When you see fiber artist Michelle Jackson’s work, it will come as no surprise that she has much to say and that she speaks fluent color and value. Her experience in the fashion industry means that no fabric, not matter how fussy or untraditional for quilting, is off limits – as long as it advances the story she wants to tell.
How did you find yourself on an artist’s path? Always there? Lightbulb moment? Dragged kicking and screaming? Evolving?
I grew up in a small town in Nebraska. My mother was the school art teacher, kindergarten through 12th grades, only 500 children. My sister and I were the guinea pigs for all the art projects, so I literally grew up surrounded by art.
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What inspires you to create?
Today I am inspired by the beauty around me. I live in New Mexico. I believe it is one of the most beautiful places in America, with mountains, desert, beautiful blue skies, and red sunsets. It is my good fortune to live in the Sandia Mountains, surrounded by nature and inspiration. I love the texture and color of the mountains and rocks here which contrast with the turquoise skies.
Tell us about your transition from fashion to quilting. What was the spark? Did the fashion background hinder your quilting journey in any way? What advantages did it give you?
I made most of my clothes in my teenage years from babysitting money which eventually led me to studying fashion design at the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York City. I was working for a small company designing women’s lingerie, then got married and had two little boys and we moved to New Mexico. While my sewing machines were in storage until we sold our home in NJ, I felt a little like a fish out of water. That is when I started quilting, and my first quilt was entirely by hand. That quilt took me two years to finish. I moved quickly into dyeing my own fabrics so that I could make art quilts which I enjoy because each one is unique.
Fashion gave me a good understanding of fabric, especially hard to use specialty fabrics used in making lingerie. Knowing how to use those fabrics and not being afraid of them was helpful in stepping out of the box of using traditional 100% cotton fabrics typically used in quilting. So I often use laces, tulle and organza in my pieces.
Are there recurring themes in your work? Do you do series work? What is it about a subject that inspires you to continue exploring it?
The thing that usually stands out in my work is the color. I love using unusual color because it evokes emotion to help tell the story. I have never met a color I did not like.
I also love old adobes that have interesting texture in the clay bricks and stone. Although I have not done series work, adobes resurface from time to time.
Does an idea inspire a work of art, or do the materials launch an idea?
I prefer to work on things that are my own idea instead of making pieces for a particular exhibit or client. I can get bored very quickly, so I must be interested in the subject.
What role does color play in your work?
Color and value are the most important things in my work. Both help create a mood. For me, it’s much more about creating a mood than creating a pretty picture. I want people to feel something when viewing my pieces.
When it comes to creating, are you more of a planner or an improviser?
I tend to be more of a planner. Most of my pieces are created in my head and then I carry them out. I am, however, trying to be more serendipitous in allowing a process to happen and then responding to whatever happens during that process.
Do you have a dedicated space for creating? If so, what does it look like?
I have a studio which we converted from a separate two car garage where I design and quilt. In the warmer months I dye and paint fabrics outside or in my mudroom to be close to a water source. My studio is a comfortable place, bright and white so that all the color of the pieces I’m working on become the star of the show. My 5 dogs love to be in the studio with me, so two large dog beds sit just beneath the long arm and are usually filled with dogs.
What are the indispensable tools and materials in your studio? How do they improve your work?
The most useful tool of sorts in my studio is my table. It is a 98” by 98” conference table I bought for $100 from a company while it was going out of business. I put it on wheels, making it just a bit higher and easier to move. It is large enough to have several things going at once and perfect for friends to have plenty of room when they join me in my studio.
Do you use a sketchbook or journal? If so, how does that help your work develop?
I have several books where I keep all kinds of notes and sketches. The notes help keep me on track for a particular piece. At the beginning of a piece, I write down the feeling I want to evoke and how I might achieve that with the use of value and color.
What plays in the background while you work? Silence? Music, audiobooks, podcasts, movies? If so, what kind?
I play music in the morning, then listen to books on tape in the afternoon. The music ranges from jazz to classical (cello), as well as Spanish guitar. I love historical novels and cannot get enough.
What does being creative mean to you?
Being creative is like needing to eat for me. So I would starve without it. If I did not have fabric and a sewing machine, I would find whatever was around me to be creative. I know I cannot live without it.
How can people overcome the challenges they feel to their creative ability?
My advice would be to keep experimenting until it feels right. When it’s right you will know it. Everything will fall into place and then it will feel good. In the meantime, don’t be too serious, just have fun. Learn to look at UFOs as steps in learning to get to where you are going. Take the lesson learned from it and move on.
What advice would you give to emerging artists?
Surround yourself with people who will be honest but encouraging. Know what you need to get over the hump of disappointment and those periodic creative blocks. Then share what you have learned with other artists.
Do you lecture or teach workshops? How can students/organizers get in touch with you to schedule an event?
I lecture and teach workshops with color and value as an underlying focus. So if you are unsure about using color, my workshops are a great place to start. You will learn about the emotions attached to color and how to use them effectively in your pieces to evoke a mood. A list of all my workshops and lectures are available on my website for individual students or groups and guilds.
Tell us about your website. What do you hope people will gain by visiting?
My website is divided into galleries and topics that I am currently interested in and experimenting with, including a blog where I talk about the latest happenings in my studio. My hope is that people are inspired by my work.
Interview posted April 2021
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