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Artist Jo Hamilton: Painting was never comfortable for me

pics: Jo Hamilton

Jo Hamilton is a fibre artist. She crochets unique portraits and landscapes. What makes her do it?
Could you introduce yourself shortly? You hail form Scotland and moved to the U.S., right?
Yes, I moved to Portland, Oregon in the mid-nineties, after graduating from Glasgow School of Art.
For how long have you been working as a textile artist? I know you were doing paintings before, how was the transition to crochet?
It wasn't until I moved to the US that I began to experiment with crocheting. In 2006, using only a crochet hook and yarn, I began to create a large scale cityscape of Portland, and realised I had finally found the medium for me. I continued to work on that piece for over two years. At the same time I also began a series of larger than life crocheted portraits of coworkers and friends. To date I have completed 32 crocheted pieces including cityscapes, portraits of local people, Multnomah County Jail mug shots, and commissioned work.
Your crocheted portraits and other works have always ends of yarn hanging from the bottom side - why?
The hanging ends draw attention to the material and the process- you can see every single strand of yarn that I used to make up the whole of each piece.
How do you work with yarns to represent colours - do you sketch, make notes, or just use the stuff right away?
I work directly from my own photographs, using no sketches, graphs or computer imaging. Each piece is instinctively composed and not planned ahead. I spend a lot of time simply looking, unravelling, and reworking until I get it right.
How do you organize yarns, and where do you shop for it? Are you using wool, or other materials?
My yarn is organised by colour and tone in my studio. Most of my collection was bought secondhand from thrift stores and is made of all kinds of material- wool, cotton, acrylic, silk. Now that I make so many portraits I sometimes have to buy new face colours as I use up what I have. I am less concerned with the type of yarn and more with the colour and shade, but I do enjoy using as many different and entertaining textures as I can, for example making eyeballs or teeth fuzzy.
What led you from paint to yarn?
Painting was never comfortable for me, so I was often dissatisfied with my work. Until I was inspired 5 years ago by a show at the local craft museum to try crocheting representationally. I was so excited by my results that I haven't done anything but crochet since then. I use the traditional crochet technique taught to me at an early age by my Gran. I work one knot at a time, from the inside out, row by row. For example, in making the portraits I always begin in the middle with the eyes and work out from there until the piece is completed.
I have recently seen a picture, shared on facebook, about musicians. It said that before, musician was just a musician. Nowadays, a musician is a blogger/manager/etc. - is it so for artists like you?
Yes, to a certain extent - I manage my own website, edit all my photos and post them and various press articles, etc. I don't really blog; my work is so time-consuming that I try to get on and off the internet as fast as a can.
Do you also sell your art, and is it possible to live off it?
I've sold some pieces, and also completed a few commissioned works in the last couple of years. I'm getting by, which I think is pretty good considering the current economic climate.
Do you also craft-crochet (make scarves, hats, etc.)?
I"ve made a lot of hats and the like as presents for my friends over the years, but these days I'm focused completely on the pictorial work.
What do you plan for 2012?
I am currently working on a stop-motion animation showing the creation of one of my portraits. So many people want to understand my process, so I think that will be a good way to show it. I am also working on two giant male nudes that I plan to show next year. A new cityscape of my home town Glasgow is being conceived, and I will be adding to my various portrait series.

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