A great believer in doing the work to get the work done, bag designer and fiber artist Myrna Giesbrecht has developed a routine to balance the nitty gritty of running a business with the need to create original, one-of-a-kind art bags that are the core of her business. Each bag is a new canvas for Myrna’s textile 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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How has your work changed over time?
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.
Why bags? How does that medium 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.
On a personal level, I chose art bags because they are one-at-a-time, one-of-a-kind pieces that people won’t find anywhere else. I really dislike cookie cutter repetition and yet the endless way to fill the same form fascinates me. That combination works well with bags.
I’m also prolific. I need somewhere for the things I make to go, otherwise too much stuff overwhelms me and I start to stutter. Selling handbags seemed more doable than other options. I think of them as a practical luxury.
I chose bag making as a business because it sits at the intersection of garment construction, quilting, surface design and organic creativity, all of which I enjoy. In addition, I enjoy designing, organizing, writing, experimenting, teaching, sharing and especially supporting and encouraging the creativity of others.
Where do you find your inspiration for your designs?
Although it is influenced by whatever is going on in life around me, most of my work is driven by curiosity and questions like how can I and what if. That drive relates to filling the form but also to developing the form. With my bag designs, I deliberately create simple shapes that I can fill in endless ways using the skills I’ve developed… or that my student has developed. My goal is to utilize the most efficient path to the most engaging result, my hands moving with ease and my mind bubbling with creativity
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?
Over the forty-eight years I’ve been sewing, 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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
Bags by Myrna is less than a year old. There has been a tremendous amount to learn and it’s taking more time than I’d hoped, which is so normal that I wonder why I hoped differently. It’s coming along great and that’s exciting. Along with the YouTube channel and the blog, I am developing on-line and in-person workshops as well as PDF patterns. I love to teach. It’s something I’ve really missed over the past years and am excited to return to. You can contact me through my website at www.bagsbymyrna.com or via email at [email protected].
Interview with Myrna Giesbrecht posted November 2022
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