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Craft With Conscience: Kate Tume of Mother Eagle

Craft With Conscience

'Craft With Conscience' began in early 2016 as a weekly Instagram series dedicated to sharing the work of other creatives and as a platform to openly discuss certain aspects of ethical art-making and consuming in the age of the internet and social media.  

This series arose out of my own frustrations related to seeing my work constantly copied stitch-for-stitch, sold without permission, and credited to other people.  Rather than wallowing in unproductive negative emotions, I wanted to find a way to bring this common issue to light in a positive way.  My solution was to share the work of artists, crafters, designers, and makers who I greatly admire for their originality and dedication. Initially, I shared work similar in materials or subject matter to my own, having heard the argument, "There are only so many ways to stitch plants, I'm not copying you..." one too many times.  The truth is, no matter what the medium or subject, every artist from hobby crafter to professional painter has their own perspective and voice. It takes effort to develop one's visual vocabulary and it can be disheartening when your's is taken and misused by other individuals and sometimes larger companies.

All that being said, now is an incredible time for working artists because of the vast resources of the internet including sources of inspiration, the ability to reach a large and global audience, and as a community building tool. As you may know, I love sharing my work on Instagram and following other makers. It's a wonderful way to connect with other artists, be inspired, and feel supported, but we all need to be aware of how we use these resources and what effect it may have on others.

Since the start of 2016, 'Craft With Conscience' has grown and evolved just like any other creative pursuit and has recently expanded to include short interviews with featured artists. I've asked participating artists a series of questions about their studio process, sources of inspiration, and how image-sharing sites like Instagram and Pinterest influence and affect them. I hope you read on to see what they have to say!

Craft With Conscience: Kate Tume of Mother Eagle

Sarah Benning

Kate Tume // Embroidery Artist // Brighton, UK.

Kate Tume aka Mother Eagle is an embroidery artist from Brighton, UK. Self taught, she'd been practising embroidery almost her whole life before turning professional artist 10 years ago. Kate combines a variety of techniques in her work, often 3-dimensional, embellishments and goldwork feature heavily. Her work is influenced by folklore, mythology and burial customs, and she is currently working on projects around our disappearing world, and lost species. Kate also teaches textile arts privately, and has just launched the first design in a series of embroidery kits called 'Mother Eagle Textile Art Boxes'.

Check out more of her amazing work on Instagram, her website, and online shop.


1. I began my #CraftWithConscience series as a way to simultaneously promote the work of other makers and to discuss the complicated issues surrounding creative inspiration and developing one’s own visual vocabulary. The internet is an ever growing fixture in many artists’ lives and businesses, could you talk about the role the internet plays in your artistic and professional life?

I wouldn't have the business I have now without the internet and I wouldn't choose to be without it. I've had my ups and downs with it though, so it is a carefully managed relationship and I try to maintain healthy boundaries with it. Sure I like to scroll and consume images on my phone on my commute like many people, but on the whole I interact with the internet in a way that is mindful, problem solving. I always try and see the internet as a tool and not as real life, and I try and make my relationship with it active and not passive.  Being informed and wanting to pass that on in a creative way is a huge part of my drive as an artist, so a thirst for knowledge informs my relationship with the internet most. I use it for researching the stories of the animals and plants I feature in my art. Overall though my online 'strategy' is conversion to real world opportunities and experiences. My focus is on exhibiting my work and nurturing relationships with galleries that will display my art in real life. Embroidery is transformed when seen 'live' (and is transformational in terms of it's impact on perceptions of what 'art is'). My main income stream at the moment is through teaching so increasing my online platform supports this, and as I've just launched my Textile Art Boxes (DIY kits), it's much easier to convert sales of these, than it is large originals which need to be seen, and felt.


2. Where do you find inspiration for your work?  In what ways has the internet and/or social media impacted your design process?

My inspiration is my love and fascination for all living creatures! I'd say narrative is the most important and consistent thread in my work. Each piece has behind it pages and pages of notes and research before I pick up a needle. Folklore and mythology have a very strong influence on me, and this goes hand in hand with a fascination for ancient history and the 'old ways'. I'm currently about 2 years into a theme of endangered and extinct species which pretty much encompasses all these elements. I have a strong driving impulse to tell stories of the animals and species we are losing and have lost. I'm very interested in humanity's relationship with nature both now and in the past, and also how we mark loss, grieve and ritualise death. It's combining these ideas that I'm exploring in my work, and it's proved such a rich vein of inspiration I can't see an end to at the moment. I'm aware of the inherent sadness in this statement, but I read something recently that struck a chord which is that people tend to care more about things to which they have an emotional connection. Art has the amazing ability to produce this emotional connection in us. It's my deepest intention with my art that it too forges an emotional connection with the viewer, that then produces a tangible and positive action in the world - whether that's telling a friend the story of the thylacine for example, or deciding to donate some money to a charity that protects habitats. Or simply just having a higher awareness for our impact on the disappearing world.

In terms of how the internet has impacted my design process, i would say only positively inasmuch as I have access to amazing resources that inform my work. Websites like the IUCN redlist of endangered species, and Arkive that does a more condensed job of this with more imagery, are go-to starting points for any portraits I'm working on. On Instagram I can follow amazing wildlife photographers whose portraits capture my heart.


