Carolyn Saxby interview: Inspiration all around

Carolyn Saxby interview: Inspiration all around

In part one of our interview with textile and quilt artist Carolyn Saxby she spoke about her journey into the arts and craft world. Here she talks to us about what her biggest inspirations are, answers some quick-fire questions, and offers some invaluable advice to aspiring textile artists.

We’re delighted to welcome Carolyn back and grateful that she has taken the time to give really in-depth explanations as well as provide some stunning images.

Inspired by my surroundings

What currently inspires you and which other artists do you admire and why?

I am, and have always been, most inspired by things I find in nature.

Firstly, on the beaches of my hometown of St. Ives where I will scour for shells, pebbles, sea glass, seaweed, bits of fabric and things washed up such as fishing string and leather soles.

Carolyn Saxby inspiration

Secondly, so many other aspects of living in St. Ives such as the quirky whitewashed cottages, their interesting rooftops smothered in lichen that change colour with the seasons, door furniture, cobbled streets, the varied range of art to be found in the many galleries, the fishing boats in the harbour with all their associated paraphernalia such as brightly coloured buoys, rusty chains and ropes, peeling paint and jaunty nautical ness (if that is such a word).

Carolyn Saxby is inspired by seascapes

The seascapes themselves inspire me.  The sea and the tide and ripples in the sand and the colour of the sky all convey moods, the salty breeze, the light … how can one not be constantly inspired to try to capture a small essence of any of these things.

Carolyn Saxby sketchbooks

Of course, with such a wealth of subject matter I find it overwhelming at times … so I try to narrow it down and focus on an aspect of it.

Carolyn Saxby project

I did a whole project on just the blue/grey pebbles with lines of quartz running through them … pursuing this topic in many different media.

Carolyn Saxby - a sketchbook project

… another sketchbook focused completely on the fishing paraphernalia found on Smeaton’s Pier for instance

Other interests for me are found in the hedgerow.  I love to walk on the country lanes by my home.

Carolyn Saxby - macro photography

I walk with my camera and practice my macro photography by closing right in on interesting patterns and colours …

Carolyn Saxby - photo of leaves

… on leaves, twigs, buds, seed heads, acorns, conkers, etc.  I particularly love berries and fir cones.  Sometimes, I will pick and press a wild flower or a leaf.  Other things I pick up are feathers from garden birds and seagulls.  When I get home I like to push the pieces around to create a still life which becomes a moment in art for a short time, it may become a window display for a while and will then be used in a piece of work or kept in my sketchbook.

Carolyn Saxby - found objects

Found objects are secured on work by sewing on if it has a natural hole or by couching it on by over sewing to secure it.

A piece of textile art by Carolyn Saxby

I most admire other artists that combine many techniques or materials in their work.  I particularly like the work of Manon Gignoux, Caterina Giglio, Colette Copeland, Rebecca Sower, Cathy Cullis, Julie Arkell, Cas Holmes, Jude Hill, Sandra Meech and Beryl Taylor for their experiments with upcycling in their mixed media work, combining many processes with life’s paraphernalia and fine details that tell stories.  I like a piece of work to speak to me … to capture a mood, a moment or a short story.  Colour artists I admire greatly are India Flint, Alice Fox and Arlee Barr for their experiments with eco and natural dyeing. Other artists I admire are Anselm Kiefer, Kurt Schwitters, Anne Davies, Elaine Pamphilon, Matthew Lanyon, Sue Dove, Sally MacCabe and Michelle Caplan for their joyful work that encourages painting and collage and moving pieces around … oooh so much inspiration!!

The work of Caterina Giglio

The work of Caterina Giglio

Tell us about a piece of work you have fond memories of and why?

I think it would have to be an art quilt I created for Festival of Quilts in 2010. It was a very therapeutic project for me at that time as I has just undergone surgery connected to breast cancer while I was working on the quilt. I threw myself into working on it and enjoyed all of the processes.

Carolyn Saxby quilt

It didn’t require a great deal of piecing as it’s made up of three large panels. I used silk on the back and the front which I hand dyed myself and most of the work was in the applique cottages, reverse applique cobbles and the hand stitching of embellishments.

Carolyn Saxby detail

It was the perfect project to get me through a difficult time. I had already committed to entering a quilt which had to be minimum of one metre on one side. I made the quilt one metre square. Hand stitching always gives me the time to sit quietly and reflectively working things through. I sit with a sketchbook to my side jotting down thoughts and ideas.

