Artwork for podcast Textile Talk
Artist Interview - Jo Hamilton
Episode 517th April 2024 • Textile Talk • Gail Cowley
00:00:00 00:57:18

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Scottish artist Jo Hamilton moved to Portland, Oregon in the early 1990s, after earning her BFA from the Glasgow School of Art. Her technique combines years of fine art practice with the craft of crochet which she learned as a child from her Gran, rendering traditional categories, which include portraiture, landscape and nudes in a contemporary light. Her work has been widely shown in the U.S. and Europe as well as in Beijing, Australia and South Korea, and belongs to museums and private collections in the US and worldwide.

You can view Jo work over on our website.


Portland, Oregon in the early:

Jo: No, it's totally fine. I appreciate it and I'm happy to be here.

Gail: Thank you. Thank you. So the first thing that I'd like to do, if I may, is start off by asking, could you give us a bit of an introduction to you, what your background was before you came to crochet and how you actually made that leap into crochet?

Jo: Yeah, absolutely. So I'm from Glasgow, Scotland, and grew up there in the seventies and grew up in a family while my mum was a knitter, not so much crocheting, and my gran was a crochet crocheter and a knitter. And so when I was a kid, I learned how to do those things. And that was a sort of part of my upbringing, was homemade clothes and knitting things for my teddy bears and kind of, you know, being crafty and creative. And my mum knitted every night after she was done grading schoolwork. She was a teacher. Then when I was a teenager, I went to art school in Glasgow. So I went to Glasgow School of Art and studied drawing and painting there for four years. And then shortly after that, I moved to the US, where I kept making art. And in the meantime, I had kind of taken up crochet again just as a hobby, and was making hats and bits and pieces for friends. And while I was living in Portland, Oregon, which is where I'm based now, I saw an exhibition at a local craft gallery that was all using craft materials and techniques. There wasn't any crochet, but there was sewing and embroidery and tapestry and various things. And I left that exhibition with my friend and said to her, oh, I wonder if I could crochet a painting. And I went home that day and started my first attempt to do that, then to a giant cityscape that ended up being about 10ft across. And while I was making that piece, I started doing portraying portraits as well. So it just kind of evolved very naturally over the course of a lot of years.

Gail: Can you tell us a little bit about your pieces? Are they. They're not completely crochet, are they? You do use other materials in as well?

Jo: No, they're all.

Gail: They completely crochet?

Jo: Very much, yeah. It wasn't. There's no. Not even when I do joins, if I'm joining pieces together, I join them with Crochet, I don't join them with needles. So it's absolutely 100% crochet.

Gail: And how do you get your inspiration? Where do you get your inspiration from?

Jo: Well, I've, gosh, all over the place. I mean, I suppose it's, you know, accumulation of a lot of years of studying art and thinking about art and being an artist, where that definitely just becomes part of your makeup. And then another angle that I come at it from is, you know, things that I'm thinking about in general, maybe broader, not philosophical. That's the wrong word, but, you know, social concerns, environmental concerns, things that are bothering me. And then again, there's visual components that are, you know, just formal components or. So I guess there's sort of three different approaches that I take at which are, you know, formal visual concerns, things that I'm interested in, social concerns, artistic interests, and then just enjoying making things too. You know, just enjoyed making things. Once I discovered the crochet, that really changed it for me, because as a painter, I just. I just. I wanted so much to be a pure painter and I just wasn't. It just wasn't my medium. I never knew when a painting was finished. I really struggled with it and even just sort of the weight of art history. So when I discovered the crochet, I was so excited because it was very new to me and it was meaningful to me because of my upbringing and my mom and my gran and I could bring all my painting and art interests into it, but it was, you know, it was a completely new technique, so.

Gail: And some of the pieces are really quite large, aren't they?

Jo: Yeah, they do tend to be large, which is funny. I didn't necessarily set out to make large scale work. It's just that, well, particularly once I started doing portraits, the size of the portrait is basically dictated by the size of an eye, because I start with the eyes and by this level of detail that I want to achieve dictates the size of the eye, which then dictates the size of the portrait.

Gail: How interesting.

Jo: Just with, yeah, getting enough detail and to be able to get a good resemblance of somebody. And so they just naturally were skilled up into being sort of two, I think two, two and a half times life size. But it wasn't planned. It's just they just naturally turn out that way.