3. How have you, as an artist, found your creative voice?

I think it's very important to cultivate a relationship within yourself, with your own artistic self. What I mean is, when I felt I'd truly found my artistic voice was when I stopped looking outside at what I thought would be popular or commercially successful, and instead looked within and paid attention to the things I really wanted to create. It was a very significant moment for me. I realised I didn't care anymore to follow those, largely fear-based, messages and voices telling me I had to be an artist in a certain way to be successful (for me this was things like "work small. No one will buy large, you'll never be able to pay yourself a wage that will reflect your time" etc). This had led me down a path that meant I was being creative in a way that was inauthentic for me. And guess what - I wasn't successful or fulfilled! I felt like I was shouting into a void. Abandoning that led me to my piece The God of Crabs, my first ever large scale animal portrait. I wanted to work big and textured and colourful and 3 dimensional. I had never done that before. It felt both exhilarating but also very calm, normal, natural. That piece was the first in a body of work that has now seen me exhibit internationally, have my own solo show, begin teaching and most recently launch my own embroidery kits. 
This may be an age thing, certainly a confidence thing. But for me I am increasingly less in need of external reassurance and less interested in not being 100% myself. This has been quite difficult for me to achieve, stand in my own power and feel that what I have to say and contribute has value and deserves to take up space.


4. Sites like Pinterest and Instagram are popular places for artists to share their own work. They also act as public visual archives, often leading to creative work by others that walks the line between ‘inspiration’ and ‘infringement.’ Have you encountered copies of your work online and how does it affect you? What are your strategies for dealing with it?

Making art that is authentically me and mine. I know that might sound like I'm saying that artists who have their work plagiarised aren't making authentic work but that's not what I mean at all. It's that I believe if you're copying art you're not making art. You're making a facsimile of someone else's voice and I think there is very little value in that. It's sad because each of our own unique voices has so much more to offer.
To my knowledge I've never had my work copied. I'm sure I probably will and it possibly already has been. So whilst I can't share how it has affected me, I honestly don't worry about it happening. Art isn't just what something looks like, aesthetics. It's what it represents, what it means. A copy may look similar but it can never have the same depth. I used to spend ages putting watermarks on my images, but honestly, if someone's going to steal they can remove it, crop it out, whatever. I think if you're going to share your work on the internet then it is a double edged sword - you want to reach a wide audience, but then you expose yourself to a risk of theft. But not sharing your work is so much more harmful to you! Just because you may feel safer not sharing your work online, you could still then exhibit your work and people come see it and take photos and then decide to copy you. you just can't enjoy the rewards of being an artist whilst keeping your light hidden. If and when plagiarism occurs for me, as I'm sure it will, I expect I may feel anger and resentment, I will contact them if I can and take the necessary steps. But ultimately I believe in trying to never act out of fear in my artistic practice, so to curtail anything that I'm doing would be inconsistent with that and not true to me.


5. Do you have any advice for aspiring artists or creative business people?

I would offer some advice specifically for embroidery artists who identify as female because that's the experience I speak to, but it may resonate with other kinds of artists and art too. Embroidery tends to be very gendered. Seen as women's work. 'Domestic craft' etc. So because being female is so often devalued in our society, so is our work. However, embroidery is art, and when we as artists in this medium stand up for that and demand our place, we start a dialogue that transcends our medium - the meaning of the art stands regardless of whether it is a painting or a sculpture or a cross stitch or whatever. And then the technique becomes part of its shining value. Whenever anyone working in embroidery - whether they call themselves an artist or not - sells their work at a low, cheap price, it harms all embroidery artists. It says "hey, this is easy and of no meaning or consequence" and the viewer is encouraged to see this medium as disposable. If all embroidery artists make sure we price our work properly, know and demand our value, it would change the perception of embroidery as art. The issue is both in society and our own internalised self love. We must love ourselves and each other enough. I know there is a fear that 'what if I don't sell?' but we must not continue to uphold the idea that art by women is less than. No.


6. Do you have any favorite blogs, artists, or Instagram accounts that you’d like to share?

My recommendations:

Textile artist Annamieke Mein - I encourage any artist interested in nature who is unaware of her work to look her up!

The illustration of Alan Aldridge from the Butterfly Ball trilogy of books. I have owned and lived and referred back to this trio of illustrated poems almost my entire life.

3 books I wouldn't be without are the Dorling Kindersley Natural History Book, Photographer Tim Flach's gorgeous book Endangered has already been hugely important and influential for me, and finally Joel Sartore's Animal Ark books are extremely engaging and a real treat for anyone who loves wildlife.

On instagram:

Irem Yasici's work is just so joyful,whilst also being so skillfully made and also just so wonderfully unique and creative. Plus quite honestly her good natured kindness and charm. Raven Kianna D. Is an artist new to me who has a very strong and transparent voice, which I find very nourishing. Following her work is one of my new fave things.
Janine Hershel creates machine embroidered wildlife portraits which just absolutely blow my mind. A truly special talent. Emily Tull's line quality in her embroidered art, and the painterly quality she imbues her work with reflect her immense skill and mastery.