A quilt by textile artist Carolyn Saxby

The quilt features quirky cottages inspired by St. Ives and shells and real seaweed found on the beaches there. It still is one of my favourite pieces. I am offering it for sale in my etsy shop and it has attracted some attention for which I am happy.

Carolyn Saxby is a textile artist inspired by nature

I love to melt things!

How has your work developed since you began and how do you see it evolving in the future?

With time most artists begin to favour techniques so I’ve pretty much worked out the ones I enjoy the most and dabble less with the ones I don’t enjoy so much or are too time consuming. I pretty soon realised that screen printing, whilst a valuable technique, does nothing for me. I once enjoyed knitting and crocheting garments but now prefer these only as a freeform exercise to create smaller pieces that can be used in a larger overall piece of work.

Felt making is hard work I find, but the results can be stunning so I do still have a go occasionally. Tending to spend more time on one’s chosen techniques means more time for fine tuning and developing that technique. I’m working with photography more and more and developing that side of things and different end uses for my work and also developing working with wax using waxed papers and fabrics to add texture. Basically, I guess I love to heat and melt things. That’s my thing!

My work environment is a dedicated space. I like to work in front of a window for natural light and fresh air. I have a table placed in front of the window so I can look out at the trees and the birds. Around me, I have several very organised cupboards and bookshelves full of textile books. I have a printer/scanner and laptop to hand on one side and assorted sewing machines and an embellisher on the other side of the desk. I also have a space to lay out my thought process which often consists of art cards and stuff collected from gallery visits, matching fabrics, threads and beads etc.

I have boxes dotted around the room where I am collecting for future projects. I have my favourite themes and in my room currently I have a box that contains my Brooklyn sketchbooks and stuff I’ve collected to further them, a box that contains stuff I’m gathering for the “Wreck this Journal” project. It has a London theme so I’m collecting vintage images, stamps, flags, art images, textured papers and fabrics etc. but there are also elements of art in St. Ives and finds from some of my nature walks make their way into my journal …

Inspirations - Carolyn Saxby

Also on the go … a two boxes of stuff connected to seed heads and sunflowers for my 2015 exhibition and also a box of fabrics and papers from the erosion bundle project which are being processed into sketchbooks for my 2013 exhibition

I also have mood boards and wall art and still life displays on my windowsill.

Carolyn Saxby mood boards

I love to have inspiration all around me … the things I pick up on the beach inspire me the most.

There is also a growing collection of glass jars from the jar project. They were created as “moments in art” for a photographic project … a way of looking at things a little differently … but I’m finding it hard to deconstruct them afterwards so they will go on display in my show alongside a published zine of photographs and notes connected to this project – available at my show “Sew – A Needle Pulling Thread” in November 2013.

Do you give talks or run workshops or classes? If so where can readers find information about these?

I don’t currently give talks or offer workshops or classes. However, I do love to meet people at my shows and I’m very happy to talk textiles and techniques. I do get contacted a lot by students of art and textiles and always do my best to reply and help them with their studies and offer suggestions for ideas and ways of taking design work further.

How do you go about choosing where to show your work?

My aim is to work towards an annual show of fine art textiles in St. Ives. I chose to exhibit at St. Ives Arts Club as it has good traffic being on a beautiful narrow old street that leads down from St. Ives railway/bus stations to the harbour and sea front.

A photograph of inspiration by Carolyn Saxby

It is a good space to be able to share wall art and soft sculptures in 3D as well as being able to offer refreshments. I realise that St. Ives is, perhaps, out of reach to some … but St. Ives has a wealth of other galleries to explore and a trip to St. Ives and the show would be worthwhile. I choose also to share my work at the Festival of Quilts as it is a great way of reaching a wider audience and offer the opportunity to meet up with like minded textile and quilt artists.

I generally sell my work through my etsy shop. Other than that, I sometimes offer work for sale exclusively through a gallery in St. Ives and this is because I realise the importance of offering the opportunity for closer inspection.

Endless resources

What are your top five resources (magazines, blogs, websites etc.)?

I’m not at all good at picking just five but I would have to say one of my most favourite sites for inspiration is Flickr.  The site has undergone some changes recently, which everyone is still adjusting to, but I love to collect images that contain colour and texture found in nature or capture a mood.

