Conversations with the Makers

An array of questions to fibre/textile artists and their answers.

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Conversation with Karen Goetzinger, Canada

Karen Goetzinger is an award winning artist who after living in Wisconsin, Minnesota, New York, currently lives in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada.

   She holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in Fashion Design with an emphasis in Fine Arts. Since 2004 she has taught at the Ottawa School of Art and is also a tutor to private fibre art students.

   Her finely detailed mixed media textiles, that are influenced by her roots in quilt making, couture construction, and her life-long passion for the urban landscape, have been exhibited throughout North America, including Times Square in New York, hang in private and public collections internationally, and are featured in Lark Books "500 Art Quilts" 


CONVERSATION WITH THE MAKER(CWTM) Did you always envision a life as an artist?

KAREN GOETZINGER(KG) Well, yes and no. I have always done some form of art or craft but for most of my life it was for my own gratification and not as a professional studio artist, exhibiting and selling my work. It has only been for about the past 10 years that circumstances have allowed me to be able to concentrate on my work professionally.

 CWTM What was your first experience with making art?

KG I can remember at the age of 12 drawing fashion designs every night in my bedroom. My dad had this fabulous set of coloured pencils–a box with three drawers of pure pigment delight! He would let me use them and he supplied me with stacks of paper from his business. A friend of mine and I would share our illustrations the next day at school. Maybe not really “art” but I think that nightly practice set the path for a life of artistic expression.


CWTM Do you have a dedicated studio?

KG I do. It is a small efficient space carved out in the basement of our home but I confess, I tend to commandeer other areas in the main part of the house, where I can see the sun! I recently set up a “drawing studio” in a spare bedroom, I will often work in our dining room which has great natural light and a large table, and in summer I love to work in my “outside studio” on our deck. The one downfall of a home studio is the distractions of family responsibilities, the upside of a home studio is being able to go to work at anytime. I will often work in the early morning in my jammies, totally losing track of time and realising at 1 in the afternoon that I have not showered, touched a comb to my hair or even attempted to get "dressed for the day."


CWTM Can you describe a typical day?

KG I am always up by around 7 a.m. Coffee gets made first. I try to wait patiently until I can pour that first delicious cup! Then off to the computer to do some administrative work. When my husband gets up we will spend a bit of time over a cup of coffee or two before he heads off to the office and I to the studio to work. I’ll break for lunch and then be back at it until about 4 p.m. That sounds very dedicated doesn’t it? The reality is, it doesn’t always play out this way. There are distractions and other responsibilities that have to be addressed. So I really have to make every effort to be focused and not allow the day to slip away without studio time. There are days I will spend part of the day going to some of our local galleries. I think that is an important part of the process too, to see what other artists, of all mediums, are doing.

 CWTM Would you consider your art making to be more about the process than the outcome?

KG For me it is not either/or but both. I enjoy the process of making but the outcome is also important to me. The outcome, and improving the outcome, is why I continue to work. The process is the method I use to get that image, idea, emotion or thought out of my head and onto the canvas and making the decision of which “tools” and application of those tools will best express the idea or better– evoke a response from the viewer.


CWTM Do you agree that a small element of uncertainty about the finished look is what makes the process of creating so enticing?

KG Some days it is enticing. Some days it is frustrating! But yes, I think we would not make if we knew exactly how our artwork was going to look in the end. It is the challenge of mastering the chosen mediums, I feel, that keeps us working, striving, and pushing that envelope out a bit further.


CWTM Any indispensable tools or equipment?

KG Needle and thread, my iPad, and my 2 inch wide house paint brush. I bought it years ago in a hardware store to paint a room in the house but it quickly found its way to my studio. Love that brush. 


CWTM Do your pieces start with a planned course of action or are they more spontaneous?

KG I have completely sketched out some of my work, even to the point of carefully working out the colour palette. However, I have never felt “married” to the sketch because often what is on paper doesn’t translate to fabric or fibre in the same way and adjustments have to be made. My current work is difficult to sketch because of the process of sketching by hand with thread, painting, stitching, painting. It is hard to sketch the layers and get a true idea of how that will play out in thread and paint. I will sketch the basic composition however that too is open to change as the work progresses. For instance, I recently completed a 5' x 5' piece. I ended up cutting it down to 60" x 38" because I felt the composition was better cropped.

 CWTM How do you know when to “stop” – when do you consider a piece actually finished?

KG Ahhh. Now that's the crux isn't it? When I think a work is done, I hang it up on a wall in my house and live with it for a few days. I like to observe the piece to see how it holds up in the light that changes throughout the day and to see if I am really totally satisfied with the outcome. Sometimes this will lead to more work, sometimes minor adjustments, sometimes major reworks, but often it will lead to naming the piece, signing it, and wiring it for hanging which is a very satisfying part of the process.


CWTM Your greatest source of inspiration is….

KG Life. Hope that doesn't sound trite. To put a finer point on it, I love urban life: the sights, the lights, the play of light on the buildings, the architecture itself, the sounds, the busyness, the colours and textures...okay maybe not so much trying to find parking but that too is part of life in a city.


CWTM Favourite quote?

