One of the things we like to do at the SST is to promote artists and inspire our students. Australian based Textiles Artist Michelle Mischkulnig was the first artist we interviewed a few years ago. We recently caught up with Michelle again and she was kind enough to share some of her latest, stunning work. We had the honour of talking to her about where she draws her inspiration and the advice she has for finding your inner creative voice.
As a self-professed lover of colour Michelle first caught our attention a while back and has since featured on our Pinterest Board and our list of favourite artists. What we find most fascinating about Michelle’s work is her intuitive use of colour. She doesn’t limit herself to a specific technique but instead displays her love of cutting, dying, twisting, weaving and stitching to create rich and vibrant tapestries of colour. Michelle herself describes her work as collection pieces. Made up from things that she collects and incorporates into her art which are an assembly of vibrant, textured works.
As a teacher Michelle’s goal is to inspire her students. Like her she encourages them to explore colour and texture as well as new materials and techniques to create something that is uniquely theirs.
In 1981 Michelle graduated from the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology where she studied Textile Design. She has spent the last 33 years growing her creative business and curating exhibitions. She has exhibited her own pieces throughout Australia and continues to sell commissions and artwork worldwide.
How did you get into Textiles?
‘Textiles has always been my life. Both my Grandmother and Mother were very creative and both accomplished dress makers. My memory is of having cupboards full of fabrics which I could explore, the sewing machine in our living room and everything handmade. I spent many hours in a designated craft room in the house making and investigating all sorts of crafts and as I grew up I made many of my own clothes and even shoes! Maybe they were just a little out of the square.’
Was Textiles always something you wanted to study?
‘Yes! My love of art and craft led me to studying Textile Design at Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology under the head of department David Green a very creative man. David encouraged creativity and individuality. The course itself was based around designing repeat patterns for print such as curtain and fashion fabrics, knit products and even toilet paper. I very quickly realised I didn’t fit this mould but there was scope to be an edition designer. I spent my final year creating very individual fabrics and learning lots of wonderful one-off print techniques. It was this style that I received recognition for and was asked to be an edition fabric panel designer for an interior designers, which was a huge achievement considering I had only just finished my tertiary education.’
How would you describe your work. Medium used, form, style?
‘When I am creating I love to use hand-dyed fibres and silks, found objects and collected treasures. I layer, tear, fold, stitch and paint, allowing my sewing machine to dance across the surface and pull all the elements together. Most often the initial design idea I have started with is not where I finish.
I find the spontaneity of working with textiles mesmerising, a simple drape, or fold of fabric, can send me off in a new direction. The way fabric tears or paper folds, gold buff illuminates can change the whole perspective on the original idea. I do not like to procrastinate over colour or perfection. I’m lucky that colour is intuitive for me and I find that I don’t teach colour, but rather guide students.’
We know that you draw your inspiration from various things in life like the ocean, flowers & family holidays. Do you then try to recreate these as memories or do your pieces say more about how they make you feel?
‘I am inspired by places I have been to, the colours, the textures, the emotion and places I wish to visit. Needing to feel their rhythm, drawn to their conversation, and enthralled by their colour and texture. It is the everyday that holds the beauty and inspiration, watching the seasons change, listening and laughing with friends and family, the roar of the ocean. I hope to convey colour and movement in my work as these are the things that I, as an artist respond to emotionally, and therefore try to convey these experiences. My textile artwork is not an accurate or literal depiction, it is how I feel it in my heart, how I am moved, what makes me smile. All my textile artwork comes from my heart, head and hand.’
Which artists inspire you?
‘As a lover of colour in artists like Gustav Klimt and textiles artist Annemieke Mein. I’m always inspired by artist who use colour, texture and can convey movement in their work.’
What’s your development process for your designs, if any?
‘Hmm a development process is called an over active mind. For me it is an idea that seeds itself deep in my mind and works itself over and over twisting turning and growing. In the silent moments of the day, on a walk or most likely the early hours of the morning it bursts into flower and is ready to pour out of my head, hands and heart. I don’t draw up a design, I just start the process directly onto the fabric. It is very rare that the idea I start with is where I finish. It is this organic journey that I love so much.
In life I don’t take risks but in my art work I do. I see creating as an adventure not knowing what is around the next corner and I’m always excited about discovering what will send my work in a new direction. It could be how fabric folds, a glimpse of gold or a torn edge. I still get so excited by the whole process. The best analogy I can think of is that when I’m working on a piece it’s like reading a great book that you can’t put down. You keep turning the pages, sneaking looks ahead and then going back through it to fill in the gaps until your whole being is engrossed.’
How did you develop your own style and inner voice? Was there a defining moment for you or was it a process?
‘I very much feel that from the time I started as a textile artist I owned my own style. I am completely self-taught having never attended workshops.
My own style comes from not fearing creativity. Instead I allow it to take over my mind and spill out across the surface. I am not constrained by technicalities by rules and regulation or by others expectations. I will not fall into worrying about perfection of stitch length or procrastinate over colour. These are just rules that others have created to put us into boxes. Instead, I just dive in and swim around luxuriating in the creative process until my art work is complete to me. I am not creating to suit others or for the market. I am making what I love.’
Do you ever feel unmotivated, if so, how do you motivate yourself during these moments?
‘No, I work in my studio room 7 -8 hours a day and I have never been unmotivated. I have been creating with textiles forever, around 37 years, and every morning I wake with the anticipation of what I am stitching today visualising the joyful day ahead.’
What advice would you give to our students who are taking our courses?
‘My advice is to be passionate about all that you create. Do not create to fit others expectations and don’t procrastinate over colour or design too much. Just go for it because everything can be changed, recoloured or re-stitched. Listen to your fabric and stitches and follow the organic movement and colour. Do not let your fears of creativity override the process. Tuck those fears away and believe that you are making for one reason – the joy of self.’
I will leave you with two of my favourite quotes:
The first one is by Roald Dahl and I have it printed on my studio wall.
“And above all, watch with glittering eyes the whole world around you because the greatest secrets are always hidden in the most unlikely places. Those who don’t believe in magic will never find it.”
The next one is by Elizabeth Gilbert
“For me, a lifetime devoted to creativity is nothing but a scavenger hunt — where each successive clue is another tiny little hit of curiosity. Pick each one up, unfold it, see where it leads you next. Small steps. Keep doing that, and I promise you, the curiosity will eventually lead you to the passion.”
We’d like to thank Michelle for taking time out of her busy schedule to share her delightful work, her story, inspirations and approaches with us.