Artist Focus: Natasha St. Michael
Natasha is 32 years old and she's from Montreal, Canada. Between 1993 to 1997 she lived in Chicago, USA, where she studied visual arts and received her Bachelor of Fine Art Degree from The School of the Art Institute of Chicago. While at art school her main focus of study was fiber arts, but she did study everything from video, contemporary performance art to anatomy drawing. In 1998 she returned to Montreal where she began her full time career as a fine artist.
You can visit Natasha's website at http://natashastmichael.com/ to learn more about her artwork.
When I saw her amazing artworks in a magazine 2 years ago, I couldn't believe these cellular structures were made with beads. How much time did she spend making this beadwork?? Why it isn't collapsing - it should be really heavy! It was like a miracle. They seemed so alive! Lately I had a chance to ask Natasha all these questions - and many more! Enjoy our conversation below.
When did you make something with beads for the first time, and what it was?
I've been making things with beads my entire life. Like many little girls I loved beads, and as a young girl I collected beads, many times prefering to look at them and organized them more so then doing anything with them. Even as a teenager and while in art school, I used to buy and collect beads. I will never forget the time while in art school a friend of mine found the Miyuki Delica beads (Japanese beads). I was so drawn to their color and perfection in shape that I immediately went out and bought a few vials of the beads. These beads seemed so precious that at first and for many years I would just stare at them, intimidated, in my heart I knew that if I were to use these beads I would have to do them justice, do something really beautiful with them. In all honesty, even though while in art school I took some embellishment courses, learning embroidery, stitchery and beading techniques I still didn't go near my stash of these Japanese Delica beads. It was only years later when I started making hand bead woven art works that I finally felt confident enough to use these beads.
I am a self-taught bead weaver. I started beadweaving as a teenager because I loved the actual weaving process, more so then the final product. At that time I taught myself straight and tubular peyote stitch. While in art school, I was introduced to circular peyote stitch and shown examples of three-dimension beadwork. This was the very first time that I was exposed to limitlessness potential of beadweaving. My main obstacle while trying to learn beading techniques from diagrams was they were never always correct. I am sure many bead weavers can relate to this – diagrams in books and magazines are not always correct and if you are using different size beads, even if the bead vary just ever so slightly in shape and size, adjustments have to be made.
In all honesty, from the beginning I found following a diagram to learn beadweaving virtually impossible. I will never forget when I wanted to learned circular peyote stitch. Every time I tried to follow the diagram, as the beading progressed, the shape of the woven structure would always warp and curl. I approached a teacher about my difficulty and the two of us set out on the challenge of trying to figure out how to weave a perfectly flat circular form while following the diagram. After over a month of following the diagram and trying to create a perfectly flat circular shape, we both gave up. I have never looked at a bead-weaving diagrams again and only years later did I pick up my beads again and try to figure out how to do circular peyotee stitch. That time, I put the diagram aside and worked with the form infront of me. I realized that beadweaving is in many ways a mathematical process, but one that can not be taught step by step, but more intuitive, you either have it or you don't!
Who is your favorite beadwork artist?
What is your favorite beadwork/design book?
The New Beadwork by Kathlyn Moss. It was the first beadwork book I saw that inspired me to think outside of the box and go beyond how beads are conventionally used.
How many hours a day do you usually spend beading? Is it your hobby, or your job?
I have been working as a beadweaving artist full time since 1999. Since my work is so intricate and very laborious, on average it takes between 2-4 months to complete just one piece! On average I create about 3 art works a year! I have to say I work almost everyday on my beadwork, anywhere between 40-60+ hours a week.
When did you create your first beaded cellular structure?
I created my first beaded structure in 1999 (titled 'Oh the Webs We Weave'). Before doing the beadwork I was doing hand painted fabrics, also along the lines of portraying cellular structures. I was working out of my home for years and the dyes were extremely toxic and also taking over my living space. In 1999 I moved to a new home where the kitchen was very small, not big enough to do the dye work (I chose this apartment specifically so it would be a home and not transformed into a dyeing studio!). I was planning to rent a seperate studio space where I would do the fabric work there--- seperate my work from my home. But during that time, not being able to do the dye work at home, and not yet having a studio space, I started experiment with beadweaving.... and an idea, a form was born. What drew me to the beadweaving was that i could still stay along the lines of creating cellular or microbiological structures, but take it further into a three dimensional form.
What inspires your beaded pieces?
I am inspired by elements found in nature from cellular structures beneath the skin to organic formations found at the ocean floor. I am attracted to and inspired by living things that at first glance may repel us or make us uneasy, but by looking closer they portray the beauty and wonders of life. This could be anything from fungus growing on food to images of diseases under a microscope. I want to emphasize the beauty in those things that otherwise may not be.
Do you work on several projects at a time or maybe you create your pieces one after another?
I work on one piece at a time, but while I work on one piece I am also working out what the next piece would be. I prefer my creative process to flow, that as I complete one piece, I know what I'm doing next.
How much do your beadwork pieces weigh and how much time do you usually spend making one of your pieces?
The art works can weigh up to 5 lbs. Weight of the pieces have been an issue for me, specifically because the larger the piece gets, the more it weights and that can create structural problems. In may ways that is why I prefer to use Japanese Delica Beads over Czech Seed Beads, the Japanese Delica Beads have larger holes and are made up of less glass. The more glass in the beads, the more the overall piece weighs.
On average it takes 2-4 months working full time (40-60+ hours a week) to complete a piece. One exception, a piece titled 'Sprouting' which took me a year and a half to complete! Between 2005 to 2007 I went traveling to Australia, Indonesia, Hong Kong and Japan – I brought my beads with me and created 'Sprouting' during my travels.
Do you sell your beadwork? If you do, what do you usually feel when you let your piece go?
Yes I sell my beadwork. I've been asked many times if I find it hard to let go of the art work, especially because I spend so many months just completing one piece. I have to say that I actually feel really good letting the art work go, it makes me really happy that someone else will be able to enjoy my work. I feel like those months that i am immersed in creating the piece is the 'my time' with the art work, once its completed I have to move onto the next and let it go.
Do you think or plan a lot before doing a new beadwork piece?
Yes! Whenever I have an idea I create small beadwoven models. I have bags full of small samplers/models, and I have to say that I can create up to 20 small models before I refine my idea and go ahead with a piece. I go through this process while working on one piece and always hope that by the time I finish the current piece I will know what I'm doing next. Because I also have a to order a large quantity of beads and thread, its important that I am sure of the color and form I want to create.
Do you have colors you don't like to work with? A color preference
My color preference has changed over the years. In the beginning I was doing a lot of pieces with transparent crystal beads and bringing color in through the woven threads. Later I moved into more bright colors and here and there there experimenting with more earthy/subdued coloring. I love working with color and also challenging myself with experimenting with different color ranges.
The only color bead I haven't worked with is black. I'm not sure if I ever will... maybe, maybe not! In many pieces I use black thread that comes through the transparent beads, but I'm not interested in using actual black beads. I also prefer to use transparent and matte beads rather than opaque beads.
What are your other hobbies?
I love traveling and spending time in nature. Because I have to sit for so long while doing the beadwork, I like to be active, running, hiking or just even taking a walk around the city. I love to read, listen to music and learn about other cultures and ways of life.