Gail: When I speak to our students, they either prefer things that are very small. You know, I think some people just like working small, or alternately, and I'm in the second group, they tend to like working large. I always think that working large is less fiddly. I don't know if that's perhaps your view as well or.

Jo: Definitely. I have had requests sometimes because sometimes people, if they're commissioning something, they want something and they say, oh, but I don't have a lot of wall space. Can you scale it down? And I. I have to say I just can't because it's actually more work for me to figure out how to do that. And the piece would suffer.

Gail: Yeah.

Jo: You know, it wouldn't be my style and it wouldn't have the detail. I mean, obviously with the crochet, you have to sacrifice a certain amount of detail while you're working, especially if you're doing a portrait. That has to be a good resemblance. But, yeah, scaling down just doesn't work. And so, yeah, it's funny, I even quite surprised by the size of things when I'm done.

Gail: I suppose if you're starting with an eye, it must be perhaps a little bit of a surprise. Sometimes the size, they end up. Yeah.

Jo: And then even if you stand next to them, you know, even photographing them and putting things online that, you know, if you don't have a human person next to the work, you didn't necessarily get the skill.

Gail: No, I think I actually saw a photo of you standing by the side of one of your pieces, and it was quite a surprise. You know, this is really sort of large. Do you actually prefer people as subjects or would you be open to doing other possible, you know, sort of such as a landscape or.

Jo: Yeah, I have done landscapes. I have a series of cityscapes that are mostly. They're based on Portland. Like, I think I mentioned that the very first thing that I tried to crochet was a cityscape. And that piece was just based on a little sketch, a sort of imaginary sketch of Portland. If you kind of viewed it from like, a bird's eye view from above. And that piece was just a patchwork. It's kind of a different style, I suppose, to what I'm doing now because it was the first thing, so it looks more like a quilt. And then from there, I've done various sort of architectural. There's a lot of demolition going on in Portland. They don't do a lot of conservation when it comes to. So sometimes you get the feeling that even what little historic architecture there is in this town isn't being preserved. And so I started doing kind of some more cityscapes based around that. Some things highlighting homelessness, which is a big problem here. So I have done those. But I suppose, yeah, I just. I go back to the portraits, I think, because the combination of the portraiture with the queen crochet is still kind of surprising.

Gail: And.

Jo: I think I'll always keep doing portraits, but I've also got a series that's sort of a combination. I've also done quite a few large male nudes, and I'm kind of moving. Those are kind of morphing into a kind of a combination of landscape and figure that I'm really excited about.

Gail: And are these pieces that are commissioned by someone, or are these just ones that you have decided to undertake yourself?

Jo: The nudes are just my own work. What I'm pursuing in the studio with my interests, I've got commissions come in, and that's great, because obviously it's, you know, the challenge of being an artist is you. You make what you want to make, and then you sit back and cross your fingers and hope that it's going to sell at some point, doing. Making the weird stuff that you want to make and then having paid work, which commission work, which is typically portrait work. I have had landscape commission work, too, before. So, yeah, so it's a combination of dividing my time between making things for other people and making things for myself.

Gail: And, I mean, do you. Which do you prefer? Would you prefer to have the chance to work on whatever you would like to, or are you quite happy to do commissions for someone?

Jo: I kind of like being able to do both. It's quite nice to sometimes be able to just give up your. Your own sort of, I don't know, direction a little bit and just take a break from that and make something for somebody else. For the last year and a half or yearish, in fact, I've been doing a really large scale commission, and I'm definitely ready to get back to making what I want the commissions, you know, financially give you a little bit of freedom, then to be able to, you know, make, again, make your own weird work. You're not sure what's going to happen with it, but you have to do it.

Gail: That's part of the challenge, isn't it? I suppose if you don't know where it's going to lead you, then that's exciting. Really.

Jo: Yeah, I mean, I think. I think. I mean, all artists work in different ways. Some artists, you know, find a thing and they just do that thing and it sells, and, you know, that's great. You know, I'm already facing various challenges with selling work because of the scale of the work, the materials. There's still quite a lot of pushback in the art world against. Despite, you know, there has been a resurgence of textile art, I think, in. In the fine art world, but I still. There's still a definitely a bias towards. Well, it's, you know, paintings are, you know, more long lasting. You know, they're just more mainstream. So, yes, you just. You just. You don't know where the work's going to end up, and you just kind of have to take that leap of faith every time you make something.

