A paint flinger. Sherri Lipman McCauley’s description of her process does more than hint at her improvisational style. Sherri’s art cloth begins with plain white fabric that she transforms into images inspired by the shapes and designs in the world around her.
What are your earliest memories involving your own creative expression? Tell us about your journey to become a fiber artist. How did you start making art? Why do you make art?
Growing up, I watched my mom create clothing for our family, soaking up her methods and techniques. She taught me how to sew when I was about twelve. Then, when I was sixteen, I received a sewing machine for my birthday. At the time, it was not really a beloved gift. Looking back, it was one of the best gifts that I have received.
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I was always creating art one way or another. During my younger Girl Scout years, I received a ribbon for a drawing competition, which felt triumphant. The artwork was framed and given a place of honor in my parents’ home. I sewed clothing for myself through high school. One of my favorite creations was a blue wool blazer with copper enameled buttons I had created. When I graduated from college, I picked up quilting seriously. My first formal quilting instruction was a ‘quilt in a day’ log cabin class.
When I became a Girl Scout leader for my daughters, I taught their troops how to tie dye, passing my creative side to them. You know, I cannot really say WHY I make art. I just always have. Guess I always will.
What inspires you? Are there recurring themes in your work? Do you do series work? How does that affect your approach?
My inspirations come from the shapes of the world around me. I often find designs in the nature and landscape I see. I have been known to shoot photos of cracks in the sidewalk as well as tree limbs and animals. As for simpler geometry, I love a good circle. Circles, complete or broken, cut into swirls or just hinted at are a staple in my work.
I like to work in a series at times. It has a way of dictating the direction of my artwork. There are times when a series has spanned a few years, and times when the pieces just seem to flow. One series I have been working on is ‘Branches of the Color Wheel’.
Technique(s)? What do you do differently? Do you have a signature? (What is it that stands out about your work that identifies you as the artist before the viewer sees the label?)
I am a paint flinger! I relish the freedom of directing paint onto the fabric surface. My style is free flowing and serendipitous. My tools include syringes, squirt bottles, string and eye droppers. I typically start with black paint on a white background, adding a touch of color and design as I go along. The viewer is often able to identify my work through my gestural paint marks.
How has your style changed over the years?
Over the years, my style has merged from pieced work to whole cloth, from commercial fabrics to fabrics I create myself. I have expanded the number of surface design techniques in my work, applying both dyes and paints. I still use some piecing in my work, but the norm of my pieces now is predominantly whole cloth.
Is there an element of art you enjoy working with most? Why?
The serendipity of the paint as it hits the fabric gives me great pleasure. The impromptu paint line often dictates the direction of my initial design.
What is your creative process like? When embarking upon a project, do you pre plan your entire endeavor or do you simply follow where your inspiration takes you?
I mostly just ‘go with the flow’, adding colors and designs that speak to me in the moment. When entering exhibitions with specific themes, as I do often, the prompt points my work in a prescribed direction. At times, I just dig in and let the creative spirit take me in a direction, sometimes an unexpected direction. Then there are the times that the painted line calls out and points in the direction of the project.
How do you make the leap from an idea in your head to the art you produce?
My ideas begin with the paint and the fabric. I paint a lot of fabric before I start to create my artwork. The painted fabric is in a sense, my sketch book. The design wall and rotary cutter then become my tools. Color is always a dominant factor when I work on my pieces.
Which of your creative accomplishments gave you the most satisfaction, and why?
The most satisfaction I get is in having people enjoying my creative endeavors. I especially like to have my work seen in exhibitions and by the public. When possible, I like to stand around with my work, engaging the viewers in conversation regarding my techniques and inspiration. Recently, at the Visions Museum in San Diego, California, I was able to give a brief talk in front of my piece. I so loved hearing the reactions from my fellow artists as they shared what they saw in my abstract work.
What do you learn about who you are through your creative endeavors?
My process has taught me about different ways to work as well as have confidence in my designs. I have realized that I am not the best when it comes to deadlines, and that sometimes, my best work is created under pressure. But I often feel that I have too many tools in my tool box. In the world of surface design, there are so many different techniques to consider in my creations. Starting with the simple act of flinging paint onto white fabric centers me, and reminds me to be confident that I will create something new, and have fun in the process.
What does your studio look like? Where does the magic happen?
My studio is a room off my kitchen, with beautiful glass doors that, when closed, hide the stacks of fabric, paints and other tools that are scattered over the table surfaces. The room overlooks Lake Travis outside Austin, Texas, and the windows are large and full of light. Frequently, there is a parade of deer that passes through the neighborhood. In the center of the room is a counter height table, where the bulk of my work takes place. I think the ‘magic’ often takes place as the paint flows down the fabric.
What is your most important artist tool? Is there something you can’t live without in your studio?
My favorite tools are paint bottles with fine tips and syringes. They are the best tools for directing the paint onto my cloth.
How do you make time for creating? Do you try to create daily?
I juggle my creative time with walking the dogs, managing the household chores, and socializing with friends. If I am not in the studio creating, my mind is still full of ideas for my upcoming projects.
When you’re not making art, what other interests do you have?
You can find me reading, shopping for bargains, or enjoying a cup of coffee with friends. I always have time to share a cup of coffee with friends in whatever city I happen to be in.
What are you working on now?
I am working on concluding my ‘Branches of the Color Wheel’ series and finishing up pieces with my dyed and painted fabric. But I am often looking ahead to calls for entry and exhibitions where my work would fit in.
What’s next for you?
Next up, I will continue working in a series, improve my photography skills, dye more fabric and then remember to sit back and enjoy the creative journey.
Learn more about Sherri on her website.
Interview published December 2018.