Towards the end last year, I had the pleasure of talking virtually to textile artist Rebecca Holley about her incredible work. After coming across her artwork on Instagram, I was immediately intrigued by her vibrant rug designs and was keen to find out more about her creative process. So, here it goes…
Hi Rebecca Holley! Would you mind telling us a little about yourself and background please?
I studied for a Sculpture Degree at Bath School of Art and Design in the late 80’s early 90’s. After this I was a bit lost as to which direction to go in. Just for fun, my Mum booked both of us on a weekend Rag Rug Making Course in Gloucestershire, and I was hooked!
It was a new outlet I had found for my art, an artform which could be decorative, functional and environmentally friendly. I started making mats, mainly with animals on them and sold these through craft fairs. I also taught rug making from my studio in Exeter. Now I live and work in very rural Mid Devon.
Could you tell us a little bit about how you got into art?
After finishing school at 16, I went to Bournville School of Art in Birmingham. At that age it was so exciting to be able to create art, to be taught about art and to talk about art with others who felt the same way, day in day out for 2 years. My Mum, who was very artistic and a draughts person by trade encouraged me to go to Art School, she really enjoyed my journey.
Your pieces are very intriguing, what inspires your work?
Thank you, inspiration can come from many different places. For instance an object I have seen in a museum, patterns and occurrences in nature or just studying a map. One of my first large collection of works was based on microscopic images. Ideas come literally from anywhere, I become interested in something and then I roll with it.
Can you tell us about your creative process, what steps do you take when starting a new project?
My initial ideas always start in a sketchbook. I have many sketchbooks on the go and they are everywhere – in the car, in the lounge, in a rucksack I use whilst walking. Some of these ideas are developed further on paper. To compliment my hooked textiles I like to create other works, these can be drawings, paintings, prints and sculptures.
Can you give us a little more detail about your hooked textile pieces?
I always start with a design on paper, this can be in the form of a mixed media piece, a print, a painting, a collage, whatever I have used to create a pleasing design. This I photocopy to use and work from as a direct source. I roughly draw my design out onto the hessian which is then stretched over a fame. The fabrics I use are 100% reclaimed and are all types of material, from manmade to natural, patterned to plain in a rainbow of colours. I choose my palette closely looking at my design.
The fabrics are cut into strips using a rotary cutter and mat then I start hooking, following my design as I go. The wooden frame I use is 70cm x 100cm, this enables me to work comfortably and to my maximum stretch. Currently one of my favourite size rugs to work on is 149cm x 92cm. I hook the stretched area, move the frame on to the next area of hessian, hook that area and so on until the rug is complete. One move on my frame usually takes me 3 days to hook.
Which other artists do you love? Are there any that inspire you past or present?
This is a really difficult question because many artists and artworks inspire me, I am learning about artists past and present every day. If I can only name a few, at this precise moment, I am really drawn towards the artists of The Black Mountain College, an experimental college founded in 1933 in North Carolina. Two artists in particular being Anni Albers and Ruth Asawa.
Colour and pattern play a really big part in my work. Recently I keep looking at the paintings of Henri Matisse and Fahrelnissa Zeid. Just for the wonderful enjoyment and diversity of textiles I love the works of Hannah Ryggen, Madge Gill, Pacita Abad and Anne Jackson. Some of my all time favourites are Indigenous Australian artists, I love the story telling, myths and spiritual beliefs and the colours and patterns.
With all your various materials and tools it must get a bit hectic, how do you keep things organised?
I work from home and the whole house is part of my work space. My husband is a retired art teacher who understands and enjoys the fact that art, whether finished or in progress is everywhere. I am very lucky.
Do you have a favourite piece you have created so far?
I don’t have a particular favourite. During my degree I was taught by the wonderful, late Michael Pennie, who always said ‘Make it, photograph it and move on to the next piece.’ He encouraged us to learn from what we had made but to look forward to making better work.
What are you currently working on? Are you able to show any in-progress photos?
My current work is based on areas of specific interest in the South West of England. I am building up a collection of hooked pieces which are complimented by drawings, paintings, prints and sculptures.
This is one of my most recent works ‘Dartmoor Off Grid’ which was made in response to being in Lockdown and not able to visit our sites of outstanding natural beauty.
Whats next for you in terms of projects?
At the moment I see longevity in my current project but that could all change tomorrow when something new may spark my interest.
What advice would you give someone looking to get into art?
If looking to study art as a vocation then my advice is to work hard and try to do something different from everyone else. As a hobby, go for it and really enjoy the process. Art is for everyone.
We’re trying to be a bit more eco friendly. Do you have any tips or tricks to be more environmentally friendly in our day to day lives?
Get hooking! In the UK around 350,000 tonnes of used clothing goes into landfill every year according to WRAP (The Waste and Resources Action Programme). It’s shocking! We can all search our wardrobes and cupboards and use some of that material to make unique functional pieces of artwork to decorate our homes.
Where can people find out more about you and your work?
My website address is: www.rebeccaholleyartworks.co.uk
Instagram page: @rebeccaholleyartworks
Facebook page: Rebecca Holley Artworks
My email address is: email@example.com
Thank you so much Rebecca Holley! It’s been great getting to know you! 🙂
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As always, happy rag rugging!