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!
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!