We caught up with the brilliant and insightful Ann Vollum a few weeks ago and have shared our conversation below.
Ann, thanks for joining us, excited to have you contributing your stories and insights. Learning the craft is often a unique journey from every creative – we’d love to hear about your journey and if knowing what you know now, you would have done anything differently to speed up the learning process.
As a child I used to stitch my own stuffed animal toys, I don’t recall ever owning a bought one. For many years I stitched stuffed “Beasties” of my own design of varying sizes, they inhabit the chairs in our living room. I also remember sewing my own clothes though I can’t say I was ever very good at it! At boarding school, we learnt how to machine stitch and make French seams, neatness was key, though not my forte. These days, I rarely sew for practical reasons and certainly don’t make my own clothes or touch my sewing machine!
Pretty much self taught, I started off in 2016 with an appliquéd and beaded banner, a “Beastie Sigil”. This was followed by paper cuts inspired by a class I took with my book arts group by Beatrice Coron. Not content with purely paper cutting I decided to experiment on a larger scale and turned to painting fabric with gesso and then cutting my designs from it using an X-acto blade, I began to embellish these pieces with hand stitching. In 2018 a scrap of canvas lying around my studio caught my eye and I decided to try my hand with some embroidery. The canvas was thick and almost impossible to get my needle through but I was hooked and persevered, duct tape thimbles saved me! Needless to say I no longer stitch heavy canvas, I had learnt my lesson!
Determined to learn more embroidery skills I enrolled in a wonderful on-line class with Sue Stone: Exploring Pattern and Texture. This class was a treasure trove of information on different stitches and techniques, using different weights of thread, mixing threads in the needle, layering, appliqué, and much more. I took the lessons I had learnt from Sue and used the knowledge to stitch whimsical fantasy tableaux combining images of my “Beasties” with vintage illustrations of children. “Let’s Go Fly a Kite” was juried by Lauren Whitley into “The Gold Standard of Textile and Fiber Art” at Westbeth Gallery in New York City in 2020.
Then the pandemic hit and I enrolled in another Sue Stone on-line workshop “Stitch Your Story” to learn how to stitch portraits something that I never thought I would be able to do. I like a challenge! Sue taught me how to go about stitching portraits with just stitch and also using a combination of stitch and appliqué. I have taken the lessons I learnt in this workshop and combined them with instinctive learning from studying other artists work that I find on the internet. Cayce Zavaglia, Emily Tull and Jenni Dutton have been big influences. I have developed my own style that involves stitching with one strand of embroidery thread in a haphazard manner that somewhat represents cross hatching in drawing to form texture and color.
The pandemic has changed me, I found myself unable to continue with my fantasy work. I turned to portraiture and soft sculpture and became interested in natural and eco dying. The soft sculpture is very tactile and meditative, the individual “poufs” that make up the pieces are like stress toys! Through the Textile Artist Stitch Club workshops I was introduced to eco dying with Caroline Nixon and to making soft sculptures with Clarissa Callesen. Nichola Brown’s videos on U-tube have also been a great source for information on eco dying. Clarissa Callesen’s work inspired me so much that I took an online course with her: Creating with Courage- Adventures in Fiber Art through Fiber Arts Take Two. She taught me how to rust dye, to build a form as a support for a sculpture, to assemble the sculpture and to let loose! I love the warm, earthy tones of the rust and eco dying.
As a young adult I had wanted to study textiles but ended up going to University for Architecture, which I soon realized was not my calling! I continued my education at The London College of Printing and learnt about different print methods. After this I ended up working as a graphic designer and art director for many years both in London and New York. I have also worked as a professional calligrapher. This background taught me how to look at things critically and to see the beauty in unexpected details, light and shade, patterns, shape and volume and to appreciate the flow of a line. My computer skills learnt as a designer have also been very useful to me. I carry these skills through in my textile artwork always striving for a complex, well crafted and challenging piece.
Many a time I have wished that I had gone to Art College rather than University to study Architecture, that I had studied textiles and fiber art at a younger age. I have wondered what my journey as an artist would have looked like.
