When, how and why started you working with textile?
I didn’t really “become” an artist; I have always been one working with some type of fiber starting with yarns used to create crocheted pieces early on, to the last 26 years working exclusively in textiles making wall art for commissions as well as exhibition.
I find textiles to be physically as well as visually stimulating. The sense of touch is an intricate part of the creation process as well as the visual impact from color, line, and shape. Spending so much time handling the fabrics and threads during the creation process builds a deep connection between me and the physical artwork. It becomes a part of me and I become a part of it. This connection continues even after the artwork is completed and moved on to its next stage – exhibition or installation in a private or public art collection.
I started making textile artwork on a part time basis, of my own design, in 1990. The third piece I made sold before I finished it. I continued to work full time in the book publishing business and made textile artworks on commission nights and weekends. Most were for wall display but there were a few initially made for presentation on a bed but they ended up on the wall instead.
In 2004 I began submitting my work for juried exhibitions, some strictly craft related, but most were fine art exhibitions. I was accepted into six exhibits the first two years and won an award for workmanship. This seemed like an excellent way to get my work out of the studio and seen by collectors, gallery directors, and museum curators across the United States.
In 2009 I became a full time textile artist as the recession hit the publishing business full force. This was a blessing for me artistically. I began selling my hand dyed fabrics overseas, grew my commission business, and started to submit more aggressively my personal work for exhibition in juried fine art exhibits.
My degree is in Accounting and I have not taken many art classes. I prefer to learn on my own, work in my own studio without distractions, and discover what works best for me. All of my artwork incorporates hand stitching to give it physical and visual texture. I have never machine stitched any of my artworks as I find the hand work the most satisfying as well as the most creative part of the creative process.
The common factor in all my mixed media artworks is that fabric is my canvas and thread is used to create a piece of art with visual as well as physical texture. The design starts in the artist’s mind and is eventually transferred into reality over time with the final hand stitch in the artwork. When asked, my medium is thread on textile, which can be further explained by whether the textile is a commercial textile; hand dyed or painted textile, or an enhanced textile with rust pigmentation that I have created in my studio.
Many times the original design is nothing like the finished piece but this just adds to the excitement and the design potential for the next design. What starts in the mind is often transformed into a bigger, better, and more dramatic finished artwork than I ever imagined.
Tell us something about the technical equipment you use.
My creation process starts from just about the beginning of the fabric production stage. I take unbleached prepared for dyeing fabric, which is similar to unbleached muslin, and create my own textile palette. I use fiber reactive dye pigments to dye and paint my own ground fabrics as the starting point for my raw materials. Quite often I then use either scientific iron filings or architectural ironwork to create additional design work on the dyed or painted fabrics.
Some artworks are then constructed from cut sections of various fabrics including commercial textiles. The cutting and rejoining of pieces (sometimes using a sewing machine) to create the overall design can be an intermediary step. I use a rotary cutter, ruler, and industrial mat to cut the fabric into the necessary pieces to then construct the ground.
The majority of my recent work is using what is termed “whole cloth” construction which is similar to a painter using a stretched canvas. My canvas is the dye painted (sometimes rust pigmented) textile piece that is then enhanced and brought to life by the designs created by the dense hand stitching applied to the artwork.
Once the ground fabric has reached what I see as its completion level, it is combined with unbleached muslin and polyester batting for the longest part of the creation process: the hand stitching of the physical texture of the artwork. This is accomplished using a small hand needle and a pallet of thread colors specific to the piece. More detailed information and images of my materials and many specific processes can be seen easily on my website under the Studio heading and Process heading along with detailed information on every featured artwork in the Gallery sections or Commissions sections.
Who or what has a lasting influence on your art practice?
