Robert J. Bosscher received a degree in art, concentrating on ceramics. He found his calling as a quilt artist when looking for a medium that would work well living in apartments. He uses uses bright, even neon, threads as an unexpected element in his colorful and creative quilts.
Tell us about your creative journey. How did you arrive at fiber and textile art?
In a very circuitous route! I have always been a creative person, my parents encouraged me and modeled creative pursuits. My mom has been a quilter as long as I can remember and my dad is a woodworker.
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While I did go to school to get my BFA in art, my concentration was in ceramics. After school, it became progressively more difficult to find studio space, and the cost (and mess!) was significant. I found myself drawn towards mediums that were more conducive to apartment living.
Remembering my mom’s quilting, I decided that fibers were an artistic outlet that would let me create, satisfy my creative needs, and still be good for my living situation. I haven’t looked back since!
Where do you find your inspiration for your designs?
Everywhere, because I really do love asking the question ‘What if?’ Most of the time, while it may not look like it, my inspiration comes from nature. For me, exploring light, transparency, texture and color, all have their roots in looking at nature, the world around me and interpreting those elements of nature in different ways.
Do you do series work? How does that affect your approach?
I do enjoy a series, but I also like the idea that one work informs the next. Sometimes the works have more in common and are therefore more identifiable as a series, but there is almost always a common thread that leads me from one quilt design to the next. I like working in a series because it allows me to really explore a question I have and what it means for me in a framework. During the course of a series, a focused idea continues to push in different directions.
What do you do differently? What is your signature that makes your work stand out as yours?
I feel that while I am still developing a signature style, I tend to use color in unexpected ways. One element that is central to some of my favorite works that has transferred over to other works is the use of bright thread, usually a neon, for piecing my quilts and sewing the parts together. Traditionally, quilters will use a neutral color that blends in with the fabrics, but I love using a bright color that calls attention to the seam and often becomes as much a point of interest in the work as the visible fabrics.
How does your formal art education help your work develop? Does it ever get in the way?
My formal education is helpful in terms of understanding the art world and having looked at lots of art over the years. Seeing what others are doing and have done in different media (painting, sculpture, photography ect) has helped me ask different questions and look beyond the world of just quilts for inspiration and direction.
The challenges I have found are more due to the difficulty in finding artists who understand both the quilting world and craftsmanship involved in making a quilt, as well as quilters who understand the art world and the traditions, influences and experiences of an artist. Luckily I have found a few great friends who I can talk to about both art and quilts. That has helped me continue to discuss my work and push both the artistic and technical aspects of what I’m making.
When it comes to creating, are you more of a planner or an improviser?
A little bit of both, but I lean pretty heavily on the planning side. While I believe there are great results from improvising, and I need to leave the possibility of improvisation open, I tend to work through ideas in my sketchbook. I’m also trying to utilize smaller scale prototypes before fully committing to larger works. That said, I will still trust my gut and make changes in the moment if I feel like that is what the piece is calling for. I have found though, that if I don’t try and plan, I tend to keep trying to incorporate new ideas into a single work. That leads to a messy, unclear finished work that is trying to be and say too much.
How do you make time for creating? Do you try to create daily?
I have to schedule it and protect that time! Making time to create a priority has been a challenge as I have to balance working a paycheck job and working on the art I want to create.
I do currently have a practice that gets me sewing and creating daily. It helps me think about creating, even if that’s the only making I do. It also allows me to have an ongoing larger project on which I spend time even when I don’t have a lot of time to spare.
Are you a “finisher”? How many UFOs do you think you have?
I have tried to slow my starting, while upping my finishing pace.
In combination with working ideas out in small single blocks or small prototypes, my UFO pile has gone down drastically, and I hope to keep that up and continue to finish projects that are just needing to be done! As for in progress works, I probably have around 20. That is due in part to the fact that quilting has distinct stages; design, cutting and piecing, basting, quilting… I will often wait till I have 2 or 3 quilts to baste before I complete that step. The quilting is very time intensive, so progress can be slow on that one.
Do you use a sketchbook or journal? How does that help your work develop?
I love my sketchbook! It allows me to log and work through many ideas and potential works before selecting a specific direction. I will often look through my sketchbook for ideas that I want to revisit or develop further when approaching a new work.
What plays in the background while you work? Silence? Music, audiobooks, podcasts, movies? If so, what kind?
It completely depends on the stage of the project I’m working on! When designing and really involved mentally, music is my go to.
If I’m in a construction phase, where I’m not making any decisions that are too complex, I’ll listen to audiobooks, usually science fiction. I’ve enjoyed listening to a few different books on being an artist (namely Art and Fear by David Bayles & Ted Orland, or The Creative Act by Rick Rubin). I tend to get stopped and need to make a note of what they said or capture a quote more than I like.
As for movies or TV shows, I will have those playing, particularly when I’m hand quilting, but they have to be something I’ve either seen before, or something I can gather a lot of what’s going on by sound alone. Something that’s too exciting, and I stop sewing to watch!
How often do you start a new project? Do you work actively on more than one project at a time?
I will start a new project when an idea presents itself that is so compelling that I can’t not start it!
That doesn’t mean it’s the full sized quilt, but I will capture ideas in a small prototype that allow me to start developing the idea to a point where it is ready to be a full sized work.
I am usually working on multiple projects – often there will be quick prototypes or small block tests in between longer sessions working on one or two main projects. By having multiple in progress I’ve found I always have something to do when I need to pause to sit with something before making a big decision or if I get stuck.
Do you enter juried shows? Do you approach your work differently for these venues?
I do enter juried shows, but I do not approach my work differently. If my work is right for that show, it will get in; if not, I’m not going to create something specifically for a jury. I’ve found that when I attempt to do that, my work is less authentic and just not as strong.
What was the biggest challenge that you encountered on your creative journey? What did you learn from it?
Finding balance – the challenge of wanting to create full time, but living in a world where there are bills to pay is not easy!
I have learned I need to say no to things to protect my creative time, and not everyone understands that which is ok. I can’t please everyone, but I need to protect my time and energy to be able to create the work I want.
Do you think that creativity is part of human nature or is it something that must be nurtured and learned?
I think creativity is an innate part of being human, and while it can be stronger in some people than others, it is through work and time and effort that it is cultivated. It is not a miraculous talent that only some people are born with.
The more often we stretch our creative muscles the more they develop, and if we don’t use them, they do diminish. But everyone can be creative if they want to be, and everyone’s creativity can come out in different ways, not just ‘art’.
Tell us about your blog and/or website. What do you hope people will gain by visiting?
My website is www.rjbosscher.com and I try to tell a little more of the story behind my quilts. I like for them to stand on their own as works of art, but if someone want to know more about the way I see, that is where I like to share that!
Interview posted March 2023
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