Spotlight Terri Shinn, Textile Artist
Asking “what if” inspires Terri Shinn to experiment with texture and color to achieve her vision of the world, often from a macro perspective. She gets close to her subjects to see the details that most of us just breeze past.
When was the first time that you remember realizing that you are a creative person?
As far back as I can remember, I lived for going to my grandmother’s and aunt’s houses. They were always working on something: quilting, knitting, sewing clothes or out in their gardens. They generously and patiently allowed me to try everything. I was in heaven!
I loved the textures, colors and feeling of holding the yarns, cloth and even the flowers in my hands. To me it was all about arranging them in pleasing colors. Even at canning time, to see the colorful jars lined up brought me joy.
My grandfather was a carpenter. Just stepping into his workshop with the smell of sawdust and lumber was enchanting. The idea this wood was just waiting to become toys, chairs, birdhouses or even beds was thrilling. I lost quite a few of these special people when I was young; I guess this is my way of keeping them close, by continuing a life of creativity.
As a creative individual do you believe that you perceive the world differently from other people? Do you think that any unique thought processes are involved when you create something?
I seem to see the world from a macro-lens perspective. The details of a vein within a leaf are often more interesting to me than the whole tree. When people look at our trip photos, the question is usually “what does the whole castle look like” as I have taken hundreds of close-ups of rusty metal, crumbling rock, or just a door handle. When I start thinking about a new piece, it usually begins with how much texture and relief can I get into it? How can I get the essence of an item without making the whole?
What are the indispensable tools and materials in your studio? How do they improve your work?
When I started hand-dyeing my threads and yarns, I found a new obsession, which soon turned into an addiction. My quest was to find different weights and fibers of white threads and yarns. My stash grew and grew. Dyeing for me, especially thread, is like opening a whole new world of thread choices. Oh, the possibilities!
I only “allow” myself to dye fabric and threads every couple of years because I can’t stitch fast enough. To try and organize this growing wealth of materials, I started using Plano fishing tackle plastic bins. I have stacks and stacks of them, all color categorized on my shelves. I love seeing all the colors, beckoning me to play.
Do you use a sketchbook or journal? How does that help your work develop?
I have started using a sketchbook over the last 10+ years or so. Recently graduating from a small art and textile school, we were required to use them extensively. At first, I was like a deer in headlights. The plain white paper was so intimidating, but with time it has become second nature and an important tool.
I now have shelves and shelves of binders and sketchbooks which I call my encyclopedias. They are such a huge resource of materials and techniques; some that worked, and those that did not. Even those that failed for one project might be just what is needed for another.
The process of keeping track of costs, materials, samples, and hours to complete the art are critical for doing commission work with stitch. Getting lost in the process and forgetting how laborious the work really is, before the finished work reveals itself, can be a very real hazard in this art form.
Techniques? What do you do differently? What is your signature that makes your work stand out as yours?
My techniques are so varied; I will use whatever technique that will give me the effect that I am aiming for. Texture continues to be my muse. So with almost every piece I make, I try to incorporate varieties of texture. And I use lots and lots of different hues and shades of color. I think I have only made one two-color quilt, and I was bored to death. I appreciate them, but for me using variety in my color palette gives my art more depth. Recently, I have been playing with using old quilts to add loft and texture to paintings. By cutting pieces of the quilts, adhering them to the canvas or panels, then adding gesso and acrylic paints is producing exciting results. I guess one of my favorite techniques is continually using the words “what if…”
What inspires you? Are there recurring themes in your work? Do you series work? How does that affect your approach?
I love to challenge myself whether by techniques, design, or materials. As a viewer of art, I don’t like seeing the whole piece in one glance. I want it to draw me in, then surprise me with more discoveries. So with my own work, I strive to do the same.
My fascination with architectural decay, led me to making “Time Crumbles Things”. It’s a wall which incorporated stitch to form shingles, stucco, doors and rust. Shattered glass, and old weathered doors also inspired this theme.
Lately, I have been doing a series about trees and tree bark. “Methuselah” is based on the Bristle Cone Pine of the Sierra Madres of California. This piece has been in Brazil for a couple of years, being shown in several shows.
Now I’m working on a bark vessel series. “Madrone” and “Frankincense” are the first in this line, but I see several more coming from this theme as this subject seems to hold my interest to explore their possibilities and challenges.
How do you leap from an idea to the art you produce?
Once I have my idea I begin with sketches, mostly small thumbnails, until I’m sure of at least a couple different directions I can pursue. Then I move to full scale drawings, whether it’s for a 2-D or 3-D piece, I will draw it out.
Next comes sampling. Testing fabrics, threads, paints, or other mediums can lead me into a new direction. By the time I start the final piece, I have a pretty good idea that all the pieces will work together. But that’s not to say that I don’t have a few surprises along the way. Usually if there are problems, they are problems that aren’t too difficult to work through.
How do you get unstuck creatively?
With keeping the sketchbooks and journals, my ideas are endless. Just by continually adding to them, when the light bulb goes off, this resource is there for review and inspiration. So I’m sure I have amassed several lifetimes of new projects to explore. But sometimes, the brain just gets drained of energy. That is when I pull out hand stitching to just meditate my way out of the impasse. The simple repetitive motion of pulling threads in and out of fabric with no expectations seems to calm my brain and allows it to drift and start to engage once again.
Do you create your works for yourself or to share with others? Where can people see your work?
Both. I enjoy creating for both myself and for others. I can’t imagine putting in the long hours that I invest in a piece without enjoying the process. So my studio has been known to have laughter coming out of it with only one person in it. I feel if it doesn’t bring me joy, then how can it bring joy to others?
People often ask me how I can sell them after I have so much of myself into them. Oddly, once the piece is done, I don’t feel they belong to me. So they need to be out in the world.
You can see some of my work at www.terrishinn.com. I show in galleries mostly in Washington State, and I have shown some pieces nationally and internationally. My most recent piece is a quilt called “K-9 Search and Rescue.” It is part of a traveling show called “A Better World, Heroes Working for the Greater Good,” with its first stop at the Quilt Festival Houston this October.
Interview posted August 2019.
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