Last year, as I was thinking forward, about things that I wanted to do in 2014, one of the things that I hoped to begin doing on this blog, was to do some Interviews.
Interviews of Favorites.
In any category, really, but certainly to include, Artists.
Early on, in my Etsy experience, I discovered, Cathy Cullis.
I guess you would have to be asleep, really, to miss her.
There wasn't anything to me, that even compared with her unique work, on so many levels.
I bought a piece of her work, and collaborated with an artist friend of mine with the framing, and the May Queen, now hangs in our living room.
Cathy, was the first person that came to my mind, when I wondered who would hold the spot for my first interview. When she happily agreed, I was elated.
What follows, are thoughtful and vulnerable answers to my questions.
I cant wait for you to read them, and get to know Cathy better, as I feel I have.
Here we go!
Laura: At what age, did you recognize that you had an ability to express yourself and what medium was it?
Cathy: As a small child I felt silenced by unhappy family events, so it was important to me to find ways to express myself. I enjoyed art at primary school and would write many stories and poems. From early days I created imaginary other worlds and people but what I like the most is *not* being in control of my creative worlds. I have always allowed these spaces to flourish and evolve despite of myself, because I know they are there and I know they work in cyclical ways.
L: Were you encouraged?
C: Not particularly, I always felt I was 'not good' as a child. That is not good. I am grateful to teachers who encourage me in their various gentle ways.
L: What/Who inspires you?
C: I am inspired by too much to list. I often cite Madge Gill as an influence (in my stitch work particularly) but her work is just one strand of interest. I love so much about painting and museums, the history of human expression but especially the eccentric, naïve and 'odd' side to it. I am in love with the sensation of visual art, expressive work that enjoys process and seeks to please the artist first. More and more I am interested in making art for myself. I realise this is the only way forward.
L:What percent of the time do you like your finished product?
C:I need to respect the work and if I don't like it and have no respect for it- then I feel conflicted about it. Perhaps this conflict drives me forward, so that I am always aiming to make better pieces.
L: Do you start and finish a piece, or do you work on multiple pieces at a time?
C: I am always working on various artwork that will may be offered for sale and other pieces that are my private explorations and ideas. This way I feel I am both nourishing myself and helping to pay the bills. Every working artist (eg. an artist who needs to make a living at it) must find a way of working that does not drain them completely. I find if I work on different things at the same time one aspect will help another project, or one idea will spark another and they may seem quite disparate to an outsider, but to me it all makes some sense! I know, for example, with my poetry writing- a poem will just happen and I cant force it. And try as I might, if I attempt to sit at my sewing machine and stitch a wonderful piece because today is Tuesday and it is the day for stitching wonderful pieces- well it ain't going to happen is it! Not always, anyway. So I have to flit and flirt around with ideas and something will, hopefully, come of it. At the end of a week I can work myself ragged trying to get a certain 'thing' made- so I have learned that I cannot do that without feeling deeply unhappy and exhausted. This is why I cannot work on commissioned pieces. I would find myself in hell.
L: What gives you the most satisfaction in your work? i.e. The idea? The process? The materials?
C: The process of just starting with a selection of materials and going with the flow-that is what it is all about for me. Ideas are just tiny seeds and some of them need a long period of quiet. Some of them need that stratification process that takes years! I cannot make an idea into an actual thing but rely on chance, always. Every piece I make is made with a good sense of bravado. I prefer to think of it as bravado rather than fear.
L: I hear people talk about running out of ideas? Does that ever concern you?
C: I don't think ideas are the most important aspect of an artist's working and I know it is not the way everyone works. So for me that is my freedom- I cannot predict outcomes. Ideas are an element and not the whole deal. I am not at all a conceptual artist. I do not find joy in predicting outcomes exactly. And let's not forget, many artists only have one idea and they explore this over and over for a lifetime!
L: How do you deal with challenges/obstacles, in your work?
C: When I am actually making artwork I know that most challenges are because I need to rethink. Or stop and take a break. If I am working with the flow, challenges diminish. There are times I have to remind myself to not try and reinvent the wheel. If there is a way of doing something that works, than I will continue with that way.
L: Cathy, one of the things that impresses me about you is your willingness to step away from something that is "tried and true" and explore a new thing. For instance, I KNOW that you can list one of your embroidery pieces and it will sell on your Etsy shop cathycullis, in minutes! Yet, you deliberately took a break from it, took a leap, and focused more on your watercolor paintings and poetry. Was that a personally Bold/Confident move for you, or were you Concerned about the public reception of that decision? Since we know the ending of the story, which was that of course your paintings/poetry were WELL RECEIVED, I'm more interested in the mental process that you went through!
C: I am always working on my more 'established" strand of work and alongside that artwork that is of a more personal/experimental nature. Sometimes it may be more obvious, that I am putting my experimental work forward and the 'established' work goes on the back burner for a while. This is all part of the cyclical nature of making and creativity. There have been times when I have been forced to make changes. There are times in the past few years when I have suffered neck and hand problems and these mean I have to take a break from stitching so much, for example.
It is simply not the case that my embroidery work sells quickly, and I never take it for granted that it will sell in a short time. I do believe people are looking to see 'what is next' and I am very grateful to the people who collect my work and want to see how my ideas are evolving and developing over time. I appreciate the support I receive, so very much. I am always anxious about how my work will be received and I do need to make a living wage out of it. There will always be a desire to experiment but at the same time I am a realist. It is all about getting a balance.
My thinking has been, over the years: make what you are best at making. And do what you love for yourself. There are two complementary processes at play here, and if they play nicely together I am happy!
L: Finally, since we Know just by looking at your Etsy offerings, from your first sale, to today, that you are an Evolver. What is next for you, Cathy?
C: Thank you Laura, I like that you see me as someone always evolving and change and development is important to me. I am enjoying my latest 'paintings on brown paper' project very much. I would like to explore mentoring other artists and working toward exhibiting my artwork in other venues, perhaps in collaborative or group shows/projects. I am sure I will continue with my 'established' area of working but will want to continue to play on:)
Thanks to you Cathy, for your willingness to start me off on what I hope will be many more interesting times spent "chatting" with people that I admire. I appreciate that you took my questions as they came and answered them all, unedited.
You raise the bar, for all who write, stitch, paint, think and explore.
I am so very glad to have read and followed your Cathy Cullis and nevering poetry blogs. They are my steady diet and I hope they will become that for those that read this interview.
So, dear hastypearl readers...we launch high with a terrific time with Cathy. I now own two of her amazing embroidery pieces, one of which is the second piece pictured. When I asked Cathy to send me images that she would like for me to share, I got a special insight into her that she would remember that I had bought that piece, and send it.
I have a feeling that I could spend hours talking with her...she makes it feel so easy!
I Hope everyone is staying warm, as the entire country seems to be back in another deep freeze!
When it ices in South Texas...you KNOW its cold!
I do have another interview with another artist coming soon, and I am so excited about it.
I hope that you will follow along with hastypearl and see what happens next!