Artist Isabell Buenz works across the disciplines of paper sculptures, installations, photography and artist’s books. She became interested in recycling and re-purposing objects from an early age, even making clothes for herself and her family. Isbell became a full-time artist in 2000 and spends her time between her home studio near the Scottish Borders and her workshop/ gallery in Dumfriesshire.
In this interview with Isabell we talk about the influence of her father’s job at the local newspaper, the use of 100% renewable tea bag paper in her work and consider her unusual paper clothing.
International Foundation for Women Artists would like to thank TextileArtist.org for allowing us to repost this interview.
The freedom of fabric
TextileArtist.org: What initially captured your imagination about textile art?
Isabell Buenz: Nowadays textile art forms an important element of my work, however, my core work has always been creating things with paper. I started sewing as a child and still enjoy the freedom I experience in my work with fabrics. I find it interesting to compare working with textiles with the level of versatility and possibilities paper offers.
What or who were your early influences and how has your life/upbringing influenced your work?
My Dad’s work has always captured my imagination. When he worked for the local newspaper we always had big rolls of waste paper in the house. Early on I became fascinated with the idea of making all sorts of things from paper and discarded newspapers. I still have one of my first craft books: ‘Basteln mit Zeitungspapier’ which I bought in 1975!
I also started designing and making my own clothes after a school sewing project. It had never occurred to me before that you could make your own outfits! Initially I made my clothes using my granny’s indestructible Singer sewing machine. When I was a teenager my parents finally bought our very own electrical machine. I started making my Mum’s evening dresses and showed her how to sew too.
What was your route to becoming an artist?
I wanted to be an artist since I was a teenager. I spent a lot of my time collecting my ideas, designing and making things. I was dreaming about having a gallery with a workshop where I could make and display my own and other people’s work.
However, I took very different career paths before setting out as a paper and book artist in 2000. At the time I was still working part-time for the NHS in Edinburgh which I finally left in the end of 2011.
I am now a full-time artist and mostly self-taught in the areas I work in, including book binding, textile work, paper art and photography. Over the years I have attended a variety of short courses that helped me increase specific skills and knowledge.
100% renewable tea bag paper
What is your chosen medium and what are your techniques?
I like working with any kind of paper but prefer to use discarded books, mulberry paper or tea bag paper.
Over the last few years I have mostly worked with 100% renewable tea bag paper as my main medium, creating a collection of whimsical dresses, fashion accessories and shoes. My shoes are mainly made by papier-mâchéing paper over shoe moulds I make from clay. I aim to make them as thin as possible to allow the structure to show through in the light.
My paper dresses are made like ‘real’ dresses and the latest ones can actually be worn. I first create the patterns by draping and then finish the outfits by gluing or sewing, depending on the type of tea bag paper I work with.
How would you describe your work and where do you think it fits within the sphere of contemporary art?
My work is a collection of whimsical paper fashion items. Many have a fairy tale quality and range in size from tiny matching dress and handbag ensembles to giant shoes. The work is often inspired by encounters with nature and my close-up plant photography.
Tell us a bit about your process and what environment you like to work in?
I have an office/studio in my home outside Edinburgh and a studio space in Dumfries and Galloway, working in one or the other depending on my work load and the size of the project. I like the fact that I work with material that is often considered worthless, too delicate to handle and is frequently thrown away without thought. I have been interested in recycling and re-using things for unintended purposes from an early age.
That unfortunately means I’m a hoarder as anything could one day be useful in a very different form! I would love to work in a spacious, organised office and try to create this before every new project starts. By the end of the process I can usually count myself lucky if I can still get into the room and find a space for my coffee cup. Fortunately the studio in D&G is much bigger and I seem not to have the same problem there!
Isabell Buenz – Studio (2013)
Ideas and interesting images
Do you use a sketchbook?
I rarely leave the house without a sketchbook and one of my cameras. Calling it a sketchbook however is probably misleading. I consider myself a complete amateur when it comes to sketching and drawing. A lot of the time my scribbles look like kid’s drawings (the only thing I seem to be able to draw a bit better are my fashion illustrations)… so the books are more like mood boards holding my ideas and interesting images. If I start a new project I usually make a new notebook for it.
