How on earth am I doing what I do?

It’s a long story, believe me – and I wasn’t at all sure just where I was going.

One thing I am sure about is that whatever I do, it has to engage my passions.  I am passionate about stitch.

So where and how did I start on this odyssey of discovery?

Years ago, I enrolled in a couple of courses.  One was Basic Embroidery Course offered by The Embroiderers Guild of NSW and that was great.  It gave me a taste of many different techniques such as whitework, blackwork, surface stitching, applique, and patchwork.

But the one that changed my life and the direction I was heading, was definitely The Proficiency Certificate also offered by The Embroiderers Guild of NSW.  This is where my mind had to catch up with my hands.  I could do the work, that wasn’t the problem.  This wasn’t a teaching course but one where I was mentored and guided over twenty months.  The hard parts were the things I couldn’t see or touch.  The things I didn’t understand, I had to learn and learn quickly.

And my two Mentors were the best!  Effie Mitrofanis and Karma Victoria Baines – two exceptionally talented embroiderers and artists who touched my soul and helped me become the artist I am today.

Honestly, at the time, I really didn’t understand everything they said to me – but I sure do now.  I remember being extremely nervous about just meeting these two doyens of the Australian embroidery world – and I had to meet them on at least ten occasions over those twenty months.  It took me a while, but I soon found my voice – I had to!

Over that time we had to design and create a cohesive body of work to a theme of our choosing.  My theme was ‘the colours and textures of Australia’ – the images heading this post are from my Visual Diary 2006-7 for Proficiency.  This included a traditional work, two contemporary works, two 3D pieces, a work to a chosen theme other than theme we had chosen, a design journal, a day-to-day journal showing inspiration and design progression, samples of different techniques in our chosen technique plus write an essay of interest relating to that technique.  We had to hang and present all of this ready for assessment by three assessors.  This was a huge learning curve for me, but I did it and passed with Distinction.  I was over the moon!

I’ve come to understand though, that ability is only one part of the overall when it comes to being creative.  Integral yes, but just as significant are the things you don’t necessarily see.

Setting goals, knowing what I’m aiming for, being professional, prioritizing, following a brief, designing a cohesive body of work, hanging work, researching and writing, confidence to go my own way – these are the sort of things Effie and Karma taught me in spades, plus a lot more.  

I was like a sponge, soaking up all this glorious, golden knowledge.

We don’t often hear of people being mentored now.  I am just so grateful I had this opportunity to work with these two inspiring, talented women – and the lessons I learned are still with me today.

So if you’re just starting out or want to define a path to take, my advice would be to do a course in something that interests you, something that feeds into a passion.  Sometimes that’s all that’s needed.  At least then you know if it’s truly a passion or just something you’re a little bit interested in.  Then try to find someone who can mentor you – to help you find a path that suits you and what you want to achieve.

From me to you, grasp the things you can’t see in your work because these are the things that support you and your artistic practice day after day.

cathy jack coupland