A reminder about growth, learning and taking small steps from Sarah K. Benning

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I was reacquainted with the work of Sarah K. Benning yesterday through Instagram, and I was floored. And you can see why. The subject matter at hand combined my two interests – gardening and craft in the beautiful, intricate embroideries that remind me a little bit of 8-bit pixel art (also my favourite). All three of my favourite things all rolled into one? Yowza.

It’s easy to think (and I can almost hear gasps going) – wow – her work is amazing. Her skill is amazing. OMG plants. I have plants. Why didn’t I think of that before?! And yet, hers is a journey that is familiar to a lot of artists out there. She didn’t start out doing the kind of embroideries that you now recognise as her handiwork, plastered all over blogs and magazines. Like everyone else, she started out by experimenting, and taking small steps.

I first knew about her work when she hand embroidered greeting cards and art cards and sold them on Etsy back in 2013:

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Her work evolved to include embroideries in hoops in 2014, and as you can see from her pictures below, her embroideries also started to evolve in intricacy:

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Towards the end of 2015, she started to experiment with more complex patterns in her embroidery, using her plants and cactuses as the main subject of her work:

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While Sarah is trained in fine arts, she is self-taught in the art of embroidery.

From her About page:

Originally from Baltimore, she attended the School of the Art Institute of Chicago and received her BFA in Fiber and Material Studies.  Shortly after graduating in 2013, Sarah discovered her love for embroidery, a relaxing hobby she could enjoy while working as a full-time nanny. She approaches each piece as an illustration rather than a textile, often abandoning traditional stitches and techniques in favor of bold shapes, playful patterns, and contemporary subject matter.

Sarah’s embroideries often depict potted plants and her newest works position these potted gardens in interior spaces and pairs them with other textiles.  She approaches these pieces as illustrations, creating drawings in pencil directly onto the fabric before filling the image in with thread.  In this way, the thread become more like ink or paint than traditional embroidery, which accentuates the bold shapes, patterns, and color in the compositions.

While her earlier works (2013-2014) already showed a love of plants, cacti and landscapes, her continuous experimentation in embroidery has allowed her to be able to execute more intricate and detailed compositions, such as more recent ones below:

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It was gradual, and organic – as laid out in her FAQ page:

Where do you get your patterns and how do you transfer them to fabric?

I invent them! Drawing is a major part of my practice, so I keep sketchbooks of ideas, composition thumbnails, plant details, and textile diagrams to aid in the creating of my stitched works.  These sketches then come together as final designs by re-drawing them directly onto my fabric with pencil.  The under drawing gets completely covered up with the stitching.  This process allows for a lot of revision and experimentation before I get down to sewing.

What stitches do you use and how can I learn how to do this?

I don’t always adhere traditional embroidery stitches and techniques, thinking of the thread more like ink or paint and inventing or adapting stitches as I go.  The one common embroidery stitch I do use is the satin stitch, which is how I achieve the fields of color that create the foundation of each element in my compositions.  The final and most fun stage to every piece is the surface pattern that creates all the detail in the plants, textiles, and pots.

My advice to anyone wanting to learn is to go get the basic materials (hoop, fabric, thread, needle, scissors) and just start experimenting!  My work has evolved over the past 3 years and is my full-time job.  Believe me, I didn’t start out sewing complicated things.  Be patient with yourself and have fun!

It’s easy to look at an artist’s success and think that they knew what they were doing right from the start. Looking through Sarah’s work, I’m not sure if she had any inkling that her work would evolve to be where it is right now. But what I see is persistence, evolution and a constant challenging of her craft. Her love of subject is already apparent even in the beginning, and they run like threads interwoven in the fabric of her progression. They’ve always been there, and it’s exciting to see where her experimentation will take her.

You can purchase her work from website (they sell out fast!), and follow along her journey on Instagram.

[All images from Sarah’s Etsy, Instagram and website]

Why it’s time to ditch your new year resolutions

Philip Giordano

 

The new year (as it so often does) brings with it renewed optimism, hope and with it, the best of intentions.

Great intentions, all lined up neatly in the form of new year resolutions.

Ah, the long line of promises you make at the beginning of each year to be a better version of yourself than the year before. To eat healthier, to move your body more, to be more present. To read more, draw even more, and to be braver when it comes to asking for more.

It’s a good thing really, resolutions. So why can’t we stay on track past February?

Because it’s hard to break 10 – or for the more ambitious among you – 20 habits in such a short time.

Let’s face it. That long list of things you’d like changed or improved? They’re there because in reality it’s something you feel that you lack or aren’t paying enough attention to. And that’s really awesome because acknowledging them is half the battle won. The other half though, now that’s a real tough nut to crack.

It’s easy to write down faults you have and what you want to do to improve it. But faults, like habits, are hard to change. So what works?

I’ve stopped making resolutions 10 years ago. But that doesn’t mean I didn’t grow or change. Far from it. I quit my job, I took on freelance jobs, gave talks, taught at a university, learnt coding (among many other things), read more, and traveled more, etc.

Wanting to make changes to your daily life isn’t just filled with affirmations on how you pledge to be different. It’s about taking concrete steps, little by little, day by day to reach your goal. It’s unsexy. It’s tedious. It’s hard work. New year resolutions on the other hand, can be like bursts of positive emotions and hopefulness, Instagram photos with random inspiring quotes, and stuttered promises made when you’re drunk. Guilt and hopelessness sets in not long after.