Isabell Buenz – Drawing (2014)
What currently inspires you and which other artists do you admire and why?
I recently visited Aberdeen Art Gallery to see Kaffe Fasset’s ‘50 Years in Colour’ exhibition and attended his talk and quilting workshop. Having been to South East Asia earlier this year I am very interested in the use of colour and patterns (even though most of my recent work is white).
I love the work of Howard Schatz, Nick Knight, Issey Miyake, Nicholas Kirkwood, and I LOVE Spanish high street labels Desigual and Smash!
Tell us about a piece of work you have fond memories of and why?
Probably my first paper shoe collection that I made for the summer exhibition at Bellcraig Studio in Fife in 2006. By then I had thought a lot about making paper stilettos but with work and trying to establish myself as an artist I never found the time. For that show I decided to make my paper shoe dream come true and created a chicken themed collection as the owner of the gallery was going to give me a wee coop to display my work. I don’t know how many shoes I’ve made since then.
Isabell Buenz – Paper Stilettos (2006) 30cm each
Unusual, wearable paper dresses
How has your work developed since you began and how do you see it evolving in the future?
Over the last few years I have become more confident in my work and my ideas and I think it shows in the results. I have moved on from my little shoes to creating unusual, wearable paper dresses that I show as installations with a theatrical twist.
Isabell Buenz – Little White Dress (2013)
I would like to continue working along those lines and possibly introduce other materials, such as fabric into my work. I am hoping that I can develop a more relaxed style and improve my fashion illustration skills.
Isabell Buenz – Mermaid Wedding Dress (2014)
I am also continuously updating my sewing skills and am working as tutor in an Edinburgh sewing shop.
What advice would you give to an aspiring textile artist?
Be bold, go for it and don’t worry about what work other people create. Also, network. Loads.
Can you recommend 3 or 4 books for textile artists?
Paper Textiles by Christina Leitner, A&C Black Textile Perspective in Mixed-Media Sculpture by Jac Scott, The Crowood Press
Fairie-ality Style: A sourcebook of inspirations from nature AND Fairie-ality: the Ellwand Collection by David Ellwand, Walker Books Fairie-ality Style: A sourcebook of inspirations from nature AND Fairie-ality: the Ellwand Collection by David Ellwand, Walker Books
1000 Artisan Textiles: Contemporary fiber art, quilts, and wearables by Sandra Salamony & Gina M Brown, Quarry Books
Resources, equipment and exhibitions
What other resources do you use? Blogs, websites, magazines etc.
I am following a number of textile and fashion related sites online, including: MODH,Textiles Scotland, Institute Magazine, V&A, Fashion and Textile Museum, WOW,Recycle Runway. For opportunities I check out: a-n, the Cultural Enterprise Office,Creative Scotland, local council, arts trusts/organisations and my network of contacts.
What piece of equipment or tool could you not live without?
Quite a few, I think: my tablet, a camera or phone, the current note book, my ‘pencil’ box full of pens, markers, scalpels etc. And my new sewing machine. And the old one… I mentioned I’m a hoarder, didn’t I?
Isabell Buenz – With Old Singer Machine (2014)
How do you go about choosing where to show your work?
I usually give talks or run workshops in connection with my exhibitions and get invited to teach in schools, colleges and prisons. I work as a tutor for Materialise the sewing shop I mentioned above. My workshops there revolve around my interests in creating new and unusual items from pre-loved clothes, free-hand machine embroidery, sewing with stretch fabrics and manipulating pattern magic constructions.
Isabell Buenz – Young Designers Workshop Ad (2013)
Information about workshops open to the public in other areas is usually announced on my website ‘News’ page. Or if someone is interested, they can contact me to be added to my mailing list.
Where can readers see your work this year?
I have just shown my solo exhibition ‘Little White Dress’ for the second time and am now planning two potential new projects for next year but have not finalised anything as yet. I am a member of the Galloway Textiles Collective ‘Intertwine’ and we will shortly plan our exhibitions for 2015. Until then my work can be viewed online. My website is a good place to start.
Isabell Buenz – Daisy Shoe (2013) 25cm
Learn more about Isabell Buenz on her Website and follow her updates via her Facebook page and Blog.
Presented by the International Foundation for Women Artists in collaboration with Textile Artists