Welcome to Mirrix’s Third Ambassador: Natalie Novak
The Mirrix Looms Ambassador program hopes to unite Mirrix Looms (both the company and the products) with talented bead and tapestry weavers from around the world. By connecting these gifted artists, quality weaving equipment and the networks of both, the hope is to simultaneously increase awareness of each ambassador and of Mirrix products.
Each ambassador will have a unique role, but you can expect instructional blog posts, project ebooks, inspiration and more from these amazing artists.
Today, we are very excited to introduce our third Mirrix Looms Ambassador, Natalie Novak.
How long have you been weaving and what first attracted you to tapestry weaving?
Not long at all! I only started weaving in early 2012. I had spent the previous fall and winter checking out every weaving book I could find at the library, at first I mostly focused on Southwestern textiles, (Navajo, Zapotec, Rio Grande), but my curiousity quickly spiraled out to include anything weaving related. At a certain point it was obvious to me that my interest was going beyond casual observer and I could hear the loom calling my name.
What formal weaving/tapestry training do you have?
I’m really lucky to live near The Damascus Fiber Arts School, which is amazing! I learned Navajo style weaving from Audrey Moore and tapestry from Terry Olson. They’re incredible teachers and weavers and they’ve created a great community there. It’s funny in a way because I attended the Oregon College of Art and Craft 10-15 years ago and they have a really great fibers department, but I was there for painting and drawing so the only fiber class I ever took was Surface Design with Lisa O’brien. I remember there being an entire room full of floor looms and I’d always walk through really quickly or avoid it entirely because I was afraid I’d break them somehow. They looked so complicated and intense!
What kinds of looms do you currently weave on?
I have a Navajo style loom made by Duncan Fiber Enterprises and a variety of frame looms: copper pipe ala Archie Brennan, Glimakra and some gorgeous wooden frames that my husband made; it helps that he’s a furniture maker.
How do your tapestries and paintings relate to one another? In other words, what makes you decide to weave something in tapestry versus painting it?
Right now I’m weaving everything. I’m obsessed! Initially I was working only with geometric shapes and color relationships in my woven work because it felt so different from painting, it seemed so structured. But there’s definitely a shift taking place and my approach and subject matter in tapestry are getting closer to how I think about painting, which has always been very narrative for me. When I think about making work now, I think about painting mostly in conjunction with other woven works. When I ask myself why something should be woven I can always come up with an answer that adds to the meaning of the piece.
What are your three favorite tapestries?
This question is way too hard! I guess the first pictorial works that really blew me away were some of Mark Adams’ designs; I remember thinking, “Wait, that’s tapestry?” I couldn’t believe these psychedelic, technicolor artworks were made with the same techniques as the medieval/renaissance tapestries I was more familiar with. My favorites are the three pieces in “The Garden Suite” which hangs at the San Francisco Airport and “Queen of Heaven.” Can I count this as one?
I also really love Gunta Stolzl’s Bauhaus work; it’s so modern and timeless. It’s hard to pick a favorite, but I guess “Slit Tapestry Red/Green” is at the top of my list.
I recently took a workshop from Joan Baxter and so I have to include one of her beautiful pieces. She really understands color and has a way of creating the illusion of transparency in her tapestry, which isn’t easy to do. I’m impressed by just about everything she’s made, but “Waterforest” is my favorite.
What are your favorite and/or “go to” tapestry techniques?
Plain weave! I think because I am so informed by my work as a painter I’m more focused on color and image than dramatic texture right now. Although part of me feels like I’m ignoring something really special that tapestry has to offer, all in good time, right? I also love using Pick and Pick; it always seems so playful to me. Recently I’ve been exploring the use of weft-faced twill in some of my pieces, although I hear it’s debatable whether or not twill counts as tapestry.
What tapestry artists inspire you?
My two teachers, Audrey and Terry are day to day inspirations to me, for sure. They know so much about weaving and are so generous with their knowledge. Mark Adams, (even though he didn’t weave!), Gutna Stolzl, Anni Albers and Rachel Brown are my late, great weaving heroes. As for contemporaries, I really love the work of Jean Pierre Larochette and Yael Lurie, Rachel Hine, Kayla Mattes, Joan Baxter and Erin Riley; I think this list could fill up the rest of the page, there are so many people doing incredible work in tapestry right now. And while the next few are not necessarily tapestry artists, Louise Bourgeois, Annette Messager and Sheila Hicks all work with fibers in an incredibly inspiring way.
I think I’m still finding it, but I’m getting closer to nailing it down. I recently wove new imagery for the 22 major arcana cards of the tarot; they were all very different from each other, but felt cohesive as a body of work. I think maybe that’s a hint of where I’m going with tapestry. As I move away from pure shape and color relationships and toward narrative and pictorial work I’m starting to feel like it’s something I would weave and isn’t just the work of anyone.
One of the goals of Mirrix’s Ambassador Program is to highlight weavers who can inspire those unaware (or under-aware) of the craft of tapestry. How do you feel you have inspired new tapestry weavers?
I think my work has an immediacy to it that resonates with a lot of people; there’s a surface level that’s enjoyable without having to know the meaning of the piece. I’ve also made a lot of work on a smaller scale, which is a lot less intimidating to someone who’s never woven anything at all. I try to be accessible and encouraging; some people are very guarded about their technique and process, but it feels better to me being open about it and sharing information. Tapestry weaving isn’t a secret, but it can feel that way if you don’t know where to find resources or even what questions to ask. I’m really lucky to have an amazing local tapestry community, it’s like having an all-access weaving pass and I try to share that as much as possible.
How important is it for you to work in tapestry (rather than another medium)? Is it something you can see shifting over time or do you feel that you’ve found your visual voice with tapestry?
I get a very different feeling from weaving than I do from other mediums I’ve worked in; painting sometimes makes me feel so light and euphoric, but with weaving I feel really grounded and empowered! Weaving carries such a rich tradition with it, almost every culture has practiced it in one form or another and it’s interesting to be a part of that continuum and take it in my own direction. Also, tapestry falls into that wonderfully uncomfortable place between art and craft which is always a lively conversation. Painting is like a delicious candy, but weaving really sustains me.
When you teach weaving, what is one piece of advice you offer your students?
Be patient both with your work and with yourself, tapestry is a slooooooow art. Also, I like to say that the whole point of weaving is having fun.
How would you describe your aesthetic when it comes to weaving?
Playful, maybe even mischevious. I definitely tend towards bold colors.
What are your goals as an artist over the next year, five years, ten years, etc.?
Right now I’m working towards making cohesive bodies of work instead of one-offs. Over the next year or two I’d like to more clearly define my personal style. I love both taking and teaching workshops so I definitely want to continue that practice, I learn so much from both. I’ve been looking into artist residencies all over the world and while I’m not ready to go just yet, I think it will be fascinating to see how a change of place will influence the weaving AND it sounds like a wonderful adventure. I guess over the long term I’d love to be able to sustain myself working as an artist and having great gallery representation would be nice too!