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Craft With Conscience: Michelle Kingdom

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: Michelle Kingdom

Sarah Benning

Michelle Kingdom// Embroidery Artist // Burbank, California

Her work explores psychological landscapes, illuminating thoughts left unspoken. she create tiny worlds in thread to capture elusive yet persistent inner voices. Literary snippets, memories, personal mythologies, and art historical references inform the imagery; fused together, these influences explore relationships, domesticity and self-perception. Symbolism and allegory lay bare dynamics of aspiration and limitation, expectation and loss, belonging and alienation, truth and illusion. 

Born and raised in Los Angeles, Michelle Kingdom studied drawing and painting at UCLA, earning a Bachelor’s degree in fine art. She has been involved in various fields of art, design and education throughout her career.  As a self-taught embroidery artist, Michelle quietly created figurative narratives in thread for years. She now exhibits her work nationally and internationally, and her embroideries have been featured in numerous publications such as The Huffington Post, Hi Fructose, Juxtapoz, Saatchi Gallery, and Colossal.  When not busy stitching, Michelle is a preschool teacher and lives in Burbank, CA with her husband and daughter. 

Check out her work on her WebsiteFlickr, Facebook, or her Instagram.

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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 ones’ own visual vocabulary. The internet is an ever growing fixture in many artist’s lives and businesses, could you talk about the role the internet plays in your artistic and professional life?

The Internet plays a huge role in my work and life, which seems a bit ironic considering I use the terribly old fashioned, labor intensive medium of embroidery.

I first started stitching in the 1990's, before the prevalence of the Internet. Back then you had to physically see art in galleries, museums, or books, which made it much more reliant on art gatekeepers. The digital world has changed all of that and allows an intimate, personalized relationship to art, with unlimited accessibility to ideas and images. With a now broadened art world, we have the ability to customize our art exposure and consumption. It has essentially created a new pathway into a highly focused art experience, which may parallel the fine art world, completely diverge from it, or transform it into a hybrid.

As an artist, the Internet, and especially social media, has allowed me to find an audience that I believe would have been more difficult for me to find in the past. My embroideries are unusual, do not easily fit into an accepted genre, and are fairly small in scale. They might be marginalized or overlooked in a traditional context. But online, particularly on a format like Instagram, a post of a 6 inch embroidery carries the same weight as a full scale installation. The physical presence has been equalized, allowing for a newfound emphasis on personal resonance.

Professionally, showing and selling work has changed as well. There are now many points of entry and access in a highly complicated art world. Traditional gallery spaces are still important but social media is another valid way to promote art and should not be overlooked or dismissed. 

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

Inspiration comes from everywhere. Each piece is a synthesis of several elements including memories, relationships, photographs, literature, personal mythology, art history and imagination. I am interested in exploring identity and relationships, and how our perceptions, particularly filtered though the lens of our psyche, shape our reality. The continual tension of opposing dynamics such as aspiration and limitation, expectation and loss, belonging and alienation, truth and illusion, fascinates me. Ultimately my own personal experiences drive the concepts. 

My current process is really a collage of ideas and influences. I keep a sizable collection of reference materials including photographs, notes, sketches, quotes and memories. Many of these materials I store digitally, though not all, which has made accessibility nearly unlimited. By playing with multiple, sometimes juxtaposing images and ideas, beginnings of a story and vision emerge and are further developed into a mature piece. 

3. 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?

I have encountered both inspiration and infringement, though it really doesn't affect my work much. I genuinely am flattered when someone else finds inspiration in what I do and am always happy to answer questions when people have them. Because I only make one of a kind pieces, I don't have issues of pattern infringement or duplicates  that might plague other artisans. A few people have tried to post my work as their own on social media sites which was very perplexing. When this happened, people that know my work have notified me (which I greatly appreciated), and the posts have been shut right down.

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

The best advice I have is to keep going, keep experimenting, and keep persevering. Don't wait for inspiration because it usually strikes when a project is already underway. I also think it's important to stay true to your own vision. While I am all for keeping an open mind and listening to others, an artist needs to answer to herself first and foremost.

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

There are so many amazing artists out there, too many to include everyone unfortunately. Some of my favorites stitchers are Darrel Morris, Sophia Narrett, Lisa Smirnova, Victor Espinoza, Ana Teresa Barboza, Anna Torma and Amelie William Levaux. I am greatly inspired by many other artists and mediums as well and anyone interested is welcome to visit my Pinterest boards.