What do you do?
I am a sculptor, a wife, and a mom to two young boys. For the past twelve years I have been experimenting with the medium of felted wool, creating forms that embody ideas about the physical body and push the limits previously assigned to wool and felting.I came to fiber from a background in sculpture, and I address wool in a way similar to the way I would build up mass in clay and remove it in stone. At the University of Oregon I focused on the human form and the traditional materials of sculpture; I only discovered wool felting several years after college and a production art job that left me frustrated. I became involved with running Works/San Jose, our local nonprofit art and performance space, and along the way learned the business of being a professional artist even as I was experimenting with the wool felting that would become my main focus. Over the years I’ve been invited to show my work across the United States and Europe, I’ve taught my technique, presented lectures, sold artwork, and received awards and grants. I have a very full life with kids and a sculpture career, and I owe a lot of my sanity to my very loving and supportive husband. My work and life continue to evolve; as my kids get older I have longer stretches of time to work while they are at school and increasingly interesting experiences with them that feed into my practice. In the studio I seem to always set new challenges and enjoy meeting them. Despite my relatively unique material I find I have a whole community network of artists from a variety of disciplines with whom I can trade ideas, techniques, and professional practices.
Where can we find your work?
I don’t currently have gallery representation; I show my work out of my San Jose studio at the School of Visual Philosophy during Open Studios and by appointment; my work can be seen online through my website www.stephaniemetz.com and some is offered for sale through my Square Market page at www.square.com/market/stephanie-metz. I currently have work in two shows touring the U.K., and I’m finishing work for the Rijswijk Textile Biennial in the Netherlands.
What inspires you to create and how do you keep motivated when things get tough?
I am a curious person; I stumbled across my strange medium of felted wool and wanted to learn about it and explore its possibilities. I find the experimental process itself engaging, and my material ends up influencing and steering my subject matter. I don’t have much trouble with staying motivated in the studio since I always have several different projects going at once and extremely limited time available to work on them (I have two young sons). I do struggle with a lack of motivation to do some of the other tasks associated with the business side of being an artist. I make to-do lists and love being able to check things off, and I’ll reward myself with studio-work-only time when I get administrative tasks done.
What do you think is more important content/finished product or technique/process?
Both are important to me-- the finished product is somewhat of a map of the creator’s journey up to that point. I know that when I look at art I often try to put myself in the artist’s shoes and consider what went into the making even as I consider the finished art in front of me. Every piece is also part of the larger arc of an artist’s creative output, and can give perspective on the past as well as potential future work.
Who are some people who influence and/or inspire you?
Artists Lana Wilson, George Rivera and Alan May have been some of my instructors and mentors; they are models of a healthy, productive, and sustaining blend of personal and creative lives.
What is the most incredible art moment for you so far?
That’s a tough question-- I feel like I get a lot of incredible moments when I’m working alone in the studio and in that state described as ‘flow’: wrestling with a challenge but feeling mostly confident that I can resolve it in a pleasing way. I think that is what keeps me going; I may later re-assess my success with a particular piece, but the highs I experience fairly regularly in the process of creating are extremely rewarding to me.
When do you get your best ideas?
There’s no specific best time or place-- being an artist is woven throughout my life, so I sketch or jot things down when they occur. Sometimes it’s when I’m specifically working on ideas, sometimes it happens organically. I tend to have a sketchbook and pens with me much of the time.
What materials/tools do you use most to create your work?
Wool, and sharp, notched felting needles in a variety of multi-needle holders.
Are you self-taught or formally educated? How do you think that has influenced or affected your work?
Both. I am formally educated to the tune of a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree in Sculpture from the University of Oregon, where I focused on the classical figure and worked in nearly every area offered (bronze, clay, stone, metalsmithing, ceramics, printmaking) except fiber. I am largely self-taught in the use of fiber as a sculpting medium. I was introduced to needle felting through the book ‘The Felting Needle: From Factory to Fantasy’ by Ayala Talpai. From that starting point I have been teaching myself through trial and error, and my exploration continues.
Who would you most like to meet living or dead and why?
I’m tickled by the comedian Betty White-- she seems to have a great outlook on life, which she approaches with grace and sharp wit. I think I could learn a few things by spending a day with her.
When you are not creating what do you like to do?
I like to goof off with my kids, play roller hockey, read, and eat food other people cook for me.
How did you learn to access your creative talents and gain the confidence to put it out there for everyone to experience?
I knew I was an artist even as a child simply because drawing and paying attention to how things looked was hardwired into me. I knew going into college that I wanted a career related to my ability to make things, but I was not interested in being a fine artist who would sell work through galleries because I didn’t think I had anything to say to the world-- I wanted to do production work, or applied art, albeit at a very high professional level. A frustrating year of production artmaking changed my mind. I started teaching myself the business of being an artist and discovered needle felting at about the same time, even though I didn’t consider needle felted wool sculpture to be my ‘real’ artwork for quite a long time. My confidence in my technical abilities thanks to my classical art education combined with my enthusiasm for my material lets me put my work out there and not feel overly swayed by responses, good or bad. I’m ultimately doing this for my own pleasure. Okay, I’ll admit I do like it that others generally reply pretty positively, but it’s an uphill battle to convince some that what I do actually is sculpture, despite it not being made of metal, stone, or wood.
What advice would you give others just beginning their creative adventures?
I think some education in art techniques and art history can help, provided that it doesn’t replace your own voice-- you have to learn and process things and then you can set aside some and focus on others. I think a lot of art-making (and life) is about making decisions on how to use the time, materials, and energy you have currently available. Have faith in your own quirky vision-- your unique outlook on the world is the filter that creates your artwork. Don’t try to be or make art like somebody else. There’s a great quote by Georgia O’Keeffe: “I have things in my head that are not like what anyone has taught me - shapes and ideas so near to me - so natural to my way of being and thinking that it hasn’t occurred to me to put them down.” Put them down, own them, do the work. Art doesn’t get made unless you make it.