A great believer in doing the work to get the work done, textile and jewelry artist Myrna Giesbrecht has developed a routine to balance the nitty gritty of running a business with the need to create jewelry, textile art, and one-of-a-kind art bags. Each piece is a new canvas for Myrna’s creations, and she both plans and experiments until the work is finished. But she doesn’t let the process overwhelm her. Myrna is disciplined in maintaining both studio and office time to help her creative business grow.
How did you find yourself on an artist’s path? Always there? Lightbulb moment? Dragged kicking and screaming? Evolving?
It has been an evolutionary path. I sat down at a sewing machine in my grade eight home economics class and fell in love. Even though I’ve tried other art forms, I always come back to textiles and have explored them in different ways over time, ending up here. It seems I breathe in fabric.
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What motivates you artistically?
Curiosity is the driving force behind most of my work. I’m often exploring a question like how can I, or what if, or attempting to recreate a less than best product into something far more interesting. I’m constantly ripping apart and re-making and I enjoy it. I am particularly fascinated by the many ways to fill the same form or the endless directions that the same starting point can go in.
What do you do to keep yourself motivated and interested in your work?
This has become harder both with aging and with being in a particular medium for almost fifty years.
Finding new and fresh has gotten more difficult so when I find it, that’s exciting. Recently, I’ve begun exploring jewelry making with polymer clay, epoxy resin, sheet metal, and metal wire. I’m enjoying going deep into something new where my brain is challenged while taking with me the creative learning I’ve gathered in other mediums.
The number one thing I do is work every day in the studio. After that, the top three would be reading, watching videos, and taking workshops.
Are you creative in more than one area? What else do you like to create?
With personal creativity, I sew most of my clothing and really enjoy the challenge of achieving good fit, developing a co-ordinated wardrobe, making some OOAK (One-of-a-kind) creative pieces that I most likely won’t wear, and the multiple ways to use the same pattern.
I also knit but mostly to give as gifts. With the business, I create one-at-a-time, one-of-a-kind handcrafted bags, jewelry, and textile art. I started the business to challenge my brain and because I’m so prolific and get overwhelmed when there are too many pieces sitting in my studio. That can be paralyzing and since not creating isn’t an option, I needed some place for the work to go.
In the process of figuring that out, I have developed a tremendous number of technical skills for publishing videos, setting up a store, and maintaining a website. It’s been daunting at times. With the YouTube channel, I am illustrating how to do something and then that something is for sale. I publish once a week and am learning how to creatively sell what I make.
How has your creativity evolved over the years?
The biggest shift has been from being product oriented to being process oriented. At the beginning, I was making a thing and then I reached a point where I didn’t need more things. I needed the energy and engagement of another creative journey. That’s when my current step by-step process took over.
What triggered the evolution to new media/kinds of work/ways of working?
Boredom. I need a place where I am challenged, learning, growing, and where I can go deep into a subject.
I have a busy brain. It likes to figure things out and if I don’t feed it, it can get resentful. It has been difficult to find another medium with the energy of textiles and I was getting discouraged until I discovered a way of working with polymer clay that has both opened endless possibilities and incorporated my metalsmithing skills.
I love the energy of being engaged in a piece or a question.
Why bags & jewelry? How do these media best express what you want to communicate through your art?
Life shifted for so many of us with the pandemic. I found myself asking what next and bags met the criteria of what I was looking for. The question became why not bags? It could have been any other form.
At the beginning, I thought I could focus on JUST bags and then realized that wasn’t going to be challenging enough for me creatively or emotionally plus I was accumulating too much inventory. That’s when I started to evolve my YouTube channel to include fashion related topics allowing me to teach while demonstrating with my own clothing that wouldn’t need to be sold.
At this point in the business, I’d made the decision to begin developing workshops with a greater focus on teaching. My YouTube channel continues to evolve as my business does and now includes jewelry making, too. These two topics are the only two – so far – that I’ve been drawn into at a deeper level. Creating a video most weeks is a form of accountability that I find valuable working for myself, by myself.
Both the bags and jewelry pieces are one-at-a-time, one-of-a kind pieces that won’t be found anywhere else. That’s important to me. I really dislike cookie cutter repetition and yet I’m fascinated with the endless way to fill the same form. That combination works well with both.
A statement necklace is part of my signature style so I lean toward making them or larger beads and pendants and that makes my pieces unique in a market that is typically more delicate. I think of bags as a practical luxury and jewelry as a personalized accent that is part of our individual styles. Bag making sits at the intersection of garment construction, quilting, surface design, and organic creativity, all of which I enjoy.
Jewelry making has similar aspects, the pieces are fun to make and to wear, and the learning curve ahead is delightfully long. I also enjoy designing, organizing, writing, experimenting, teaching, sharing, and especially supporting and encouraging the creativity of others. It’s been harder to learn how to market and promote the pieces for sale in my shop – https://www.myrnagiesbrecht.com/shop – but I’m getting there.
What do you do differently? What is your signature that makes your work stand out as yours?
There is nothing particularly unique about the work I do so the result doesn’t necessarily scream “Myrna made this” unless you know me quite well. What is less common is the path I follow from beginning to end. I start with something and let it evolve step-by-step until the piece says it’s finished.
When I begin, I may or may not know what I am making and along the way it could shift significantly. When I am finished, I may keep the piece, or I might immediately take it apart and decide which bits of potential to put back in stash for a later journey.
What do you do to develop your skills? How do you get better at what you do?
I believe that we learn to do by doing, so the biggest way I develop my skills is through practice. Although it can still be hard at times to push myself into unknown territory, just trying the idea that is tickling, to see what happens, is one of the greatest lessons I’ve learned. I won’t know until I try so why not try. In the process, the thing that I’m making has become less precious which in turn has led to braver creativity. When I can take a workshop with an artist I admire, I do. I also read lots of books and watch videos. I find it helpful to explore different mediums like painting and collage and then transfer what is applicable.
