We are so pleased to present the work of Laurel Izard here at Très Chic Stitchery. Laurel has been living and making art in Michigan City for over twenty years. She received her BA from the Northern Illinois University, majoring in art and anthropology, and her MFA in Ceramics from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. After twenty-three years as a self-employed ceramic artist and as an art teacher at Marquette Catholic High School for nine years, she is currently creating art full-time. Her philosophy as an artist and teacher emphasizes that part of being human is to be creative. She continues to teach others how to discover their artistic resources. Her work has been exhibited throughout Northern Indiana and the United States.
Laurel Izard, from left to right: Two of Disks, King of Cups, Ace of Wand
- So much hand work is passed down from generation to generation. Where does your interest in embroidery come from? Did your mother, grandmother or other relative teach you embroidery? How did your interest in this work evolve?
I feel that I was born wanting to sew. Although my mother sewed a bit, I’m not sure where the drive to sew came from. I remember being frustrated when my little hands were too clumsy to hold a sewing needle and my desire to make stuff was so strong. I pestered my mom until she deemed me ready for a needle and real scissors. My kindergarten teacher almost fainted when I brought my pointed scissors to school! The first big thing I made was a stuffed brontosaurus out for some bright green fabric that appeared under the Christmas tree. The dinosaur wasn’t very good, and the stuffing leaked, but I was hooked.
When I was in 3rd grade my grandmother taught me some embroidery stitches and provided me with some of those pre-printed doilies and towels that used to be sold in the 5 and dime stores. After that I don’t think I did much hand sewing until I started embroidering on my jeans and denim jackets. In the years we had our Izwin clay business , I would figure out some kind of embroidery project to keep me busy when sitting at wholesale shows. For several of those shows I worked on a denim jacket and embroidered it with insects.
But making embroidered art was in the back of my mind even as I was making ceramic sculpture in the 90’s and printmaking in the early part of this century. I feel old wording it this way! The tarot-based imagery from my prints gave me compositional ideas to work with. So seven years ago when I began to have back problems, it meant I couldn’t drive during a long road trip, I decided not be stuck in a car without something to do, so I started my embroidered paintings. The great part about embroidery is it’s portability. I didn’t think about using fiber as the main focus of my art until the summer of 2011. I started my series of hand embroidered paintings created with cotton floss on cotton twill fabric. The vibrant quality of the surfaces created by mixing the fibers of the floss gives these works a presence that belies their small size. Each of the embroidered pieces takes four to six weeks to complete, and that is one reason for the small size, yet, I also feel the intimacy of closely viewing these pieces creates a different kind of connection with the viewer.
2. Fantasy and fanciful creatures are part of your visual language. I noticed that you have a wide range of boards on your Instagram page with many focusing on nature. Does the inspiration for your creatures come from nature?
The imagery in this work is informed by the archetypes of the tarot. I have been intrigued by archetypes, which embrace ideas about human existence as both physical and spiritual beings. What draws me to these symbols is their "open-endedness", which allows the viewer to interpret them according to his/her own journey through life. Working with humor allows me to depict things in a new way that is less judgmental and full of possibilities. My interpretations of the tarot evolved from my interest in pulp science fiction illustrations, medieval illuminations, old wood block prints, and comic books.
Where my ideas come from - it’s hard to be brief. I look at inspirational images all the time. I had over 60,000 pins on Pinterest the last time I looked a year ago. I’m on that site almost everyday collecting things that inspire me. My interests range from fossils, dinosaurs, contemporary fiber art, abstract art, science fiction art, illuminated manuscripts, and microscopic animals, to name a few. Although there are artists who inspire me, much of what I look at comes from the natural world and pop culture. Most of the contemporary art I look at, whether painted, fiber or mixed media tends to be abstract.