My top five resources would have to include the flickr site of artist Linda Vachon because I love her textured photography and paintings which constantly inspire me to push the boundaries and work outside the box at times with my own photography in the same way Anselm Kiefer does.

And I regularly visit the flickr site of mixed media encaustic artist Bridgette Gurzon Mills who expresses her love of nature through her softly coloured encaustic paintings.  Bridgette uses her photographs with wax and paint to create stunning images.

In the same vein, I enjoy the work of Angela Petsis.  I’ve dabbled with encaustic but it’s something I really want to do more of …combining my own photography with mixed media encaustic and stitch.  I’m interested in pages that offer inspiration for ways of taking photography further in my textile sketchbooks.  It’s something I want to pursue more in 2014.

Flickr also offers some amazing photography for anyone interested in details, patterns, colours and textures to be found in nature.  For this same reason, Country Living is a magazine I enjoy regularly for it fabulous source of nature, social and interior design photography.

I enjoy Cloth Paper Scissors magazine and Quilting Arts as well as any of the Stampington/Somerset magazines.

There are a great many blogs I enjoy also … too many to mention but I love to gaze upon the mixed media work of my friend Cathy Cullis and I’m always inspired by the textiles and mixed media work of Manon Gignoux, Colette Copeland, Rebecca Sower, Julie Arkell, Cas Holmes, Sandra Meech, Beryl Taylor, Jude Hill, India Flint and Alice Fox.  Other artists I admire are Anselm Kiefer, Kurt Schwitters, Anne Davies, Elaine Pamphilon, Matthew Lanyon, Sue Dove and Sally MacCabe.

Where can readers see your work this year ?

I will be exhibiting at St Ives Arts Club, Westcotts Quay, The Warren, St. Ives Cornwall for two weeks – “Sew ~ A Needle Pulling Thread” runs from 3rd to 16th November 2013 and will feature fine art textiles, paintings, quilt art, smaller textile pieces, art cards, soft sculptures, The Jar Project with supporting zines and some textiles supplies, hand dyed fabrics, hand made beads as well as gifts and cards suitable for Christmas presents (jewellery, scarves, bags, cushions) – everyone is welcome to come along and entry is free.

I also exhibit from time to time in Uys Gallery, Tregenna Hill, St. Ives, Cornwall and I’m hoping to enter a new art quilt into exhibition at Festival of Quilts in August 2014.

Carolyn Saxby - heart textile piece

And now for the quick-fire round…

Why are you an artist?

I just am.  I notice everything as I go through my day and find myself wanting to capture and record what I see.  I do it instinctively.  I love what I do and love sharing what I do with others.  Expressing myself through my art is such a blessing and a joy in my life.

Did your family nurture your creativity?

I would say I was encouraged to learn and acquire homemaking skills so knitting, sewing, baking and creating things for the home/self were all things that were nurtured.  On the art side of things I was pretty much left to my own devices which is fine as it meant I found my own direction and developed my approach in my own way.

What inspires you?

Nature and being by the sea are my biggest inspirations.  Looking closely as things found in nature … patterns, colours and textures, the smell and feel of things in nature never fail to inspire me.  I also love to follow the seasonal calendar so this will inspire the colours I am working with at a given time.

Do you ever suffer from Artists’ block?

I never do.  I would say I have the opposite problem where I am often overwhelmed by the amount of inspiration around me and the long list of ideas I have that I want to pursue and the lack of time to fulfill all of these ideas is pretty frustrating.  It’s a case of prioritising my needs as an artist … choosing which project to work on, what to do first, that can be a problem sometimes when I want to do it all.

Do you use a sketchbook?

Yes, I fill copious sketchbooks.  Not all with sketches but with everything that inspires me such as cards from galleries, my own photos, swatches of fabric or threads I’ve dyed, snippets of yarn that are special, drawings, notes, paintings, monoprints, painted papers, collected and found things such as leaves, pressed flowers, feathers, pressed berries for stains, eco dyed paper and fabrics etc.  Everything I gather goes in one of my books.  I must have hundreds.  I love to work with colour themed books … so I sort my ephemera into themes or colours.  That way they are a real reference source rather than a mish mash of stuff.  I’m a prolific collector of imagery and design and I love abstract samples so I sometimes cut through things to get shapes and snippets of colour.  My sketchbooks are my real passion, actually.Carolyn saxby is well-known for her textile hearts

Do you work in silence or with music?

