This article was originally published in 2011; I wanted to share it again today for those who might have missed it the first time around!
I love the work of crochet artist Leslie Blackmon whose creations are colorful, joyous and contains a great sense of humor. I have since had the opportunity to interview her about her work and I get to share that interview with you now. Note: In this interview the direct quotes from the artist are in italics. The non-italic portions are paraphrased from the interview for easier reading.
First we talked about Baa-America!, which was Blackmon’s recent solo show featuring her flock of crocheted sheep inspired by pop culture icons.
“First let me tell you that your blog piece hit the nail on the head in talking about the fun of it. My primary intention with this show was to produce a hilarious kind of spectacle that people would just enjoy! I think I succeeded in that. There are some more serious feelings and thoughts underneath all that, but the main purpose I had was to make people laugh.”
“The show went really well. It was well received in that people really smiled and laughed alot. I have a guest book full of very nice comments. It got a fair amount of press here too, though no big reviews or anything like that. I sold two little ones but no big ones, which is pretty much what I expected.”
Leslie has been working on these sheep for about three years. She had learned to crochet as a child but then picked it up “for fun” and one thing led to another. She attended a few CGOA conferences, began making some wearable art and then took a crochet sculpture class with Ming Yi Sung. (Who, by the way, is an amazing crochet artist that I didn’t know about myself before this interview but am now adoring so expect an artist profile on her one of these upcoming Mondays!)
It was in that sculpture class that Leslie made her first sheep. Leslie hesitates to name a favorite sheep. After all, they are all unique. But she does admit that this very first sheep (named Baa and not featured in show because it’s not actually an icon like the others are) just might have a special place in her heart.
I was curious about whether Leslie will continue making these great sheep or whether she is moving on to something else.
“I will probably continue to make one or two sheep per year to add to the flock, if I can find additional places to show them as a group. If I can’t, I may move on to other things. But if I can find one or two shows for them in the next year or so, I’ll just add slowly; I will not be making 7 or 8 sheep per year as I did this year though!”
Leslie went on to share that about eighteen months ago she won an award for the sheep and then needed to produce nearly a dozen more. So in some ways, the sheep took over her life for awhile and she won’t be working on the project at that pace again. I was surprised to learn (and she was surprised it happened) that even during this time when she was working intensively on the sheep she was also making developments in her painting.
This led to some conversation about Leslie’s artwork and the two different mediums that she most uses: painting and crochet. I was surprised to learn that she was doing crochet before painting. She has a well-developed portfolio of painting work on her site so I’d mistakenly assumed that it came first and the painting came second but that’s not the case.
“I have a few odd pieces I did that literally are transition pieces. I was making all kinds of crochet motifs and adhering them to painted canvas. I started the painting classes to figure out how to make better backgrounds for these crochet pieces. But then the painting took on a life of its own. I don’t do that kind of piece anymore; I called them “cro-llages”! See … to me the crochet was a gateway creative activity; it’s all the same to me . . . creative effort, whether crochet or painting or whatever. But the crochet is what I knew first, so it came first and led to other things.”
Here’s an example of some of that early Fiber Art, a piece called Klimt Hooked and Cubed in which Blackmon took the shapes from a Klimt painting, did her best to mimic his painted background, glued the crochet on with gel medium and glazed over it:
“I have found that certain kinds of things are much more readily expressed through painting, other kinds of things through crocheted art. I vacillate between the two, as the mood strikes me. I am happy that I have two such different media with which to express myself.”
I wondered aloud if this difference between the mediums was because of the difference between 2D and 3D art but she said that it’s more about the process of each medium for her:
“I would say that painting is something that you can be much faster and more spontaneous with in a way. At least for me. I paint fast and intuitively. A painting really emerges through through the process for me. My crocheted work, by contrast, is very planned; not entirely, but basically I plan how the sheep will look and then I go through the process of building it very methodically.”
Since Leslie started to crochet for fun (not for art, per se) I was curious about her history with the craft.
Leslie explained that she picked up basic crochet and moved on to learning fancier stitches, making wearable items and then wearable art. She no longer makes wearable pieces because she’s focused on the artwork.
“I just felt this urge to make things to hang on the wall or stand on pedestals, and that drew me away from wearable things”.
But it does sound like she’s a little bit torn:
“I love to crochet, and I love crocheters! If there is one thing I regret about going into it in the way I have, it is that I have less time left for just crocheting scarves and afghans and such! It is a wonderful craft on all levels.”
I was curious about the technical aspects of the crochet in the Baa-America! project. There is a lot of crochet art that I’ve looked at over time that may be beautiful but the stitchwork isn’t all that detailed or fancy. Leslie’s isn’t like this. You can see that there’s technical ability in the pieces. So I asked about that.
“Yes. There’s lots of fancy stitching in there, but I’d developed that through the wearable art. The hardest thing for me was coming up with a creative new thing to do with the technical crochet skills — and I think I did!”
I agree! So what’s next for Blackmon in her art?
“I think when you finish a solo show, you enter a natural questioning period. The show was so much fun it is tempting to just make more and more sheep, but it is also tempting to do something new. … I am currently just painting, although I have two sheep “in the works” too. They have just taken a back seat. Meanwhile, I have other crochet shows in mind that would take me in a whole new direction, and that’s fun to think about too. And then … I have tried to think of how I could combine crochet and painting in a fun kind of show. I tend to think in terms of bodies of work … so each of these projects would be very time-consuming, and I have to think carefully before committing to any one of them! I have ideas that are pretty well formed in my mind that I think would be good shows, but I have to decide whether to flesh them out … I have no idea which direction I’ll go (yet). I think an artist must allow themselves time to explore things they feel drawn to and just follow wherever the path leads. So . . . I’m trying to keep my mind open to both the fiber art and painting and see what happens. It’s a personal search though.”
Update: Since the time of this interview, Leslie has gone on to produce some interesting figurative mixed media pieces, as well as drawings of landscapes, figures and even a series of her cat. She has recently done some crochet pattern designing, including this blanket that is featured in the Fall 2016 issue of Crochet World Magazine: