Zwia Lipkin enjoyed art as a child. She returned to art as an adult and has a zero-waste policy in her studio. Using home-decor textile samples, her work is full of bold colors and texture.
How did you find yourself on an artist’s path? Always there? Lightbulb moment? Dragged kicking and screaming? Evolving?
I have always loved making all kinds of things, and so, as a child, was designated the artist of the family. I even went to an arts high school, where I learned drawing, painting and sculpture in addition to art history. In college, I studied art history and East Asian studies.
As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases. Read more about our affiliate linking policy.
Against everyone’s expectations, including my own, I ended up choosing to pursue Chinese history, not art. This resulted in a decades-long break from art, during which I traveled, got a PhD and raised a family. I returned to art when my youngest child went to school, and have been enjoying it ever since.
I fell in love with textiles by chance. When I finally had some free time on my hands, I thought it would be nice to get more serious about quilting.
I looked for fabric stores in my neighborhood, and stumbled upon FabMo, a local non-profit organization that saves designer fabrics from going to the landfill. I went there expecting to find quilting cottons, but instead discovered piles of gorgeous home-decor textile samples. I found the strong textures of those fabrics and their colors and tactility irresistible. I was also happy to save them from being discarded.
Why upcycling and zero waste?
I’ve always been passionate about highlighting the weathered, ignored and unwanted, and about using trash in art. In high school, I painted with broken antenna bits, made assemblages using found wood, metal or an old pair of shoes, and wrote my senior thesis about rubbish as a subject and material in modern art. The photographs I’ve been taking over the years also often depict the beauty of peeling paint and worn surfaces.
When I discovered FabMo’s fabrics, my initial goal was to find ways to make them useful and keep them out of the landfill. For a few years I made a lot of functional and wearable art, but later I became a lot more interested in creating fine art. Having a zero-waste studio has been my goal from the very beginning. It’s both challenging and exciting for me to find use for every little scrap.
Where do you draw your inspiration?
I find inspiration all over. Textures in nature, weathered urban environments, my travels, things I hear on the news or my own history and life. Often, inspiration comes from the very materials I work with, be it fabric, paper, paint or found objects.
Do you plan your work out ahead of time, or do you just dive in with your materials and start playing?
Both, depending on the project. Some of my pieces, such as the pieces in my “State of Human” series, have serious ideas I want to convey. Other pieces are all about color, texture, play, and improvisation.
Often, I have a complete picture in mind before I start a serious piece. I sometimes need to find ways to make it come to life, which might require additional research or even learning new skills or techniques. With my more improvisational pieces, I have a vague general idea in mind before I start, but then allow things to evolve and happen on their own. With these pieces, I play and experiment, and let the materials dictate the outcome. I really enjoy the unpredictability and serendipity involved. Usually, I like working in a series, because this allows a deeper dive into ideas.
Do you use a sketchbook or journal?
I don’t use sketchbooks or journals. Instead, I follow the images I have in my mind. Sometimes I sketch rough ideas on whatever piece of scrap paper I find, either because I don’t want to forget it, or because I want to test the composition, but that doesn’t happen very often.
Can you tell us about the inspiration and process of one of your works? How does a new work come about?
I recently finished a series I call the “Flow” series. A few years ago I needed a white sari silk ribbon for one of my artworks. While shopping online, I came across some beautiful sari silk ribbon skeins, and couldn’t help but buy a few. They lay in a drawer for several years, because I didn’t quite know what to do with them. I loved the ribbons for their colors, textures and the fact that they are upcycled from torn saris.
A few months ago, after working on a large, emotionally-draining art quilt, I needed some color to lift my spirit. I remembered the silk skeins, a basket-making workshop I took a while back, and some fabric necklaces I made years ago. Those three things combined gave me an idea. I set about to make a series of six very textured, colorful pieces. They were mostly hand stitched and took forever to make, but I really love how they turned out!
Which part of the design process is your favorite? Which part is a challenge for you?
I love the creative part: translating an idea into a composition, then choosing colors and materials to make it happen. I least like making the work presentable: mounting art on mats, stretching art over canvases, framing pieces and so on. I especially dislike sewing on quilt hanging sleeves…
How do you know when a piece or project is finished and needs no additional work?
I know that a piece is finished when it feels right.
How do you manage your creative time? Do you schedule start and stop times? Or work only when inspired?
I make art for myself, and therefore don’t have any timetables or deadlines to follow. That means I also don’t have a strict creative routine. I seem to have a yearly creative cycle: I tend to make more art during fall and winter, when the weather is bad, and less art in spring, when gardening takes priority. Summers are usually family time, and I create very little art then, if at all.
