We’re in love with the work of the Berlin-based artist Johanna Schmal and the story behind her artistic process.
Your color palettes are so soothing and inspired by nature. How do you start setting the tone for a piece?
In my first quilts I was working with prefabricated colors. I was inspired by painters I love and the colors turned out to reflect certain atmospheres of light during the day or during a season of the year, similar to the original paintings. Soon, I started experimenting with hand dyed fabrics which provided for more depth and added an element of uncertainty and surprise. As I love nature - and I’m also looking for ways to get closer to it - I then started to immerge into the world of plant dying, which opened up a totally new horizon for my work. The color palette of each piece is set quite intuitively by laying together different pieces of fabric and working through various combinations. Sometimes I try to only use colors that come from the same place connecting the artwork to that place and its unique stories.
Why did you start working with fabric in 2018 after originally being trained in architecture and illustration?
After the birth of my second child, I became fascinated by the materiality of fabric and started transforming my paper collages into this new material and onto a much bigger scale. Actually, in the very beginning I was even thinking of creating a somehow different baby blanket for my son, but while working on it, it started to convert more and more into wall hangings with embroidered details. The motives shifted from rather sweet forms into completely abstract compositions.
You honor traditional craftsmanship a lot. Please tell us more about your work process?
Since I work with plant dyed fabric the dyeing process is a huge part of my work. I collect most of the plants myself: Nature as well as kitchen remains are an incredible treasure chest. An important factor is time and also rhythm. I heavily depend on the ingredients that I can find during a particular season, because even if some of the materials can actually be dried and stored, the resulting color will be different. I love and honor the connection between the piece and the place in space and time its colors came from. Each time, the process of transformation is incredible and feels almost addictive. The color is what adds life to the fabric and you can’t ever reproduce the same color. I like that this part of the process can never be fully controlled.
During the quilting process, I do all the visible joints by hand, cause I cherish the little imperfections and individual expression the hand stitching brings to my work. After putting together the three layers (top-batting-back), I stich again by hand joining the layers. These last stitches are sometimes regular or of proper forms and give a second layer to the motive comparable to a drawn line.
We met through a Waldorf daycare that both our kids attended here in Berlin. Did you also go to a Waldorf school? Is there any connection between Waldorf and your work?
I love that question. I grew up in a beautiful countryside playing outside all year round, inventing games and giving meaning to any kind of found material. I never went to a Waldrof school but part of the Waldorf concept such as the connection to nature, the importance of rhythm and of authentic and pure materiality or handmade objects feature in my art. I also feel blessed of having had a very close relationship with my grandparents who exemplified the respect for traditional craftsmanship through their own life. My own kids of course are a great source of inspiration as well as the reflection about what kind of surrounding I want to create for them. In that sense, I appreciate the Waldorf philosophy a lot. Especially, the importance of wholeness (Ganzheitlichkeit) and yes there can be found a connection to my work.
You’re currently working from home with two small children. How important is routine in your life? And how do you balance work and motherhood?
Routine is important, especially for work, most of all the daycare routine of my children. These hours are the only moment during the day for concentrated quiet work. I feel very blessed to have a partner who is a commited father and who is an artist as well with a lot of understanding for my work. He supports me wherever possible.
Working from home is not ideal though, as it makes it difficult to separate work and family time. So, balancing motherhood and work is a challenge every single day. Sometimes I manage quite ok, and sometimes I’m afraid I don’t.
What do you wish for your work?
Right now my biggest wish is time! I have so many ideas in my head and in these last years so many new paths opened up which I want to explore with all my energy. Lately, I am diving into to my work with textiles and I feel like I’m just at the beginning of a great journey. But I also have a few llustration projects waiting, some picture book ideas which I started developing in my first maternity leave 4 years ago while studying children's book illustration in Barcelona. And another part of my professional life remains in architecture. I wish that all these strings can become one and I also wish to manage this besides spending a big part of my life with my great family. So the only ingredient that is always too little is time;-)
*** We offer one quilt from Johanna’s garden series as a reward during our campaign at www.lila.us.