Liz Payne is, hands down, one of my favorite embroidery artists. Her vibrant works are hand-painted textiles with embellishments like beading, intricate stitches, and sequins. They’re a feast for the eyes—a collision of color, textures, and shapes.
Liz is taking part in How Did You Do That?, a series that focuses on how makers create the things that we love. So far, we’ve learned how Nancy Liang crafts her spooky GIFs and had a peak into Tinybop’s intensive app-making process. Irma Grueholz also shared how she forms her whimsical 3D creations. Now, without further ado, here’s Liz!
Brown Paper Bag: What is your artistic background? What was the most influential part of your education—either formally or informally?
Liz Payne: When I was younger, I was always surrounded by piles of fabric, wool, thread and beads in every shape, size and color. I’m really influenced by my mum — she can sew anything and everything and so I’ve always been surrounded by it and loved everything to do with it — I guess it was natural I would want to create things that combined my love of all those things! After school, I went on to complete a Bachelor of Visual Arts degree at uni, followed by a Certificate IV in Graphic Design. But I think the ‘informal’ hours of work and practice was, and is, really important– nothing happens overnight!
BPB: You write that you use a “mixture of stitches to create a synergy of movement and dimension with these threads so your eye dances around from one intricate detail to the next.” Who/what inspires this?
LP: I like my work to be interesting and intriguing and to also grasp the viewer into all the intricate details of the stitching, sometimes surprising them that it’s been embroidered. I think embroidery can have a stigma to it that it’s ‘grandmotherly’ or ‘old fashioned’. It’s my hope when people see my work that this old connotation is blown out of the water, and I hope to achieve this by drawing the viewer’s eye in and across the details of a work.
BPB: Give us an idea of your process. What’s the first step in starting a new piece, and what’s the final step?
LP: Sometimes I have a plan in my head of a piece I want to create and I’ll sketch it first, sometimes taking it into Illustrator to further plan it out. Other times I approach a piece with more freedom and just pull out the paints and go for it. I see applying the paint as a necessary layer — even if you don’t see the paint underneath all the time. After the fabric is ready, then comes the fun bit of embroidering! This can be time consuming but it’s my favorite bit — slowly, slowly building up the texture and color. I try to keep the beading aspect till last, but I don’t necessarily do this. Once it’s finished I’ll decided on the framing options and more than likely frame it myself (as I’m a bit of a control freak!)
BPB: Do you keep a sketchbook? If so, what does it look like?
LP: Yes, I have a couple and I stash them everywhere. They’re completely disorganized, stuffed with receipts, things to remember, but full of little sketches and ideas that if I didn’t write it down I’d be lost without.
BPB: How much planning goes into your work before you begin? How much do you account for spontaneity?
LP: It all depends — each piece is different. For the piece I’m working on at the moment for example, I’ll paint the fabric with a bit of plan in my head but I didn’t necessarily plan out the embroidery, as in what stitch where — I like to leave those decisions until I get to it, and it all depends on the work before it too of course, to create a nice harmony in color, texture and detail.
BPB: Your work comprises so many tiny materials! What do you find the most difficult to work with?
LP: Metallic thread! I don’t use it a lot even though I love it.
BPB: What is your favorite embroidery stitch? (Mine is the French knot.)
LP: I love the French knot — it gives great texture and dimension, and they’re totally addictive. It’s probably the only stitch I do ‘properly’ too — as my work isn’t really ‘traditional’ embroidery!
BPB: Do you have any tips for working with mixed media and textiles?
LP: Don’t be regimented into thinking something has to be a particular way — I think wonderful things can happen through experimenting. And not being afraid of making mistakes along the way either.
BPB: You’ve got a loyal following on social media, specifically your Instagram. How has that impacted your career?
LP: I love Instagram. I was never interested in any social media really until I started on Instagram, and I’m so grateful I did. Through Instagram I have been lucky enough to have my work been seen by people I myself admire and I’ve been given opportunities to exhibit and collaborate that I might not have otherwise had the opportunity.
Thanks, Liz! Be sure to check out her lovely Etsy shop!