Creating a niche with thread sculptures
Why make a teapot out of thread? Well you may ask, yet for me it wasn't a question, but a goal.
For many years I had been creating landscape art quilts, and particularly enjoyed the technique known as “thread painting,” densely machine-stitching parts of the scene like a painter would brush on paint. Eventually I came to realize that I love thread so much, I dropped out the fabric.
Currently my work focuses on exploring what makes fiber art unique from other media: texture, freedom of shape of the “canvas” (not limited by straight edges or solid forms), and employing three rather than two dimensions. The focus of my work has evolved into my unique three-dimensional thread sculptures. It has been an exciting niche in the world of fiber art.
My preferred subject matter is the landscape, the concept of “place.” My previous career as a cartographer has been useful for my fiber art, since both require understanding how people view and interpret hue, pattern and symbols. The artistic side of my coursework included principles of design and perception.
I am a “visual” person and automatically ponder the patterns of tree branches, surface textures of icy puddles, colors of clouds…I don't need to look far for inspiration. A good piece of advice I heard early on was to make art about what you personally know. Many of my artworks are inspired by where I live. The daily connection I have with the trees in my yard (such as the elms I planted as seeds), the neighborhood's stream, or the songbirds who visit my feeder, make it more interesting to translate experience into a tangible form.
My baby step into sculptural work was using the simple power of the “dart”, the technique used to fit clothing. I used it to shape a flat machine-stitched maple leaf into a cupped shape. Simple concept, but a revelation. That naturally led onward to some giant steps. How big of a shape could I create, that was still structurally sound and stable? Could I make something closed, like a sphere? What about including openings in the object, would it still stand up?
That path led me to that classic subject for many artists, the teapot. My cartographic background reminded me that a globe is constructed from multiple tapered gores; I played with patterns cut from card stock till I got a sphere that I liked, to fashion a round pot. To make it more fun, all the parts of that first thread-sculpture teapot were based on the same leaf shape – not just the round body of the pot, but the handle, spout and lid too. The result was “Green Leaf Tea.” Teapots continue to intrigue me, and there are many tree species on my to-do list to add to my series, inspired as much by bark as by leaves. I've also created teapots inspired by a dragonfly zipping over a pond, a goldfish bowl, a starry night sky, and various landscapes.
In addition to the inspiration found in my own back yard, some of my pieces are influenced by living in the Washington, DC suburbs. National news is our local news. I have expressed my worldview in a series that comments on the American social and political landscape.
My artwork continues to evolve, but not my philosophy: fiber art should take advantage of its own nature, and not try to be a painting, a photograph, or an object made with traditional sculptural media. My newest work has employed frayed edges, weaving, holes, non-textile materials, or multiple layers. Every day brings a new challenge.
For more information about Eileen and her work, please visit https://doughtydesigns.com/