One of the main tenets of the Textile Study Group is continuing to develop our individual professional practice and therefore the twice yearly weekends when we meet up to work together, are opportunities to explore the professional practice of other practicing artists as well talk amongst ourselves. Recently the group members met and enjoyed an inspiring workshop with textile artist Debbie Lyddon. Many of you will know of Debbie and maybe follow her blog or have seen her work in exhibitions, so during a very busy few days I took the chance to speak with her and ask about her practice and inspirations.
Q Debbie, have you always been a textile artist?
A No! I started life as a musician, playing and teaching the flute and I trained for four years at the Royal Academy of Music.
Q2 So how did you get started in textiles – what was it that clicked?
A It was always a question of ‘do I do music or art?’ The school I went to had a very active music department and so, at that stage, the music won. However, I have always drawn and painted and I come from a household where everyone knitted and sewed. I’ve always seen playing the flute as an activity that went alongside these ‘hand’ occupations. When I had my children and it became impossible to pursue a musical career it was a very short step to making art instead. I started with adult education classes, putting one child or other on the crèche, and the whole thing has snowballed from there.
Q What are your main influences?
A My main influences come from what interests me and the experience of those interests in my life. Music has obviously had a strong impact. When you are at music college one of the things you are trained to do is to listen. You can’t play in an orchestra without hearing and understanding what everyone else around you are doing. The concept of noticing and experiencing that is inherent in my practice stems from my learnt sensitivity to hearing everything that goes on around me.
Q The landscape is obviously a huge influence on your work. Can you give us a flavour of what it is about the Norfolk landscape that inspires you?
A The Norfolk landscape has a huge bearing on almost everything I do. It’s an environment where I have spent a lot of time and the place has got into my bones. I think the contours, the light and the atmosphere of the landscape would come out in my work even if I didn’t try. It’s primarily a place of change. The enormous open skies, the muddy creeks and waterways of the marshes and the sand and dunes on the beaches are forever in flux. They move almost day by day and if I’ve been away for a period of time the differences are immediately noticeable. It is this variation that brings me back again and again as there is always something new to see or to hear or to touch.
Q What are your materials of choice?
A Cloth is at the centre of almost everything I do and I take inspiration from the way it is used in this coastal environment. Sails, tarpaulins and other protective cloths are my primary inspiration. I use mostly canvas or linen, the traditional material for sails, and the sewing techniques use reference sail-making techniques. I have researched how these ‘coastal’ cloths would have been preserved and waterproofed and use the relevant materials: wax, linseed oil, bitumen and paint. Recently I have been using materials gathered from the environment to colour cloth and to make paint: chalk from Hunstanton and West Runton, red clay from Cley beach, yellow ochre from West Runton and seacoal from Wells beach. I love the fact that I am using materials from the landscape to evoke the landscape itself.
Q Your sketchbooks are wonderful, are they your primary source of ‘note-taking’?
A Yes and no! I often take my sketchbook and very basic drawing materials out with me. I like to sit and to look and to listen, and drawing or writing down my observations are an occupation that makes me be still and to actively notice. However, I don’t always have a sketchbook with me and I often use the memory of experiences that I acquire whilst out walking in my practice. I find that on a walk there are some memories that are stronger and more intense than others. These stick in my mind and often can become the germ of an idea.
Q Your enthusiasm has been evident this weekend, do you enjoy teaching?
A I do enjoy teaching. I like to meet people and to share my interests and it is very rewarding when everyone is enthusiastic back.
Q Who have been the main inspirations or influences in your textile career?
A Surprisingly enough, not that many textile artists: all the St. Ives artists for their connection to place. Gillian Lowndes for her innovative use of materials and Joan Livingstone for her large, abstract forms and use of utilitarian stitch.
Q What do the next few months have in store for you and your textiles?
A I have several exhibitions coming up later in 2018. I am delighted to have been selected to take part in the 62 Group exhibition CTRL/Shift at the MAC Birmingham from 21 July – 9 Sept, where I’ll be showing three large cloths that have been coloured with materials gathered from the landscape. https://macbirmingham.co.uk/exhibition/ctrl-shift I also have a long watercolour drawing/book in CLEY18, http://www.cleycontemporaryart.org an exhibition of new work by Norfolk artists. Also locally, I am in the process of making a large piece of work for the Wells Maltings Trust Art Trail, People of the Sea and Shore. It is a 3m x 1.20 pulled thread work coated in bitumen that will be placed outside on the site of a past shipwright’s and will make a connection between the former shipbuilding industry in Wells and the landscape. http://www.wellsmaltings.org.uk/heritage-trail-artistic-flair-people-shore-sea/
Q What one piece of advice would you give someone starting to develop their own textile practice?
A Make work that is personal and is about you and your interests.
Thank you very much Debbie, for an inspiring weekend but also for giving of your time to talk with me. What you say will be of enormous interest to our readers and we can but wish you well with the projects you have lined up for 2018.
If you would like to see more of Debbie’s work then find her website here Debbie Lyddon. Her blog can be found here Debbie’s blog and have a look at the links Debbie has added for information about the exhibitions and visit if able.
Thank you again Debbie.