Toni Hartill: Different Directions
Join Fibre Arts Take Two to learn how fibre artist Toni Hartill takes different directions and ends up at the right destination.
Toni’s Friday Feature Artist Interview can be found at the bottom of this page.
Toni Hartill’s work takes you through papers that have been printed with textures, exquisite details, lashes, layers, and shapes that have been folded, cut and assembled into many new forms.
Making has always been at the core of Toni’s life, from graduating with a BA in Fine Arts, majoring in design and working as a bespoke furniture designer to diving further into printmaking.
Just like in Alice in Wonderland, the viewer of Toni’s work can marvel at the variety and scale and share their curiosity about nature. From forests to rock pools, exploring many forms through the translation of texture, pattern and colour to new surfaces, she is often drawn to projects of an ecological nature. Toni has exhibited many works that explore history, culture, time and place. Fibre Arts TakeTwo ventured into this Wonderland and talked with Toni from her home studio in New Zealand about making, experimenting, and staying motivated.
Like many fibre artists, Toni came to art through a loving mother, “I had a really practical hands-on mum,” Toni says, “She taught me to sew, and my grandma taught me to crochet. I was always trying handcrafts like macrame, or embroidery, or leather work, and I would end up making products that I’d sell to family and friends or sell at markets and stuff.”
Toni’s love of miniatures also started in her youth, “When I was about 13,” says Toni, “I started designing and building a doll’s house. So that was when I really got into miniature worlds. But I’d always been making little dioramas in shoe boxes and fairy gardens on old meat trays or you know, turning tin foil into goldfish, always making.”
Before becoming a full-time fibre artist, Toni worked in bespoke furniture design, “I was always up for a challenge,” she says, “When you walk into someone’s house and meet a new client, and they tell you what they want, you’ve first of all got to interpret what it is that they want. Then you’ve got to come up with a design that you hope they’re going to like and then build that in three dimensions. There’s so many different aspects to that whole process. Then you’ve got to work with a tradesman who’s going to make the piece. When you’re working with lots of different people, that makes it really complicated.“
It was the restrictions in furniture design that ultimately led Toni to change course, “I actually like making my own work for myself,” she says, “Printmaking, I think, really allows you to be spontaneous and responsive and, because you can print multiples, you can be printing multiple pieces of paper and playing with different ideas while you’re working. It allows you to sort of take an idea in multiple different directions at once and see which one you want to stick with.”
Once Toni made the switch to fibre arts, it took her some time to find her niche, “I was hungry to try everything,” she says, “and that was the problem to start with, that I would try one technique and then all I want to try the next shiny thing, I want to try that. Then I realised that wait a minute, I’m becoming a jack of all trades, but I can’t do anything properly. I decided I really needed to focus down and stop trying everything and focus on things I particularly enjoy.”
Toni now has trouble recognising the structured young artist she used to be, “I used to paint,” she says, “and I wasn’t experimental when I painted. I used to plan out the entire painting, and I would do a full-colour pastel and work out all the colours, and then I’d grid up the canvas and then paint the painting, and it looked like a pastel drawing. Now I just cannot imagine who that strange person was because that’s not how I work at all. Now, when I’m working, I have ideas, and I have a plan, maybe, but probably 90% of the time, the ideas will start branching off in different directions. I’ll maybe end up working on three or four different projects related to the initial idea, and it’s just gone off in different directions.”
Toni says finding motivation when life has gotten away from her is one of her biggest struggles. She has advice for aspiring artists on how to find their mojo when it’s gone missing. “Keeping sketchbooks and keeping a record of ideas of things that you want to work on and inspiration sort of lives in your sketchbook so that when you get stuck, you just open it up and you’ve got a starting point,” says Toni, “Often a starting point is just doing some of the mundane stuff even if it’s tidying your studio or getting set up to start something.”
Finally, Toni’s advice to artists who might be starting out is to find your community, “When I started,” she says, “when I decided to focus on my art practice, the first thing I did was make connections and build community. I started seeking out print groups or interested people in the Auckland area that I could connect with. Community is so important.”
About the artist
Toni Hartill is a visual artist from her home studio-come-workshop in Western Springs, central Auckland, NZ. She is inspired by colour, texture, pattern and form in the natural environment. Common themes in her work include explorations of a myriad of environmental concerns and a fascination for the strong ties that come with connections to “place”.
Although Toni works with many media, printmaking holds the greatest allure for her because it allows her to be spontaneous, experimental and playful in her work.
The printmaking processes Toni uses mostly are linocut, drypoint, copper sulphate etching, collagraph and monoprint. Each of these processes involves many stages to create the images on the plates, which are then inked up by hand and printed using her etching press.