Studio Visit

Liz Payne

If, like us, you have an obsession with all things handmade, you may already know that the Etsy Awards are coming up soon. The awards celebrate the best in local creativity, with a diverse range of entrants across art, design, craft and more. (I’m pretty chuffed to be on the judging panel this year, too!)

Today we’re profiling one of last year’s Etsy Awards winners – Sydney based needlework artist Liz Payne! Known for her vibrant, meticulous embroidered artworks, Liz took out the Etsy Design Award in the Art, Illustration & Papergoods category last year. We recently stopped by her Sydney studio to learn a little more about her practice!

Lucy Feagins
This story is supported by the Etsy Awards

Sydney needlework artist Liz Payne at work in her home studio. Photo – Nikki To for The Design Files.

Details from the studio of Liz Payne. Photo – Nikki To for The Design Files.

Works in progress by Liz Payne. Photo – Nikki To for The Design Files.

Liz Payne embroided artwork. Photo – Nikki To for The Design Files.

Liz at work in her studio. Photo – Nikki To for The Design Files.

Studio details. Photo – Nikki To for The Design Files.

Liz Payne embroided artwork. Photo – Nikki To for The Design Files.

Studio details. Photo – Nikki To for The Design Files.

Liz Payne embroided artwork. Photo – Nikki To for The Design Files.

Lucy Feagins
15th of April 2016

Working from a tiny home studio in Sydney’s Erskineville, needlework artist Liz Payne creates seriously painstaking work. Each of her vibrant artworks starts as a painting on fabric, before Liz builds up texture and dimension using hand stitched embroidery, and finishes with an intricate layer of beading.

With a background in visual arts and graphic design, Liz has always made things. Though she’s been sewing and stitching since long before she really even knew what the word ‘embroidery’ meant, it was around 2012 when Liz really started to take her needlework practice more seriously. The following year, she opened her Etsy store and the rest is history – she now has a growing network of happy customers, and also sells her work at Koskela in Sydney.

Liz’s work is meticulous. Each piece can take weeks to complete, so it’s been important for her to reach a likeminded community of makers (and buyers!) who really understand and value the handcrafted nature of her work. She is consistently blown away by the strong response she’s had to her creations, and still beams with pride every time she sells a work!

Open an Etsy shop and enter the Etsy Awards — you could win $5,000.

Tell us a little bit about your background – where did you grow up, what did you study and what path led you to what you are doing today?

Growing up I was always creating – either painting, stitching, sewing clothes or making jewellery. My Mum was very influential, and I was fortunate enough to be surrounded by her huge collection of fabrics, wools, beads and paints. Often I would spend all weekend making something or other. Little did I realise then, but those days were laying the foundations for what I would work with years later!

After high school I completed a Bachelor of Visual Arts Degree, and like most other creatives who just wanted to spend their days painting, was guided into a more ‘dependable career choice’ – which led me to doing my Certificate IV in Graphic Design. I worked for several years as a Graphic Designer at a travel magazine, and even went to London and worked as a designer over there. I loved it, but I always knew I never wanted to get into web design – I’ve always been more ‘hands on’ creatively – and unfortunately that was the way the industry seemed to be headed.

Returning back home after several years of work and travel, I figured this was my opportunity to get back to what I actually loved, and get my hands dirty again – a creative release that you just can’t replicate by designing on a computer!

You are well known for your bold, colourful and intricate embroidered works. How did you first get into this craft, and when did you turn what started as a hobby into a profession?

I really just wanted to create works that encompassed everything I’m passionate about – painting, textiles, embroidery and anything embellished really. I began experimenting with painting onto fabric and then began to add embroidery, beads & sequins. I wanted to create artworks that were bold and colourful, and I like bridging the gap of what is considered ‘art’ and ‘craft’. I think embroidery can also have an ‘old fashioned’ stigma about it, and I wanted to break that misconception.

It took me a while to gain the confidence to start producing the works I wanted to make, versus what I thought would be well received, and as I progressed, persisted, learnt more and made mistakes, I found my works gradually starting to reflect my aesthetic.

In 2014 I was a finalist in Craft NSW’s Emerging Artist Award, and found this really inspiring to continue my work. Since then I have been lucky enough to be a finalist in several other awards, have had works in exhibitions and been a part of some amazing projects too.

How would you describe your work, and what influences your distinctive aesthetic?

I like to experiment with shape, symbolism and symmetry. I am fascinated by the physical process of embroidery and the juxtaposition of my work being bold and confident, even appearing spontaneous – yet the process of hand embroidery being extremely time consuming, sometimes painstakingly taking months to complete a work. It’s a real labour of love.

My work is bold, colourful, textural and very pattern driven. I’m not shy of using every colour in my work (sometimes all at once!). Using stitch I’m able to introduce another textural dimension to my work, drawing the viewers eye into the intricacy of the detail, sometimes the beads I use are incredibly tiny!

I’m really inspired by art & textiles from around the world, everything from Aboriginal Art and Ken Done here at home, to the amazing ancient textiles and beaded artefacts from countries such as Mexico, Guatemala, Africa and Uzbekistan, to name just a few.

What’s been one of your all time favourite commissions that you have recently made?

Recently I just completed my biggest piece to date, it was around 1 metre wide and high. It was a huge accomplishment to get finished, and was around two months in the making. This piece saw me working out of my colour comfort zone into blues – as opposed to the pink and yellow I naturally gravitate towards. I’m glad though, as I find I am using blues a lot more in my current body of work (although I will always be a sucker for bright pink!).

Can you give us a little insight into the inner workings of your creative process? How do you take your original concept from brain to tapestry? Do you make pattern or do you just intuitively embroider?

