Taking her cues from nature, Sarah Godfrey renders the world around her using needle and thread. As an embroidery artist, Sarah stitches on sheer fabrics, adding a level of challenge and precision she relishes. Her day job in marketing also feeds her creative impulses, so working on her art early in the morning and into the evening give her a place to channel and explore her overflow of ideas that speak to her meticulous way of working. Her images are a blend of the fanciful and the realistic, offering the viewer a new way to view the world.
How did you find yourself on an artist’s path? Always there? Lightbulb moment? Dragged kicking and screaming? Evolving?
I think I have always been on an artist’s path. It has just been filled with lots of twists and turns. I have had the innate need to make art since I was a very young child. I always loved to draw, paint and sing. As I have matured, I grew into my artistic ability and pursued a creative career path more seriously. It is still evolving, but exploring my creative skills brings me endless joy and has connected me to some amazing people and opportunities.
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What are your earliest memories of yourself being creative?
I remember drawing all the time as a young child. My Nana was a skilled watercolour painter and I can also recall days sitting at the kitchen table painting with her. Art was my favourite subject in school and I had a very vivid imagination (still do!). I loved to draw elements of the magical world I envisioned.
My attention to detail was starting to form in those early years too – even in my colouring books I tried to stay neatly within the lines and in school I worked a lot on shading and adding dimension to my work. In Grade 1 I remember we had a colouring activity – each student had to colour a Canada goose that was going to be pinned on the bulletin board in V formation. Our teacher told us she was going to choose one to pin at the front, leading the other geese. She chose mine and I remember feeling so honoured. That memory still warms my heart. I drew a portrait of that same teacher and I saw her years later in my late teens. She told me she had kept that portrait in her classroom until she retired! That was so encouraging for me as a young person.
Do you work on your art full time? What other roles do you juggle?
I am not a full time artist but I do have a full time creative career path now. I work full time in marketing and I get to use my skills in some way every day, which I love. In the evenings and early mornings I work on my art and the various projects I have on the go. I am also a mother to a little boy who is about to turn four! So I have a few roles to juggle each day.
What is the most important takeaway you want readers to gain from your new book, Organza Hoop Art: Embroidery Techniques and Projects for Sheer Stitching?
Hand embroidery on organza creates a truly magical effect. Stitching hand embroidered shapes on sheer fabric gives you so much to play with in terms of light, shadows and texture. I want readers to feel encouraged to try working on this fabric – regardless of skill level. You will need to adjust your technique to keep your pieces neat and tidy, but with practice, everyone can enjoy making these intriguing works of art.
How do you get inspired for embroidery?
My work has always been strongly focused on the natural world so I need to get outside, breathe fresh air and experience different landscapes to keep my creative juices flowing.
What inspired you to stitch on organza? What are the challenges of using a sheer fabric for an embroidery foundation?
When I first started embroidery I saw organza pieces on Instagram. I was instantly intrigued and just went for it – I didn’t know a lot of stitches at that point but I wasn’t going to let that stop me. I went out and purchased a beautiful piece of soft pink organza and started embroidering. The stitches you use are the same but you have to be extra careful while you work – everything you do on the back is going to show through the front. When I work on an opaque fabric, like linen, I can jump around as I go. If I were to do that on organza, you would see the trail of thread. You have to be methodical as you stitch each design element but this is part of the fun and makes the end result even more satisfying!
In your opinion, what are the essential supplies a beginner embroiderer should invest in?
To get started, you will need needles, floss (I just chose a colour palette I was drawn to to start), hoops, the fabric of your choosing, a marking tool and embroidery scissors. There are lots of little pieces involved in embroidery so I would also recommend getting storage containers to keep your materials organized. I do a lot of my stitching at night so I also like to have a good light source nearby.
Which are your favorite embroidery stitches and how do you use them?
I do a lot of thread painting so I love short and long stitch – there are endless possibilities with this stitch! For outlining I love split stitch and back stitch and chain stitch is fun for flower stems (and even lettering). Satin stitch is one of my favourites for filling small shapes and I love french knots, fringe stitch (or turkey work) and pom poms for fun texture.
Do you plan all of your embroidery projects out ahead? Or do you let the needle and thread guide your journey?
I have done a bit of both, but lately I like to plan them out. Unless I am creating a pattern for others to use though, I draw my idea directly on the fabric. For personal pieces I rarely draw them on paper first.
Are there recurring themes in your work? What is it about a subject that inspires you to continue exploring it?
Plants and animals are my main focus. Lately I have been focusing on birds in both my illustration and embroidery pieces. Last May we rescued a budgie that landed on our window sill. We never found his owner and decided to adopt him…that decision has changed my life forever. Caring for him sparked such a passion for these amazing, intelligent, gentle creatures and we have since adopted 3 more parrots who brighten my every day. I have also started getting into bird photography and that has become another source of inspiration.
What do you do differently? What is your signature that makes your work stand out as yours?
I think it is my sense of whimsy and focus on colour and texture. I create increasingly detailed work and I like to channel my imagination with each piece I make.
Do you have a dedicated space for creating? If so, what does it look like?
Not really at the moment. I have a dedicated space for storing all of my art supplies but I do a lot of my creating on the couch or at the kitchen table.
Do you use a sketchbook or journal? How does that help your work develop?
While writing my book I used a dedicated sketchbook where I developed a lot of the pieces readers will see. That helped me a lot! I took a lot of notes and tested ideas. For my illustrations, I have been doing everything on my iPad, which I love. I do feel lately that I would like to pick up my sketchbook again to practice and explore new ideas.
What plays in the background while you work? Silence? Music, audiobooks, podcasts, movies? If so, what kind?
I love to listen to music, podcasts and audiobooks while I work. I like classical music when I need to concentrate, podcasts about creative career paths and fantasy books for audiobooks.
Tell us about your website. What do you hope people will gain by visiting?
My website, The Lake of Spring, showcases my embroidery work, illustrations and I have a blog there as well. I would like to post more regularly to my blog to share what I am working on behind the scenes. There is also a contact form where you can reach out if you are looking to work together.
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve received?
I have found it so helpful hearing other artists that I admire say that it is never too late to change your path and pursue your dreams. I was not always on this career path and I had to make the decision to walk through doors that opened to me and change course. These were very positive decisions for me and it required a lot of hard work, time and putting myself out there every day. If you show up, practice and put yourself out there you can reach your goals!
Do you think your creative ability is innate or learned? How can people overcome the challenges they feel to their creative ability?
I do think that I have innate creative ability and an intense creative drive. However, my skills have improved dramatically through daily practice. When I look back on past work my style and skills have come a long way. If you are feeling stuck or like you are in a creative rut start to practice every day (if you can) – even if it is just for a few minutes. Because I create every day I am now in a place where I have a steady flow of ideas for projects.
One thing I do to push myself is give myself an assignment. For me this is a series of pieces around a certain theme that I know will give me a chance to work on a technique or skill that I want to improve on. It is also great for building your portfolio! I try to remind myself to also take time to rest and recharge. Take time to focus on your other interests and give yourself down time – this really helps reinvigorate me!
Interview posted March 2021
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