Q&A With Textile Artist - Nicky Barfoot

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This week we are getting to know Textile Artist, Knitting Designer and tutor Nicky Barfoot.

I first saw Nicky’s work at the Knitting and Stitching Show at Alexandra Palace in 2014 where an exhibition of her Knitted Dog’s Heads won her a Gold in the UK Knitted Textile Awards. I was drawn into her light hearted and animated world which takes a large chunk of inspiration from her adorable 4 legged friends. I highly recommend finding Nicky on Instagram for a daily dose of Weimaraner antics and to follow her progress on the #the100dayproject on Instagram (#100daysofinspiredbyart), which sees Nicky creating a sketchbook of her own works based on her favourite works of art! 

Let’s find out more about Nicky and what inspires her as a knitter and textile artist.

When and why were you first inspired to pick up the knitting needles?

Thanks Jem. I’ve been knitting for as long as I can remember. I’m one of three children and our Mum made most of our clothes so I was used to seeing her knitting in front of the TV in the evenings. I’ve never been able to sit still without doing something with my hands so Mum taught me to knit as a way of keeping me quietly entertained when it was too cold and wet to go outside and play.

What was the first thing you ever made?

We were lucky to have a teacher at our Infant school who had the whole class (boys and girls) knitting one term. I think the first actual finished item I made was during this class. It was a mustard yellow mouse finger puppet knitted in garter stitch. Up until then I think mainly made bits of wonky knitting which ended up wrapped around my Teddy Bear as scarves.

What made you choose textiles as a medium for your artwork?

Even though textile art is nothing new, it still manages to promote discussion and controversy. Many folk are still unable to see a piece of knitting as anything other than functional (if I had a pound for every time someone asks me “What’s it going to be?” I wouldn’t need to sell any of it!). I often get people coming up to me at exhibitions and in all seriousness telling me which of my pieces of work they define as “Art” (note the capital A) and which they think are “craft”. Add to this the commonly held perception of knitting as being amateur, feminine and low skill, and lots of fun can be had challenging these stereotypes. A good example is the Knitted Life Paintings series I created for the 2013 UK Knitted Textile Awards (awarded Silver) where I combined the artistic respectability of the Life Room with the craft of knitting.

A common theme running through my art practice is humour (the irony of the knitted nude wasn’t lost on me!), which I think is well served by the familiarity of knitting and the memories that it often provokes. If you put these slightly mischievous intentions together with the fact that I have been knitting and stitching for more than four decades (to a point where it is part of my daily routine in the same way that food and exercise are) it was probably less of a choice to work in textiles and more an inevitability.

Tell us more about your 4 legged muses!

Animals have been part of my life since childhood including dogs, birds, rabbits, hamsters, horses and even a lizard at one stage. However since leaving the childhood home the menagerie has consisted of dogs and a cat. We currently have two mature pooches, Nelly a Jack Russell Terrier and Sas a Weimaraner. Nelly is 14 and like many terriers is the best dog and the worst dog all in one cute package. She was given to us by our neighbor when their JRT had puppies.

Sas is 11, is my second Weim, and like her predecessor, is my running buddy. She came to live with us when she was 6 months old after her first owner realised that a dog originally bred to hunt large game (bear and wolf) in the forests of Germany wasn’t all that well suited to living in a pristine town house in the middle of a city. Luckily for me, a mutual friend knew I’d recently lost my old boy and suggested that I might like to meet her. The rest, as they say…..

Nelly is camera shy but Sas is a typical Weimaraner and is more than happy to pose for photos and for sketching purposes (if I’m quick). She comes in quite handy for pattern photo shoots too and usually looks better in scarves and cowls than I do (everything goes well with beige?). Probably over influenced by a childhood watching Tom and Jerry, I find the simplicity of animals provides a light hearted way of exploring the human condition. My four legged muses are incapable of the painful self awareness, awkwardness and embarrassment which can plague human interaction and consciousness. #bemoredog is something I aspire to.

Your embroidery pieces are so wonderfully colourful. Where do you
find your inspiration for your colour palettes?

Thank you, I’m so pleased you think so. I used to be quite worried about colour when I was studying art and design. The theory suggested that there were rights and wrongs and I was scared to use my instincts. However, I’ve stopped worrying about the theory so much now (although it does still guide me a little) and instead I rely more on what catches my eye in the world around me. I take hundreds of photographs a month of textures, colours and patterns that call to me when I am out and about and I use those to influence my art and design process. Pinterest is also a wonderful source of colour inspiration.

You are currently posting a piece of art a day for the #the100dayproject on Instagram, which sees you creating a sketchbook of your own works based on your favourite works of art. Do you have a favourite artist or style?

I am inspired by so many artists that I would be hard pressed to come up with a single name or style (I have a similarly eclectic taste in music. At the moment I am probably more influenced by figurative work than abstract. Of current artists I am a big Grayson Perry fan, partly because he has taken a traditional craft and successfully conquered the art world with it, and partly for his insightful social commentary. I also love William Wegman’s photography and films which, as they comprise of gentle humour and acting Weimaraners, probably doesn’t come as too much of a surprise. I enjoy art that invokes a narrative and aspire to do that with my own work. I’m also in awe of the artists of the last century who forged their own path and were game changers despite the critics of their time.

This 100 day project has been a fascinating exercise in studying artistic style. I find that the best way to really look at something is to try and draw it (I’m one of those annoying people at art exhibitions who sketches the work). I’ve always done this and spent many happy hours as a child copying pictures from wildlife encyclopedias. I’m now into the second half of this project where I’m revisiting the first 50 pieces and recreating an original artwork of mine inspired by it. I’m having a lot of fun!

You are also a knitting tutor too – do you have any workshops coming up?

I’m currently in full on Autumn workshop design mode where I am finalizing 3 projects each for the Ashcroft Arts Centre and Chainstitch Reaction, both of whom are based in Fareham, Hampshire. Once booking is open for these I’ll provide more information and links on the workshop page on my blog. The topics include a beginners session, an introduction to knitting in the round, socks, simple lace in the round, double knitting and intarsia.

I’m also teaching a Stitched Selfie (hand embroidery) workshop at the Thread Festival in Farnham on 30 June which I’m really looking forward to as it should be a lot of fun. 

Where can people buy your knitting patterns and embroidery kits?

I sell my knitting and embroidery patterns and kits in my Etsy Shop: I also sell some of my knitting patterns through as an independent Designer.

What’s on your needles at the moment?

I’m just putting the finishing touches to an intarsia purse design. It’s a project I’ll be teaching at the Ashcroft Arts Centre during their Writing Week in November so to keep with the theme it has a written motif on it. I’m also partway through stitching a new embroidery kit design featuring a cheeky feline face.

What can we look forward to from Nicky Barfoot in the future?

I’m delighted to be exhibiting at the Knit and Stitch Shows in London, Dublin and Harrogate again this Winter. I shall be with five other talented artists as part of a group called Room 6 presenting our individual responses to the theme of “Missing Elements”. It’s very exciting and making work for it will be keeping me busy over the Summer. I’m sure there will be some sneaky peek WIP pictures on Instagram in amongst the Weimaraner action shots over the next few months.

Thanks Nicky!

More information on Nicky's work and processes can be found in the following places:
Instagram: @nickybarfoot

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