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Craft With Conscience: Danielle Clough

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: Danielle Clough

Sarah Benning

Danielle Clough // Fiber artist // Cape town, South Africa

To just call Danielle Clough a fiber artist is a bit of an over simplification. While much of her work consists of embroidery techniques in various forms, she's also established herself as a photographer and designer. Her embroideries are not only interesting for their compositional techniques, but also for the various materials that support her stitching, such as tennis rackets and chainlink fences. Inspired by the Cape Town street art and music scene, Danielle's work truly modernizes a traditional craft to make it something totally unique and her own. Please check out more of her work on her website or her Instagram. (seriously, there are too many amazing pieces to display here!) 

Photo Credit: Tyler B. Murphy

Photo Credit: Tyler B. Murphy

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, and mostly Instagram has been a critical tool in my creative and professional growth. It has given me exposure and direct access to people who appreciate my work, and want to work with me without having to follow the traditional formulas of shops or galleries. I feel so grateful for the how it has shaped my business and way of life. It has given me the freedom and confidence to do what I love as a career. I don't know what I would be doing if it wasn't for the interwebs.

That being said, like with anything, it comes with its challenges. It’s a new 'space' that doesn't have an exact formula and because of that, there is a lot of trial and error, with no manual or fall back plan. I've found I have gone through personal ups and down. Putting your work into the world through social media, where people have direct access to you, can leave you feeling quite vulnerable. I've gone through phases of putting a lot of pressure on myself to push out work, and the need to create content sometimes over powers the process, and my patience with myself to create good work that I should be taking my time with. I get left with the feeling like I am creating work for 'likes' and losing my own sense of direction. The affirmation from a social media platform when connected to your work can feel like a direct reflection of your skill and when it’s not there, it can be like failing. Those feelings have left me quite self-critical, which then gets in the way with what is really important, and that’s simply enjoying what I make. I am very self aware of these downs because of how important it is to share my work from an 'authentic' place. I absolutely love my audience, and the embroidery community who I find are very open about their own challenges with sharing work and have found the best way to get out of these down spaces is to put my phone away and create something just for me. These are often the pieces that I progress the most with.

 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 engage with the internet for inspiration. I avoid looking at other people’s work as I feel it either filters into my thinking or, honestly, intimidates me (there are so so so many incredible creatives out there!). I try follow people from different disciplines to me to stop me from being comparative on social media, and that way I can just enjoy their work. I don't use Pinterest because of this. Its almost over stimulating. I find I am the most inspired when I am doing something outside of my routine and looking at things that I can be resourceful with; new tools, colours or materials (like finding a chunky bright pink wool, or seeing a broken fence and stitching it up). Inspiration is a fleeting thing, like a flash of energy when your favourite song comes on. What’s more important for me is being mindful of what motivates me. The force that takes an idea, that flash of inspiration and turns it into something tangible. In some ways Instagram plays a part in that because I feel driven to create new work for Instagram and my website. My main motivation though lies in challenging myself and  learning new skills.

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?

This is a difficult one as embroidery is predominantly a craft, based on patterns and replication. This creates a safe place where people can just 'make' and one can sit anywhere on the spectrum of creativity. This is why there is such a wonderful supportive community, but also why infringement is common. Embroidery by its nature is about taking other people's designs and techniques and recreating it, so with contemporary embroidery it straddles that line of art and craft. The rules of infringement seems to be more blurred than with other creative mediums. It has happened to me in varying degrees and was difficult at first. I've had to put my ego in check and am not bothered by it anymore. It helps having amazing support from people around the world who stand up for me, even when people repost my work and don't credit me. Its honestly one of the most heart warming things. I feel protected by the kindness of others and this helps me focus on what is more important to me which is own progression. When it comes to infringement I now think about it as they are recreating something that has already been done, and I will focus on creating something new.

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

On the practical side, take good photos of your work and always keep high res versions of your work ready. You never know when you are going to need them. Document your process and space as best you can and don't be afraid to ask for help (and be nice! You never know who's help you are going to need!). You do not need to be good at everything, just focus on being really good at the thing you enjoy.

On a more personal side, find the part of your creative process you enjoy and indulge in it. Your business will find a way to build around what you love most. This way you will also develop your own style, and when your work isn't derivative, you will tap into a market that you didn't know existed.

Oh, and a new trick that I learnt, when you are working on something and it doesn't feel quite right, look at it upside down!

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

I have a few! I find the people I l am moved by the most are not just because of the work they create, (there is so much incredible work out there) but because of the manner in which they do it.

I love the embroidery of Michelle Kingdom

Paintings of Lorraine Loots (possibly the nicest person on the planet)

The dedication of Jack Fox

The scale and scope of Faith47s work

The colours of Casey Weldon

The humour and honesty of Cecile Dormeau

And most importantly the work, advice and relentless support of Tyler B Murphy