The most essential skills I would say though in no particular order are: patience, perseverance, attention to detail, courage to explore and to follow your instinct, the ability to make mistakes, to look at the world in an unconventional way and to not be deterred by what others think!
I would say that my greatest obstacles to learning more were the narrow mindedness of an English boarding school education along with a lack of confidence and family support to follow my artistic inclinations. If you showed any sign of intelligence and were artistic the only acceptable path was to study architecture regardless of ability or inclination.
Ann, love having you share your insights with us. Before we ask you more questions, maybe you can take a moment to introduce yourself to our readers who might have missed our earlier conversations?
I am an exhibiting fiber and mixed media artist living and working in New Jersey. I have exhibited my work regularly over the years. This year I am honored to have been juried into The New Jersey Arts Annual: Reemergence that runs through April 30, 2023 at The New Jersey State Museum in Trenton. I am also proud to have be chosen for The Showcase at the fourth edition of Art Fair 14C, November 11 – 13, 2022 at The Armory in Jersey City.
As a child I lived in Africa, went to boarding school in England and travelled widely, this background is reflected in my artwork. At University I studied Architecture and then went to The London College of Printing where I studied Graphic Origination and Reproduction. This lead to a varied career in Graphic Design and Art Direction in London and New York. Over the years as an artist I have worked in many different mediums and styles coming to fiber art around 2016. I have learnt many skills over the years through my various disciplines. Most recently I have taken on-line classes in stitch and portraiture from Sue Stone. Have explored many techniques from various artist workshops through TextileArtist.org Stitch Club, and have taken a class in “Creating with Courage- Adventures in Fiber Art” with Clarissa Callesen through Fiber Arts Take Two, Clarissa’s class has been hugely influential for me for my sculptural pieces.
With my portraits, I aim to “paint and draw” in thread. I use a cross hatching technique I have developed to create texture and tone. My portraits are acutely observed to capture the spirit of my sitter. Early portraits are stitched on linen with a painted background to add contrast. More recently I have been stitching on eco dyed fabrics which can be challenging, I like to frame my portraits in the embroidery hoop I use when stitching and to leave the excess fabric hanging down from my “frame” for a less formal presentation.
My sculptures are inspired by nature, I am drawn to the rich earthy colors I get from eco and rust dying. I enjoy the process of piecing the individual “poufs” together to create complex and organic structures. I always work intuitively and enjoy the evolving artistic journey as my pieces progress. I refer to this body of work as “Reincarnation Art” it gives new life to discarded items in a very spiritual way. My work as a meditation, relying on patience, repetition, balance and pattern whilst always striving for meticulous craftsmanship. For the most part I work in series of three to give me the opportunity to fully explore the possibilities of a form. I like to see how the different configurations enhance each other and how they work as a group. There are so many possibilities!
For you, what’s the most rewarding aspect of being a creative?
As a creative I find putting my work out in front of an audience to be the most rewarding aspect. This year I have been honored to be juried into The New Jersey Arts Annual: Reemergence from June 25, 2022 – April 30, 2023 at the State Museum in Trenton and into the Showcase for visual artists from New Jersey 4th Edition of Art Fair 14C, November 11 – 13, 2022. The dialog with an audience is always so valuable, it is interesting to see how others engage with a piece and especially exciting when one’s work speaks directly to and excites another person.
Is there a mission driving your creative journey?
I am influenced by nature, I strive to repurpose and to rescue as many materials as possible. My aim is to minimize my footprint on this earth and to bring my audience closer to an appreciation of its beauty. I rescue fabrics that might otherwise go to landfill and use natural dyes like black walnut, acorn, avocado and eco-dying to age and transform commercial prints. On my walks I gather items for the dye pot and am always on the look out for bits of rusty metal that along with vinegar I can use to transform my fabric with. This transformed fabric is used for both my sculptures and to stitch my portraits on. The ultimate goal though is to communicate with my audience, to have a dialog with them and to hopefully stir emotions in them, to make them think and hopefully wonder! Ultimately, to have recognition as a fiber artist!