A couple weeks ago, I was asked to answer a few interview questions for a book coming out this fall with Droemer-Knaur. (You can read more about this project on my previous blog post). Naturally, I was excited to talk about embroidery and my work with it. I realised after answering the questions, that I’ve never written on my blog about my reasons for using embroidery as an illustration medium. It is something I’ve put a lot of thought into over the last 4 years.
All art is difficult, but making illustration with embroidery is particularly challenging. Here are a five reasons why it’s difficult:
- It’s slow. I have figured out ways to speed up the process by mixing applique techniques with embroidery, but there’s no denying hand-embroidery takes time. It requires a lot of planning, is a pain to re-do when mistakes are made and requires the extra step of photography before it is ready to be used in a magazine or book.
- It’s viewed primarily as a “craft”. When I tell most people that I am using embroidery for illustration, they are quite surprised and confused. This is a new concept to grasp because historically embroidery has always been a craft or hobby. In some cases when I show pictures of what I do, I get the response: “Well, that’s nice that you have a hobby”.
- It’s difficult to reproduce. Embroidery is difficult to photograph properly and prepare for print. It requires good light, a great camera and lots of practice to figure out how to reproduce this medium so that it looks just as good on paper as in real life. And I will admit it, the original embroidered picture still has a magical quality you can’t quite replicate in a photo.
- It’s not common. Nowadays most illustration is created with 2D mediums. Though I see more and more artists experimenting with 3D materials (for example, paper-cut illustration), most of the jobs available for illustration, require digital or traditional mediums. This makes it difficult to market and figure out where this type of illustration fits in.
- It’s a risk. For all of the reasons listed above, embroidery is a risk. This alone can be a deterrent for potential illustration clients.
For these reasons, I’ve considered giving up on embroidery as an illustrative medium many times. Along with embroidery, I also love drawing and it wouldn’t be a difficult switch to using this as my primary style. It might even be easier to do this. So why don’t I do it?
Because every time I imagine giving up embroidery, I feel like Ariel selling her voice to Ursula. Embroidery expresses me the best. Maybe in 10 years it won’t, but right now it’s my visual voice. I can’t bring myself to give that up.
So here are 5 reasons why making and marketing embroidered illustrations is a good idea:
- It’s slow. Time is valuable. So taking time to create something, shows that you value it. Sure, there are projects that need to be completed in 6 hours. But there are enough illustration styles that can meet these demands. Embroidery has the unique ability to give the value of time to projects.
- It’s new and old at the same time. Embroidery has a long history and has been used in many different contexts for centuries. It is a familiar, yet still evolving medium. There aren’t many illustrators working with it, which means there is an opportunity to do something new and fresh. This excites me!
- It requires commitment and expertise to reproduce. The fact that embroidery requires time, proper equipment and lots of trial and error practice, means that the finished product ends up looking pretty fantastic. It also means that not everyone can do it. You can’t get away with improperly photographing these illustrations, or they will look horrible when printed. Embroidery forces me to be thorough from start to finish.
- It’s tactile and 3D. It has natural shadows and textures that make it visually appealing and causes it to stand out.
- It’s a risk worth taking. In my opinion, the most meaningful experiences in life involve risk. So the fact that embroidery is a risk shouldn’t be a reason to give it up.