There are several artists who have influenced my art practice even though most of them I never was able to meet in person. The artists that I am most drawn to are: Frank Lloyd Wright, Georgia O’Keefe, Claude Monet, M.C. Escher, Alfred Stieglitz, and Nancy Crow. All of them took their medium and talent and went off into a new direction. They were unfazed by what others thought and stuck with the inspiration that was inside of them. They each broke new ground in their own medium and worked extremely hard, setting new artistic standards that many are trying to attain today. They found success for themselves by putting in the time to hone their skills and develop their talent. Each of them helped support other artists to gain confidence, develop the necessary skills, and to work hard for many years to be successful.
Another influence on my art practice actually came from my initial college education in accounting. It helped me to be structured with my time, every detail, even the smallest one, matters in the overall process. This education also helped me to deal with the business side of being an artist. I am one of the lucky few who is equally right brained as well as left brained, so I thrive easily in both the creative side as well as the business side of art.
Finally, working in the publishing business for thirteen years during the 1990s and early 2000’s gave me a great working knowledge of photography and several different software packages (Adobe Photoshop and PageMaker) that I have used heavily in my art practice over the years. Without this background, I would have had a much steeper learning curve for producing images of my work, publishing books about my creative process, artist residencies, etc.
How has your work changed in the past years?
My process for creating my artwork changes with each piece I create. Sometimes I start with an inspiration from something I have seen in nature or maybe something in an art museum exhibition. Other times it may be a piece of hand dyed cloth that just calls to me for further investigation and manipulation into a work of art. Other inspirations have come from seeing an old piece of ironwork at an architectural store or at a junk sale.
I have several works in progress right now that were inspired by the simple shape of a square and a rectangle. Fractured ‘Gello #2 and Fractured ‘Gello #3: Autumn to Winter are just two examples of investigating a shape and creating an artwork exploring this universal shape. Both of these pieces are examples of work that started in the very center and then radiated outward as I worked out from that simple single square. From there, the design ebbed and flowed into the artwork that it needed to become.
Unlike many artists, I do not start out with a drawing or sketch of what I am proposing to do. In the instance of the two artworks just referenced, I started by pulling commericial textiles from my raw inventory of bolts and pieces of fabric. I had a color palette that I wanted to work with, so I strived to select a wide range of different color intensities. I then cut up these selected fabrics to create the building blocks that would eventually be sewn together to create the ground for the artwork. They grew into substantial pieces in the 50 inch to 70 inch range both in width and height during the creative process. For these specific works, these are the exact sizes they needed to be to achieve the scale and impact I was looking for.
I am a perfectionist at heart so every technical aspect of my work has to be at the Master level. To produce inferior work for commissions or potential exhibit work just isn’t allowed in my studio. I have spent thousands of hours perfecting my expertise in machine assembly, hand assembly and hand stitching of my artwork.
My work is all very labor intensive and even the smallest pieces in a 12 inch by 12 inch size can take 40 hours or more to create. My large scale work can take anywhere from 1,000 to 3,000 hours or more to complete from start to finish. This timeframe is why so many of my artworks have copyright dates that span several years. It can take several months up to a year alone for the hand stitching of one large scale artwork working 40 hours a week on just that one project.
The Abstract Textures series which started in 2011 is focusing the heaviest on the dye painting aspect of my work. Four have been completed for exhibition and there are over 30 more grounds that have already been painted but are waiting for the lengthy hand stitching process. This exploration work ends up on the back burner quite often when commission work needs to be the priority.
The Contaminated Water series combines the hand dyed fabrics with rust pigmentation exploration using scientific iron filings. There are further directions this series can continue in so will see how it continues to develop over time.
Shadow of the Past and Flaming Grapes show the exploration of using architectural ironwork as well as old parts from antique vehicles and farm equipment.
In your opinion: “What does art mean in contemporary culture”?
We live in a wonderful time right now where the culture really is all about art and design. The creation of art is being heavily influenced by new technology – cellphones, 3-D printing, digital design and photography, and more. In some ways, the term “ART” is being watered down to where everything is called art, whether it is or not. Everyone in the population is able to experience art whether it is murals on the sides of buildings, on clothing and shoe designs, through Instagram on everyone’s phone.
