Thursday, November 25, 2010


Melbourne Australia artist Elizabeth Armstrong says that "color is her driving force".  A full time feltmaker and textile artist, she also teaches workshops and spends a great deal of time as an "artist-in-residence" in primary and secondary schools. Elizabeth uses pure wool Australian yarns, silk sourced from Italy and Japan as well as Soylux - a soy silk product.   She currently divides her artwork amongst whimsical dolls, beautiful wraps, intricate scarves, bold wall hangings and cushions. 

RUNNING WITH SCISSORS STUDIO:   Did you always envision a life as an artist?
ELIZABETH ARMSTRONG:  As a young person I thought that being an artist was such a wonderful romantic thing to do.  I never knew you could actually earn a living from it! I had planned a life in classical music. Circumstances changed and I am so glad - I still play but my life is firmly rooted in being a textile and mixed media artist now.

RWSS:   What was your first experience with felt making? 
ELIZABETH:  My first experience was looking at a chapter in an old book from the
1970's and just having a go. The results were pretty appalling now that I think about them, but it
didn't discourage me.

  Do you have a dedicated studio?
ELIZABETH:  Yes - I couldn't bear to be without it. It is every artist's dream to
have their own place to work  -  and I believe they are entitled to one.


RWSS:   Can you describe a typical day for us?
ELIZABETH:  My studio practice is based on breaking up the different activities I
have on the drawing board. So each day I do a little of each part of the process - lay out a new piece, felt another one, work out some new colorways write up notes or illustrate in the journal and do some hand and machine embroidery in the evening. In this way there are always several works on the go and I don't get bogged down in the middle of any one project.  I also photograph my work as it grows as well as recording the end result.  I never work for longer than 2 hours at a time because I think you
need to stay fresh in your approach. Going away for an hour and coming back has great benefits  - you can reflect on what you are doing or simply forget about it for a while.  These interim times are spent gardening and doing domestic tasks. 


RWSS:   Would you consider felt making to be more about the process than the outcome? ELIZABETH:   Felt making is very process orientated - the joy in making something progress from a pile of fluff to a piece of art is very exhilarating. If the outcome is successful then it follows a cyclic nature. You can't wait to go back to the beginning to start the fun all over again.

  Do you agree that a small element of uncertainty about the finished look is what makes the process of creating handmade felt so enticing?
ELIZABETH:  It is this most singular element to the process that has kept me intrigued - no matter how much sketching and planning takes place there is always something  - perhaps a colour or shape that just takes you by surprise and gives you a good shake!

RWSS:  Any indispensable tools or equipment?
ELIZABETH:  I would say the studio - the peace in working uninterrupted cannot be overrated. Top quality wool and a table at waist height.

RWSS:   Do you work strictly in nuno felt or do you apply both nuno and needle felting techniques to create your handmade felt?
ELIZABETH:  I use several different techniques to do my handmade felt. I am a wet felter and nuno is one of the techniques that I use. I do use the Babylock Embellisher to secure pieces together before wet felting them again.

RWSS:  Do your pieces start with a planned course of action or are they more spontaneous?
  I would say that all my commission work is quite planned - with drawings, lists of colours and samples. This is mainly for the client who cannot get inside my head and needs more reassurance that I know where I am headed! I generally sketch for days on a particular theme and then just put it aside. A week or so later I will tackle the subject but without looking back at the journal. If I have anything worthy  in my head then hopefully it will develop naturally. Drawing is a great tool for clearing the head.

RWSS:  How do you know when to "stop" - when do you consider a piece actually finished?
ELIZABETH:   For the longest time my Mum has said " Now don't gild the lily".  The other one I like is " Just because you've got it doesn't mean you have to use it!" I think that more than ever I feel I am in tune with what I am doing and there comes a point when I know. When I feel I am struggling to move ahead then it is time to stop.  The other indicator is when I am hunting for "something" to add.  Clearly it is time to stop!

RWSS:   Some of your time is spent as an Artist in Residence at primary and secondary levels.  Your thoughts about the importance of introducing art to students in grade school?
ELIZABETH:  Absolutely imperative!  If children don't get exposed to artistic experiences then their opportunity to excel at such a subject is completely overlooked. How many artists have slipped through the system because there was a lack of opportunity? How many children have ended up participating in negative behavior because their form of expression has been shut down at an early age?

RWSS:   My greatest source of inspiration is....
ELIZABETH:  Color - how it makes me feel and inspires reactions in others.


Favorite quote?
ELIZABETH:  "Who, being loved, is poor?" Oscar Wilde

RWSS:   When do you do your best creative thinking?
ELIZABETH:  No particular time - mostly at night, listening to Bach or Handel and
just drawing.

RWSS:  What do you enjoy most about your work?
ELIZABETH:  The fact that I am lucky enough to do it.

RWSS:  Best advice you've ever received?
ELIZABETH:  Go and be an artist.

RWSS:  Best part of your day?
ELIZABETH:  Early morning and a cup of tea.

  Who would you most like to meet and how would you spend the day?
ELIZABETH:  GOLLY! There are so many! I would like a blogmeet where everyone I
have made close friends with online comes over to my studio and we just make art all day!
There would, of course, be great food and super coffee!

RWSS:   What is the one thing that people would be surprised to find out
about you?
 ELIZABETH:  My dream is to build a straw bale home.

RWSS:   Any words of wisdom?
ELIZABETH:  If you want to be a full time artist - don't go cold turkey and quit work tomorrow.  Plan for it and save for it. The first months are hard without a little behind you. Have a web presence and make it look professional. Start a blog straight away so that by the time you are working full time at what you love, people will know you.  Learn as many techniques in your field as you can. Avoid copying at all costs. Find your own voice - if you love it then someone else will as well.  DON'T BE AFRAID AND HANG IN THERE!

To view more of this talented artist's work, we invite you to visit Elizabeth's website Frost Fair or her delightful blog Studiofelter.

All photos are courtesy of Elizabeth Armstrong.