Pioneering 21st century processes in the field of fiber art, mixed media artist Wen Redmond combines stitch with digital manipulation of images printed on unusual substrates. The result is ethereal, creating visual layers that invite the viewer in for a closer look.
Tell us a bit about you and what you do.
Fiber art has sustained my creative impulses since 1973. While not strictly a “quilter”, my works follows a similar construction method, using collage, surface design, mixed media and digital processes. I currently split my time between North Carolina and New Hampshire.
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Always an artist? Or was there a “moment”?
Always been there. It’s a certain kind of sensitivity. An exuberant eye! I started putting my art out “there” after reading this quote by Anais Nin: “And the day came when it became more painful to remain tightly closed in a bud then the risk it took to bloom.”
I’ve heard/read a lot of concerns about developing one’s voice. I believe we all have a voice – just sometimes you have to be very quiet to hear her whispering. And yes, on occasion, she shouts – “you must go to your studio!”
Voice becomes real after you make art, then more art. A photographer friend of mine says he takes many, many photos because he increases his chances of a fantastic shot.
And so, it is – make lots of work and eventually you’ll create one that is fabulous! Your voice comes as you create! Confidence builds with each successful experience. I’m not saying you won’t make duds or mistakes. It involves the ability to put it out there and say, “I don’t care what others think”.
What inspires you to create?
I love being outside, at the beach, in the woods, just about anywhere outside. So I go for long walks, a kind of walking meditation. I find nature inspires me to bring the outside “in”. My walks generally help me clear my mind, work on artistic solutions or just let go enough to allow space for ideas to occur. I work out inspirations, insights, feelings and reactions to the outer world through my art.
Ideas happen all the time, even when I’m asleep. I may be grabbling with a way to create a piece, quilt it, solve a problem, etc. I find an idea that might pop up at any point. But especially when I allow my mind to wander and that happens most when I take myself outside. When I work, I allow and encourage a collaborative process with spirit or my higher self – that mind-boggling principle of the universe.
When it comes to creating, are you more of a planner or an improviser?
Both – sometimes I plan, start and then the art decides what direction it wants to go in. I call this dialogue “being in the flow”. Every so often a piece just seems to fall together before my eyes. I show up in the studio, gather materials and the magic happens. I create, and the piece responds. A dialogue is started until the piece is finished. Each work becomes an obsession. Time is condensed, becomes almost irrelevant. I don’t keep hours, I “work” all the time. To say how long any one piece takes is very difficult. The simple mechanics of a piece can take several months but the conception, the idea, is very hard to capture. It is the germ, the heart of the process. It’s why I do it.
Are there recurring themes in your work? What is it about a subject that inspires you to continue exploring it?
I imagine that nature’s bounty spurs my creativity. My art is fed by my love of being outdoors and my mad desire to capture thoughts, dreams and the beauty of nature. These moments become my source, my well. I hope to bring that energy into my art making, to communicate the positive.
Part of my process is photography. I can see the most exquisite scenes or combinations of patterns and want to share that beauty. My art represents these moments. I’m passionate about, coming up with ideas and working out the kinks. This leads to more discoveries, an evolution.
What do you do differently? What is your signature that makes your work stand out as yours?
I imagine folks see me as a digital artist whose medium is fiber. But for myself – exploration, experimentation. My work continues to evolve, building on the previous techniques and experience garnered from that. I make the work and then the work makes me!
What is the most important takeaway you want readers to gain from your book, Wen Redmond’s Digital Fiber Art: Combine Photos & Fabric – Create Your Own Mixed Media Masterpiece?
Do it! Try things. Let your art be your process. It’s not always about the end result; trying to make it perfect feels forced.
Allow yourself to experiment. Always test first with small samples. See if this technique or that process speaks to you. But best of all, your own images can be the catalyst for your art making. My book gives you the instructions and inspiration and you can make it your own! Our eyes may well be open, but are we really seeing?
How did you come to use photography as the basis of your fiber art?