My hope is that contemporary culture will let artists have the necessary time to fully develop their talent, hone their skills, and create their own voice. Fifteen minutes of fame doesn’t help anyone to create and sustain their practice, whatever that may be for the individual. The culture needs to slow down, be patient; let the creators of ART have the necessary time to devote to exploration of themselves as well as their medium.
The great artistic masters of previous centuries had this opportunity to create work over a long period of time; most of it wasn’t completed in minutes or hours, but in months and years. The anticipation of waiting for the next completed artwork by an artist is part of the experience and culture of art. Contemporary culture wants everything now, immediately, if not yesterday already. Most art needs time to reach its full artistic expression. I hope that as we approached the next decade of the 21st century, life in general will allow for a reacceleration in everything, including art.
If you had an occupation outside of being an artist, what would that be and why?
This is an interesting question. As I said earlier in the conversation, I went to college for Accounting. I never actually practiced as an Accountant nor took the exam to be a CPA (Certified Public Accountant). When I was a teenager I wanted to be a writer and write the great American novel like the esteemed writer James Michener who always started at the beginning of time and brought each story forward to the present time. Neither of these occupations is going to happen because they are not what I am. I have been asked to teach quite often, but that is not me either and my process doesn’t lend itself to being taught as my process is never the same from artwork to artwork. I do not actually see another occupation that fits me as well as the one I am currently in: an artist who expresses her creativity through the medium of thread, dye, rust, and textiles.
What advice can you give to those who are just starting out in the arts?
Establishing an art career is different for every artist and it takes time to craft what works for each of us. For the most part it is trial and error over quite a bit of time: years or even decades. Being an artist, you don’t have any one managing your time or projects. You get to decide what you will work on today. Be willing to put in the time to develop yourself and your medium.
I would say be willing to experiment. Try anything and everything. If you are in college working on a Fine Art degree, find a mentor, ask to work as an artist apprentice to really see what being a working artist entails. Professional artists are the hardest working people I know. Rarely is there a 40 hour work week from 9 to 5. A short week for me is 50 to 60 hours.
As an artist, you don’t have a regular paycheck, paid vacations, etc. You have to be able to keep yourself on schedule with projects (commissions, upcoming exhibitions) and be accountable for your own success and failures. Yes, there will be failures in artworks, rejections from galleries and juried exhibitions, snafus in sourcing materials, etc. The plus side is that all of the successes are YOU. You make your own success with getting your artwork into the places that you want it seen, using your own initiative.
I live in a rural area far away from major metropolitan areas that have vibrant art scenes. I stay connected with artists, galleries, art collectors, and interior designers through LinkedIn and its various art and design groups. This is my networking venue of choice and I use it to keep myself connected with others as well as informed about new technologies, exhibition opportunities, etc.
Above all, be willing to take risks with your creativity, work hard, and look to the future. The best is yet to come and your work ethic and creativity will get you to a future that you cannot even envision.
Jean M. Judd, NSA of Cushing, Wisconsin, has been creating contemporary textile art since 1990 and has been selected for several significant cash awards for her work in the fine art arena. In October 2013 she was awarded Signature Member status in the National Society of Artists.
Jean is a self-taught textile artist who uses only hand quilting and stitching in her work. She has been making commission quilts for clients since the beginning of her career. In 2004 Jean’s business name, Sisters In Stitches, was formally registered as a business in the state of Wisconsin and has been growing by leaps and bounds ever since. Custom hand dyed fabrics have been added as well as doing custom hand quilting for private clients and art collectors.
All of her work is original designs, some still using updated traditional quilt blocks, others being contemporary art quilts. She does not use thimbles while hand quilting as she feels her stitches are more consistent and smaller without the thimble. It is more difficult for her to feel the needle when using a thimble. There is no painting on her quilts or fusing of fabrics to one another. All applique is done by hand. Many of her quilts have been large king size quilts with more moderate size quilts coming into her series work.