Firstly I’ll have an idea in my head for a piece and sketch it on paper, then sometimes I’ll even take that sketch into Photoshop or Illustrator to play around with the design further.

My next step is to paint the fabric, which in itself can be a lengthy process. It’s my first layer that goes down, it lays the foundation for the stitches to follow. Sometimes I can even end up stitching over parts of what I’d painted, but for me it’s still a very necessary step in my process. Some pieces end up very well planned, kind of close to the initial sketches, in other cases intuition takes over, and I apply the paint instinctively. Once the fabric dries, I switch my medium from paints to thread. That’s how I see working with thread – just as a replacement to the paintbrush.

I use a mixture of wools, cotton and threads in various colours and sizes, and begin the lengthy process of adding texture, colour and dimension to the piece. I apply the thread methodically, building up texture and colour simultaneously.

I try to do most of the embroidery before any beading (it’s just easier working within a hoop) but I don’t have any steadfast rules about this, I’m definitely a more relaxed and completely untraditional embroiderer!

Liz Payne studio details. Photo – Nikki To for The Design Files.

Lucy Feagins
15th of April 2016

Last year you won an Etsy Design Award in the Art, Illustration & Papergoods category. Can you tell us a little about what this award has meant for your business?

I opened my Etsy shop Flirting with Yellow in 2013 as a way for me to sell my work. Etsy’s a great way to reach a lot of people that have an appreciation for the handmade. For me it was a way to showcase my embroidery with a contemporary approach – I love the fact that people are starting to return to the handmade, and appreciating the time it can take!

Last year I was fortunate enough to win the Etsy Design Award in my category with my embroidered textile artwork ‘Not Afraid’. Winning the award really increased my exposure, and through Etsy I’ve been fortunate to have my work seen by a huge new community, and really showcase embroidery in a new light.

Which other Australian designers, artists or creative people are you loving at the moment? 

1. Miranda Skoczek: I’ve been a big admirer of Miranda’s work for a few years now. Her use of colour is simply amazing and I was lucky enough to see her latest exhibition Fragments and Fantasy at the Arthouse Gallery recently. They are even better in person, and I would love to own one, one day!

2. Rosie Deacon: Another amazing artist who isn’t scared of using some colour! I first found Rosie’s work on Instagram and I’ve been stalking her ever since. She does amazing sculptures and installation work with a big focus on Australiana.

3. Natalie Miller: The designer behind incredible macramé and weavings. I greatly admire her work and her ability of turning a craft into (amazing) works of art. I first fell in love with her huge macramé pieces but now my latest obsession is her weaved clothing for label Romance was Born.

Can you list for us your top resources across any media that you turn to when you’re in a need of creative inspiration? 

1. Instagram. I confess, I was never really into social media, but someone convinced me to join Instagram and now I’m completely hooked. I’m so grateful for all the support I’ve received through it too, and I love it for being able to connect with people globally, and see all the amazing talent out there.

2. The Design Files. Obviously! A must go-to for inspiration across so many creative fields, I love seeing the home tours, Tasty Tuesdays and of course reading about other creatives.

3. Design*Sponge. A wealth of inspiration covering everything design, home, DIY and food.

4. Books. I always have a few on the go, I’m currently reading The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle by Haruki Murakami, and Far From A Still Life: Margaret Olley by Meg Stewart, and I’m also always flicking through textile books and magazines for inspiration.

5. Music. I listen to JJJ, and always have it on in the studio, but sometimes when I really need to just take a break and have a dance (with my dog Buster of course, totally not weird), I love the likes of Florence and the Machine, TOOL, Johnny Cash, Polish Club etc!

What has been your proudest career achievement to date?

Every time I sell a piece! So much time goes into my work, and I’m blown away when someone wants to hang that on their wall. Being on TDF is pretty amazing too!

What would be your dream creative project?

I would love to have a solo show one day, something I’m definitely working towards.

But a DREAM project also would be to expand my work across into clothing and homewares – it’s something I’ve always wanted to do, and I’m always writing down ideas for it, so maybe one day this will happen. I’d also love to be commissioned to work on a really huge piece too (like 4-5 meters wide) it would take forever, but hopefully be worth it!

What are you looking forward to?

I’m really excited about an upcoming exhibition I’m in called Thread and Colour. It’s a group exhibition showcasing a great range of different textile artists from Australia and abroad. It’s at 14 William Street, Paddington in Sydney from 23 April to 1 May.


Your favourite Sydney neighbourhood and why? 

Definitely around the inner west. I live and work in Erskineville, which is just a short stroll to Newtown and Enmore, there’s a great choice of pubs, cafés and restaurants and it’s also got art stores, bookstores, a Gorman, second hand shops, and Enmore theatre. Everything you need at your doorstep!

What and where was the best meal you recently had in Sydney?

My husband and I went to Cho Cho San in Potts Point recently, and it was amazing! Best thing we had was the kingfish and an amazing crab curry omelette.

Where would we find you on a typical Saturday morning?

Probably working in the studio trying to finish something! I’d like to say I’m always on the ball deadline-wise but I am very much a work to the very last minute person! If I can be tempted away, I might go for a late lazy brekky at a local café with my husband and Buster, followed by a stroll down King Street.

Sydney’s best kept secret?

I don’t know if it’s much of a secret anymore, but Spice Alley in Chippendale is awesome – it’s a little alley with a group of different vendors serving amazing food – everything from dumplings, soups and other Asian dishes.

Liz Payne with her spoodle Buster, in her Erskineville home studio! Photo – Nikki To for The Design Files.

Recent Studio Visit