When it comes to creating, are you more of a planner or an improviser?
I’ve evolved from a planner into an improviser and now I can’t imagine working any other way. A predictable format bores me. I started working in an evolving, step-by-step manner in 2004 and it has become my favorite way to work in all mediums.
How do you manage your creative time? Do you schedule start and stop times? Or work only when inspired?
Creativity has been my career in one form or another for most of my adult life. The hardest aspect has been to maintain balance between my personal creativity and my business creativity. They have different energy. I spend an hour on personal creativity every morning, after coffee and before beginning the workday… or the weekend. That self-care time makes the day go better and I don’t have to figure out when to fit it into my schedule. It’s right at the beginning.
Do you have a dedicated space for creating? If so, what does it look like?
My current studio is 13’ x 14’ with a six-foot closet where I set up my office. It’s the master bedroom of the townhouse with a huge window overlooking the trees in the back yard. The light is fabulous and when I open the window, I can hear the birds and the creek below. The dresser in the image above has since been exchanged for my jewelry bench and I’m learning to juggle the two mediums in the same studio.
How does your studio organization contribute to your work process?
If I’m counting correctly, this is my nineteenth studio. I’ve moved a lot. I organized each in the same way with a designated amount of space per item – this much space for fabric, this much for books, this much for thread, and so on. My goal is 80% full to allow for flow. This approach not only keeps my stash under control, but it stops me from feeling overwhelmed by too much stuff and allows me to remain open to ideas. I typically sort my studio three or four times a year to reconnect with the potential I already have stashed and remove what’s no longer useful.
What are the indispensable tools and materials in your studio? How do they improve your work?
In the past year, I’ve replaced both my serger and sewing machine. They were over thirty years old and the quality of what’s available now is not at all comparable – especially with the Bernina sewing machine, which I can’t seem to let go of yet. It’s currently in another repair shop and I’m hoping for a permanent fix this time. In the past, the machine wouldn’t have been the first tool that came to mind, but it definitely is now. I’ve always had a back-up sewing machine and a second iron in case one breaks in the middle of a project. I can’t work without either of them.
What is your favorite lesser-known tool for your trade? Have you taken something designed for another use and repurposed it for your studio?
One of my favorite mark making tools for surface design is a pastry blender.
If you could have just 5 items in your studio, what would they be and why?
THAT is a tough question. I’d love to give a blanket answer like my stash and my tools but that’s taking the easy way out so…the sewing machine, the serger, the iron, the work island, and the space itself. My studio is a womb. It nurtures me.
Do you use a sketchbook or journal? How does that help your work develop?
I have journaled every day for about thirty years with a focus on personal development rather than art, but I know it contributes in an indirect way. I don’t have a sketchbook and I don’t take notes or plan projects in detail. However, I have a general idea in my head that I work forward from and that opens endless avenues of expression that I find fun! I like enough of a boundary to guide my work and not so many rules that I’m paralyzed.
What plays in the background while you work? Silence? Music, audiobooks, podcasts, movies? If so, what kind?
Silence in the colder months; the sound of the creek in the warmer ones and – surprisingly – just recently I started listening to podcasts with handwork. I don’t know if that’s an experimental thing or if it will stick.
What was the biggest challenge that you encountered on your creative journey? What did you learn from it?
One of the biggest challenges has been that things do not work out as planned… more often than I’d like… for the project, product or business, and sometimes they go very sideways. With lots of practice, I have learned how to be flexible and how to re-evaluate and pivot. At the same time, I’ve gotten to know myself better and identify where I chose to be flexible and where I’ll stand firm. That learning is certainly informing my current business.
Do you think that creativity comes naturally to people, or do you think creativity is a skill that people can learn?
I believe we are all creative and that we exhibit our creativity in different ways. That kind of thinking can feel like a condescending pat on the head when you’re not producing the work you want to produce, so speaking about myself specifically, I don’t think I’m practically talented. I know I have a solid work ethic, am incredibly curious and can’t live without making in my life. Because of that, I have learned to do the work by doing the work, and over time I’ve gotten much better to the point where it looks like talent to some and is encouraging to others. Quotes like “hard work beats talent when talent doesn’t work hard” comforted and encouraged me along the way.
What can we expect to see from you in the future?
Since starting the business almost a year ago, I’ve explored a LOT of possibilities.
It has been a year of auditioning, of trying this and that to see what I think and then deciding if that’s the direction to take or not. It’s been tough at times however the benefit is that I now have a clearer vision of what next which is to continue with the videos and the newsletter while developing and teaching both in-person and online workshops about polymer clay and jewelry making.
In the past, I taught about textiles and jewelry making is new with artists to discover, workshops to take, venues to visit, teaching opportunities, and co-creators. I needed that shot of fresh and am excited to see where it goes.
Tell us about your website. What do you hope people will gain by visiting?
The underlying goal behind the articles on my blog and the videos on my YouTube channel is to support and encourage the creativity of others by sharing what I know and what I’m learning. Both give me a forum for doing that. I also want to connect with other creative people who love what I love.
Do you lecture or teach workshops? How can students/organizers get in touch with you to schedule an event?
My love of teaching is a huge part of why I started and am really enjoying my channel. I get to share every week. That said, I’ve really missed teaching in person over the past years and am looking forward to doing more of that. I can be contacted through my website at www.myrnagiesbrecht.com or via email at [email protected].
Subscribe to Myrna’s YouTube channel:
In The Studio With Myrna – https://www.youtube.com/@InTheStudioWithMyrna
Interview with Myrna Giesbrecht posted November 2022, updated May 2023