Image: A hand-embroidered holly blue in a box of silk thread used for the scales on its wings © Jane E. Hall.
Some people have the ability to behold beauty and magic in everything they see. Jane E. Hall, artist, embroiderer, and author of The Nature of Creativity: A Mindful Approach to Making Art & Craft, is such a person.
With its charming collection of art- and craft based projects, inspiring stories and beautiful photography, her new book, The Nature of Creativity, aims to inspire readers to explore creativity and mindfulness through a deeper connection to, and awareness of, the beauty of the natural world.
From an exploration of the special places where Jane herself draws inspiration and creativity, to her natural sources of ideas and artistic materials, readers are taken along on an enchanting artistic journey. Step-by-step projects open your eyes to the possibilities of natural mandalas and dreamcatchers, and Jane's engaging diary entries inspire you to create your own textile flowers, birds and butterflies.
Image: Model of a male brimstone butterfly with hand-modelled bluebells © Jane E. Hall.
Particularly fascinating are the chapters exploring Jane's delicate, three-dimensional, hand-embroidered butterflies. The entire process, which Jane likens to meditation (and describes in detail in the interview below!), is captivating and all-absorbing.
We were delighted that Jane took the time to answers some questions for us about her artistic process, her new book and where she draws inspiration. Read on for an insight into her magical world:
Image: © Neil Hall-McLean
Jane, what inspires you and from where do you draw inspiration?
As a child, playtime in the garden seemed endless to me, and somehow it still does. As a professional artist inspired by the natural world, I still feel creatively playful, although my playtime has become more sophisticated! I'm fascinated by botany, natural history, folklore and fable, and I have countless sewing boxes and a double plan chest in my studio that's brimming with all sorts of treasures and trinkets that inspire my work. These range from beautiful shells, seeds and beads, to pebbles, feathers and vintage buttons.
Image: Nature's haberdashery © Jane E. Hall.
How did you find your style? Did it develop naturally or did you make a conscious decision to work in a particular way?
For as long as I can remember I've loved making things and make-believe. My creativity and imagination were nurtured by loving parents and grandparents – my mum and grandma in particular – both of whom were makers. Mum enjoyed all manner of artistic pursuits, and Grandma made all of my favourite toys, so art materials were in plentiful supply. My favourite 'making things' were undoubtedly fabric, thread and – most prized of all – 'grown up' needles and scissors! It is perhaps little wonder that I went on to study textile art, with a specialism in embroidery, at Loughborough College of Art and Design. There, my love of nature and exploration of this diverse medium were encouraged by brilliant tutor Margaret Hall-Townley who, above all, guided me to freely explore and artistically express what I love: the natural world.
Image: A hand-embroidered peacock butterfly © Jane E. Hall.
Tell us a little bit about your design process - how do you make your exquisite hand embroidered butterflies and flowers?
When I'm making my embroidered butterflies, the creative process begins with closely observing and sketching butterflies in the wild as they flutter from plant to plant, admiring how their wings catch the light. My husband and I have created a wildflower garden that's become a haven for butterflies so I'm lucky to have inspiration close to hand.
Using my pencil sketches as the blueprint, I then paint the wings onto habotai silk using miniature brushes and silk dyes. Butterflies' wings are made up of countless tiny scales and, using a special ring-lit magnifier so that I can see the detail – and working with the finest handmade embroidery needles – I replicate the individual scales with tiny stitches of whisper-fine, hand-plied filament silk. The edges of the wings are wired so that they can be shaped to hold their form, and I weave the wire through the back of the embroidered wing scales. Being ultra-fine wire, I'm able to use the same needles that I use for the silk thread. Depending on the size and complexity of the butterfly, it can take up to ten weeks for a closely studied species to creatively 'metamorphose'.
I take a very similar approach to making wild flowers, studying species in the wild before then going on to accomplish botanical sketches which become the pattern for my very own species – 'var. silken'. My handmade violets were created by cutting petals from specially dyed habotai silk, tucking a cluster of silk-floss stamens into the centre of the petals and then drawing everything together onto a stem of green silk-bound wire. I then painted on the delicate petal markings with miniature brushes dipped – cautiously! – in silk dye. In nature, it's these strikes of dark violet-blue that flutter seductively at pollinators.
Image: Hand-modelled calyces and watercolour sketch © Jane E. Hall.
What materials do you use in your work?
As an artist and embroiderer I have an ample supply of papers, paints, silk dyes, pencils, modelling materials, needles, embroidery threads and fabrics. I use very lightweight silk cloth and Japanese floss silk for the majority of my plant and insect studies – fairies included! But should I be intent on 'nest building', for example, all manner of materials come into play. There's also a whole haberdashery to be found in nature, from pine needles and willowherb cordage to thistledown paper and mallow seeds or 'billy buttons' so I love going out to forage for materials to incorporate into my work.
Are there any other artists, designers or periods that particularly inspire you?
The Victorian artist-dreamers of the Pre-Raphaelite movement fill me with awe. Their attention to detail and luminary storytelling all but defy belief. I also love the work of Arthur Rackham, John Anster Fitzgerald and other artists of the Victorian era who were richly inspired by fairies, folklore and myth. More contemporary artists who inspire me include Andy Goldsworthy, Brian Froud and Annemieke Mein.
Image: Jane poised with miniature paintbrush at the foot of Psyche's Cabinet © Neil Hall-McLean
What would you like readers of your new book The Nature of Creativity to take away from it?
I'd love readers to feel inspired to explore their own creativity through observing and cherishing the natural world. Creativity should feel free and playful and it's a wonderful way to be mindful. I hope my book will encourage readers to enjoy the process of making – no matter how skilled or unskilled they think they are – rather than putting too much focus on a 'successful' outcome.
Let us know your favourite project from the book!
Oh my goodness! That's such a difficult question to answer but I think perhaps 'Psyche's Cabinet' in that it represents countless precious moments relating to my artistic muse, the butterfly. It also represents endless contented hours of creative practice and many mindful moments spent meditating on the beauty of butterflies and their natural habitats. In many ways, 'Psyche's Cabinet' is the epitome of what The Nature of Creativity explores, and it's illustrative of the love of nature that inspires my entire creative process and practice.
The Nature of Creativity: A Mindful Approach to Making Art & Craft by Jane E. Hall (£25 Merrell Publishers).
Find out more about Jane on her website: https://clothofnature.com/