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Claire Benn: Dig deep

UK-based textile artist Claire Benn shares her thoughts on art vs design and how artists can avoid seeing any endeavours as failure. 

Claire’s Friday Feature Art Interview can be found at the bottom of this page.

Artist Claire Benn works in mixed media textiles, raw earth pigments, natural dyes, acrylic paint and thread. 

Her work is abstract, reductive, contemporary, quiet, and tactile, apparently simple yet engaged with the complexity of ideas and practices. 

Her inspiration is drawn from wilderness landscapes, such as the Atacama Desert, New Mexico, and the Arctic. 

Claire’s work always starts with a piece of cloth. Stitching is her meditation, offering solace and stillness as she honours the cloth, feeling the fabric’s texture stitch by stitch.

Fibre Arts recently caught up with Claire via video call to talk about her approach to teaching and the concept of ‘failure’. 

“One thing I teach is that learning how to use different tools and mastering your media is really important,” explains Claire. “Because without understanding both, it’s very difficult to achieve what you want.”

“As a trainer and one-on-one coach, I strongly believe that everybody has the ability inside themselves to get where they want to be,” Claire adds, “So rather than me trying to push information into people, it’s for me about giving enough and then pulling information out of them. Because all of us actually have the answers inside us.

A lot of the time, we don’t take enough time to do the problem-solving that might be necessary. My focus as a teacher is on people getting their work out of their heads, not on what I want them to make.”


Claire explains, “I ran a workshop about taking risks and trying to find new ground. I sent my students a load of questions to answer in advance about why they wanted to take risks. Probably 50% of people wrote that they felt that their design process was flawed. 

Well, artists are not designers. Yes, an artist might keep sketchbooks and map out a few rough ideas. But what we have is a vision, we see something inside our heads, which might be based on landscape, or it might be based on a pebble. And we’re trying to execute that.” 

If we are familiar with our media, with our tools and what they can do with us, we can say to ourselves, ” Okay, well, this is the colour palette I need to use. And this is going to be the order of my process. And then we can make a start. 

You’re not designers! You’re artists. You don’t have to do an exact rendition on paper before you start. Plus, if you’re working in textiles, I think it’s pretty pointless working on paper, to be quite frank. 

What you can achieve on sketchbook paper is not what you can achieve on a piece of cloth. Many people get frustrated when they can’t get the same brush mark on cloth as they can on paper. So if you’re going to do sampling, I advise sampling as big as you can afford and sampling on the cloth you’re going to use. Because then you’ll know what you’re dealing with.”

Just like the social media world, Claire reminds us that the finished product of our art is carefully curated.  


“When we go to an exhibition, we only see the work the artist chooses to show us. We’re not seeing the pile of shit in the corner! In all walks of life, people enjoy ‘writing’ their life and presenting the good parts. But when you’re learning, you’ve got to have that courage to fail time and time and time and time again and keep going.

That’s why they call practising artists; because you get in there and you practice. And the more you practice, the better you get. 

I’ve always said there are no total failures as long as you extract the lesson that the failure teaches you. If you’re standing there scratching your head, I wonder if I can do this, just do it. That’s the quickest way to find out. So be brave, be exploratory, and be exploratory with what I call an inquiring mind and observing mind and be willing.”

When it comes to considering how she wants to be remembered as an artist, Claire says she wants her work to enable the viewer to find peace in some way, shape, or form. 

In terms of advice, it would be toplant your bone deep’. By that, I mean dig deep. You’re not going to get an attractive-looking flower by just chucking a ball on the ground… you have to dig the hole; you have to do the work. It’s when you do that when you plant your bulbs deep; that’s when your work has resonance. It will represent your physical energy, your emotional energy and your spiritual energy.”


About the artist

Claire lives and works in a converted barn in Surrey, UK. She is also an author, curator and educator in art textiles.

Claire’s work has been exhibited in galleries internationally across the USA, Europe and the UK. In addition to the public exhibition programme, her works feature in commercial and private collections. 


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