Ann Benoot is a self-taught textile artist from Belgium who does terrific creative work with crochet art. She has been working on a beautiful series of crocheted Zentangle power animals that I find to be unique and interesting. In this interview, she tells us about the inspiration for those, her history with the craft and what it’s been like to find her creative voice.
Q: How did you first learn to crochet?
I learned for the first time when I was in school, around the age of 11 or 12 years old, but I remember also that my mother knitted a lot of sweaters and cardigans during my youth. About 5 years ago I rediscovered my knitting needles and shortly after that I also started crocheting again. Since then I’ve taught myself the new techniques and crochet stitches. I’ve done that using online video tutorials as well as several different books.
Was your mom the only crafter in your childhood?
No. In fact, my grandmother was a great example for me because in her nineties she still crocheted hats and scarfs for the whole family as Christmas presents. She passed away a year ago at age 93, and at that time I inherited her crochet hooks and patterns.
Can you explain the process of how you begin an artwork?
I have a selection of drawings of power animals from which I choose blindly and intuitively the design I will make next. Then I start crocheting. I choose the colors intuitively without thinking – or at least I try to do that as much as possible. When I start thinking, I start doubting! So I don’t think ahead as to how and where I will crochet the different patterns; I just go along, following the contour of the drawing until it is fully covered. When I am finished crocheting, I stitch it by hand onto a slightly painted canvas. Then I’m done. Some have also been framed.
I love the inspiration for your work! What can you tell us about what a power animal is?
Nature and animals are very important in my life. A few years ago, we took a sabbatical and traveled for a few months. A friend gave me a book to take with me called Animal-Speak: The Spiritual & Magical Powers of Creatures. That’s how I learned about the strong meaning that some animals can have when they come into your life. And indeed, during our trip several animals came to us or crossed our path, always on a moment that they had their symbolic value. Since then, I’m always aware and grateful when an animal crosses my path. For example, during my struggle with finding my own creative voice a butterfly and a fox were oft nearby.
That’s so special. What inspired you to start making these Zentangle freeform animals?
Over the last four years I’ve tried to search for my own “thing” in knitting and crochet. For example, I participated twice in an amateur art market with a knitted/ crocheted chessboard and a large crocheted coral reef and I participated three times in a craft market with knitted/crocheted Christmas decorations and several crocheted little baskets and covers. Although I was pleased with my work I never felt a deep satisfaction with what I had made.
About six months ago (after I turned on 40 which was a meaningful life moment for me) I decided to really look for my own creative voice. What would I really wanted to do and create? While I was on sick-leave for five weeks with back pain, I used the time to really explore what it was that really felt like me. I read a lot of books like The Power of The Heart, The War of Art and Brilliant Ideas – Unleash your Creativity. During that period I also tried other techniques like weaving and felting, but in the end I came back to crochet and felt that a sort of freeform crocheting seemed to be very liberating for me.
Crocheting without patterns and having to count – what a freedom! At the same time I learned about Zentangle drawing and one day I saw this beautiful Zentangle drawings of animals. When I went to sleep that day, I thought, “maybe I can translate this zentangle drawing into crochet”. And the idea was born! The next day I tried it out. The first one was the chameleon, and I felt immediately that, yes, this is it. This is what I like to do right now. And I’ll just see how many animals will come into my life going this way. A few months into the work I’ve done five of them. I don’t have as much time to crochet as I would like since I have a day job but I can complete about two per month.
Do you have a favorite piece that you’ve created so far?
That’s a difficult question because each animal has his own characteristics just like in real life but if I have to choose one it would be the turtle.
What type of yarn do you like to work with?
In general, I don’t have a favorite yarn to work with but the very moment I found my idea, one of the shops where I often buy my yarn had a brand new collection of multicolored yarn that I liked. What a synchronicity! Immediately I bought a lot of it (really a lot) because, again intuitively, I felt, this is it.
What made you feel like crochet was the right craft?
It’s easy to handle, just one hook and yarn, and with the knowledge of a few stitches you can make several patterns and forms, especially in freeform crocheting.
Do you still knit or do any other crafts?
In the past I’ve tried sculpturing in wood and stone, ceramics and other stuff before I ended up with knitting and now with crocheting. Besides that I really like to take (macro) pictures of nature and now and then I write a Haiku.
Do you write those in English?
This year is the first year that I’ve been experimenting with writing them in languages other than Dutch.
The shining full moon
reveals thousands of stars
in the mound of snow
The white horses
are no longer white
in the white snow
One tiny drop
reflects the big world around
just by lying down
A small raindrop hangt_
keeps all the water in him
and then he let go
That’s lovely! Thanks for sharing! Before we wrap up, I wanted to mention that you support charity with your art sales. Can you tell us about that?
I support 2 foster parent organizations (Plan and Cunina) because children in the world mean a lot to me. Unfortunately I wasn’t meant to be a mum myself but in this way I can benefit children who need help and support.