It may come as no surprise that Canadian textile artist, Lorraine Roy, is a scientist. Having studied natural sciences and ornamental horticulture, her knowledge and ongoing studies of trees is her primary source of inspiration. Her style is natural, yet sometimes abstract but always demonstrates her understanding and love of nature.
We caught up with Lorraine Roy to ask her about her upcoming shows, projects and development of style. She also provides some exceptional advice about developing an artist voice and how to become a successful artist.
Tell us about the style you’re currently working on – what was your inspiration for it, what is it made from, the processes involved and what is it being made for?
To begin with, I’ve been portraying trees as my main subject, in all kinds of formats, for nearly 30 years. But more lately I’ve been working with circular designs. This phase began while I was creating a series inspired by tree/root communication, Woven Woods.
After nearly a year of trying different ideas, I chose the circular form because it best described how everything in nature is connected. For these larger (for me) pieces, I use raw edge applique, machine embroidery, and some acrylic paint.
Since launching Woven Woods, which is now touring, I’ve continued with this challenge of designing in the round, it’s just so engaging!
What was your first memory of stitching – who taught you?
I learned to sew at my mother’s knee at the age of 6, but even as a toddler I recall watching her sew, and I loved playing with her box of remnants. I don’t remember a time when I was NOT playing with fabric! However, hand embroidery came much later, learned from a kit. I was hooked.
I joined the Canadian Embroiderers’ Guild and from this group I picked up all the different kinds of hand embroidery, including needlepoint and whitework. Gradually I switched to machine techniques: I like being able to work faster and bigger… I have lots of ideas and I like to get on with them. My machine is an old light industrial Bernina 740 that I found second hand. It’s nothing fancy, just nice and strong to go through all the layers.
Where do you usually look for inspiration when starting a new series?
I like working in series, and some of mine have been running along for over 20 years. I keep revisiting themes with fresh ideas. I’m obsessed with certain processes, visual cues, and motifs that come back over and over – the cycles of plants and associated creatures, leaves, certain tree species, seeds, multiples of lines and shapes.
At the same time, I’m also keenly interested in literature – particularly poetry. One of my favourite activities is to match a poem with one of my artworks: a quote or poem enlivens the experience for me and I hope for others.
And I always go back to the natural sciences for fresh inspiration, as they provide endless possibilities. I keep an eye on breaking botanical research – new findings can set off a whole fresh set of imagery for a series. I often contact the researchers to see if they are interested in answering specific questions and sharing information. This adds depth to my work, and provides facts I can share with the audiences for my talks.
Lately, I’ve been creating artist’s talks to accompany my series, because I believe it’s important to enrich the audience’s viewing experience. My purpose in making art is to offer a gateway to help understand science, and audience education is an essential part of the process.
As someone who is trained in ornamental horticulture, how much do you feel this has helped make you the artist you are today?
Nothing has influenced me more than my BSc in Horticulture. This background in the natural sciences gave me the basics for my own searches for information, and a way to approach and understand scientists in the fields I want to focus on. Also, it gave me a keen eye for fake information, of which there is a lot.
Another important influence was my time spent as a member of the Canadian Embroiderers’ Guild in London, Ontario. This group offered classes with international teachers, help and support, and practice with teaching and public speaking. I owe them a lifetime of gratitude!
Can you suggest ways or processes whereby our students could find inspiration for their own work when their enthusiasm dips a little?
I suggest choosing one subject or motif they feel passion for, something well outside the art curriculum, and studying it to the greatest breadth and depth possible.
The more they know, the more interested they become, and the more they realise that there is much more to learn. This engages the mind, which is of course the source of creativity. Creativity comes from inside, so the mind must be fed.
For example, ‘FISH’ can cover all disciplines – aesthetic, cultural and religious symbolism, art history, psychotherapy, environmental connections, astronomy, astrology, literature, natural sciences, aquatic studies, just to name a few. It could lead to a trip to an Aquarium to talk to the staff about their work.
You will not believe how much specialists love talking about their work. Plus, the fish offers beautiful shapes to play with. Combining in-depth knowledge of a particular subject with its inherent beauty makes the end design much more evocative, much more satisfying, and leads to more inspiration.
