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Interview with an artist: Yvonne Elliott

Yvonne Elliot is a textile artist and became a studio holder at Westbury in 2018 - Yvonne has exhibited at the London and Harrogate Knitting and Stitching Shows, the Compton Verney Textile Fair, the Open Door and Upstairs Galleries at Berkhamsted, the Cornerstone Gallery and Arts Central in Milton Keynes and of course at Westbury, as well as at various art fairs across Buckinghamshire.

Yvonne inhabits studio 19 which is situated on the second floor. As you enter Yvonne's studio you're greeted with a warm cosy space, the walls decorated with a selection of artwork from small embroidered pieces to larger wall hangings. There's a small window overlooking the back garden with a view of our ancient apple tree, thought to be around 200 years old.

I talk to Yvonne about her step into the art world, what inspires her and her love of Russian language and culture.

Tell me about yourself as an artist – Where did it all start?

My love of textiles started when I was very young, I think most people who have an interest in textiles will remember sewing as a child, learning the basics from their mother or older relative.

My mother made most of my clothes so there were always scraps to be had for making dolls clothes!

I always had a love of fabrics, both how they felt and their designs as well as having this constant desire to make things. I loved collecting all different sorts of materials and I had a largely free childhood - I could go for long walks and gather things, relishing the unpicking of my found materials to explore what was inside.

I still love to experiment and explore different mediums which is a large part of my practice, but I sometimes envy people who have settled on one particular discipline or art medium. I’m more of a grasshopper - always wanting to have a go at new things; if I'm not experimenting I feel my thought process becoming stale and even boring!

"I have a constant need to try different things whether trying a different medium, using different colours or working on a larger scale!"

As well as having a passion for textiles and making things I also have a passion for languages, particularly Russian, I studied Russian from the age of 11, (we're talking about the 60's so the era of the cold war). Teachers had been out of school to train to teach Russian and they returned to their schools with a new skill which some pupils were allowed to learn. I happened to be in the right place at the right time; I started learning Russian and fell in love with it, then continued to study it right up until I finished university, but I wasn't at all interested in joining the Civil Service.

Whilst at university I had the opportunity to spend a year living and working in Russia. One of the things I found eye opening was the wealth of visual culture - I would spend days visiting museums and galleries and was particularly fascinated with the period from the 1890s to the late 1920s, much of which was still very little researched or understood. This was a time of amazing arts and crafts movements which really inspired me.

The 1912 painting ‘Bathing the Red Horse’ by Kuzma Petrov-Vodkin is one that I first saw in St Petersburg (then Leningrad) in 1974 and which left a lasting impression. Petrov-Vodkin’s earliest art training was with icon painters and you can see their influence in the simplified forms, blocks of colour and distorted perspective he used. These principles are common to other work I greatly admire, including constructivist paintings by ground breaking early 20th century female artists like Lyubov Popova (see her painting ‘Painterly Architectonic’ on the right above).

After I moved to Milton Keynes children took over for a while, until I trained to teach adults and eventually became a manager for arts and languages for adult education. Throughout this period I continued with my textile work and my love of making things endured. I also enrolled in various drawing courses, recognising that this would be an important skill within my textile work.

You're part of a small group called Mix3d Stitch, how did this come about?

There were three of us within the group -Jane Charles, Hilary Grayson and myself - when we were formed 5 years ago and apart from hosting open studios together we've organised several open call exhibitions.

The first exhibition we curated was called ‘Transformation’ and received submissions from as far away as Australia and Canada as well as from local artists.

Mix3d Stitch is all about mixed media – we all use similar media and techniques, but with quite different outcomes.

Artwork and photograph by

Hilary Grayson

You seem to use vibrant colour in your work, does this form an important part of your art pieces?

Yes absolutely – I do do more subtle work and more recently I’ve experimented with eco dyeing and printing, but I would never give myself up completely to natural dyes as it’s such hard work to get the vibrancy and the colours I like.

Where do you get your inspiration from?

I’ve recently sold a piece of work inspired by a photograph taken at Shenley Wood, but I don’t often use photographic sources; quite often my landscapes are completely imagined; I’ve always had vivid dreams and I can dream a whole art installation!

One stream of my work is about dreams and some of it has a psychological or an inward looking base. It’s about my memories, reflections and aspirations.

I’m striving to find that golden thread that will draw me elsewhere, so my landscapes are those ‘other places’; they’re not actual places but visions of somewhere I may be happy or at rest.

Textiles art pieces from my "Dream Series"

Work that I value as an artist comes from deep within the heart - it’s got some sort of meaning. Not everybody will see that meaning when looking at the work or they may interpret it differently and that is fine. Making for me is much more about the process, how I feel while I’m engaged with it and what additional memories I can attach to the piece.

Does that apply to all of your work – Finding that golden thread and unravelling it?

Yes, I think it does. I will go through phases when I may be inspired by a particular place or artist. When I visited Japan, a country I’d longed to go to as I appreciated its visual culture and attitude to nature, I wanted to explore aspects of Japanese mythology and folk tales and what they say about the artistic personality or the human need to dream and be inspired to create.

What’s your most important tool?

My most important piece of equipment is my sewing machine. However, I don’t need a sewing machine to work. I could knit without tools and I could weave without tools, but if I was on a desert island I reckon I would find a way to fashion a needle of sorts.

How have you found lockdown in terms of your creative practice?

I can identify distinct phases – At the start of lockdown I wanted to finish things. Tidy up, de-clutter, organise. I was dragging out bits of work I’d started but not finished.

I started a newsletter for Westbury Fabric and Fibre Guild subscribers and another member and I put together 20 kits which contained a project that others could complete at home.

The intention is to show them all together when we hopefully have our Guild exhibition in August.

I was also looking at online resources that I could feed out to members to keep them going – One of the projects that I found was a Motto cushion. Inspired by Linda and Laura Kemshall who run online learning via their website

That was really a fun project and something that I wouldn't have ordinarily done - mindless stitching but free enough to make me feel that I wasn’t restrained. I find this type of stitching meditative and good to do in the evening when I can be watching TV or listening to the radio.

Stitching is a great release for people and they can find an inner peace through doing it. I think many people have taken up stitching during lockdown.

At times I have found it difficult to be creative - I’ve made new things over the last couple of weeks and I’m slowly getting back into more normal day to day life by starting to visit my studio again. I gain so much through having a studio at Westbury and the contact with the other Westbury artists; contact with other artists helps you unlock things and inspires you.

Recently you made around 500 facemasks for Westbury which were sold to raise money for Westbury and the NHS, tell me about that?

This certainly helped me as it provided a certain amount of structure to my day and I enjoyed having regular contact with other artists involved with the project. It didn’t help my creative work but made me feel that I had a purpose and strengthened my desire to continue to be part of the Westbury collective.

I felt that I was doing something that people wanted and appreciated.

Is there anywhere where we can see more of your work?

I primarily use Instagram which acts as a visual diary. I rely too much on face to face events for sales and it’s unfortunate that this year I had so many events booked in the diary that had to be cancelled.

One final question, what do you enjoy about being an artist?

For me, making art is like playing and I like being with others whose minds work in a similar way.

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