No one knows more about pushing your artistic boundaries than Kelli Perkins, author of Stitch Alchemy: Combining Fabric & Paper for Mixed Media Art.
Not only does her book contain a wide variety of projects, from bookmarks to beads and paper quilts, but it’s full of inspiration for embarking on your own mixed-media projects. Fortunately, Kelli recently had the time to answer a few of my questions about her art, and her responses are loaded with even more words of encouragement (scroll down to see for yourself).
You can also find instructions for one of Kelli’s projects, “Frosted Holiday Treats,” on page 24 of the latest issue of Quilting Arts Gifts. These no-bake cookie pins, made from fabric, batting, cardstock, and plenty of embellishment, are an ideal little stocking stuffer to whip up this holiday season.
Lucky for you, we’re giving some of these delightful little treats away! All you have to do is answer the following question, in honor of Kelli’s adventurous approach to art: What was your most fortunate artistic ‘mistake’? Ever made a project that simply didn’t turn out the way you expected—and found yourself even more pleased with the results? Tell me about your experience and on Monday, November 9th, I’ll select six winners, each of whom will receive one of these adorable little cookie pins.
Until then, check out Kelli’s insights and be prepared to embrace the unruly in your future artistic endeavors.
I love your serendipitous approach to creating. And I definitely agree that the most rewarding art often comes from working without a plan, but that can also be challenging since you have to have the confidence to let go of the rules. Have you always taken such a free-wheeling approach to your work or did it take some time to get to that point?
If you knew me, you'd understand how humorous that question is! I am a serious control freak. I've spent most of my adult life trying to work around my natural inclinations toward order, so learning to embrace serendipity has been a journey for me. I wouldn't say it's over yet. Some days, serendipity is a dirty word, but I've learned to walk away from my work when I feel that way. When I return to it, there is a new perspective and I find that I see new avenues for creativity. I figure that the more "mistakes" I make, the sooner I'll get to a good place where I'm happy with my work. So I just barrel through the bad parts on my way to the other side. It's kind of like closing your eyes during a scary movie.
A lot of your work combines fabric and paper, as well as other materials. This isn’t always easy to do. What’s your number one bit of advice for beginners who are interested in entering the mixed-media realm?
The only rule is: there are no rules. Art rules are for sissies. Take whatever media you have (paint, ink, thread, crayons, etc.) and apply it to whatever substrate you have (paper, canvas, fabric, etc.). There is no point in spending time thinking about it. Just do it. Do it over and over and over, and then you'll have something!
I woke up Saturday and decided I needed to take a bunch of book pages and saturate them with colorful ink, so I did. They're sitting here at this moment and they look spectacular. At the time, I was worried because they were soggy and the colors were bleeding and then they curled up as they dried, and I thought to myself "what hast thou wrought?" (Yes, I speak to myself in Old English when I am frustrated--it's an English major thing). But then later I ironed them and set them aside. Now they are beseeching me to do something wild.
You have to try, experiment, fail, succeed and keep making art. You don't even have to know what it's going to be when you're done. A dyed book page is not a project, but it's inspiring me. I think it wants to get together with something else and turn into art. If I hadn't acted on my impulse to apply ink to paper, I wouldn't be feeling as limitless as I do right now.
Do you have a favorite material to work with—or is that an unfair question!
Yes. My favorite material is the one someone else is using. I'm always sure that it's better than what I have on hand! Beyond that, I need touchy-feely, so it doesn't matter to me what I'm using as long as I can hold the end result in my hand and "feel" it. That's why I love to add stitching to paper. I just finished a small series of acrylic paintings on watercolor paper and now I'm going to try stitching them because they just look so static and flat. It may not work, so I'll start with the one I love the least. But if it does work out, I'll be off and running. I'll be painting and stitching for weeks until I get it out of my system. Then I'll see what material someone else is working with and I'll use that!
Your create such a wide variety of projects, from dolls to bookmarks, beads, and even soap. How do you usually garner inspiration for your work, and what do you do if/when you’re feeling uninspired?
Uninspired? I'm not sure that's ever happened. I have so many ideas that most days I'm afraid my head will explode— thus the little pieces of paper with cryptic messages floating about my studio. I try to write ideas down when I have them so that when I find time to create, I have a myriad of ideas before me.
If ideas are not popping for you, I'd recommend noodling about on Etsy or your favorite art/quilt/stitch website. I try to visit many of the artist and vendor sites in Quilting Arts and Cloth Paper Scissors. They lead me down rabbit trails that are always so interesting! When you see something that fascinates you, jot it down. When you have time to make art, try some of the ideas that resonated with you.
What project(s) are you currently working on, and how’s it going?
Let's not count the projects in my head because that would be astronomical. Let's not count the projects on my desk because, well, let's just not. My active projects include the acrylic paintings I mentioned and a bunch of stitchpaper (fabric-paper) I'm creating for a Yahoo book study group working through my book Stitch Alchemy.
When the stitchpaper is done, I'll move on to projects from the book. I plan to make some more dolls, pillows, purses, bookmarks etc. It's addictive. This week, however, I took time out to learn to crochet with my daughter. We made an amigurumi ghost for her best friend's birthday. I hope she likes it because it just about killed us!
Is there any medium, technique, etc. that you haven’t yet tried but are hoping to in the near future?
Well, everything I've not tried before, plus a hearty dose of practicing the things I've tried. I love encaustic painting and want to find more time for that. I've never wet-felted (shhhhh, don't tell anyone). I've never made a large quilt--that's gotta happen. My sewing skills need updating. Metalwork? Everything in the latest issue of QA and CPS. Why am I talking with you? I have to get busy!