Sharon Peoples is inspired by nature and her daily walks; she creates intricately detailed embroidered fiber art. She plans all of her work out before starting a piece, beginning with stitch samples. Each day, her studio work begins with some mediative stitching and journaling.
How did you find yourself on an artist’s path? Always there? Lightbulb moment? Dragged kicking and screaming? Evolving?
My undergraduate studies had been in interior design, but I never really practised professionally.
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Although I had stitched (and painted) my way since I was a young teenager and then into my studies, it was in moving across the country to Canberra where I met a group of women who had a keen interest in textiles.
They encouraged me to consider post graduate study at the local art school. I entered an MA program and found I was the only one embroidering.
Here I took up a line of inquiry which looked at women and their work practises within domestic spaces. I stitched images of such women as well as focussing on writing a thesis.
Are there recurring themes in your work? What is it about a subject that inspires you to continue exploring it?
My work slowly evolved over the years between working in galleries, an art magazine and then as an academic. However, it wasn’t until I left paid employment in 2016 that my art really began to gather momentum.
At this time, I still stitched images of people but now in their gardens.
Soon birds made their way into my work. At first, I was using birds to express mourning of various family members who passed away.
Birds have often been seen as an intermediary between natural/ physical and spiritual realms. Perhaps this is because they are as comfortable in the air as they are in the water and on land, affinities which only emphasize our own limitations.
I was offered an exhibition at Timeless Textiles in Newcastle, New South Wales. In the months of making, leading up to the exhibition, I began to question much about the working title, Messenger From the Garden, to get to the heart of what I was trying to make visible.
Although I suggested birds initially, I did question who or what was the messenger. Was the messenger indeed myself? What was the form of the message? And what was I seeking to tell in the work? How is that message contained? I also began to question what a garden is.
Tell us more about how your gardening influences your work.
During the lockdowns on 2020, I started questioning again as I laboured in my garden.
Digging, transplanting, replanting, and potting up bulbs in large containers, planting out raspberries and blueberries and preparing a vegetable garden for the summer months. I asked myself how does gardening intersect with my arts practice of embroidery?
Rough dry hands and fine embroidery don’t seem to go together.
As I rubbed my hands with gardener’s hand cream before putting on my work gloves, I thought about how important my hands were to me. The need for protecting hands and hiding them away from the dirt.
I looked at my gardener’s gloves sitting on the seat in the early morning sunlight. I photographed them and soon began drawing them with long shadows. In the studio I began reading up on gloves, their history and the embroidery of gloves. Soon I filled my sketchbooks with designs.
During my daily walks up into the local bushland hills, I photographed plants and insects. These soon made their way into the simple stitched gloves. The birds also made an appearance along with the gloves.
Over about a year of making framed works about gloves, the two-dimensional images became three-dimensional. These sculptural pieces were challenging, and I worked hard at experimenting to make the gloves physically stand on their own.
While there is still much more work to be done on the gloves as theme, I am moving on to focus on birds and the environment.
Do you have any special rituals that help you achieve your creative goals?
My day in the studio begins with 15-20 minutes of hand-stitch meditation. I sit and quietly embroidering either on a piece of fabric that is reserved for such meditation, or I work on current exhibition work.
I then follow this with writing in my journal. I write about anything going on in my life or sit down and really nut out any problems I have in my art practice. By then I usually am keen to get on with making.
Since I have started with this ritual in beginning my day in the studio, I have become much more productive in my day.
Do you plan your work out ahead of time, or do you just dive in with your materials and start playing?
This way of working also means that I plan out my work rather than just diving into things.
I also now make samples. Previously I would come up with an idea and begin making without much planning.
I would often make mistakes and waste lots of time and materials, through this approach. As a result I would think that perhaps I’m just not a good artist and lose confidence.
Tell us a little bit about your process of working. How does a project start?
Now I have much better results when I sample. Although when things are really working well in the sample stage, I have to keep up a mantra of “It’s only a sample, it’s only a sample, it’s only a sample …” Then begin anew the real work.
This also means I have a record of how I have made things when I return months or even years later. I can see how colours work together, how certain stitches enhanced my ideas, how backing fabrics can influence the look of a piece and so on.
Do you critique your own work? What is your process?
After I finish work, I hang it on the wall or sit it on a shelf, taking time to look carefully and critique the work.
I generally write about this in my journal – having a conversation with myself. I leave the work for a week or so to make sure I have really resolved things.
Do you lecture or teach workshops? How can students/organizers get in touch with you to schedule an event?
I enjoy teaching at residential schools. That way I can really get to know students and help them to focus on their work over several days.
While I do teach in my own studio, I don’t enjoy having to clean up and put things that I am working on away.
My studio space is my thinking space, where I create, where I work hard. Explaining to other people when I am not ready is not something I enjoy.
Where can people find your work?
I do like participating in the local open studio program run by the local craft and design organisation. I spend a good month making work to sell specifically for this and then inviting people in and chatting with them. This is much different than preparing for an exhibition.
I have been privileged to teach online for the TextileArtists.org website. This opened me up to online teaching and I felt encouraged to give talks to various international groups through my computer .
I tend to use social media to advertise when I teach workshops. My website is www.sharon-peoples.com and Instagram account is @sharonpeoplesstudio. As well I am on Facebook as www.facebook.com/sharon.peoples.12
Interview posted August 2023
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