What is your advice to students who wish to become full time artists after they graduate?
You will need a regular job to support yourself for five to ten years. During that time, learn how to communicate and show your art in as many ways as possible. Social media, galleries, speaking engagements, exhibits, juried shows, and unconventional venues.
Learn how to apply for grants but don’t depend on them. Be creative in interacting with audiences. I would also say, make art that speaks to normal people and under-served communities. How much more effective is art that reaches into the heart and mind of the person on the street? Teach your audience what to love, work hard to show them how to love it. Give them an entry point. This is how real art appreciation begins for those who haven’t otherwise invested much in their aesthetic and spiritual development. Isn’t that what art is all about, to awaken all of humanity to higher consciousness?
There is nothing more fulfilling than to engage a community and if you support them, they will support you. There is a great need now to raise the consciousness of the population and our visual art is a vessel, and a reminder that we are all connected.
Find a purpose
It’s vital for a young person seeking an art career to find what she wants to say to the world and focus on that. This doesn’t happen right away – it’s a long process of elimination. It took me over 10 years to find my purpose but it does evolve.
I used to do a lot of freelance teaching of design and technique, for interest and income, but now I’ve retired from that in order to devote more time to public speaking, writing, and developing exhibitions. In a few years, this balance may change again. But I will always look for better ways to communicate about the value of scientific research and how it connects to the choices we make for nature and our environment.
I keep an eye on all the disciplines connected to my ongoing themes, which means that, more often than not, I don’t need to look for inspiration: inspiration finds ME.
Engage in communities
In my case, I’ve found that there are two communities (outside the art sphere) I particularly love engaging with: spiritual communities with an ecological mandate, and horticultural groups. Many have never interacted much with art apart from the obvious general offerings. In my lectures I make connections between the imagery in my work with their own concerns for the environment. It’s incredibly satisfying to see the light go on, and it helps them appreciate not only my art, but other art as well.
One more thing… it’s smart to find ways to connect passion with income. Find creative ways to make money with your work. Some artists create a line of works that are accessible for studio and gallery sales, teaching art workshops, children’s classes, books and notecards, speaking engagements, demonstrations. At first these activities may not fully support you, but they can lead to other opportunities and it’s an excellent way to find your strengths with respect to earning a living.
What’s next for you?
I am in the process of creating an exhibition at the Fieldcote Museum in Ancaster, Ontario: Wisdom of the Rings: The Living Journals of Trees. This is my second exhibition on this theme, allowing me the chance to combine the exquisite beauty of tree rings with the broad information they contain and convey.
I consulted with a scientist in the field of Dendrochronology for some of the information and have been in touch with the authors from a book that describes data found in some of the oldest trees in Canada. It’s been an amazing experience. I’ve put together a talk about Tree Rings as well, illustrated with research images and my own work, some of which are now in private collections. I plan to add to them over the next few months.
I also have a self-published book, Woven Woods: A Journey through the Forest Floor. At one level it’s a catalogue of my touring exhibit of the same name, but it’s also a more intense explanation of the imagery, with connections from poetry and literature. Since this book is prohibitively expensive to order outside North America, I am happy to provide a PDF version free of charge. Just send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org and I will send you the file. In return, please consider making a small donation to an environmental organization of your choice.
Lorraine Roy Events
Waterford Old Town Hall Gallery, Waterford, ON
Feb 21 – Apr 6, 2018
Opening Reception: Feb 25, 2-4 pm
Beaty Biodiversity Museum, University of British Columbia, Vancouver, BC
June 2 to November 4, 2018
Beth Jacob Synagogue, 375 Aberdeen Ave., Hamilton, ON L8P 2R7
Jan 20 – Feb 10, 2019
Craft Council of Newfoundland and Labrador, St John’s, NL
May 3 – June 8, 2019
Mary E Black Gallery, Centre for Craft Nova Scotia, Halifax, NS
July 4 – Aug 25, 2019
Red Deer Museum + Art Gallery, Red Deer, AB
May 1 – July 25, 2020
Opening reception: May 1, 5-8pm
You can find a list of all of her events here.
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