Fiber & Mixed Media Meet in Chicago

Our staff is in the home stretch of our preparations for Make It University! TM with Cloth Paper Scissors® at International Quilt Festival/Chicago, and boy are we getting excited. There is definitely a buzz in the air, and it's not just the bees that have come out of hibernation during the unseasonable warm spring weather here in the northeast. We can't wait to see old friends, meet new ones, swap ATCs and postcards, show off some new reader artwork, learn some tips and techniques from artists in the workshops and Open Studios, and generally have a creative blast combining fabric and fiber with mixed media.

Chicago mixed-media fiber artist Leilani Pierson has been attending Make It University!TM with Cloth Paper Scissors® since the beginning, often teaching and participating in Open Studios over the years. Leilani has contributed articles to Quilting Arts, Cloth Paper Scissors, and Studios, and she did a segment on Fabric House Books for Season 5 of "QATV". She'll be leading a fabric book class at MIU this year, and so I asked her for her perspective on the event and how the two worlds–fabric/stitching and mixed-media arts come together.

Leilani, do you consider yourself a mixed-media artist who incorporates fiber, or a fiber artist who…?

Fiber is my first love, so I definitely consider myself a fiber artist who incorporates mixed-media into the art, though sometimes the fiber is minimal compared to the other elements used. 

How does it feel to have one foot in each realm? Do you move easily between them?

I really love it. In my mind it is two sides of the same coin. I love the interplay between fiber and found objects, fiber and paint, fabric-fibers and papers. Depending on my mood and the message I'd like to convey, determines which way I sway – either more fibers or more mixed-media in my art piece. The mixed-media side flows much more easily for me, perhaps due to its quicker turnaround time. (Less fuss with the sewing machine or slow hand-stitching.) But I would love to devote more time to the fiber side of my pieces, they are closer to my heart. 

When you're preparing for IQF/MIU, what do you most look forward to?

If I'm teaching a workshop for MIU, I absolutely love hunting down the materials and preparing the kits. And of course getting ready to lead excited people down paths they've never embarked upon or perhaps have tread before but in a different way. 

What kinds of things have you learned from attending, as an artist?

I've learned tons just from perusing the vendors and their artwork and materials, as well as seeing QA and CPS' displays of work. I remember the first Make It University!TM with Cloth Paper Scissors® I attended, Beryl Taylor's work was on display and I couldn't stop looking at it. Just being around all of that creativity and the energy of people excited about the same things as me, is a huge encouragement and boost to my arty life.

How many times have you participated in MIU? What's do you think quilt artists gain from this mixed-media event?

I've attended MIU for 4 or 5 years (I think from when it first began?) and I've been fortunate enough to have been able to teach a workshop for two of those years. Quilt artists gain huge amounts of vision from participating, in my opinion. 

The Open Studios events and workshops are perfect for dabbling in a little something more than just quilting. Not that quilting isn't enough, but there can be so much more to it than just three layers stitched together. Exploration on a micro-level is a fantastic opportunity for branching out of any comfort zone.

What new things have you learned there, especially from Open Studios?

As a viewer, to let go of my fears in trying new things with quilting and fibers by watching the veteran artists splash about happily in their materials with joy, exploring the possibilities, gives me hope for my own artistic pursuits.

What are you going to be doing at MIU? What kind of interactions do you have with people there? What have some of your favorite moments been and why?

I'm going to be teaching a class where we'll pound flowers onto fabrics to make prints, then turn them into small fabric books. Unfortunately, I won't have time to participate in this year's Open Studios. But in the past I have had wonderful interactions with people seeing my work and being intrigued with the elements that I've used to create things. One of my favorite moments was when two women were so pleased to see how I made my Housebooks that they couldn't wait to get home and try it for themselves. This was bliss to me, to be able to share a creation of my own expression which would help another person express themselves in a new way.

What do mixed-media artists have to learn from quilt artists, and vice versa?

I think most quilt artists are more refined in their work and details. Stitches are even, corners are straight, the quilt lays flat, etc. So I think they could definitely explore a few techniques to help them break out of their mold of the "straight and narrow," for lack of a better term. The reverse is true for mixed-media artists, I think. Most are on the other end of the spectrum-they lean toward wild abandon and "splashing about," so they could definitely explore how to make better refinements in their work. I lean much more toward the "wild abandon" end of the spectrum, so it is definitely a challenge for me to create a more refined piece. But this is also great for me to experience as there is a definite exercise taking place that ultimately makes my work better and more of who I am.

Why would you recommend MIU/Chicago?

For the friendships, the excitement, the wonderful attractions of amazing mixed-media art and artists! You'll never know how the water feels till you dip your toe in, and I promise that once you do, you won't want to leave-it is that delightful. Oh, and did I mention that it is a huge boost to your creativity? 

It's definitely that, Leilani. Can't wait to see you, and everyone else, there April 16-18!

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