From her Tuscany studio, Lynne Curran weaves tapestries that mix traditional techniques with her own stylized imagery. She passes along her knowledge and passion to students who both live in and visit her beautiful part of the world.
How did you find yourself on an artist’s path? Always there? Lightbulb moment? Dragged kicking and screaming? Evolving?
Even in Primary school, I liked art and was told I was good at it.
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Do you have a mentor?
Sax Shaw. He was a leading figure in the history of tapestry and was also my stained glass tutor at College of Art. After art college I used to visit him and his wife Maisie, and it was a thrill to be surrounded by his paintings and in his combined glass and tapestry studio and to listen to him talk. He loaned me some slides for my first ever slide talk.
Do you use a sketchbook or journal? How does that help your work develop? How do you get past the hesitation to make the first mark?
I’ve kept a sketchbook which is part notebook, scrapbook, collection of ephemera that I don’t want to lose – notes and scribbles from exhibitions, phone numbers and recipes. It is a sort of diary in that sense. In this kind of sketchbook there’s no fear of making a wrong mark. It’s only a book to help ME sort things out, and if there’s anything I can’t bear to see again, that page can pasted over with a nice ‘scrap’.
When it comes to creating, are you more of a planner or an improviser?
I often spend more time working up a design. It has to be appropriate to the medium as well as saying something. Any potential mistakes are better made in the paper and watercolour/pencil stage. The designing is on paper and simultaneously on a sample piece. This gives me a ‘safety net’ which then allows me to improvise and be spontaneous as I’m making.
What inspires you? Are there recurring themes in your work?
Music, gardens, cats, chickens, writing, dancing…. Everyday things.
Tapestry weaving is a slow process. How do you remain engaged with a piece from start to finish?
There’s a huge satisfaction in seeing a piece grow over a period of time while the rest of my life goes on around it. Each day has its many distractions – cooking, mending, friends, gardening, walking, and then there’s this pool of concentration and creative peace while I return to my tapestry each day. I don’t work for long stretches at a time, and I try to achieve only a small amount each day. Any more than that is a bonus.
What kind of research do you do when planning a new tapestry?
I look through my old sketchbooks to collect my thoughts, then decide which idea/drawing is the right one for the time.
What role do historical tapestries have in the work you do today?
I look to them to understand WHY they work for me (or why not). Whatever the medium, it’s always valuable to study the masters and then come up with something original, a new voice added to an old tradition.
If you could live during a different artistic movement other than now, which one would you choose? Why?
I don’t know, because I’m happy to be working now. So I have the best of two worlds: a traditional craft, but with the addition of good lighting and modern technology.
How does your environment influence your work? Is your work different since moving to Italy?
My imagery reflects what I do and think, so yes, obviously this environment influences me. However, I often work on designs that have been distilling for years and are simplified by the layer of time that has passed.
Moving to Italy brought about one big change which was to make a self-portrait for the Uffizi Gallery collection. Usually I don’t make anything other than what I feel like doing, but this was such a fantastic invitation, I had to accept. The challenge for me was to represent myself as opposed to my other tapestries which are ‘autobiographical’ rather than ‘representational’.
I also had to the retain my drawing style which involves stylising the imagery to suit the medium of tapestry and includes symbolic imagery. This started me on a new line of research which was to look at self portraits as a subject. I was then given the chance to visit the famous Vasari Corridor which connects the Uffizi Gallery with the Palazzo Pitti, the corridor at one point running over the top of the gold shops on the Ponte Vecchio.
In quite a few of the ‘autoritratti’, the artists display their interests, advertise their other work or include pets or instruments, still lifes and tools of the trade. In my portrait, I portrayed a basket of yarns instead of a painter’s palette, and I’m holding up a bobbin instead of a paintbrush.
Does your work have stories to tell?
YES, all of them have something to find in them.
What do you do differently? What is your signature that makes your work stand out as yours?
Finely woven, often miniature and using a curved or Coptic/eccentric weft and different yarns in the same piece. The imagery is figurative and stylised.
How does your studio organization contribute to your work process?
I’m not sure – my yarns are arranged so that I can usually find what I’m looking for, and my loom and drawing table are near to a telly and a hifi.
What are the indispensable tools and materials in your studio? How do they improve your work?
Bobbins, scissors, needle and thread. A large range of colours and yarns. Sketchbook and drawing/painting materials. And a simple frame.
What plays in the background while you work? Silence? Music, audiobooks, podcasts, movies? If so, what kind?
Often silence, then I have phases of Bach, sometimes language tapes (Italian and Japanese) and more recently I put on afternoon TV. Usually old films, soaps and detective series all dubbed into Italian. I can tell by the music if I need to stop what I’m doing and watch.
Do you think that creativity comes naturally to people, or do you think creativity is a skill that people can learn?
I think most people are creative and are doing everyday things without realizing how many times they make creative choices. So we just need to have it pointed out and become aware of it.
Do you lecture or teach workshops? How can students/organizers get in touch with you to schedule an event?
I teach a couple of 5 or 6 day summer courses here in my Tuscany mountain village studio. Sometimes I travel to be a guest tutor. There’s a section about tapestry courses on my website www.lynnecurran.com and they are sometimes mentioned on my Instagram @stuffandnonesensestudios or [email protected].
What do you enjoy most about teaching?
I love introducing people to such a simple and absorbing and addictive technique which has SO many possibilities.
I love that it can be done with a minimum amount of simple and inexpensive equipment and that it can be portable, relieving the pressure to finish a project. And I enjoy showing people who have already learnt the technique just how to put that skill into use and make it work for them.
I especially like introducing the concept of breaking the rules (but only after learning them). I like showing people pictures of my work and having the chance to explain it. (And I love teaching life drawing, although haven’t done so for years.) It’s also nice to feel I’m passing on what I do best and what my tutors told me.
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