Spotlight: Ngaio Blackwood, Embroidery Artist
Is it painting or embroidery? Look at the work by Ngaio Blackwood – it might be both! With stitch as her focus, Ngaio often embroiders on a painted background, adding intriguing layers and texture to her nature-inspired work.
How did you find yourself on an artist’s path?
I’ve always been a creative person. I remember doing craft activities as a child and honestly the only class I enjoyed at school was art. When I left High School to go to University I studied Interior Design (I was trying to be practical) but quickly found myself struggling with the course and switched to Fine Arts. I majored in Painting.
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How do your surroundings influence your art?
New Zealand is such a beautiful country, my surroundings definitely inspire me. I can’t imagine living far from the coast. I’m very conscious that we live on a small island at the bottom of the world. I feel very lucky to live here.
Are there recurring themes in your work?
Yes, I think so. I’m drawn to cluster shapes and think of them as bodies. Small parts making up a whole. This pops up in everything I do but I’m sure I’m the only one to notice.
I love everything botanical and I’m really interested in both the past and the future. I’m fascinated with the impact our past has on our biological evolution and the possibilities that could be in our future. I read a lot and love science fiction, fantasy anything with a bit of mystery and magic.
Painting and stitching are usually considered separate media. What inspires you to combine them?
I want to find a way that makes sense to me to move forward with the techniques I’m interested in while using them to visualise my ideas and drawings. Craft has always been a part of my life so it makes sense to me to find a way to have it in my practice. I feel that I’m still exploring how to combine these mediums in a way that works for me. Getting the right fabric is really important.
When you begin to create, do you visualize the finished piece? Or does the work evolve?
I have an idea of how things will go, but generally I let part of the process evolve. Otherwise I lose interest; there has to be a bit of magic. It’s a balance as I generally work from drawings, then add colour and stitching.
The drawings normally start from an idea unless they are a more commercial piece (such as an illustration of a local landmark). Fine art drawings have a very different feel to doing an illustration. They are about trying to communicate a truth that you have felt or seen. I don’t worry too much about good representation, whereas if I’m working on an illustration I like to do a good recognisable sketch.
How does your studio organization contribute to your work process?
My studio tends to be a mess but if I’m feeling stuck a good tidy up usually helps.
Do you use a sketchbook or journal? How does that help your work develop?
I go through phases of doing morning pages (Julia Cameron, The Artist’s Way) which I keep a separate journal for. I have multiple sketchbooks in different sizes. They are a space for working out ideas and draft drawings. I also staple or glue in my fabric experimentations – I’m still trying to get the best fabric and paint combination that I can easily source. Normally I redo drawings that I like on thicker paper for later use or as finished pieces. I store these separately from my sketchbooks.
What plays in the background while you work? Silence? Music, audiobooks, podcasts, movies? If so, what kind?
I often listen to podcasts (I really like business or art/creativity podcasts. but ‘Art for your ear’ is a favourite) and music via Spotify I seem to still have a heavy lot of 90s Rock on rotation. I also love watching movies or TV shows when I’m stitching, I think I’ve watched every movie adaptation of a Jane Austen book ever made, and I never get sick of them.
How has your creativity evolved over the years? What triggered the evolution to new ways of working?
I basically let myself follow my curiosity. I then have periods of reflection when I try and make sense of it all, to guide future work.
Do you sell your work? If so, where can people find it?
Yes, I do sell my work. I have an online shop here -> http://ngaioblackwood.com/shop/ But due to time commitments, I don’t always get items listed so I also work off inquires through social media. Instagram -> https://www.instagram.com/ngaioblackwood/
Facebook -> https://www.facebook.com/NgaioBlackwoodArt/
I have a lot of stock in storage that I don’t get around to listing for sale so I encourage people to ask about older pieces they see in my social media.
What are the biggest challenges you have faced as an artist?
Time and money, basically the same challenges that anyone faces. I don’t make a living from my creative work so it can be a struggle to balance paid work, having fun and family life.
I make art in the evenings after my son is in bed and I’m often tired. I’ve learnt not to wait for inspiration – you just get back in the studio day after day. I can’t wait for someone to give me permission to quit my day job. That day may never come, so I take small steps to my goals. Of course taking breaks is also extremely important for the creative process as well. It’s all about balance. Becoming a mother made me realise how precious our time is.
The biggest challenge I face as an artist is finding my voice. Sometimes I feel like I’m all over the place and I’d really like to nail down that style and deep dive into my work. I know I’ll get there eventually.
Do you think that creativity comes naturally to people, or do you think creativity is a skill that people can learn?
I think we are all naturally creative and if we let ourselves let go of stressing about the outcome and play with the process we would all build our confidence. It’s one of the main messages I try to communicate when I teach workshops.
The importance of play and trusting the process and how important creativity is for our brains. It doesn’t have to have an outcome – we don’t all have to be artists with our creativity.
Who or what are your main influences and inspirations?
I really love Bridget Riley’s sketchbooks. A retrospective came to the city gallery while I was at art school in Wellington and it was a pivotal show for me to see. Her watercolour studies are beautiful.
Another key artist for me has been Seraphine Pick – the way she approaches creating a painting has always been an inspiration to me. I like the colour field movements and I’m really interested in Women abstract artists.
My favourite current textile artist would have to be Michelle Kingdom. I love her drawings and pieces.
What do you learn about who you are through your creative endeavors?
Sometimes art is like therapy; it gives you a chance to process things that I just can’t manage to talk about with people. It lets you dwell on the questions rather than the answers. I’m constantly struggling between the pull of abstract art and representation, and hopefully I’ll eventually find a happy balance in the middle.
Interview posted July 2020
Browse through more embroidery inspirations and projects on Create Whimsy.