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Art & Life with Barb Wills

Today we’d like to introduce you to Barb Wills.

Barb, please kick things off for us by telling us about yourself and your journey so far.
I have always liked math and science and found that they allowed me to try things and find answers to questions. I see the world around me as shapes, patterns, lines, and layers.

My career as a hi-tech engineer provided me with work that encouraged and rewarded experimentation and problem-solving. I also learned that most break-throughs came after much hard work and failures.

These are the lessons that translated into my second career as an artist.

A two D design class opened my eyes to the world of art and sewing my own clothes growing up gave me the mechanism to find my artistic voice.

Retiring to the mountains outside of Prescott, Arizona has provided me with a large studio on a property that is backed by the national forest. I find that my natural surroundings are a constant source of inspiration. These are also where I find my sense of centeredness and calm. Walking meditations before working in my studio help me to shut off all the noise from the world around me. Being an introvert, this is the perfect environment for me to create. I often think that the sum total of what you have done and what you have seen manifest themselves in your art. My natural surroundings continue to change around me and I feel that I will always make new discoveries when I am outside.
My studio and natural surroundings are those places where I can lose myself in “what ifs” and “why not,” where I totally lose all sense of time. It is that place where I am not judged or questioned – I am left to myself and my ideas.

Continuing to study art introduced me to fine art printing, which has become my voice. Fabric that I hand dye becomes printed with my woodcuts where the marks speak for me.

Because my engineering career was focused on technology and computerization, my art is all done by hand. I seem to need the “feel” of my hand on the fabric and on the wood while printing. As someone who loves challenges, I choose to work in a nontraditional art form.

I start with blank surfaces and little if any preliminary sketches. I find that the materials will tell me what to do and how to do it. The wood I use comes from Japan, and the printing ink I use is my own formula for an ink/dye that works with fabric. Learning to mix the inks and then how to print with them utilized my engineering background in months of experimenting until I found that combination that works for me.

My contemporary fiber art has toured museums in Europe, galleries in Korea, won awards in international exhibitions and is included in the permanent collection of the International Quilt Museum. I currently have four pieces touring the United StateS and one returning from France. Artwork is in private collections in Europe, Asia, and throughout the United States.

When I created my early artworks, I never dreamed of the places that my art would travel and the awards and recognition I would receive. I do know that it takes goal setting, focus, persistence, patience hours, and hours of hard work, and knowing that nothing good comes easy. I find inspiration from the words of others and keep a Steve Jobs quote in my studio: “Don’t let the noise of other’s opinions drown out your inner voice.” and my favorite is “What would you attempt to do if you knew you could not fail?”.

As an artist, I know that I must accept feedback, stay true to my vision and my voice, and make my art a daily priority. Whenever I feel like taking a short cut or slacking off, I hear my European grandmother’s voice telling me “if you are going to do something, you must do it to the very best you can no matter how long it takes.” and so I do and love doing it.

Can you give our readers some background on your art?
My love of working with fabric comes from the memories of spending time with my grandmother as she made quilts. It is the way I continue to keep her with me. I like the feel of fabric, I like that I can dye it any color I want, that I can print it, cut it, sew it and create art from a white piece of silk or cotton.

Wanting to find my own voice, I investigated techniques and materials not typically associated with working in fiber. There was no one to ask or Youtube to watch when trying to find the best materials and tools for me to use – it took several years of trying and failing and trying again to develop my current processes and materials. I found that creating my own woodcuts gave me the language of mark making I was looking for. Nothing is pre-planned as I cut and print fabric. All of my woodcuts are of lines, layers, shapes, patterns, which is how I see the world, and when printed on fabric become my voice.

Dyeing my own fabric provides a limitless combination of colors and values to use in creating a composition. By cutting and sewing fabric what I create is only limited by what I can sew.

I use a limited palette as I want to give viewers a place to look at the lines and shapes and marks and find a moment of quiet contemplation as an escape from our hyperstimulated, fast-paced world. I want them to try and find their own interpretation of my marks and design. I also want to merge fine art printing and contemporary fiber into a simple art form so that when my work is viewed across a gallery, it is not clear if it is a painting or fiber.

How do you think about success, as an artist, and what do quality do you feel is most helpful?
Each artist has to find what success means to them. For myself, it is feeling that every piece I make is better than the previous one, that it is original, that my marks communicate what I was aiming for and that I did not quit until it was as good as I could do.

Success is being juried into exhibitions, museums, and major venues and having my work published in catalogs and books.

Every January, I set goals for the year with a list of what must be done each month. This keeps me focused towards the main goal.

Qualities to be successful:
Humility persistence, accepting failure, working out of your comfort zone
Being your own harshest critic. Being fearless
A commitment to the hours needed to excel. Never stop learning
Not being influenced by others. Art must be a priority in your life
Doing the work to find your own voice being honest about your ability
Love what you do take time to learn the business side of being an artist

What’s the best way for someone to check out your work and provide support?
My work is currently on exhibit at quilt national in Athens, Ohio. Three pieces are included in the touring exhibition, “Material Pulses” which is touring the country for five years.

Another piece is on exhibition in France.

Visiting my Prescott studio allows people to see finished work, work in process, and ideas for new work as well as all of the materials and tools I use. It is also an opportunity to purchase completed works.

The size of work ranges from 3’x3′ to 8′ x8′ and is prepared for hanging.

Studio visits are made by appointment.

My website, also has images of my artwork.

I use 7th-century Japanese surface design techniques to create silk scarves which can be purchased at the Shemer Art Center in Phoenix, Arizona, and Prescott Center for the Arts Gallery in Prescott, Arizona. Creating these scarves is another vehicle to generate ideas for my large artworks.

Contact Info:

Image Credit:

Larry Wills

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