Gail: It's interesting, isn't it, that you. You mentioned that? Because it's a discussion that comes up quite a lot, this sort of. Why. Why is it that textiles should be viewed as a slightly lesser art form? Because, in actual fact, you've got two processes to go through. You've still got all the design work to do, but then you've got to go through what is quite a challenging process, I think, of taking that artwork, making all the choices about, you know, what materials you're going to use, what stitches you're going to use, and then actually translating it. So, to me, that's more difficult, not less.

Jo: Yeah, yeah, absolutely. And. And yet that doesn't necessarily transfer into value in terms of the art marketplace. Yeah, I don't know why that is. I. You know, I could say it's to do with, you know, gender and women's work.

Gail: And, yes, that's. I think that's. That's. That's what I often feel, and I know that's what other people tend to feel. Whether that's true or. I don't know. I think traditionally, textiles has been viewed as being somehow lesser than fine art, and it's a shame because there's so much skill goes into it.

Jo: Yeah.

Gail: Yeah.

Jo: I mean, and I think it's getting. It is getting better. I mean, I'm just seeing more and more artists, more galleries and museums, and I, you know, I can't complain. I've had a couple of museum shows, so I'm. I feel very lucky that, you know, I have gotten, you know, some recognition, but I still sometimes get pushback, even from. I did a talk with some MA students at a local university, and their lecturer said to me in the class in front of the students that he would understand what I was doing if I was painting it. He didn't get that I was crocheting. And I just thought, well, if you don't get it, you're just never going to get it, are you? I mean, why would my work be more meaningful if it was painted? And why do painters get to have the monopoly on meaning? Why can't textile artists be interested in meaning as well? It isn't just about the materials. That just happens to be the medium that we've chosen. So, yeah, it's just even when I think things are getting better, somebody will say something and I'll think, oh, gosh, but it's getting. It's getting better. I think more and more people just who love textiles and want to make things that way, choosing it. And the more that happens, you know, just the more, the better it's going to get for everybody who's working in textiles and fibre.

Gail: Yes, I really hope so. Could you tell us a little bit about the process that you use, I assume perhaps just to take as a for instance, if someone is commissioning a portrait of somebody for themselves or someone else, that they would send you in a photograph and then what happens from there?

Jo: Yeah, it's. It's. I work. I work pretty directly from the photos. And earlier, when you were mentioning about design, I actually do not do a whole lot of pre designing, and part of that is, again, with the size of the pieces, I can't really, really do too much planning ahead of time because, you know, things are evolving just, you know, a stitch at a time and a row at a time, and a lot of things that have to be figured out or changed even, or corrected if they're not going, you know, because crochet does. It distorts, obviously, you can't. You have to kind of wrangle it to get it to what you want it to do. So it's very much an in the moment process where if it's a commission, then I'm using the photo as a basis and I'm just in the same way that you would be sketching from life. I'm just looking at the photo for reference and then working straight format. I don't do any sketches or drawings or any kind of planning, and there's a lot of trial and error, you know, trying certain colors. Yeah, trying, you know, I could to crochet a nose five different ways and rip it out before I decide, okay, that's it. That's good enough. And then I'm going to move on to the next. The next area.

Gail: And what sort of yarn do you use?

Jo: All kinds. I've got a huge yarn stash that has been collected over the years, and a lot of it is from charity shops and yard sales. And I do strive to use as much post consumer material as I can to do with environmental concerns. Just, you know, the manufacture of yarn and textiles is really terrible for the environment, and there's so much material that is used. I would say the majority of the yarn that I have is post consumer. I'll buy new if there's a particular color that I absolutely don't have or can't make by mixing, which I do a lot, I will sometimes buy new yarn, but I just try and avoid it as much as I can.

Gail: So would that mean going to charity shops or thrift shops and perhaps on doing something or. How do you sort of use post consumer yarn?

Jo: Yeah, definitely years of thrifting and charity shops. People quite often give me yarn because, you know, people will take up knitting. I do, and then two years later, they're like, you know, I'm not really doing this much. And so occasionally somebody will contact me online and say, I've got a box of yarn for you, and bring it over. A friend of me, mine called me from the Oregon coast a couple of years ago. She was an estate sale, and the person the family were selling off their auntie's weaving stash. And so I just said, well, why don't you see what they'll take for the lot? So she did. And so I got five huge storage bins full of amazing quality weaving yarn. That's from Norway and Finland, Denmark.

Gail: Do you have somewhere that you can keep it all?

