Always creative, textile artist Rebekah Johnston found confidence to pursue her dream of becoming an artist after being encouraged by her Instagram supportive following. Here is Rebekah Johnston’s story so far..
Can you tell us about your backstory and how did you get to where you are now?
I have always been creative and my passion for making lead me to study arts subjects at school and then a degree in contemporary textile practice. I felt unprepared to make it as an artist in the world after graduating and after a few years of temp jobs, I trained to be a teacher. I taught Art and Design in secondary schools for 13 years. After having my daughter and then the pandemic it was time for me to reevaluate my life. I picked up sewing again during a period of difficult mental health.
I had an urge to create, working through my emotions by keeping my hands busy with something repetitive. It was intense few months of making and I found my way back to textiles. I shared my work via Instagram and quickly grew a supportive following. I found the confidence to quit my job and launch my own business and I have never looked back! It has now been nearly a year of being a self-employed artist and though it has not been without its ups and downs, I am very proud of what I have achieved so far.
How do you approach each art and design project – where you do find inspiration for Rebekah Johnston pieces?
My work stems from a deep need to create and inspiration can come from the strangest of places. Visually I am interested in the balance of opposing forces, light and dark, positive and negative space all softened with stitched textures. The pandemic has changed the way we live and as a result I find I’m more in tune to my immediate surroundings, the way light falls at different times on the day, my daughters’ drawings or toys, observations on a local walk like the variety of texture on the pavement to the dappled light through trees.
Very little planning goes into a design; I have a palette that I like to work with and a pile of off-cut fabrics. The work grows intuitively depending on how I feel in the moment; my day-to-day feelings, the repetition of cycles in my life, the ups and downs of my mental health and how all of this is part of my journey in identifying as an artist. Directly or indirectly my work can be about all those things as I stitch my way through overcoming obstacles. I like the idea that a quilt is an object of comfort and protection just as the act of making it comforts and protects me.
Sustainability is very important these days. Can you describe your sustainable practices?
I try to operate a zero-waste practice as much as possible. First of all, I choose to work mainly with linen- a natural fabric with high eco credentials. It can grow without the use of pesticides, takes much less water to grow than cotton and the entire flax plant can be used. It is very difficult to trace the full production chain with fabric, but I know that when I purchase linen, I am making a kinder choice for people and planet.
I also buy offcuts from small scale garment makers which could otherwise go to waste. In fact, this has unexpectedly changed my design process as I have found myself inspired by the odd shapes that the fabric arrives in and I incorporate these shapes into my designs. Any tiny scrap of fabric or thread also gets saved and used as stuffing for pincushions or fabric vessels, so nothing gets wasted.
Aside from your portfolio work, you also offer Rebekah Johnston workshops. Can you tell us more about them?
Workshops have been an unexpected side of my business which I really enjoy. It is nice to use my teaching skills in a different environment. I have run small private workshops in Nottingham on slow stitch, appliqué and quilting as well as larger workshops in schools and Universities, tailored to whatever theme the students are studying. I ran an online workshop with Selvedge Magazine in October as part of their Wardrobe Revolution Weekend. In fact, online workshops is something I am looking to develop further for people who cannot make it to a local event.
What are your plans for next few months?
In near future I am hoping to move into a studio, having outgrown my living room at home! I am desperate to make work on a larger scale so space to work in is very much needed. Finally, my online shop is now open on my website where my current quilts and wall hangings are available for purchase.
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