If I had to choose one quilter whose artistic mastery of fabric painting, thread sketching, and free motion quilting set the standards in our industry, that artist would be Susan Brubaker Knapp. Not only is Susan’s technical skill set broad: she creates award-winning works that capture the essence of her subjects in minute detail no matter what fiber art technique she chooses to use. But Susan also has a depth in her work that touches the viewer with its intensely personal perspective of the natural world. In addition to her studio work, Susan is a generous and attentive teacher, sought after for her expansive knowledge and easy-going style. She’s the author of two books, five best-selling Quilting Arts Workshop DVD/videos on a variety of topics ranging from thread sketching to finishing techniques, and is the host of Quilting Arts TV, seen on PBS stations throughout the country.
This accomplished full-time artist and teacher whose passion is working with fabric and thread has so much more to share with the art quilting community. Join me in congratulating Susan for being recognized as our “Artist of the Month”.
I have long admired your artistic abilities. You draw, quilt, embroider, paint, and more. Tell me a bit about your process and how you fit it all in.
Thanks, Vivika! My interest in drawing, painting and embroidery came after working as a traditional quilter – I designed patterns for years before moving into art quilting. I have no formal education as an artist; the last art classes I took were in high school. So once I decided to delve into art quilting, I worked to learn the skills I needed to make the kind of work I could see in my mind’s eye. I read books and blogs, watch videos, take classes, and most important of all: practice and practice!
Quilting Arts TV is a well-loved PBS show with a growing audience. You’ve been the host for more than 2 years now – What makes the show special? What is your favorite part of the process in creating this show?
It’s special because of the artists we feature. There’s an amazing depth and breadth of talent on Quilting Arts TV, and such joy in creation, in sharing skills and techniques. My favorite part of hosting QATV is getting to ask questions and learn from our guests. It is exhilarating to be around other artists.
Inspiration comes from everywhere. How do you incorporate inspiration from a variety of sources into your work?
Nearly all my art quilts start with my original photos. I’m most interested in the tiny details in nature, so I take a lot of macro (close-up) shots. These days, I take most of my photos on my iPhone 6+, many of them while I’m taking my morning walk. (I share my favorites on social media with the hashtag #BeautyOnMyMorningWalk.) I look for elements of design – things like lines, shapes, colors and texture – and focus on taking shots that are compositionally strong.
Along with nine other fiber artists and quilters, I recently helped to organize the Threads of Resistance exhibition, which is a protest against many Trump administration policies. It includes 64 pieces, and will travel through November 2018 to 13 museums and quilt shows in 11 states. Some of the work in the exhibition is proving to be quite controversial due to the subject matter, but we think that these are topics that need to be addressed. There are still a lot of people out there who don’t think quilts are art, or don’t think that quilts should be made about issues like these. We hope that this exhibition encourages civil discussions and helps everyone who sees it consider the issues from different perspectives.
What are you working on now?
Well, I always have a lot of balls in the air… I love all kinds of handwork and fiber art. Right now, in my studio, I’m really motivated to finish “We All Swim Together,” a large wholecloth painted piece with realistic fish all over it. I started it more than five years ago! Most of the fish featured are important food sources, and are endangered due to pollution, ecosystem degradation, overfishing or climate change. I started this piece after reading that scientists believe we could end starvation in our world if we properly managed our water’s resources. This piece is my way of addressing some critical environmental issues I am passionate about.
Also in the works: completing the thread sketching and quilting on some small pieces that have been languishing on my design wall; a free-style embroidery based on pokeweed; a cross-stitch project on linen of traditional Norwegian mitten designs; multiple knitting projects; and a large needleturn applique Baltimore Album quilt designed by Susan Garman. Variety is good. I think working on multiple projects at the same time reduces tedium and boredom, and gives projects time to “gestate” if I reach a technical hurdle or design quandary.