Jo: I've got my studios in my garage at home, which we sort of converted, and so I've got kind of wire, those modular wire box shelves on a couple of walls, and everything's sort of arranged by colour. And then I've got storage bins as well. It's. Yeah, it's a bit out of control, my collection.

Gail: I could imagine.

Jo: I use it all. It's, you know, even the tiniest little bit. Sometimes I'll be like that. What's the perfect color, and I've got that color.

Gail: Well, you really are going through the whole rainbow of possible colors, aren't you? I would imagine a lot of flesh colors, but certainly lots of colors. So you'll need that yarn there to give you lots of choice, I suppose.

Jo: Yeah, yeah. And flesh colors, of course, range, you know, anywhere, you know, and I use a lot of different colors and faces, too. It isn't just necessarily typical flesh colors. I use greens and purples and then tones for people with darker skin. And so it's. Yeah, it's a huge, huge range of colors. Not just necessarily what you might think of as, you know, that the flesh crayon.

Gail: And do you have a particular type of hook that you prefer to use?

Jo: I prefer steel hooks, because I'm really hard on hooks and the aluminium ones tend to bend and break, so steel. I'm just looking at the one. The size I'm using right now is a 3.5 millimeter. And I would say that's pretty typical. But if I'm mixing yarns, which I do quite a lot, and I'll crochet up to sometimes three colors at once, then I'll size up.

Gail: Yeah.

Jo: To a larger hook under the sort.

Gail: Of mixing, or what I would perhaps call tweeding of colours. How do you. How do you approach that?

Jo: Well, that kind of came about. If you. If you look on my website, my at original portrait series, which was, they were all people that I worked with at the time. So I think I mentioned I was making this big cityscape and was telling my friends and co workers about it and showing them pictures, and one of them was kidding with me, like, oh, you're going to crochet all the way to the suburbs. And I said, shut up or I'll crochet you. They led to me saying, oh, I should try portraits. And so then I took photos of everybody and started doing the portraits. And those portraits show a very sort of clear evolution of my learning process. What works, what doesn't, what works technically. And the early works are, I suppose, quite patchworky, using areas of color and building up the faces that way. But it wasn't really until I started doing the nudes was when I realized that I needed to do softer transitions. You know, people's faces have a lot of different changing planes and so you can. You can have quite sharp colour changes and it still reads as a face. But with, you know, the nudes, I was doing these sort of large expanses where there were very subtle colour changes. And so that's when I really just started mixing different colors together to get different effects. And that was really exciting, too, because I'd always. One of my favorite painters is a british painter called Howard Hodgkin. And I always loved his technique, where he would have so many different colours going on at once that weren't mixed, you know? And it kind of creates this ocular effect that I've always just really enjoyed visually and viscerally. So I love it when colours clash, you know, even if you can't see it from a distance, you know, if I'm mixing green and sort of a flesh colour together, or purple and green together, and you get this kind of energy that happens, you know, visually with those, those colors mixing. So. But it started with the nudes, and then I've kind of brought it over into many aspects of the work.

Gail: And when you. Well, I suppose perhaps before you finish a piece, I'll ask first, do you, because obviously your crochet is going in lots of different directions, do you have to pause every so often and sort of block it or straighten it before you can continue?

Jo: I don't do it while I'm working, and I do do a very minimal kind of blocking sometimes before I frame. I do frame the work on a kind of a wire mesh backing. It just makes it really easy to install, and it means that if I'm sending it somewhere, I don't need to worry about someone. I mean, crochet kind of does hold its shape very well. It's not stretchy like knitting, but if it's got this wire mesh backing, you can basically hang it on a nail on the wall like a painting, you know, and it's. It's holds it so. So sometimes I'll do. Right before framing, I do a really minimal, a very light spray of water and a very. And I put like a towel over it and do a very minimal pressing. And again, certain areas you like, you say if there's a lot of different directions, sometimes there will be a slight bit of buckling and I'll kind of just smooth it out just a little bit.

Gail: And putting it onto the wire, I would think that's quite a job because, as they were saying previously, they are large pieces, so it must be quite a challenge to actually back them with wire.

Jo: Yes, it is. The stuff that I buy comes on a roll, and so it's quite a palaver. You have to roll it out, and then I walk up and down on it.

Gail: That's great.