So here’s what I recommend instead: make a to-do list.

Not some fancy schmancy list of life-changing resolutions that you tape to your fridge on January 1, where it stares at you every day when you wake up in the morning when you grab your milk – only to be taken down, tattered and stained with failure and regrets of not being able to tick them off at the end of the year. No more.

Figure out what you want to achieve, then write down what you’ll do to get there. Heck, you can even omit writing out the big goals. Just write out what you’re going to do every little step of the way. I’m talking about the most boring, mundane things that will trick your body/mind to complete it. Don’t just throw up a big life goal without a plan on how you’ll get there – we all know when we don’t know where we want to go, we’ll just stay where we are. It’s comfortable. It’s nice. Change is hard. And we also know that if you don’t pencil things down (and subsequently tick them off), nothing is going to happen. Step by step is where it’s at.

So if you want to make a new resolution this year, do yourself a favour and start a to-do list.

You can thank me on 31st December.

Illustration: Philip Giordano

Working in 6 cities in less than a year: an interview with Sara Gelfgren

Berlin Co-working

Today’s interview is with Sara Gelfgren, a London-based illustrator who has lived and worked in 6 different cities – all within the span of less than a year – and has illustrated the experience on her blog Illustratour. I’m currently away in Japan for 2 weeks and so I’m really intrigued with how she has managed to pull off such a feat – it’s always been a dream of mine to work in different cities, and she’s proof that it can be done! I get the dish on how Sara has pulled it off right here in the interview below. Enjoy!

Tell us a little bit about yourself!

I’m a Swedish illustrator normally based in London. I moved to London almost a decade ago to do my Art & Design Foundation at Central Saint Martins. I went on to completing a BA in Fashion Management. After graduation I realised that working in fashion wasn’t for me so I ended up working at a business/lifestyle magazine instead. That didn’t feel like my calling in life either so eventually I decided to do what I wanted to do all along: illustration. Rather that going back to studying I jumped in at the deep and tried learning on the job. It took me a over a year to start making any money to speak off, but for the past 2 years I’ve been able to support myself working exclusively as an illustrator.

6 cities in 6 months – that’s quite a feat! What was the inspiration behind this project, and why did it come about?

I went to a talk in late 2014 were ‘Nomadlist’, a website that lists the bests places to live and work remotely in the world, was mentioned. That website made me realised that there’s a large group of people around the world living nomadically as their jobs are location independent and as a result they can work from anywhere. The term ‘digital nomad’ is usually used to describe them. I then had the ‘aha’ moment were I realised that my job as an illustrator doesn’t actually require me to be in London. Most communication required to do my job is carried out via email and I can easily do meetings over Skype. I decided that I wanted to give living nomadically a shot over a fixed period of time and try out living in as many cities as possible, whilst still staying long enough to be able to set up a routine. Hence 6 cities in 6 months felt right.

 

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How did you determine which country you would venture to? Was there a list?

I thought that finding a good co-working space was essential to not get isolated and have a functional work routine. So that was one of the most important criteria for choosing the cities. I was on a budget, so the cost to rent a room through Airbnb in the city was important and the lifestyle I would be able to afford. Climate was also a deciding factor and how expensive it was to fly there!

Which country has been your favourite so far?

That’s a hard question to answer, because I had really different experiences in each place. I’ve had a really good time everywhere!

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How did you sustain yourself on the project? I know a lot of artists and illustrators who would love to do what you’re doing, but money is a big concern. How did you address that on your travel?

Throughout these months I’ve been working full time and I haven’t actually seen any decline in clients, quite the contrary. So I’ve been earning the same amount as I did in London, but many of the cities have been cheaper to live in. So I’ve actually had more spending power than in my normal life. The main problem was that I’m a bit of a compulsive planner and wanted to have all my flights and accommodation sorted before I left London. I booked most of my accommodation through Airbnb which requires you to pay in advance. I had some savings that I could use for this advance payment. But I’m able to pay off that dept to myself now. So I’m returning to London having not seen any decline in earrings and without having had to dip into my savings, so that feels good!

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What was the biggest takeaway or life lesson that you’ve gained from this project?

I’ve gotten insight into so many different ways of living over the last few months. For me the difference between being on holiday somewhere as opposed to living and working there is immense. Because I’ve been living in Airbnbs with locals and working in co-working spaces I’ve got a much better idea of what a normal life looks like in these places. I feel like this information makes me much better equipped to make decisions about where and how I want to live going forwards.

Another life lesson (which may sound like a no-brainer!) is that I’ve really understood the importance of relationships. I’ve met a lot of incredible people during these months, many of which I was sad to move on from when I went to the next city. And that for me is the biggest problem with living nomadically. I want to maintain longterm friendships and also be able to create new ones by having a stable base in one place.

What’s next for you?

I do feel that I want London to remain as my base going forwards and I’ll be coming back to live there permanently on the 1st of January. My friends have started up a new co-working space so I’ll be working from there.

Although if the opportunity to work somewhere else temporarily presents itself I’ll definitely be open to it!

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Thanks Sara!

She’s now in Indonesia, and you can catch up with her on her blog!

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