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  • Michelle Sirois Silver

how small art restored my sanity!

I totally get why Jeff Koons works with a team of fabricators!

I’m known for my hand hooked art but what you didn’t know is that some parts of the process are just plain hard and a little soul crushing!

When a studio visitor asks how long it takes to make one piece I explain how over several months I work on 2-3 pieces at one time…if the visitor digs a little deeper they will learn that when I work to a deadline there is little room for failure. Or when I complete a body of work several months will pass before I pick up my rug hook again. Sometimes I experience burn out. All that’s just one part of the equation though. The other part is that the making of the work is slower than the thinking mind and there’s the rub.


My hand hooked work is a combination of conceptual, technical, and material. The research and design stages are the most inspiring phase. Developing the concept, sourcing materials, and sampling different techniques and materials is highly creative and filled with possibility. However, making the work is a different matter. It requires a mindset shift that moves from growth to fixed and it’s often bookended with a looming exhibition deadline. Hand hooking is a technique where being spontaneous is difficult; even my hand hooked broken lines are planned and manipulated to appear spontaneous. During the making I explore relationships between the elements as I apply colour, texture, and value and the ways they influence a line or shape. I may spend several hours applying one colour, hand hook a 12” x 12” area, only to pull it out because the value is too dark or light – it’s a lesson in detachment!


It has taken me several years to understand why I feel conflicted and restricted by a technique and materials I love working with. I try to not overthink it and I’ve come to accept that it is what it is. It takes thousands of hours to hand hook tens of thousands of loops that go into the creation of a series. My most recent series Recovery Method took four years to complete (2012-2016), you do the math.

But the one thing I can’t dismiss is the need for balance in my art practice. My solution – find balance between the need to work my creative muscles and the necessary tedium of executing a large work. That balance came in the form of making small art.


I love making small art works and because it came so easily it feels as if I simply fell into it. But major shifts in an art practice don’t happen in a vacuum. The intersection of several things came into play: going to galleries and seeing small art work by other artists, conversations about spontaneity, learning how to make deconstructed screen prints, the physical process of making the hand hooked work, and the need to a find balance.


When I make small art work I remove the precious from the making process, something

I find impossible to do with the hand hooked work. I work with intention but the outcome is unknown. I can hold the entire work in my hands and with a single glance I can see everything that is going on.

The making of these small works is a lesson in detachment. I begin with 2-3 pieces of fabric: a deconstructed screen print on cotton or silk, a piece of vintage fabric, and a contrasting coloured fabric.

As I work through the making process (over several weeks) I apply different techniques to the deconstructed screen print including machine and hand stitch, collage, discharge, resist, stamping, and paint. Each newly applied process informs the next step. It's a physically and mentally liberating experience.


Before I apply the first process I cut up the deconstructed screen print into several rectangles and/or squares. I re-order the pieces and stitch them together into a square or a rectangle and even into a long scroll like piece. A process is then applied, I often start with several machine-stitched lines that move across the entire piece of fabric. The fabric is cut up again, re-ordered and stitched. I may do this 3-5 times using a different applied process each time. Working in this way creates a space where I can detach from the outcome and explore new possibilities.


The final stage is the finishing. Here for the last time, the large piece of fabric is cut into several smaller pieces, trimmed, embellished with hand stitch, acrylic ink, and stamps. The overlapping processes inform each piece and a cohesive body of small work is completed.

I am left feeling inspired by the spontaneity of the relationships created when line, shape, colour, value, and texture intersect. Small work is the equalizer that creates space where I can contemplate and consider the direction I will take with my next body of hand hooked art.


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