Susan Brubaker Knapp–Let’s chat. An interview with an interesting, frank woman that makes you want to grab a cup of coffee, pull up a chair and join the conversation.
There have been strongly held views, lively differences of opinion, with a healthy dose of controversy thrown in. What subject has created such a stir? It’s the new take on traditional quilting, one springing from traditional methods and following paths that lead into many nontraditional directions. What do we call this new form? Is it a quilt? Or Is it more art? Do we call the creators of this new form quiltters, quilt artists, art quilters, fiber artists, textile artists?
Susan has commented simply and straightforwardly, ““I am an artist who works in fabric and thread” Susan has condensed all the differences down to their essence, in what I suspect is typical ”Susan speak'; frank, thoughtful , and honest. She most certainly is a passionate artist, just glance up at her
work ‘ Up and Away ”
Susan Bruebaker Knapp has multifaceted talents, turning a passionate hobby into a functional business,winner of many national awards, author of several books and 2 DVD’s, she has turned some of her original quilt designs into patterns, a savvy business woman. There’s so much more to be said & not enough space.
Speaking of which Susan the business woman, her frank observations are well worth taking note of. She calls em as she sees em.
As I was reading this interview, I found myself wanting to join in the conversation. She was interesting, , leaving you wanting more,wishing I could comment on what she had to say, to ask things like, ” Why do you say that?” ‘Could you elaborate?” ” What do you mean by that statement?”. I found myself wanting to grab a cup of coffee, pull up a chair, and have a conversation. You will too.
A chat with Susan
1– For many new artists it is difficult to find their own voice and not simply emulate those whose style they admire. What has helped you to develop your own voice & perspective?
I hate to say this, because a lot of people are going to hate me for saying it, but when it comes to “finding your voice” as an artist, I think a lot of it is forcing yourself to create a lot of work in a fairly short time frame. Don’t over-think, don’t judge – “Just Do It,” to steal a phrase from Nike. You’ll start to discover that you DO have a process that you love, and you DO have a distinct look. I definitely did not choose an artist I admired and then tried to copy or reproduce their style. That would have felt like cheating to me. Also, start with subjects you love, that you simply MUST MAKE. If you are searching for a technique, try many until you discover the one or two that really float your boat, and that you can do well. Find what is strongest inside you, what you are most passionate about, and follow your gut.
2–How have you handled the business side of your career?
My husband handles most of my accounting and taxes. My main job is to keep good records, and keep them organized. With regard to managing my life as an artist, I try to be creative in many aspects of my life, because I think those things feed each other. I always have lots of ideas churning around in my head. There are several art quilts I’ve had in my head for a few years – but haven’t done because I’m not sure technically how to do them. I think that is very healthy, as it means I am always setting the bar higher for myself. I am constantly setting new goals for myself, whether it is getting my work published in magazines, or winning ribbons, writing a book, or teaching at increasingly exciting venues.
One of my strengths is as a communicator, so I think I do a pretty good job of writing and documenting my work, and sharing and teaching, through my blog and my website. I designed and maintain my own website, and I try to blog several times a week. Since I work from home, and am fairly isolated, I think blogging also helps fill my need to talk and share and get feedback.
3-What is your proudest accomplishment to date?
I am very proud of my DVDs and my two books, “Appliqué Petal Party” (C&T Publishing, 2009) and “Point, Click, Quilt! Turn Your Photos into Fabulous Fabric Art.”
4-What do you do for fun [besides quilting]?
I love to do all kinds of crafts. I also enjoy home renovation (our house was built in 1916, so there is a lot to do!), gardening and cooking. I am a voracious reader (although these days, most of it is done via CDs, in the car, while running kids to and fro). Since my mother’s death in January, I have become very interested in genealogy. I think it is my way of keeping her memory alive, and of “knowing” my ancestors. This interest may eventually find its way into my quilts. I also enjoy walking, with or without my dog.
5-Who or what has had the most influence on your work?
I am so lucky that a master art quilter in the Charlotte area – Nancy G Cook – has mentored me. About five years ago, she pushed me out when I was starting to make art quilts, and has continued to offer me valuable advice about the business of being an artist, critiques of my work, and her friendship. And more than that, I think she saw something in my work, and encouraged me to go forward. If you’d like to see more of Nancy’s amazing work, her website is http://www.nancygcook.com
It’s hard for me to give names of artists who have influenced my work; I love so many. But I can’t really say that I have intentionally tried to create work that looks like theirs. I may admire one for the emotion captured, for the way color is used, for the strong pattern or use of type in another. When I look at work to which I have a strong positive reaction, I always try to pinpoint what it is that I love, and I think about that when I am working on my own pieces. But I don’t copy it.
The person I credit with acting as the spark that ignited the fire in me that turned me into an art quilter is Bonnie McCaffery. I took her “Painted Faces” class in 2005, and came home with a realistic face painted on fabric. I started working on building a quilt around that face, and got so totally excited and engrossed that I barely slept for a month. It truly changed the direction of my life. The quilt that resulted was “Teach Me to Hear Mermaids Singing.” Bonnie’s website is http://www.bonniemccaffery.com
6-How would you describe your quilting style?
Which one? ;-) I make traditional quilts – pieced and needleturn appliqué, often hand quilted – as well as art quilts. I like to call myself a multiple personality disorder quilter! My art quilts are contemporary, and usually realistic in style. I favor very bright, saturated color. The techniques I use in most of my art quilt right now are 1) wholecloth painting (I start with white fabric and use acrylic paint to cover the surface, then stitch it) and 2) fusible appliqué (I trace the pieces onto fusible adhesive, iron them to the wrong side of the fabrics, cut the pieces out, and then position and fuse them down on the composition.
