this creative life


Many years have passed since I last visited here. Much has changed, but one thing has remained constant and unwavering: a commitment to living a creative life. For me, that means living with my eyes wide open to the ordinary beauty of everyday life. Shadows on a wall, flattened bottle tops embedded in the tar of shopping malls, faded flowers, snail patterns on leaves, foam lace on the beach. And stains – those visual storytellers that remind us of events and moments where everything did not go according to plan.

Red, red wine

I discovered the inherent beauty of stains many years ago – I’ve never been a purist of any kind, so I suppose it’s not surprising. Stains remind me that life isn’t – shouldn’t be – perfect. When I was approached a few years ago to offer a stitching workshop at the Ghost Ranch in New Mexico, I knew I would have to incorporate stains – the domestic kind that especially women encounter on a daily basis, and whose job it (still) often is to remove. I’ve had a few in-person workshops since then, with thrilling results; for me, the best part is so see the relief and utter glee on the faces of the participants as they mess about with red wine, tomato sauce, turmeric, coffee.


Words matter

I’ve always messed about with words, even before I could fully understand them. From the very beginning, I loved the patterns they formed on the pages of books, and I loved the loopy shapes of my very first writing exercises at age five or six. And of course I love that so many stories can be told and written, in so many languages, with a finite number of words.

The permutations and possibilities are endless.

I suspect that most people share my fear of the blank page, or canvas and sometimes find it hard to know what to write, say, paint, draw. Word play is used in my workshop to help unearth personal, subconscious content as a tool to find the visual elements of your story.

This year I finally managed to translate my in-person Stained Table Narrative Stitching Workshop into a digital version, which is available here

You will have lifetime access and can take as long as you need to complete it. I’ll connect with you in the comments section, available after each module (there are six).

Happy place

I loved every aspect of creating this version of my workshop, but most of all for the opportunity it gave me to revisit my own process. To rediscover the reasons I create, of exactly what excites me to create. Revisiting this very neglected blog is one of the many aspects of my art-making I rediscovered, especially visiting the stored library of images I’ve used in previous blogs.

I chose a random selection to show in the story below – a reminder of the quirks of my mind, as unique as yours.

Happy creating!


making and meaning

She dreams of waves rolling down the railway tracks, filling the subway tunnels underneath before surging out onto the road. Cars flip sideways to float away to who-knows-where. Her faraway friend, R, waves from the other side of the short tunnel, treading water up to her neck in the churning foam of the sea behind her.

She often dreams of being tumbled in deep, black water; suspended in time. Fear and excitement in equal measure.

Waking up from this brief and vivid dream she feels deep loneliness. There’s no meaning there, she thinks, before turning on her side and drifting off to sleep.

Rob Tarr's photo of massive wave at Kalk Bay Harbour

Rob Tarr’s photo of massive wave at Kalk Bay Harbour

Photos of Massive Waves in South Africa – Kalk Bay Harbour – SAPeople – Your Worldwide South African Community

present tense

Such random thoughts and questions today.

I’m trying to understand my compulsion to stitch images onto cloth. Also trying to understand why I’m drawn to certain images and not others … and to find a link, if it exists, between them. I know that I am searching for connections between all living things; connections that speak of some kind of universal unity, or origin. Something simple and complete, like a small dot, the full stop at the end of this sentence.

Willemien de Villiers | Personal Mythology

Willemien de Villiers | Personal Mythology

Repeat patterns console me, maybe because I frequently imagine my body’s molecular functions to play out as a continuous patterned chain of actions: hurt and healing, disease and repair. A chained reaction, like a daisy chain, or a string of paper people holding hands.

Or something like the image below.

Detail from a painting by me that doesn't exist anymore.

Willemien de Villiers | Inside of me, detail | oil on canvas

Often I return to imagery of the female body, and reproductive processes and organs – images of botanical and mammalian wombs that magnetically pull ideas from my mind.

What comes first: meaning or making?

Maybe I am hoping to stitch all my selves together.

Willemien de Villiers | Personal Mythology

Willemien de Villiers | Personal Mythology

What is it I am hoping to find when I trawl images from medieval astronomy or fifteenth century microscopy or seventeenth century cellular biology on the Internet? My mind in an unfocused haze, like the soft gaze of meditation, yet razor sharp when recognising the image I need. What, or who, is behind this knowing? Is the person who knows, separate from the one who seeks?

Willemien de Villiers | detail

Willemien de Villiers | detail

Willemien de Villiers | Get the Fuck out of my House

Willemien de Villiers | Get the Fuck out of my House

I sometimes find it useful to run (more like ducking and diving) with my camera in an attempt to erase the surface meaning of a work. However, these images then reveal hidden layers that (alas) start a new search for meaning.

Willemien de Villiers | stitched canvas

Willemien de Villiers | erasure 1

Willemien de Villiers | erasure 2Willemien de Villiers | erasure 2

Willemien de Villiers | Erasure 3

Willemien de Villiers | Erasure 3

Happy creating, and making sense of it all!