During “art season” I work spontaneously, whenever I feel like it and have time. I can spend hours and days in my studio without getting out much, or none at all, depending on what life dictates. I’m a morning person, so my most productive hours are morning into late afternoon. I stop working once it starts getting dark.
How often do you start a new project? Do you work actively on more than one project at a time? Are you a “finisher”? How many UFOs do you think you have?
I start a new project whenever I get new ideas, which is all too often! I always have several projects happening at the same time. A couple of years ago I actually counted my UFOs, and discovered I had over fifty (!!). I was a bit shocked to say the truth. I spent the following few months finishing them all, and since then I’m trying to finish (most) projects before starting new ones. It’s not always possible, but I try.
Describe your creative space. How do you organize your scraps so they can be put to use in a future project?
When I returned to art, I mostly worked in our guestroom. I had a small sewing cabinet, which I closed and put away every time we had houseguests. Over time, art materials started accumulating, as often happens when people are passionate about upcycling. A queen-sized bed took half the room, and the available space became increasingly cluttered. It took more and more time to get the room ready when family members came to stay, and similarly long to get it ready to create again after they left.
During the Covid lockdown years we didn’t have any houseguests, and I spent most of my waking time in that room making art. By then it was so full that I could barely move. I started thinking that maybe it was OK to conquer the room entirely for myself. It took another year, though, before I finally took the bed out and officially declared the room my art studio.
I thought long and hard about how to organize my space. One of the things I love most about that room is its windows, overlooking the garden. I need daylight to work, and so windows are important to me. I wanted to have access to all the windows, so that I can open them whenever I want. So I put a work island in the middle of the room, between two windows. This island combines my sewing cabinet and an old dining table to create one large workspace. This surface serves as my cutting table, hand embroidery surface, gel printing station, mixed media/collage table and so much more. The table even supports the weight of large quilts when I stitch them on my machine.
Along another, windowless wall I put a metal-mesh drawer unit. This is where I store my scraps, sorted by color families. I have easy access to those scraps, which I use all the time. I put an ironing board on top of the scrap drawer unit to save space.
On a third, windowless wall I installed a large wall cabinet for all my other art supplies. I don’t have a design wall, but since I tend to mostly work small my “design carpet” works just fine.
How does your studio organization contribute to your work process?
My new studio organization allows easy access to all my supplies, and provides workspace for all my activities. I can now easily change activity according to need and mood. Within minutes, I can move from cutting to ironing to sewing to printing to collaging. This convenience makes me really happy!
What do you do differently? What is your signature that makes your work stand out as yours?
I use mostly home decor fabrics, which have a body and materiality to them. The fabrics themselves are a part of the design. Textures are really important to me, and my work usually incorporates several different, sometimes contradictory, textures. I am drawn to strong colors, but rarely use primary colors or browns. I also tend to combine both machine and hand stitching in one piece. And, of course, I heavily rely on upcycled materials!
How is your work different than it was in the beginning? How is it the same?
I don’t think there’s a linear development of my work over time. I tend to have lots of different ideas that require the use of different techniques, methods and styles.
The idea behind a series is more important to me than the technique I use to express it. There are significant differences between my various series, but I’m not sure if that can be attributed to the passage of time and/or to stylistic developments.
That being said, there are some commonalities between all my different series. My dedication to upcycling, my fabric choices, my color palette, and the way I stitch, for example, can be seen in pieces from different periods. I am learning new things all the time, however, so later pieces might display new techniques.
Do you think that creativity is part of human nature or is it something that must be nurtured and learned?
I think we are all creative, but that our creativity manifests itself in different ways. Some of us express our creativity through the arts (plastic arts, music, theater, writing and such), while others express it through everyday activities such as cooking, gardening, home decorating or choosing clothes.
Where can people see your work?
I currently have a piece in Printed and Stitched, a traveling exhibition organized by the California Society of Printmakers and Studio Art Quilt Associates (SAQA).
I have a couple of artworks in SAQA virtual galleries, and one of my artworks was juried into Bearing Witness, another SAQA exhibit that will run from August 2024 to December 2027.
I also have a website where people can find my art and read blog posts that talk about the different pieces/series: www.anytexture.com. For behind-the-scenes and work-in-progress snapshots I have a facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/ANYTexture) and an instagram page (https://www.instagram.com/anytexture/).
Interview posted February 2024
Browse through more inspiring art quilts on Create Whimsy.