Jo: Roll of wire. And I'm kind of doing these little steps along it and walking on it. And then once I've got it laid out flat, then I'll put the work on it. And then I use wire cutter, tin snips and basically cut around the edge with a bit, you know, leaving a bit of room for maneuvering it. And then basically, once I've kind of got it organized, I'll start putting it on the wire. And I don't. Again, I don't sew it onto the wire. I just fold the wire ends through the edges of the work. And it took me a while to figure out the material because I wanted something where I could have the ends, you know, because I don't. I don't sew my ends in, which I know drives some people mad.

Gail: I think that's part of the charm.

Jo: I think it looks fabulous, the signature of the work. And it just evolved that way, partly because the first piece I was working on, I had different pieces of it and I was putting it on the wall and then standing back and looking at it. And I'd actually started to sew some ends in on one piece. But I was so excited about the way this view, new, exciting way of working that I just was like, no, I need to keep going because I just need to see where this is going. And then I got used to seeing it on the wall with the ends hanging. And I realized that, you know, I didn't want the work to be mistaken for a painting. And leaving the ends hanging was one way to make sure that I was drawing attention to the materials. Then it just became your signature.

Gail: Yeah, part of your signature.

Jo: I do get messages from people saying, my mom says she'd love to sew your ends in for you. And it drives. It drives me mad that you don't sew your ensins.

Gail: Oh, no, I think that's just. That is so much part of the appeal of them to me. I think they're fabulous like that.

Jo: So, yes, the wire mesh enables me to. So, yeah, like, it is very much a process of crawling around on the floor, folding tiny pieces of metal through the work and then pulling after it's on the wire, pulling all of the yarn ends through. And then there's big, you know, the big pieces, like the nudes, for instance, I'll actually hinge, put hinges on the frame before I put the work on it. So a lot of the larger pieces, like one of the nudes I showed in Scotland last year, and it folds up into a box that's about, you know, 3ft, you know, 2ft or something. So it's. That's great, again, for shipping. And I'm blessed to have work that can be transported across the world fairly inexpensively. Yeah, it doesn't. It doesn't really weigh a lot. It can't be broken. You know, I've got friends who do ceramic sculpture and they say, you know, you spend thousands of dollars to ship things across the country in crates and you're still not guaranteed that it will get there in one piece.

Gail: No, I can imagine. So, obviously, I know that you were saying that you'd had several exhibitions, I think, since. Well, since COVID perhaps a couple of years ago, we started to get very used to seeing exhibitions online rather than in person. But there is a real magic about actually being able to go along to an exhibition and see something. I won't say touch it, because obviously we don't want to encourage people to do that particularly, but there is a real tactile quality in your work that I would think would be or completely lend itself to being seen in person.

Jo: Yeah, it's completely different in person than online. I mean, I think the work photographs pretty well, but what you lose by seeing things scaled down and on a screen is the real interplay between the material and the subject, where you can't, you know, in person, you can't unsee that it's crocheted, whereas when it's on a screen, you can, you know, you can. You can just sort of read it as being, you know, a portrait of somebody or a depiction of something. So I think they're much. I much prefer them in person. And, you know, that's the challenge, I guess, is to try and get the work out into the world so that people can see it.

Gail: Yeah.

Jo: You know, in real life, even though we do all now live our lives much more, you know, online and looking at things that way.

Gail: Yes, we do.

Jo: Pre Internet. When I was a student, you know, what I was exposed to in terms of other artists work were, you know, exhibitions I stumbled upon. And the other thing, of course, looking at books in the library, but still, the exhibitions and the artwork that I saw in person as a student and a child even, you know, made. Turned me into the artist that I became. Even having access to absolutely everything all the time, which people do now, but they do.

Gail: Have you found a difference since COVID I mean, we were all very much made to work at home, and I know, obviously you work at home anyway, but it was very insular. Sometimes I speak to artists who say that they loved it. It gave them some. I don't know if I see COVID, but having that time that wasn't otherwise occupied gave a huge boost to their work. But others have a completely different view that they found it difficult without the interaction with other people. How did you find it?

Jo: Well, I suppose COVID didn't actually change my sort of day to day routine massively because, you know, I already work from home. My studio's here. I had everything that I needed to keep working. What it did change were the opportunities to get the work out into the world for quite a period of time. And that definitely set me back in, you know, certain ways, I suppose, psychologically, you know, you just. You have opportunities. You know, I had shows that were scheduled in LA and in Australia and a couple of other places that just went, you know, went away and then. And then not really knowing when those opportunities to get back out, get the work back out into the world would come back again. So I definitely struggled with that because I think it's very healthy, certainly, for me to have an outside goal to be working towards, as well as internal goals. Having a show that you're going to make work for having. And the sort of uncertainty of not knowing for when these things were going to come back was. I found it quite depressing. And I really, at times, had to sort of force myself to work. And there were so many other things going on, especially in Portland. There were, you know, riots. Well, they weren't riots. They were demonstrations that were portrayed in the media as riots. There was a lot of really intense stuff going on in the US at that time. And, you know, having a certain person in the White House, it was just the whole. The whole thing was just. It was very stressful.

