English artist Julie Cockburn talks to Mission about her passion and creative spirit of embroidering onto found prints that she re-invents into modern pieces of artwork.
What inspired you to use found photographs as your artistic medium?
Since studying sculpture at Central St Martins in the 1990s, where we were encouraged to use anything and everything as our materials, I have enjoyed choosing found objects and images to work with. I’m not starting with the proverbial blank canvas, and my process makes visible the emotional responses to the objects and images that I find.
What is your artistic process? How do you decide how to embroider/embellish the photos you find?
I source photos from junk shops, online stores, and car boot fairs. Once I have found a photo I want to work with, I immediately scan it so I have a digital image I can sketch onto, either using Photoshop or a printed facsimile. My by the image I am working with— composition and color are essential in making my intervention successfully integrate with the original photo. It’s a fun process of trial and error, depending on how I feel towards the image and what the image allows me to add. I can sometimes sketch 30 or 40 different versions before I settle on a final design. I then transfer that design onto the original photograph and begin stitching. A piece can take up to two weeks to make.
Do you have a visualization of how you want the piece to look or do you improvise as you work?
Having settled on a design, I generally have a good idea of how a piece will look before I begin embroidering, but sometimes a colored thread I’ve used is too bright or dull in the final work so I unpick and restitch it. I often prick the design into the photograph as a template to follow, and this can’t be undone, so it’s important that the design, at least, is correct before I start.
“Through my interventions I manifest my emotional and imaginative responses to the original photos.”
What is your favorite piece you’ve made? And what was the process behind creating it?
I know it’s a cliché, but it’s generally the last things that I’ve made. I am really enjoying experimenting with large-scale screen prints at the moment, and combining print and embroidery onto found photographs in a new series of shadow portraits.
Are there any artists or artistic movements that inspire you?
I love the integrity of mid- century modernist art and design, and I’ve recently subscribed to Instagram, which is an incredibly varied source of interesting imagery. Not long ago I made a piece that was directly inspired by a cake deco- ration. Two of my current favorites on Instagram: @kogumagallery and @norimitsut.
What kind of emotions and reactions are you hoping to evoke from viewers with your art?
Through my interventions I manifest my emotional and imaginative responses to the original photos. I’m aware that we each read an image differently, and I hope that by showing the viewer what I can see, they will become more aware of the emotional process involved in looking at and seeing an image.
Do you prefer your work to be showcased physically or digitally? What are the pros and cons of both methods of presentation?
Ultimately, I would love my work to be seen in the flesh— the detail in the embroidery and nuances in color, patina, dents, and creases in the original photo- graphs are sometimes lost when viewed on-screen. Having said that, I don’t feel that a piece is finished until I’ve scanned it and viewed it on my computer. It enables me to see the work objectively.