One of the things that has given me the most joy in moving to a totally new environment is the ability to make new friends. More than the ability there is also, for me, the need to do this, as I find myself wanting to share the things that interest and motivate me.  Of course I have made so many new friends on line through this blog, but the community in which I live, here in North Carolina, has become more important than I could have imagined.

Each fall we have an artists studio tour sponsored by the Orange County Artists Guild ….. and that is how I met
Elaine O’Neil.

Take a look at two (of many) of her textile collages:

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 You can read all about Elaine and “her story” on her website.

Elaine calls herself a “textile collage artist.”  She certainly is that, but she is so much more. Having met Elaine in her house where her studio is located, I knew I wanted to see more and really talk to her. So a few months later I called and asked if I could come over to take some pictures, send her some “interview” questions ahead of time, and just hang out for an hour or so.

Here are the questions I had sent to Elaine ahead of time and which she answered so thoroughly and thoughtfully.

Me:    Would you describe your process in creating a “textile collage” for us? What is the very first step?

Elaine:   I begin every textile collage with a simple, rough sketch.   If I am working on a specific place, I have photos from that place and try to capture the feeling of that place.  Once I am happy with the sketch, I pull fabrics from my bins to create a color palette.  At that point, I start layering the background colors-sky first, then the land/ground on top of that.  (I use a sturdy backing fabric underneath.)  I sew each layer using a very close satin stitch.  Most often I don’t make patterns, but simply cut the shapes and position them in place and then sew around each, being sure to cover the raw edges. I use threads with different sheens to add different effects. The last step is always placing a crescent (sometimes full) moon in the sky.  At that point, I square the sides and choose a complimentary binding fabric that borders the piece.

My husband builds the frames for me- I’m lucky to have such a talented guy!  Then I paint each frame black and while still wet, I scratch a design around the perimeter.  This adds a signature look and also another texture.  The frames are then waxed and buffed. Each piece is mounted under glass with frame spacers, to ensure the piece is not touching the glass.

Me:    Is color a driving force for you? Or is pattern more important? Or placement? Do you look to use different, quirky colors in your work or do you stay within a certain range?

Elaine:  Color is very important to me:  bright, cheerful, happy colors are what I use with a good dose of black or navy.  I don’t like muddy colors.  Certainly, I change palettes with each piece, but the look is very colorful.  Pattern is important too- but that’s secondary.  In a finished piece, the composition is the first thing you’ll see, but then you start to realize all of the patterns printed on the fabrics used; sometimes that surprises people that I am using a pattern that they at first didn’t even notice.  It becomes almost an “eye-Spy” kind of thing.  I get fabrics everywhere… from quilting stores to home decoration  stores.  People give me their leftover drapery swatches, and I regularly go to the thrift store or through my closet if I’m needing something specific!

Me:     Are your fabrics arranged, in your studio, by color alone? Or combined with scale and/or pattern?

Elaine: My fabrics are arranged by color in wire bins hung on the wall that I can see into/through.

Me:  Do you play music while you work? Or news or talk radio? Or silence?

Elaine:  At different points in the process I listen to different things.  Often I listen to NPR (unless it gets too political) during the laying out of the design and fabric cutting.  Very often I listen to Pandora on my computer- I have different favorite stations depending on my mood. When I’m sewing I listen to music. There are times, though, when I cannot listen to anything… this happens during sketching when I am trying to get the whole thing started.  That is the hardest time for me, and I need to think and hear and see only what’s in front of me.

Me:     What is your typical work “span” at one time? Do you find you get up and move around a lot, or do you focus on a process or step for a long time?

Elaine:   I am in my studio from about 9:00 am until about 7:30 pm. These are long stretches. I like being there and once I’m in the groove, I don’t want to stop.  Sometimes my husband will say “Laine, it’s 10:30, I’m going to bed,  how much longer are you going to work?”  I simply lose track of time.

Me:  Do you think about your work while you run? Similar to having ideas when we are half asleep, do you have ideas when you’re running? Or do you try not to think about work at that time?

Elaine:  I work through so many design issues when I run.  I come back with tons of ideas and things to try.  It’s amazing how much gets accomplished in my head during a run.   

Me:   Other than using textiles, do you find time, or have the inclination, to use paints for “free time” art work?

Elaine:  I do love to garden and use my creative skills there.  I have both a vegetable garden and a perennial/shrub garden and I love doing that and the physical labor that goes along with it.  Being outside is really important to me.

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Around the STudio_wm


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At her computer, working…

From custom commissions:

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to very local, Chapel Hill, North Carolina imagery:

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to scenes from coastal Maine where she grew up and goes each summer:

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And then there is her garden:

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To end our visit, the classic red door!

Both Elaine and I would LOVE to hear your thoughts and comments about this interview.
I hope you will go to Elaine O’Neil and look around to see her very extensive portfolio. You can also find her on Facebook here.

My thanks to Elaine for making this possible and I look forward to getting to know you better!