Spotlight: Pat Herkal, Bead and Fiber Artist
Beads, thread and fabric occupy Pat Herkal’s head and hands every day. Whimsy, color and the natural world inspire her work. Mixing beads, shells, stones, and found objects – man made and natural, she creates jewelry, sculptures and dolls that delight with rich embellishment. All are hand sewn one bead at a time. Then beaded edges and ultrasuede backing add the finishing touches.
How did you find yourself on an artist’s path? Always there? Lightbulb moment? Dragged kicking and screaming? Evolving? And why beads?
I’ve worked with needle and thread since my grandmother taught me to embroider when I was five. I stitched many pillow cases, table runners and tablecloth kits – all stamped with blue ink and many with color suggestions.
I was never encouraged to make ‘art’ and spent most of my school years with my nose in a book. After graduating from college with a BS in nursing, I began to embellish clothing – embroidering cuffs, collars and yokes for friends and family.
After moving to Wyoming in the mid 1970’s, a new friend with a weaving studio encouraged me to take classes. I soon purchased a floor loom. I wove and sold mostly utilitarian items – runners, rag rugs, purses. Then I was swept up by the resurgence of quilting in the 1970’s. Quilting was certainly much easier to manage with two young daughters – don’t touch the loom, don’t pull the threads, don’t ruin the tension…
I took classes, taught quilting and sold small quilts, quilted vests and jackets and prairie-like dolls at craft sales around the state. In 2004 we moved to Port Townsend, Washington – then my art world exploded. There is a rumored vortex pulling creatives into this quirky, art loving community. I was not immune to its energy. I continued to quilt, took up knitting and was asked to join a scheduled weekly Art Night of creative women. There I discovered beaders and BEADS. So I was and I am hooked. I am blessed to have a dear friend and master beader who taught me the basics, allows me to study her work and mentors my progress.
Beads come in unlimited shapes, sizes, and COLORS. Because I can mix them with stones, cabochons, shells, hardware store offerings, watch parts and found bits and pieces, they appeal to my inner magpie. There are unlimited possibilities to make functional and art pieces. I sew one bead at a time onto a felted paper-like backing.
If I’m not beading, chances are I’m thinking about what I want to bead. I design pins, cuffs and necklaces, dolls, vessels, wall hangings and, most recently, critters. Adding embroidery to beadwork has opened a whole new world for me to explore. I think a good description of my work is Whimsical.
What inspires you? Are there recurring themes in your work? Do you do series work, and how does that affect your approach?
I am inspired by my love of color and the natural world. So a stone or shell often spark inspiration – what can I do with this fabulous bit of nature? I tend to work in small series – a few vessels, some jewelry, a couple of critters and more and then less embroidery. Then repeat a series or move on from it.
I belong to an active chapter of the Surface Design Association. The artists in our group amaze me with their creativity so they send my creative energy down paths I would never have considered.
Do you schedule your creative time, or create only when inspired? Do you have a dedicated space for creating? If so, what does your studio look like?
I like to spend time in my studio and have the luxury to be able to do so most days. It’s my happy place. I will never have time to explore all the many things I hope to make. But I can try! I tend to be a monogamous creator – one beaded piece and one knitting project going on at a time. Beading usually happens in the studio – my knitting is for cars and conversation.
My studio is a bedroom, although there is no space for a bed to fit into the U-shaped room built around a chimney wall. But it is perfect for my use – good light with a dormer window on the west wall and more windows on the south. My beading table sits in the dormer, sewing machine on a desk below the other windows. There is good storage, a funky cutting/design table and no blank walls for photography.
Plastic bins and jars are stuffed with beads organized by shape and color on shelves and in drawers. Then my embroidery floss is stored in boxes organized by color. I recently discovered Japanese variegated floss and love it. A fabric shoe bag hangs over the door and the pockets are great for organizing crochet hooks, rulers, staplers and other essential tools.
How many UFOs do you think you have?
What plays in the background while you work? Silence, music, audiobooks, movies? What kind?
While I work, I am hooked on audible books and a crazy variety of podcasts. If concentration is essential, I put on the Seattle classical music station or the blues on weekends. I am an eclectic reader and listener – fiction and non, art, science and nature. I love someone reading me a good story that can leave me glued to my chair happily stitching away for hours.
How do you know when a piece or project is finished and needs no additional work? Do you visualize your finished product before you start it?
My philosophy tends to be more is not enough – more embroidery, then more beads. I generally visualize what I plan to make before beginning. Pieces have to work themselves out in my head for days, weeks and sometimes months before I start. They change as I work, but I need to have a firm idea before I begin.
Tell us about your most challenging piece. What were the obstacles and how did you get past them?
I’ve completed five ‘critters’. They are my most challenging pieces. I make a paper pattern, stitch it from flannel, stuff it, then tweak the pattern. I make many changes before I am satisfied with the shape. Next, I draw the final paper pattern onto flannel, piece it, add eyes first, then embroidery and beads. Then the parts are stitched together and stuffed. I was breaking too many needles by hitting beads and most of the shapes are too small to turn if machine pieced. So, many of the pieces have to be hand stitched together.
Have you had a “never again” moment, then gone and done it again?
Do you approach your work differently when you create for juried shows? How so? Do you sell your work? If so, where can people find it?
I like the challenge of juried shows. There is often a show I want to enter sometime in the near future. Northwind Arts Center in Port Townsend has good opportunities for juried shows. Oliver Fox received a Juror’s Choice award there last year. Our SDA chapter organizes a themed show at galleries around the county annually.
Three fiber and mixed media friends and I meet regularly to share ideas about art and art-making. So together we go to museums, galleries, and exhibitions to look at the work of other artists and discuss what we see. Most importantly, we provide support to each other: encouragement, critique, and feedback, acting as a kind of salon for working out ideas and considering new paths. A recent group collaborative installation is Flora Fauna Fiber, where we transformed an alcove window on a busy street corner into an engaging fiber forest. After this venue, we plan to apply to other galleries to hang this installation.
What’s next for you?
Find and follow Pat!