Designer Edge: Stephanie Symns
Artist Stephanie Symns can be described as ‘multi-passionate’. Her knowledge and curiosity extend not only to creative pursuits, but to many different aspects of life. “My interests are diverse, ranging from abstraction to contemporary design, mathematical theory, Greek and Roman mythology — anything really. The world is a pretty interesting place!” she says. With these sources of inspiration and her creative talents, Stephanie has created a bold and modern collection of painted art quilts. She paints directly onto fabric to create her quilts, using earthy tones and abstract designs.
Stephanie comes from a family of makers. Her grandmother taught her to sew, knit and embroider and she learned how to whittle spoons with her grandfather. Her mother is an avid quilter, while her dad uses his creativity in IT and engineering. “I made all my clothes when I was a teenager so I feel quite comfortable trying new things when it comes to making anything,” she says.
Stephanie found her own artistic voice when she studied textile art. She was fascinated by the possibilities of painting and drawing onto fabric and also began experimenting with abstract painting. “I had been trying to narrow down my focus over the last few years and it all came together when I started making quilts,” she recalls. “I realised I could combine all the things I was really interested in into one format that could straddle the functional/art divide to varying degrees.” This led to creating ‘Quilt Paintings’, an ongoing series of work.
For each Quilt Painting, she begins with image research. “I’m a visual thinker and collecting images helps to figure out where I want to start. From there I narrow down my ideas into a direction and colour palette,” she says. “Once I’ve narrowed down some ideas, I start to make small painted or drawn studies. I often cut these up and make new compositions and will then enlarge an aspect of the piece to abstract it even further.” She then paints the designs onto fabric using hand-mixed dyes, before steaming and washing the fabric and assessing the results.
“Things usually look very different at this stage when they’ve been scaled up and I need to spend some time looking and re-arranging things. I’ll often cut things up at this stage and start putting them back together with a lot of looking and thinking and pushing bits around. When I’m ready I start to cut and sew and work intuitively to build up the work.” The results are eye-catching quilts, featuring organic and geometric shapes and beautiful desert tones.
Stephanie is always interested in evolving her work and stays up-to-date with current research on related subjects. “I read lots of different books and I also keep an eye on academic papers that are published on all sorts of topics, from sustainability to the circular economy, craft-based practices, play as a creative practice, complexity theory and more. Lately I’ve been reading a lot about abstraction and the use of textiles in contemporary art and have developed more fully the ability to situate my work in a historical context.”
As Stephanie researches and studies, ideas for a new body of work are forming. “My plan is to work on making the pieces more textural and more sculptural by playing with recycled fabrics, random painting and piecing, and more open-ended experimentation with smaller studies and tests. From this I hope to make a new body of work for exhibition.”
Last year, Stephanie and her family moved from Vancouver, Canada, to live in Christchurch, New Zealand, where she was born. She’s looking forward to exploring the country with her family, seeing it with fresh eyes, finding new ideas and being creative. “I’m a bit of a magpie and I find inspiration everywhere,” she confesses.