My dad was a talented landscape painter who also taught drawing to design students at ECA. Art was normal in our house. I drew and painted all the time as a child. I went to ECA, expecting to specialize in jewelry or ceramics or maybe painting but ‘found’ tapestry early on in my first year. I knew from the first day that this was going to be my medium. I was lucky as this was the only Art College in the UK that had a dedicated department solely for tapestry. I could so easily have missed tapestry altogether.
Other places sometimes taught basic tapestry techniques as part of a weave or constructed textiles course. The tapestry department was exciting, the students were doing interesting and innovative work and getting it exhibited. We were never taught much technique. The emphasis was on design and experimentation and we learned mostly from watching or asking older students. Our tutor Maureen Hodge was a very hard taskmaster. We had to be able to clearly articulate why we needed to realize the designs we made into tapestry. I learned early on that you really need to be disciplined and to put in the long hours required. I also studied for two years at Warsaw Academy of Fine Art and spent eight years as a Studio Weaver at West Dean Tapestry Studio in England and the Australian Tapestry Workshop – all very interesting and different learning experiences.
Tapestry has been my creative language for more than 40 years. It ambushed me at Art College and has never let me go. I love the fact that it has a strict process of warp and weft, that builds up logically row by row from beginning to end as a story unfolds. Throughout my career I have been searching for what I call the native language of tapestry. By this I mean what tapestry can do that no other medium does as well.
I don’t want it to look like a painting or a drawing, what would be the point? I want it to be something that can only reveal its true meaning as a textile, that has to be woven into being. For me weaving a tapestry is a journey, that starts with fragmentary knowledge of the chosen subject but through the weaving of it the story reveals itself to me. The starting point is always based in landscape and ideas that the land gives me as I observe and walk through it. I don’t find drawing a satisfactory way of preparing for a tapestry but I always weave a lot of samples to pitch the color and mood and I will go out and observe or photograph material as I need it.
Sometimes I use collage to design as it is about form rather than line which is closer to how a tapestry is constructed compositionally. Often I haven’t much of an idea where a tapestry will end up when I start it but I always have a basic compositional map and a well-researched color scheme alongside my research into my theme.