I try to create work that draws people closer and invites them to savor color, texture and form. The art I create is my way of celebrating and documenting the deep mysteries of the world that are to be experienced only by close inspection of the miraculous details of nature. Nearly all of my work starts with original photographs of the subjects, and in most cases, I heavily free-motion thread sketch the surface before quilting. I almost never mark the surface before I take it to the machine; the thread sketching and quilting are all done in a free, intuitive way.
7-Describe yourself in 5 words. Passionate. Creative. Communicative. Strong-willed. Determined.
8-What has been your biggest obstacle?
My biggest obstacle is time, finding the time to work. I have two school-aged children who are both very busy. For now, my first job is to be a mom. So when I travel and miss things, or if I have to meet a deadline and have to put aside some of the things I’d like to be doing with my kids, I suffer from a lot of guilt. I tend to work in a very intense, concentrated way, and this is hard to do when you have to stop to make dinner, or take a kid to piano lesson or soccer practice. I try to work very hard while they are at school, just as if I had a full-time job and my employer were watching. After school and in the summer, I work in between my mom duties.
9- What has been most helpful in achieving your success, besides your obvious talent?
The fact that I absolutely LOVE what I do, and that I am passionate about it. Most artists will tell you that they make art because they HAVE to make it, and I think that is true. I feel that I am doing exactly what I was meant to do. It is an amazing gift to be able to do what you love. Beyond that, I think that I have a combination of skills — that I developed in previous careers as a writer, editor, graphic designer, and journalist — that have been very valuable. Money-wise, it helps that I like to speak and teach, as well as write and design, as it gives me more opportunities to make money. I don’t make a lot; my husband is our primary breadwinner, but I feel proud that I am now making a substantial contribution to our family income. We have two smart daughters who both need braces and solid college education funds! J
I also belong to two local groups that have helped me a lot. One, Fiber Art Options (http://www.fiberartoptions.blogspot.com) gets together to talk about the business side of being an artist, to share information about art books or exhibitions that we have enjoyed, and to critique work in progress. We also exhibit together; our next show will be held at Daniel Stowe Botanical Garden near Charlotte, and is based on meadow plants and the insect life that exists in the meadow. My latest piece, “Up and Away,” is for this exhibition. The other group, The Pandoras, meets most months to play with new materials and try new techniques. The women in these groups have really enriched my life and my art.
10–In creating a new work, what part of the process do you enjoy the most?
I guess I’m really lucky, because there is no part of the process that I dislike! I love it all – the brainstorming, the planning, the design, the painting or fusing, the thread sketching, the quilting, and the finishing.
11—How do you balance your quilting career with your personal life?
Ha ha ha (hysterical laughter here). I don’t. This is something I struggle with a lot. It helps that I have a husband who is very supportive, both emotionally and financially, of what I do. I stopped working full time as a graphic designer and journalist about 13 years ago, to be at home with my children when they were very young. At times, it has been difficult to stay on an even keel. But as long as everyone is fed, clothed, and fairly happy most of the time, I consider that balance!
12-What advice would you give to someone just starting out, who wants a career in this business?
First, love what you do. If you can jump out of bed every morning loving what you do, then you are in the right business. You have to have the passion for it to succeed. Then determine your niche. Do you love to teach, to write, to exhibit? Some quilters make money from selling their work, some from teaching, some from writing books or patterns. Look at your strengths and your skills and figure out where you fit in. Find others who can help do the things that you don’t do well, or don’t want to do. As with many things in life, a lot of passion and determination make the difference between success and failure.
13- What gave you that first break or foothold in the industry, with your own career?
When Moda/United Notions picked up my patterns and started distributing them, and then when “Keepsake Quilting” catalogue carried one of them, it was a huge thing for me. Beyond being a validation of sorts, it was when I really started making money from my designs. And the first thing that got me rolling in the art quilting world was having one piece (“The Bluest Eye”) published in Quilting Arts magazine in 2007; it was chosen as a Judge’s Choice in their annual calendar competition. Since then, Quilting Arts editorial director Patricia “Pokey” Bolton has offered me incredible opportunities – to write, to be on Quilting Arts TV, and to make DVDs. This has given me fabulous visibility in the art quilt world, and I am immensely grateful.
!4- You are well known for your beautiful thread work, with several DVD’s teaching basics and beyond. With your new book recently out, “Point, Click, Quilt! Turn Your Photos Into Fabulous Fabric Art´, can you tell us a little about it?
The first part of the book focusing on improving design and composition in the photographs you want to use in your art. There are fun exercises designed to help you get better at these things. Photography has become so integral to my work; I think it is because the process of learning to take good photographs involves what I call “learning to see.” It is not just looking at things, but really seeing and appreciating what is in front of your nose.
The rest of the book explains my process of taking a photo, creating a line drawing that acts as your pattern, and making the pieces that get fused down to make your art quilt. There are 16 projects – including 8 realistic projects, four abstract projects, and four projects that use different products (Angelina fiber, acrylic paint, foil, and Tyvek). There is a bit on thread sketching and quilting – things I have covered in much more depth in my two DVDs for Quilting Arts (“Master Machine Stitching” and “Master Machine Quilting”) but this book really focuses on how to take better photos specifically with your art in mind, and then on the process of fusible appliqué.
It’s my hope that people will use the book to understand my process, perhaps make one of the projects in the book to learn the technique, and then start working from their own photographs.
Here is my contact info
(please note that there is NOT a dot after the www in my