Ninety-percent of my artwork originates as doodles. While sitting through meetings when I was teaching, I started a serious doodling practice. The only rule was not to judge what came up. The process was incredibly freeing and my imagination had all sorts of things to say. I filled up notebooks with images, which I would pick through and put into my sketchbooks. Having a daily sketchbook practice kept me sane in my teaching days. Now that I make my own sketchbooks out of my hand-made paper, it is even more fun to play in them and come up with new ideas and variations on older themes. Making art, for me, is both a meditation and dialogue with the materials and the elements of art. I make art of some kind every day, because it feeds me emotionally and spiritually. My work explores the inner worlds of the imagination and subconscious mind, rather than recreating the physical world. Aside from the physical act of creating there is also my process of communication with the images. Because humanity’s symbols and archetypes represent such a deep well of information, I narrow my choices down by working with what is encoded by the tarot.
My quilt pieces are an opportunity to work on a larger scale, and to experiment with new imagery and ideas. Animals, from my beloved pets to the animals in nature have always played an important part in my life. I feel that all life on the planet is interwoven into one story and thus animals have played a huge role in human culture as companions, food, teachers, and spirit guides. My work looks at animals as symbols and mythological messengers as well as reminders that we must share this planet with respect for all beings that live on it.
I would embroider all day if possible, but since I can’t do that I have been working on collages using vintage text, handmade paper and acrylic skins (Bear Medicine and Life of Crime). Bear Medicine (shown below) is actually a my self-portrait as a shaman, and completing that piece has started me on a series of works about endangered animals that combine animal imagery with fragments of vintage quilts and mid century ephemera. I suspect that even if I could embroider all day, I would still be making this work.
Laurel Izard, 8 of Cups: 2018, Cotton floss on cotton fabric, 6.25” x 3.5”
Laurel Izard: The Magician: 2017, Cotton floss on cotton fabric, 6.25” x 3.5”
Laurel Izard: Bear Medicine: 2016, acrylic skins and paper on canvas, 24” x 30”
Lauren Izard, Bear Medicine Quilt, 2017, Appliqued rust dyed, ice dyed and bleach discharged fabric, quilted with assorted glass beads. 66" x 44"
Laurel Izard, Life of Crime: 2018, acrylic skins and paper on canvas, 8” x 8”
Life of Crime is also made out of acrylic skins on collaged papers, but is just for fun. I have a whole tribe of goofy cat and alien collages that I take to art fairs, which can be seen on my cats-space-aliens.com website.Since I can embroider for about an hour to and hour and a half a day, I work in other media primarily making books and collages incorporating acrylic skins and hand made papers. I have always tended to switch between materials techniques and am usually working on several projects at the same time. What ties all this together and is the inspirational well of ideas for my work, is my sketchbooks. Even when I was teaching full time and going back to school, my daily sketchbook practice kept me going as an artist.
3. Which artists inspire you? Any genre? Who would you invite to a dinner party (from any time period)?
A list of a few artists I would invite to dinner would start with Paul Klee because of his huge output and range of ideas. I love the playfulness of his imagery. Female artists that I would bring back from the past are Louise Bourgeois because I love her fearless feistiness, and Louise Nevelson, who she spent her 80’s dripping in jewelry while escorted around NYC by handsome young men. I’d invite Jack Kirby who was an early Marvel comic book artist. These artists all kept cranking out art as long as they could, and told us all about qualities of life beyond making pretty images.
4. What tips would you give people who are just starting to embroider?
I’m glad that embroidery has recently become so popular as an art media. I can remember how many people didn’t have a clue what I was doing when stitching at the trade shows in the 90’s. I don’t remember people doing handwork when I was in college at Northern Illinois University, or the University of Wisconsin-Madison. While in school, most of my focus was in ceramics and mixed materials, and I wasn’t really focused on fiber. When I was going to college there was new energy in fiber art, fueled by the women’s movement, but most of what I was seeing was woven, or work that incorporated fibers into sculptural pieces. I don’t remember any handwork being taught at either university.