I’ve always been interested in photography and inserting it into my work in a number of ways, before the computer gave me the 21st century tools. In the early 80’s, I tried what was known as ‘Xerox transfer’, which is basically inkjet transfer but of course this was before computers. These were very stiff. Cyanotype had a brief hold on my attention. Then glue transfers, which I still use and enjoy but back then it was with “found” images rather than images I printed. I used the thermal fax silkscreen method, making screens for a while too, until my machine burnt up! Finally, when the computer came and it could talk to a printer, my work exploded!! I felt like I was bent over backwards, on top of a rocket, flying high!
What processes do you use to manipulate your images before printing?
My book does give some of my tips. Generally I use apps. There are so many! And Photoshop, of course. But I’ve developed a couple interesting ways to layer images for unique and dynamic imagery results. I may decide to write another book with even more innovations – I’ll call it Sneaky Layering!
When and how did your experimentation with various substrates begin? Do they require special preparation before printing?
Substrate prep is one of the many ways you can print your images with the most creative results. Making the substrates is head and shoulders far more interesting than images printed on plain fiber or paper. Each substrate will influence the created image in different ways. When I was teaching, I would sometimes print the same exact image on 10 or more different substrates to demonstrate how different the results can be. It really is unlimited! As far as your imagination can go!
Each substrate will need different preparations or not depending mainly on how absorbent they are. Papers generally need nothing. Fabrics generally can get away with nothing but are better, deeper and richer with digital grounds. The more divergent and complex the substrate is, the greater the likelihood you’ll want digital preparations. Any substrates that have synthetic fabrics, paints or mediums will need digital grounds. More details are in my book or on the website for the digital grounds – inkAid1.com
How important is stitch in your work? Is stitching always the final step?
Stitching can stimulate drawing lines. It can provide accent, focus as well as texture to a final printed substrate but is not the last step. The last step is to provide protection for your artwork using digital spray protectives or varnish.
What are the indispensable tools and materials in your studio? How do they improve your work?
My computer, printer and sewing machine are probably the most important, after my imagination! But materials contribute to the inspiration of any work. I like to spend time mark making, in a number of ways, to create the materials that I can then grab to use when the muse strikes! A few of these techniques were in my book. I use them on fabrics, paper and other materials that sneak into my studio.
Do you use a sketchbook or journal? How does that help your work develop?
For years I used a journal to collect my ideas and sketches for works. They were a tactile and deeply personal resource if I ever had an artist’s block. I do love handmade books and made my journals using the Coptic bound method. But before that, spiral bound.
Today, I generally resort to collecting images and ideas on my computer. I have photographic source folders of collected images on different subject matter. And I have a process folder for photos of my art or mark making processes, things that did or didn’t work out. I use these base photos in layering to create under texture or change color for creating new images.
Each piece of work had its own folder with original photos used to make the final image, ideas for presentation, processes and images of the finished piece for submissions. Using the computer lends itself for more efficient management of where work is, was or is going. I can do a quick search for things I need without flipping through books and pages in books to find what I need. But on a sleepy rainy night, snuggling up to an old art journal provides a comfortable remembrance a computer can never give.
What plays in the background while you work? Silence? Music, audiobooks, podcasts, movies? If so, what kind?
I work in silence when I’m doing composition or planning. Once I have completed the planning and started the mechanics of work, I turn on the tunes, public radio or an audio book. Music can change the flow or movement of work, so I never say never, but I do like to hear the muse.
Can you tell us about the inspiration and process of one of your works? How does a new work come about?
My best work comes from those moments of absolute flow. Those times when you are caught in the act of creation. Time stands still. You and your medium are one. Are you channeling spirit, your higher self? Where does the creative thought originate? Our culture needs the input from artists. We insert our visions into culture in much the same way as yeast raises bread.