Gail: Yes. Yeah. And so did you actually, did you continue producing or did you sort of slow down, consciously slow down your production because you. You weren't sure where it was going or if the exhibition was going to be taking place.

Jo: Like, I did keep producing. I think my production did slow a bit. But once I had a. I was represented by a local gallery in Portland at the time, and they did eventually, you know, open up and put things back on the calendar. And so I got a show on the calendar, and then that, you know, kind of gave me, forced me to keep working. And also, too, sometimes when there's really a lot of intense change happening in the world socially and there's political things and there are scary things happening, you can sometimes feel, well, I'm just sitting here crocheting this stuff. What my. What am I doing, you know, and I struggled a wee bit during COVID with, you know, trying to reconcile the importance of, you know, working as an artist with, again, bigger things, you know, happening.

Gail: I think many people did turn to, I'm going to say crafts within that period where we were perhaps going through that lockdown phase. And we were all worried, weren't we? We didn't know really what this new disease was. Were all concerned, concerned for ourselves, concerned for other people. And I know I've spoken to quite a number, certainly, about perhaps, of our students that found solace in their craft. You know, it was something that they could do and switch off from what was happening in the outer world.

Jo: Yeah, absolutely. And, yeah, crochet and knitting have both been proven to be, you know, meditative and calming activities for people who maybe are, you know, having trouble with focusing. And so, yeah, I did, you know, after just a sort of a period of feeling unsettled and worried. And I did, you know, find, you know, got back to my work and settled down into it and was able to produce a show. But it was a struggle. It definitely was a struggle at that time.

Gail: And as far as the business side goes, obviously, I think sometimes people think that all artists do is sort of sit in a wonderful studio and do whatever it is they're doing, you know, be it crochet, be it painting, whatever it might be. Of course, there's a whole business side side to it, isn't there, that people don't see as much of. But you do have to market your work and you do have to do accounts and various other things. How, how easily have you found that has, has come to you?

Jo: I'm not very great at marketing, to be honest. I feel very lucky that when I first started doing the work, which is, you know, not quite, but coming up on 20 years ago, I did get a website, a very basic website up so that if anyone wanted to find it, they could and started posting things. And the Internet kind of did its thing. People started, I think, taking images and putting, I'm not on Etsy, but I think there's quite a lot of my work is on people's Pinterest, is what I'm thinking of, putting things on Pinterest. And it just sort of spread out. And so the Internet did a lot of that for me. And then I would get emails from people, you know, saying, do you want to participate in a show? And then I was also able to get a local, just a local show at a coffee shop. Although it's, I would say a gallery quality space at a local coffee shop was where I first showed the crochet for the first time. And then from there, I joined a local gallery. But having really was having a website and doing social media, people just found it. I wouldn't necessarily say that I managed to market my work any kind of constructive way, but the Internet definitely, you know, the work got out there and it spread. And, you know, it is a great bonus for artists to be able to showcase their own work online and be able to, you know, accept work directly without a middle person, so. But I. Yeah, my partner is a very amazing networker. And marketing, I mean, he doesn't do marketing. He's a musician and a creative person as well, but he's just, he's just really good, very useful. So I definitely fall more into that category of the person who would rather just sit in their studio and make the work, not really worry about what happens after that.

Gail: Well, I was actually going to ask you if you had any advice or words of wisdom for our students who might be thinking of going into business themselves when they graduate from us, but perhaps what comes out of that is find yourself a partner who's really good at it.

Jo: Well, I mean, he doesn't actually do that for me at the moment, but I have said that at some point, I would love for him to just be my business manager and be the person goes online and does the things for me that I. Because for me, the less time I spend on a computer, the better. Yeah, I'm not sure that I would be the best person to give business advice. For me, offering encouragement to people would be more about really finding out what you want to do, really enjoying what you want to do, putting the hours in. And it is. I mean, it's a lot. It's a lot of work. You know, I work much harder as an artist than I did when I was working for other people, and I put more hours in. But, you know, the trade off is I work for myself. I have a lot of freedom. I know I'm doing what I want to be doing. And so, again, it's just finding a balance between loving what you do and then trying to. The hard part is trying to make a living at it. It's difficult, I'm not gonna lie.