I would have loved teaching my students to embroider while at Marquette High School, but my students really didn’t have the patience to do a simple stitch for a pamphlet book, much less sew a project. I had a couple students that were interested, but they already had the interest and some of the skills in place. Personally, students today need the time to do any kind of hands on work, but at such a small school the students didn’t have much interest in textile arts, unless it was tie dying.
My biggest tip to aspiring embroiders is to have a consistent sketchbook/journaling practice in order to document new ideas, collect things of interest, keep technical notes and PLAY. I think it’s great to look at the work of others, whether that of traditional embroidery on historical clothing, or at what others in the world are fibers are making. This is an amazing time for many fiber artists who are making some wonderful, edgy work. At the same time I think it’s good to look for one’s own unique source material, whether it is from art history, pop culture or the natural world.
I am interested in teaching embroidery and appliqué. My focus tends to be on finding inspiration and developing a healthy sketchbook practice for creative development. Some of the workshops I have taught in the past have been geared towards helping people, who do not feel creative, realize just how creative they truly are and find ways of using it in art making.
Thank you so much Laurel! We love this work!
Recent Juried and Invitational Exhibitions
2018 The Best of 2018, Ohio Craft Museum, Columbus, Ohio
Art of the Book, Gallerie Renee Marie, Benicia, California
Celebrating Women, Location 1980, Costa Mesa, California
Art From the Heartland 2018, Indianapolis Art Center, Indianapolis, Indiana
10 x 10 x 10 Tieton, Tieton Arts and Humanities, Tieton, Washington
The Fool’s Journey Through Life, The Studio Door, San Diego, California (catalog)
64 Arts Exhibition, BuchananCenter for the Arts, Monmouth, Illinois
2017 Small But Mighty, Christopher Gallery, Prairie State College, Chicago Heights, Illinois
2017-Tiny Monsters, Fe Gallery, Sacramento, California
Michiana Annual Art Competition, Box Factory for the Arts, St. Joseph, Michigan. (Merit Award)
Art: The Language of Community, Life Force Arts, Chicago, Illinois
Global Murmurs, Textile Society of America, Times Square Building Gallery, Rochester,
New York (catalog)
74th Annual Salon Show,South Shore Arts, Munster, Indiana (catalog)
Illiana Artist’s 17th Regional Juried Exhibition, Chesterton Art Center, Chesterton, Indiana (First
Fiber Artists of San Antonio 43rd Annual Juried Fiber Art Exhibit, Kelso Art Center, San
Selected Group Exhibitions
2018 A Common Thread 2018, Textile Center, Minneapolis, Minnesota
Deliberate Strokes, Valparaiso Art House Gallery, Valparaiso, Indiana
Artist Journey, Marshal J. Gardner center for the Arts, Miller Beach Arts and Creative District,
Miller Beach, Indiana
Material Culture, Nipsco Education Studios, Lubeznik Center for the Arts, Michigan City,
2018 CSA Valpo Preview Exhibition, South Shore Arts at the Artful Garden, Crown Point,
Fold! Staple! Riot! The Oilwick Gallery, Indianapolis, Indiana
10 x 10, Blink Contemporary Art, Michigan City, Indiana
2017 Curio Cabinet Exhibition, Indianapolis Art Center, Indianapolis, Indiana
Poetry Without Words, Chesterton Art Center, Chesterton, Indiana
Open Studio Exhibition, Summer Educator Micro Residency, Flagg Hall, University of Illinois,
Regional Reflections, Indiana Welcome Center Gallery, Hammond, Indiana
10-Inch Masterpiece, Thaddeus C. Gallery, LaPorte, Indiana
2018 World and Work of Laurel Izard, The Rising Phoenix Gallery, Michigan City, Indiana (this September)
2016 Laurel Izard,Riverwalk Gallery, Box Factory, Saint Joseph, Michigan
2015 Goddesses and Aliens,Nipsco Gallery, Lubeznik Center for the Arts, Michigan City, Indiana