Each piece has its own story. “The Machine” started from passing a store window on Newberry Street in Boston when I was visiting my son. The window was full, from top to bottom, with antique sewing machines of all sorts! When SAQA had it’s Silver Anniversary call for art, I thought what a better tribute to the organization than the machine that helped it grow. I printed it on a molding paste substrate and it won the Acquisition Award in 2019 at Handcrafted Juried Exhibition, Maria V. Howard Arts Center, Rocky Mount, NC and lives there now.
“The Creative Hand’ began with a photo of an artist model wooden hand found in my travels. I printed it on a substrate of digitally prepared molding paste. Then I cut the photograph into segments and collaged it on a base of black silk noil and hand sewed it with variegated metallic thread. Scrim and silk organza medium lifts form the outer edging. Antique hooks and eyes accent a row of cascading squares.
Tell us about an especially challenging piece. What were the obstacles and how did you get past them?
Generally if I become stuck, I’ll cover or put the work aside to germinate. Solutions will come if I allow the work the space to reveal what it wants. If I try to force it or make it happen, I feel it looks that way, feels that way. The energy isn’t the same as when flow happens, and the work simply moves along. In the same vein, if I make a mistake, that has become an opportunity! Whatever I do to “fix” it generally is better than my original direction. Mistakes are opportunities!
How has your work evolved over time?
I create all my materials individually and can include dying, painting, various surface design processes including thermal fax silk screens, photo transfer, mono-printing, and archival digital printing.
My work is an evolution. Each previous series build and informs the next series. “Capturing Moments” comes from a series of transparent collages from dyed silk organza and specialty mediums. This piece features little windows where some inkjet images, in black and white, peek out, lending texture and contrast. There’s embedded paper from a brief sojourn with making paper. This work in silk organza helped me discover digital silk organza, organza that has been treated with digital grounds, prepared commercially by Jacquard. This was a big turning point in my work as I could now print my photos on cloth for the first time! And transparent cloth. It is the only commercial cloth I still buy. Ever since then I have printed my work or part of my work, first on commercially prepared natural fiber fabrics and then migrating to my own fiber substrates and on to mixed media works.
“Haystack Pine” and “Frosted Leaves” are examples of my innovative holographic fiber technique. I sewed the silk organza photos into hand painted fabric “frames” and mounted them with the same image on the inside of the backing, so when you look through the transparent photo, it creates a 3-D effect.
I printed “Cormorants Perch” and “Crown Point” with silks of all kinds. “Cormorants Perch” represents my forays into PS layering while “Crown Point” represents a return to collage, but with digital imagery.
“First Light” is printed on cotton canvas and is one of my more complex imagery made with the 21st century photo tools. Both “First Light” and “Enchantment of the Forest” represent my segmented presentation. I print the photos as large as possible, depending on what printer I have, and machine stitch it, then design an interior grid that complements the image, cut them up into sections and resew together by hand.
“Intertwined” represents my expansion into non-commercially prepared substrates. I printed it on interfacing and lutradur, treated with non-porous white digital grounds, cut up and repositioned on top of the image printed on the interfacing.
“The Creative Hand” and “Continuing the Conversation” are both printed on molding paste medium substrates. but presented differently.
“Crossing Over” was printed on a collage made from an advertising booklet that I took apart, painted with gesso, collaged onto interfacing and printed after treating it with a coat of digital grounds. My work is continuing to evolve, and I embrace that growth. I look forward to it.
Do you think that creativity comes naturally to people, or do you think creativity is a skill that people can learn?
Persistence. Hard work. Trial and error. But to do those things, I believe, you have to start with a passion. That’s it. The passion gives you the energy, the courage to move forward with your vision. One work at a time. Yes, you may be talented or lucky, but I think you make those too.
Tell us about your website. What do you hope people will gain by visiting?
My website is informative. It can introduce folks to my work, much like a catalog. Perhaps it will excite someone to purchase my work, which they can do by contacting me or by heading to my shopping tab which links to my Esty shop. The website is somewhere I can point potential galleries to or be a reference for teaching or other opportunities. My medium is visual, so there needs to be imagery.
Visit Wen’s website
Interview posted May, 2021
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