that way. I have put in hours, days, months, years of time to hone my craft and my voice. And that is a journey that is never ending. I was blessed with a family of origin that valued and nurtured my creative pursuits, and I had a personal drive to spend time on my work – that’s it!
What do you do differently? What is your signature that makes your work stand out as yours?
I am a storyteller. Sometimes the stories are very complex tales about the human condition in a difficult world, like in my piece “Again and Again We are Invited in”.
And sometimes the stories are very simple and embodied by one word like “change”. My visual work is almost always born out of words. I’ll be inspired by a quote or a poem and then play with that in visual form. I haven’t met too many visual artists who begin that way but that’s how my brain works.
Another thing I have taken to doing, in this age of cell phone cameras, is I take pictures of everything that intrigues me, then I arrange those photos into albums on my phone labeled, “Sky”, “Shadows”, “Water” etc. When I’m looking for inspiration all I need to do is flip through my phone and I can see all the things that have captured my attention. The patterns, the colors, the textures etc.
What different creative media do you use in your work?
I have worked in many media over the years, painting, printing, collage, fabric and stitch. I lean into fabric art and stitch these days but bring my past skills to bear when I want to. I use photographs, old book pages, hand printed and dyed fabrics. I find fabric collage to have another element that painting, and print don’t have – stitch.
I like to add movement and texture with both machine and hand stitch. This adds a dimension to my art that other forms don’t have. And it brings me back around to my foremothers who taught me about fabric and stitch and the necessity of making.
When it comes to creating, are you more of a planner or an improviser?
Both. I have an idea, a snippet of words, perhaps a photograph as my beginning. Then I may set a size to create a good parameter to work within. I set these criteria in which to create and then improvise my way to the end.
Are you a “finisher”? How many UFOs do you think you have?
I am a finisher. But I’ll often have several things going at once. Something I’m pondering in my sketchbook/journal that is percolating. Something I’m doing hand stitch on or finishing and something on my design wall.
Do you have a dedicated space for creating? If so, what does it look like?
Yes I have a very small home studio. I can’t spread out much. So I tend to work on a project and clean that up before I move to the next one. I need a clean and tidy space to explode into the next work.
Do you use a sketchbook or journal? How does that help your work develop?
I have sketchbook but it’s not very detailed, the drawings are chicken scratch not detailed, it is as much about the words as the images. But it’s useful to play in order to scratch out ideas.
Can you tell us about the inspiration and process of one of your works? How does a new work come about?
As I said my quilts are story driven so when I moved to Little Rock Arkansas from Northern California 3 years ago I had a big story to tell. My family moved when my husband got a new job that he was excited about – but it put me into a big reflection mode about – who am I, what am I doing, what do I want to say.
I spent a lot of time in my first six months here walking different neighborhoods taking pictures of everything macro and micro in my new world. I found that I had been taking lots of photos of doors and I was especially drawn to open doors. My neighborhood had had a bunch of tear-downs – homes torn wide open, doors thrown wide, piles of bricks and stones of broken entry ways kept filling my phone – they looked like how I felt.
I began organizing photos in my phone by theme – I found an abundance of doors and hands that I had photographed again and again. That phrase “Again and Again” seemed to roll around in my head for a while as I began to imagine what this piece might mean. I decided the doors and open hands were an invitation, a welcoming. I just needed to choose to enter. The piece “Again and Again We are Invited In” is about this process.
All the photos are from my new life in Little Rock. I selected the photos to use in this piece and uploaded them to a fabric printing service because I knew I wanted it to be large. I wanted it to say both solid and crumbling at the same time. I began with the central image of the buildings first and stitched the smaller hand and door images next. I chose to use some commercially printed fabric stitched in rows as a nod to traditional quilting, a connection to the quilts my foremothers made. The printed floral shapes are stamped on tea dyed fabric and I put those down after much of the rest was set – I felt it needed some softening – some movement. I had an idea of the red thread at the beginning, but I hadn’t worked out how to achieve the effect I wanted. There are so many layers of fabric that hand stitching through all those layers was not possible, so I devised a way to machine stitch lines then by hand loop the thick red threads to create the motion and idea of convergence – again and again – merging into my backlight image of me at the threshold.
Other pieces that embody some of the same themes, but are more quiet reflections are “Change” and “Don’t Wait” these are from a current series of small pieces (14×20”). The ongoing series is called “Shift Happens” and are quick studies of my currents and thoughts.
How has your work changed over time?
My work has grown and changed as I have grown and changed. I can’t imagine doing the same things again and again. I admire the Monet’s of the world studying the same lily pond, same haystack again and again but my personality is not that solid and so my work flows and changes as I flow and change.
What do you do to keep yourself motivated and interested in your work?
It helps to have a show to work towards. I have a solo show here in Little Rock in April so I am being very productive right now because I have to be. When that’s done I’ll need to work on my next goal to keep me going.
Do you lecture or teach workshops? How can students/organizers get in touch with you to schedule an event?
I lecture and teach workshops online and in person. I teach at large creative events like the International Quilt Festival in Houston, Art & Soul, or on-line platforms like Craft Napa. I also teach on-line classes through my website. Quilt guilds, women’s groups and church groups invite me to lead workshops and give lectures. You can see what and where I’m teaching on my website https://lisathorpe.com/ – or sign up for my monthly newsletter on my connect page https://lisathorpe.com/index.php/contact-and-connect/
Where can people see your work?
My website has a gallery of work but I confess I have trouble keeping that aspect of my business up to date. You can follow me @lisathorpeartist on Facebook and Instagram where I give quick hits of what I’m working on and of course if you are in Little Rock Arkansas in April you can go to my solo show at Boswell Mourot Fine Art gallery.
Check out more about Lisa on her website.
Interview posted February 2024
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