KG I think this changes with my mood. It seems different quotes resonate with me at varying times of my life. I keep quotes that I like in my sketchbooks along with strings of words that I find to be well crafted.

 CWTM When do you do your best creative thinking?

KG Often in the shower. Why is that??? And sometimes at 3 a.m. when I would much rather be sleeping! I do know that I am at my working best during the daylight hours.


CWTM What do you enjoy most about your work?

KG I really enjoy the hand work. I love the  feel of the fabric and the thread, the sound of the thread being pulled through the canvas and the rhythmic lullaby of the stitching movement. It is through this slow hand process that I am able to contemplate and expand my ideas for each work. Layers of new meaning are often revealed with each unhurried step and deliberate stitch.


CWTM Best part of your day? 

KG The early morning when I am the only one up in the house. It's quiet. No phone calls. I can ease into my day. Check the calendar to see what obligations and deadlines I need to meet and quietly plan the day. It is really good when that involves a cup of coffee on the deck when the weather is agreeable!

 CWTM What inspires your creativity?

KG Currently, it is the idea of fading memories. How the palpable details of life events and places lived grow dim over time. Yet we long to reach through the mist of memory to reminisce and keep possession of even the smallest thread of sentiment.


CWTM What are you excited about right now in the world of textile art?

KG Exhibitions with textiles seem to be popping up everywhere. I think the art world is beginning to be a bit more receptive to the medium and the amazing work being done. Installation work like the thread art of Beili Liu and Chiharu Shiota and the massive interactive swing installation, the event of a thread by Ann Hamilton are taking people’s breath away. In the case of Beili and Chiharu’s work, I love that one “simple” element used multiple times can create such an impact.

 CWTM You’d be lost without…

KG a good glass of wine at the end of the day! Seriously, I am not sure that there is anything material that I would be completely lost without. I think not having often brings out the best in us. Our problem solving skills and resourcefulness kick in and the challenge becomes, how can I do this or that, without this or that. The results can be amazing and end up pushing us artistically.


CWTM What would you do with a few extra hours each day? 

KG Oh my! The thought just makes me giddy! A few hours, totally uninterrupted to make. Truly dedicated studio time.

 CWTM Your favourite luxury in life?

KG A stunning meal cooked to perfection, in a fabulous restaurant with good wine, friends, family and great conversation. Okay, and artisan chocolate truffles.


CWTM Has the advancement of computers and technology impacted your work?

 KG Perhaps not in the making  but it certainly has made the marketing end of things easier. I can design my own promotional materials, have them printed online, and receive them within a week or so. I can send weekly emails to my mailing list and keep in touch with those who have shown interest in my work. I can manage my own website, promote my work through social media, and upload images of my work to other art sites and to the galleries that represent me. And digital photography–what  a God-send! I can remember just 10 years ago having to send slides for exhibition submission proposals. I could shoot a roll of 36, take the film to be developed, and not have a single respectable slide to send off!


 CWTM Is it important for us to be recognized by the art world and if so, how can we help affect that change?

KG I do. I see no difference between art made with paint, clay, metal, glass, or fibre. We can help affect that change by continuing to improve our work, by mastering our mediums and making sure the pieces present well. Sounds easy enough, but quite the contrary, it means a commitment to the studio work and bold creative marketing for our work and the work of our colleagues. It means doing our homework when looking for galleries and exhibition spaces so that we are working with curators and gallery owners who are excited about fibre and hanging cohesive shows with beautifully executed works, whether group (all fibre or mixed) or solo. Who have an eye for details and a penchant for promotion. It means we each need to be involved with our local arts community, building relationships with our local gallery owners and not necessarily for the sole reason of hoping to establish representation. One easy and enjoyable way is to attend openings of shows of all mediums on a regular basis and get to know the artists and the viewing/collecting public. This year in Ottawa the second Nuit Blanche will be held. Nuit Blanche happens in cities around the world and is an all-night (6 pm - 4 am) arts festival. Galleries and studios are open and central areas of the city itself get turned into de facto galleries, providing space for art installations, interactive art and performances (music, film, dance, performance art). It is fabulous for artists and the public. Last year it was amazing to see how many parents brought their children and stayed out quite late with them to view all the art and the demonstrations, such as print making with a steam roller!


CWTM What is next for you? 

KG 2012 and 2013 have been crazy busy years! Three solo shows, two trips abroad, including the wonderful experience teaching for Fibre Arts Australia, a wedding and a handful of group shows thrown in as well. So now I must concentrate on seeking new exhibition and representation opportunities which also means focusing on making new work. My work is currently represented in North America by Orange Art Gallery, in Ottawa and Edgewater Gallery in Middlebury, Vermont. Very preliminary conversation has begun with a performing arts group in regards to my installation piece, "A State of Transparency." I am hopeful it will lead to a collaboration. I will be teaching Colour Dynamics for the Fibre Artist November 15-17 at a weekend workshop at St. Lawrence College in Kingston, Ontario and also at the Ottawa School of Art during the winter and spring 2014 terms and am thrilled that I will be on the roster of tutors for Fibre Arts Australia in 2015.