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Craft With Conscience: Teresa Lim

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: Teresa Lim

Sarah Benning

Teresa Lim // Embroidery Artist // Singapore

Teresa graduated from Lasalle College of the Arts with a First Class B.A. Honours in Fashion Design and Textiles. Her personal design philosophy is to fuse three of her interests together: Illustrations, Embroidery and Surface pattern design. Her designs seek to blur the lines and boundaries between being an illustrator and a textile designer. She gets inspired by themes revolving around gender and womanhood.

Check out more of her work on her Instagram and website.

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 is a bittersweet thing. Its great because I can share my work with people all over the world and I never thought I could earn a living from this but with the internet, it became possible to make a living doing something I love. Putting my work online has also opened up amazing work opportunities I would never have dreamed of, I would have never met amazing clients and gotten dream projects. Part of this also includes connecting with my audience and being part of a community with so many lovely and supportive people online.

But the downside of the internet is that it is very easy to slip into this phase where posting work online becomes a way to seek validation through likes. This gives a very false sense of reality. I’ve been through times when I would post a picture and if it gets less than certain number of likes in the first hour I would delete it and think that its not good enough. I’d spend weeks on a piece and when its finished I would put it up online and when it doesn't hit a certain number of likes, I would end up feeling very demoralised. One time it even led to me to destroy a piece I spent HOURS on. Its terrible, I dont remember starting out like this. Instagram used to be a happy place for me to share what I love doing. But this slippery slope of online validation made me very unhappy and resentful towards my work. It reached a point where posting work on social media made me feel sick in the stomach, that's when I realised that something has to change.

This change is definitely still a work in progress, but I’ve learnt that its very important to not let social media rule the majority of my life by letting it decide how happy or successful I am. I think its important in this digital day and age where almost EVERYTHING revolves around ratings and feedback, that one should not live for public approval but instead its how you feel about yourself and your work that determines the quality of your own life/profession. So now before I post anything online, I ask myself if I’m happy with it, and if I am…then that's all that matters. I don't look at numbers now, instead I am encouraged when my clients are happy with the work I’ve done or when my customers tell me how happy they are with their commissioned piece. I feel validated when participants from my embroidery workshop leave feeling inspired, and most importantly, I feel happiest when I look at my work and say I love what I do.

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

I try not to go online to “look for inspiration”. In fact I try to stay offline as much as possible when it comes to work. Most of my inspiration comes from the books I read (I always go back to Journals of Sylvia Plath and The Pillow Book for inspiration) and also through my own writing.

I carry a notebook with me called [Thoughts & Observations] that I would write in every day. I'd go to a Starbucks or sit in the park writing about the sounds that I hear, about how the weather makes me feel, about the couple sitting across from me…what are they like, what kind of dreams do they have…about the old man crossing the road, what was his life like… where is he going… Through writing, imagination and lots of reflection, I feel connected with the world around me and through that I gain a lot of ideas and inspiration.

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?

Yes I have encountered copies of my work online, there was one that looked so similar that my client actually thought I violated the copyright agreement and resold the design to another client. :(

Sometimes I get tagged in works that are inspired by my style of portrait commissions, I am always glad to see them, but I guess its one thing to be "inspired" to create something of your own and another thing to be "inspired" to create the same exact thing AND sell it as yours.

I'm going to be honest, I've been on the other side of this. When I was starting out many years ago I was trying to find my own style but I didn't know how, so I started looking online for embroidery works that I could follow. I really love the works of Hannah Hill and the little patches she does. I was so inspired by her works because they're always so cute and empowering at the same time. So I decided to make some for myself, I happily made these patches and people started requesting to buy them, so I started selling them. In all honesty it never crossed my mind that it would be copying because I always changed the illustration, the texts and the colors. I thought embroidered patches were a very universal thing that nobody "owned" so I wasn't actually copying. But eventually it caught the eye of Hannah herself and she reached out to me saying that I copied her work and it has really upset her. Initially I was confused because it caught me by surprise, but when more people pointed it out to me, I felt really bad and sorry, took down everything and remembered the feeling of embarrassment and never did it again.

So now looking back, I think sometimes when these things happen, most people don't do it out of bad intentions but a general lack of understanding and knowledge. I guess deep down I also knew that since I'm producing work that has already been done, it was not creatively enriching for me and I did not get any sense of accomplishment from doing so.

This pushed me to develop a style of work that I can now call and identify as mine. My hope is that others who find themselves "stuck" like I was, will be encouraged that they eventually find it if they don't give up :)

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

I would say to refrain from comparisons. It's so easy to look over at what others are doing and then feel like you're inadequate or not good enough. But the thing with comparing is that there will always be someone better than you…if not now, there will be. So I’d say to focus on your own race and tell your own stories through your work or business, and let others do their own.

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

I do! Marlene Dumas is my absolute favourite artist.

I also love the illustrations and rants of Frances Canon, the photography of Michal Pudelka  and Lukakz Wierzbowski. The embroidery work of @momo_needle and the line work and embroidery style of @memorialstitches.

All images provided by the artist