Claire Benn: Out of This Earth
Artist Claire Benn shares her skills and knowledge in her Out of This Earth workshop. Fibre Arts Take Two talks with Claire about all things art and teaching.
Claire Benn’s Friday Feature Artist Interview can be found at the bottom of this page.
Claire Benn, an artist and educator, has dedicated several decades to perfecting her craft. Passing down her wisdom to a new generation in her exclusive workshop called Out of This Earth – Fibre Arts Take Two had the opportunity to catch up with Claire, enabling the chance to gain more insights into her artwork and upcoming workshop.
Making her heart sing
It took a little time for Claire to discover where her true artistic passion lay, “When I started,” she says, “I learnt fibre reactive dyes and all these surface design techniques that went with that. I got to a stage where I’ve done a couple of pieces that were very, very minimal, and they were the ones that made my heart sing. I then realised I wanted to communicate the stillness and silence and translate my beloved wild landscapes into cloth in an abstract, calm, contemplative manner.”
Making this discovery was vital in Claire finding her authentic voice as an artist, “Being an artist”, says Claire, “I can visually communicate the things that matter to me, the things that resonate with me that make my heart sing. The proudest thing for me was permitting myself to do the work I wanted to make, which is the quiet, reductive, minimalist, abstract work.”
Claire also discovered her most profound inspiration, “In the last 10, 12 years, all my work has been based on the environment in the sense of a landscape,” she says, “and I love the wild and remote places. It is great to be able to go out on location. I like the feel of the dry pigments in my hand; working with earth pigments directly connects me back to the land.”
Claire believes in giving art time to breathe and come to life, “One of my biggest strengths is the slowness,” Claire says, “to sit and look, to sit and ponder… to sit and contemplate. The only way to achieve good composition is to spend time with your work. Ultimately, I think you get better and more considered work. I think you put more of yourself into it. And somehow, that shows up in the artwork. Stitch is the slowest process I use. I love to stitch because it slows me down the whole repetitive needle-in, needle-out. And when I’m hand stitching, it is a kind of meditation. It’s much about experiencing any given moment.”
Out of This Earth
Claire has recently launched her workshop for budding artists, exclusive to Fibre Arts Take Two and open to anyone worldwide.
“This workshop is named Out of This Earth,” she says, “because everything we use in it comes out of this Earth. I think it’s the first thing out there that specifically addresses the use of soya and earth pigments on cloth with cloth as your substrate. Ultimately, the course is about enabling people to work with earth pigments and soy milk in an eco-friendly manner.
It’s also about building confidence, encouraging exploration and risk-taking composition. It’s also about helping you move forward, get to a position where you can work with intention and start to think about using the media and the process to make your own work. One of the things I’m trying to convey is that it takes discipline to learn the process. And it takes discipline to learn media. And once you’ve dug deep into every single process at that point, only then can you set out and make the intentional work. That’s the start of your journey, not the end. That’s when you make it your own view, go out in the world and create the artwork you want to make.”
Claire has clear goals for her Fibre Arts Take Two workshop, which is open to artists of all skill levels.
“What I’m hoping for from this workshop is that students won’t face some of the frustrations I faced,” says Claire, “because this is very much about using the earth pigments on a piece of cloth. But having said that, many of the techniques we cover are also relevant to people who work with paper. It is suitable for a beginner. It is suitable for someone with lots of art experience or surface design experience. Every new media and every process has a technical aspect to it. But ultimately, I would say nothing in here is deeply technically complex. It’s pretty accessible.”
A two-way street
Of course, students can only get out what they put in, “I think a learning process that involves a tutor and a student is very much a two-way street,” she says, “It’s the old saying, ‘you can take the horse to water, but you can’t make them drink’. So any individual who is trying to learn something has a huge personal responsibility to pay attention to what is happening as they use that media to think, ‘well, what are the variables involved here?’”
In the end, Claire finds teaching immensely enjoyable and rewarding, “I think the greatest joy for me is seeing people grow,” she says, “That’s what teaching is about. It’s the ones who commit to pushing themselves and have real intention to try and make artwork that is a true reflection of themselves. When you see someone succeed, it’s amazing.”
To enrol for this exciting new course, visit www.fibreartstaketwo.com.
About the artist
Claire Benn appreciates the tactile qualities of her materials. Process and being hands-on are essential to her, as is the craft that underpins the making of her art. Landscapes inspire as there’s so much to see, feel and experience: the long view, the wide-open spaces, the terrain, the soil, the plants and the creatures.
Claire’s family encouraged painting and drawing, but school did not. Even then, they viewed the arts as less important than other subjects. Not academically minded, Claire left Sixth Form at seventeen and started work, eventually becoming a freelance training and development consultant specialising in one-to-one coaching.
In 1998 she re-focused her career on art and engaged in self-directed studio work and study with practising artists. Claire’s previous career gave her a skill set to establish a teaching practice, and in 2001, she set up a teaching studio in partnership with Leslie Morgan (‘Committed to Cloth’), focused on art textiles. Teaching provided an income, and Claire also believes that “to teach is to learn twice”. Although Claire still teaches at other studios, she stood down from the partnership in 2015 to have more time to focus on her work.