Gail: So what is it that keeps you going when you have sort of times that perhaps, you know, things get more difficult?

Jo: I'm just endlessly curious, I suppose, about what I can do next. I just. I love making, and, you know, certainly in the earlier stages of doing this crochet technique, a lot of my drive was, well, you know, can I do a nude? What would that look like? You know, can I crochet a classical nude? Can I, you know, can I do this? And just pushing myself to try to see what the technique and the materials are capable of. So that. And then that sort of drive still continues to push me, making new things. I've always got something in my head that I want to make. I can't even get to, you know, a 10th of the things. Well, I would say even a lower proportion of I would want to make.

Gail: So obviously you would. Well, I'm saying obviously, but I'm guessing that you would have done a fair bit of life drawing when you were at the Glasgow school of Art.

Jo: Yeah, yeah, we did.

Gail: So is that where your interest in sort of eventually moving on to doing nudes came from, or.

Jo: Definitely a bit of it was that I was proving. Trying to prove to myself and I suppose, the world that I could do what painters do as well with crochet, if not better. Well, I'm not going to say better, but, you know, basically the crochet could be, as, you know, it could stand up to be comparatively two paintings. And so the nudes were. That's a very classic, you know, fine art category to do. To do nudes in a very traditional way. So I really. And I wanted to do male nudes only because I just thought it would, you know, I really enjoyed the kind of the contrast and the humour with doing these giant muscular male nudes out of this very traditionally feminine or, you know, female.

Gail: It's a nice counterpoint. Yeah, it's a nice counterpoint, isn't it, between the two?

Jo: Yeah. And that, you know, and so that was definitely part of that decision.

Gail: And, I mean, you've actually had a really interesting journey, haven't you, in life, coming from Scotland and then making that move over to Oregon, do you think that that had any effect on your work? The completely different country and obviously different perspective, I suppose.

Jo: Yeah, definitely. It was. I was 23 ish, I think, when I moved here for good, and just a couple of years out of college. And it was really exciting to be in a completely different country. And Portland at the time was much smaller than it is now, and it had a really vibrant creative scene in terms of musicians and artists and performers. And what I loved about it was this just can do grassroots attitude that was quite different from the way things were in the UK, which everything seemed very structured and you had to find certain channels, you know, get into certain channels and get things a certain way, whereas over here, people just. They were just doing what they wanted to do, making what they wanted to make, whether it was music or art or performance theatre. And that was really exciting. And it definitely sort of freed me up from, you know, maybe self imposed constraints about what I could and couldn't do or what I should and shouldn't do. So the timing for me was, was great, you know, and it definitely led me to a lot of different experimentation and trying lots of different things, you know? And it was, you know, I had showed work that wasn't textile work in Portland, again, in a very low key way, in restaurants and bars and coffee shops and things before I started doing the crochet. And so I was on a journey, and I just kept, you know, kept making things and kept trying, and was always looking for my medium. I was sure that there was something that I was going to find that was, you know, something I hadn't found yet. And then I found I was lucky.

Gail: And what was it that you. That you. Because I take it that you work full time now as an artist, but what was it that you did before.

Jo: Various jobs in Portland. My first job, I worked in a pottery studio as a technician, and I worked in a vintage clothing store. I did do. I had a few, what they call service industry jobs. So bars and restaurants. So the last job, full time job that I had was working in the restaurant. And that's where I said I was working when I first started doing the crochet. And the first portraits I did were all the chefs and servers and dishwashers at the restaurant. And then I have had a couple of part time jobs to make ends meet since doing the art, mostly full time caregiving jobs. And, you know, it's. Yeah, it's. It's definitely. You kind of have to patch things together. But more recently, I've managed to get by just doing the art full time.

Gail: And was that a conscious decision? At a certain point, I need to spend more time on my art or.

Jo: Well, what I do is so time consuming. There's just no shortcuts. I can't literally couldn't make enough work to get by if I wasn't doing it full time. It just. I can't. I can't whip it out. I just can't. It takes. It takes the time that it takes, and I can't speed things up. It just. It's a process. And there's times where I definitely struggle with the fact that I can only produce a certain amount of work, you know, each year. But the fact that it's made the way it's made and that it takes, the time it takes, hopefully contributes to the value of the work and the fact that, you know, nobody else can really do it this way.