Sometimes in silence if I need to work ideas through.  Then once I have my direction I like to “listen” to my favourite movies.  I put a DVD on my laptop which is to the side of me.  I don’t necessarily watch it unless a “must see” bit pops up … I just listen like a story.  I do this mostly when I am hand stitching.  Bit of a waste of time if I’m free motion stitching as the sewing machine is too noisy.  I have a huge pile of favourite DVDs.

What are your other interests besides art?

I love watching movies and TV programmes from the fifties, sixties and seventies.  I read a fair bit, time permitting.  I read a lot of textiles books and magazines (daily) and in my spare time I like to make beads.

Who would you love to collaborate with (living or dead)?

A tough one.  I think I would love most to work with Bridgette Gurzon Mills or Caterina Giglio.  I adore their work in their chosen fields.  Bridgette works with encaustic mixed media and Caterina works with Italian collage and stitch.  Both artists inspire me very much and it would be a joy to work with either of them.

What is the best decision you have ever made?

The best decision I ever made was to start collecting  and cutting stuff I loved out of magazines at such an early age.  I didn’t know then where it would lead … but now I know that there was a purpose to it.

What advice would you give to an aspiring textile artist?

To focus on favourite topics of interest.  To look ever closely and more deeply at that topic.  To begin keeping a “gathering book” of things that inspire.  To try once every textile technique available to the artist and begin to understand which techniques bring the most pleasure to the artist.  To develop a high standard in their chosen field by practising and continuing professional development and constantly think of new ways of pushing the subject matter to a new level and different ways of expressing that subject through different techniques and materials and by keeping up with new products that become available.  It never stops … you just keep going and pursuing the theme you love and expressing yourself in that way.  If you love it you never want to stop and remember that the more you look the more you see … so there is always something new to be discovered.

Thank you very much for the opportunity to give this interview

Carolyn Saxby – July 2013

To find out more about Carolyn and her work visit

If you’ve enjoyed our interview with Carolyn why not let us know by leaving a comment below.

Tuesday 26th, December 2023 / 20:52

About the author

Joseph Pitcher is the son of textile artist Sue Stone. He is an actor and voice-over artist and has worked at the RSC, the National Theatre, West End theatres and several other leading regional venues across the UK. Find Joe on Google

View all articles by Joe



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8 comments on “Carolyn Saxby interview: Inspiration all around”

  1. Ann Draycott says:

    I just want to say how much I enjoy reading your interviews, this is truly a wonderful website for all kinds of artists!
    Carolyn is a real favourite for me since I appear to share so much in common with her from her textile history, her approach to textiles her likes and dislikes etc. Her work is simple, beautiful and inspirational and I often check her site to see what she is into at that given time.
    Thanks for creating this brilliant website, it’s great to get an understanding of the thoughts and processes of other artists and a great place to gather (even more) inspiration.
    Thanks and well done I’m a real fan!

    • Joe says:

      Hi Ann – thanks so much for your kind words about the site. We’re so happy to be putting out content that artists find inspirational. Of course it’s all down to the artists we interview really – we’re just riding on their coat-tails in the nicest possible way!!!

  2. Barbara Johnson says:

    I found your site via my obsessive search to find any and all information I can on the magnificent Carolyn Saxby, and thus, this is my introduction to After reading both your interviews with Ms. Saxby, I’m now an even greater admirer of her and her work…as well as a new fan of this website.

    I too find that gaining an “understanding of the thoughts and processes of other artists” is so helpful and inspirational to me in discovering my own path to artful expression. I found your interviews to be substantial, touching on topics I was most interested to learn about Ms. Saxby’s history and approach to her art. Thank you so much and thanks to Carolyn Saxby for generously sharing her story this way.

    I look forward to coming back to the site often.

    • Sam says:

      Thanks for your feedback Barbara. We’re honoured to have Carolyn’s work on our site and so pleased that her story has been an inspiration to you!

  3. Lorna says:

    i have followed Carolyn on Flickr for many years now and love to follow her inspiring textile art. Well done on this site, it is most enjoyable.

  4. Chrissie Arnold says:

    Really enjoyed reading this article very inspirational

  5. Robin (Saxby) Lancaster says:

    Thoroughly enjoyed this interview and am now going to look for Part 1 so I can read it! The interesting thing is what caught me was her name. I’ve never met another person outside my family who had the same last name. I am American so perhaps she heralds from over the pond.

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