James Donald, a cloth weaver who has exhibited twice with the Philadelphia Museum of Art Craft Show as an international artist, will be teaching a weaving class this summer at the Leith School of Art in Edinburgh Scotland. James is the owner/operator of Pick One and co-founder of an Edinburgh-based store, Concrete Wardrobe, which he runs with another 2011 Craft Show participant, Fiona McIntosh. We asked James how he got started as a weaver, to describe his experience at the 2011 Craft Show, and to tell us what he enjoys about teaching.
How did you become a craft artist and select weaving as a medium?
“For me it’s about how you interpret the world around you, how you view it and then establishing your own aesthetic. I felt I could interpret my ideas through the medium of cloth”.
During his final year at Duncan of Jordanstone College of Art, James participated in a three month artist-in-residency program in the Textiles department of the Canberra Institute of the Arts in Australia. This was an important turning point in his career:
“While there I met with Liz Williamson, a weaver who now teaches at COFA in Sydney, and a number of weave students of the Japanese textile designer Junichi Aria. It was this meeting that was instrumental in me making the cross-over from what I perceived I wanted to be – a tapestry weaver – to becoming what I am today and what I am predominantly known for – a fabric weaver. They showed me that fabric weaving does not have to be a flat woven cloth and through structure, materials and the finishing process, fabric can become more than a cloth – it can be something quite sculptural and challenging in terms of a wearable cloth”.
Please tell us a bit about your overall experience with the Philadelphia Museum of Art Craft Show.
“I was lucky enough to attend the Craft Show in 2003 with the Crafts Council and again in 2011 with Craftscotland. I found the overall experience very positive and this has a lot to do with the Show organizers and both the Crafts Council and Craftscotland, with all three organizations being passionate about the handmade product and crafts in general.
I found the people who visited the Show, interesting, interested and fun! There were some great conversations as well as friendships struck up. It was lovely to see familiar faces as well as past customers who made repeat purchases on my return visit”.
We’ve heard you’re going to be teaching a weaving class at the Leith School of Art in Edinburgh, Scotland beginning in August. What is inspiring you to teach?
“I enjoy the process of watching, observing and guiding students of various ages through the design process and watching them grow in their creativity and confidence. Teaching, for me, is showing learners the possibilities of what can be done with their existing skills, new techniques and skills sets they acquire as we collectively move through the design process. It’s still a joy to me to see how people can grow in ability, have the confidence to make creative decisions and become independent thinkers and designers”.
What advice do you have for emerging craft artists?
- Don’t give up. “No matter how tricky things get both financially and creatively, it’s important to keep going. And, at risk of sounding like a contestant on America’s or Britain’s Got Talent/Dancing with the Stars etc: follow your dreams”.
- Stay current and ask questions. “I feel that it’s important to go see exhibitions, talk to people, and get feedback on your ideas and products. Don’t be put off by negativity or opinions that don’t go with your thinking, rather listen to them and reflect on what has been said. You can turn these comments on their head and use them”.
- Use all social networks to your advantage.
- Try new things. “Have a go at everything!”
- Be a continuous learner. “Don’t be put off when things don’t go the way you had hoped. Expect the best but be prepared for the worst. Even someone like me, who has been honing my creative practice for nearly 15 years, still has disasters … except I don’t see them as disasters, but rather as opportunities to grow and learn. I am still learning!”
James Donald has taken his own advice in exploring new avenues. He has expanded to offering fabrics printed with digital designs. Each design is based on original drawings made while on trips to the north of Scotland. Images were photographed and then put through a number of different applications to manipulate the image further to produce repeating patterns that give a sense of place, while not overlooking the traditional visual language of the repeating patterns in traditional Scottish textiles. He has also taken these designs and etched them on whisky glasses – making a perfect Scottish blend.