Gail: No, I mean, obviously if people are approaching you for commissions, then they must be happy to pay for your time, hopefully. Are you able to fully reflect that, the time that you take when in your costings?

Jo: I don't, I don't. I've never broken it down again. I've sort of, you know, the pricing is based on, well, what things were selling for. When I joined the gallery, we had to have a conversation about, well, if you're going to take. Gallery takes half. Right? So. And you have to have conversation, well, I'm already selling my work. At this price point. You're going to take half. I'm not just going to suddenly make half what I make. So, you know, the prices have to go up. And of course, when you're first setting out with brand new work, it's hard to pick a price. So definitely when I first showed the work, the price didn't reflect the effort and the time. Now it's closer to it. But I still think there's times when I think, well, would you break it down? I'm probably making minimum, less than minimum wage doing it, but again, it's a balance of you're doing something you love. Yeah, I'm getting paid to do what I love.

Gail: So what's next, jo? Do you have any, any sort of projects in the pipeline or any interesting things that are coming next you could tell us about?

Jo: Well, yeah, I'm currently working on. I'll be finishing up in the next couple of months a really large scale commission project for corporation, which I can't talk about because I signed an idea, but I've, you know, I'll be able to post about that and talk about that once it's completed. And then I'm very excited then to be able to get back to the work that I want to make, which what I'm most excited about making for myself now are continuing the nude series in the vein that I was mentioning, where there's sort of a crossover between nudes and landscape, so there's kind of a morphing of the body into a landscape.

Gail: Well, that sounds interesting.

Jo: That's what's kind of bubbling in the back of my mind and more, you know, I will keep doing the portraits, too. Again, I have to balance making really gigantic things that take months with smaller things that I can complete in a shorter period of time. So I like to go back and forth between doing huge, concentrated periods on something really large scale and then being able to make something smaller that I can finish and feel good about having finished something.

Gail: So do you have more than one piece on the go at a time and you swap between them, or do you just concentrate on one?

Jo: Well, it depends. Some things I'll start and set aside. I really, my studio's not that big, considering the size of the work that I make. And so part of the needing to do one thing at a time is just because of, you know, size constraints and space constraints. So, and it's quite good for me, actually, to be forced to finish something and then move on to another thing because you can sometimes just, oh, I'll stop that and I'll start this, and then you can end up with, you know, a few different things that you're not quite sure where they're going. So I do tend to typically just work on one thing at a time, but there are a couple of things on the wall that are started, and I'll go back to, and if I'm working on my own work and a commission comes in, you know, I'll have to kind of balance those two things at the same.

Gail: I imagine that you get people that really would like to be able to do what you do. Do you guys? Quite a number of requests for courses.

Jo: I do. I do get a few. And quite a lot of people asking for me to teach online. But again, I prefer, I've taught a couple, few different workshops in person, though I haven't done it online, again, partly because of my, my own personal thing about not being on the computer. And also that I think it would be quite hard to translate it through a screen.

Gail: No, I, I could imagine that, because so much of it is, is a personal interpretation, isn't it? And as you're saying, if you're not, if you're working directly from a photograph and you're able to do that, obviously, because you, you're very artistic. But, but I imagine many people would find that really challenging. I think that they might have to have more steps put into that, perhaps.

Jo: Yeah, definitely. So I will keep teaching, you know, workshops here and there. It's really fun to get invited to teach a workshop somewhere else and, you know, take a trip. And I do like doing that, but I really, and I love the, you know, personal interactions with people when, when teaching that. I just don't know if I would enjoy it as much online. So I haven't, I haven't pursued that, that road, but people do ask and I sort of say, oh, I teach workshops once in a while, but I don't have any online classes.

Gail: And. Have you ever thought about doing a book?

Jo: Not, I haven't necessarily. I mean, I made a little, got a grant a few years ago and made an exhibition catalogue to go along with museum show that I had at the time. And I've had my work appear in a few different books, but I haven't thought about doing one myself necessarily. But, you know, I wouldn't say no if somebody approached me and wanted.

Gail: Well, so if there are any publishers out there, Jo, it's been an absolute pleasure talking to you. Thank you so much for, well, obviously getting up early, first of all, but thank you so much for joining me today and I've just been delighted to hear more about your work. So thank you so much.

Jo: Thank you, Gail, it's been an absolute pleasure.




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