If you've visited the Manbroidery Flickr group lately, there's no doubt you've seen some fish. Lots and lots of fish. Much of this is the work of the extremely talented filmresearch, aka Mark Bieraugel. I caught up with Mark for another installation of my "questions with a manbroiderer" series, and he opened up about his background, his inspiration, and his stitching projects both current and future. Oh yeah ... and those fish, too!
Please tell us a little more about you -- your background, interests, etc.
I grew up in a household where creativity, crafts, and creation was just taken as another practical thing. That is what you get with two parents from the Midwest. My Mom seemed to always be sewing her three boys Halloween costumes or making custom shaped cakes, while my Dad was doing pen and ink sketches of planes he flew, like the S-3, or making something out of wood.
I have really found something amazing in embroidery. I love the incredibly long rich history of embroidery, the dynamic stitching world right now, and the supportive community of stitchers world wide.
How & when did you first become interested in embroidery? What was your first project?
I have been always drawn to needlework, but never thought I had the patience or skills to do it. I became interested in embroidery after reading about Jenny Hart and her company, Sublime Stitching. Hart seemed to have a matter-of-fact quality like my parents: that anyone can and should do embroidery. I took a class from her in Seattle in the winter of 2009 and have been madly stitching ever since. Please don’t blame her for my sometimes wonky stitches, ok?
I had been looking for a creative outlet and it turns out that embroidery is it. My first piece of embroidery was an original hand drawn graffiti ‘tag’ done by my partner which I embroidered in split and satin stitch.
How would you describe your style?
Bold, passionate about color, line and pattern with a smidge of humor. Unconventional images stitched in bright colors. A friend of mine called my stitches ‘rustic’ but I prefer the term ‘enthusiastic.’
What inspires you?
For images I am always looking at books, especially encyclopedias and other reference books. I am also really inspired by animal and plant species, diagrams, formulas, and new stuff I have never seen before. Flickr, Esty, and other stitchers make me drool with such amazing pieces. I like the bold lines found in traditional animated films, tattoo flash, and admire artists such as Gary Baseman, Tim Biskup, and Mark Ryden. With regards to materials I hit the thrift stores to find vintage fabrics, floss and cording all of which just beg to be made into something new.
Fiber artists such as Richard Saja, Jennifer Porter/Porterness, Joetta Maue, and Frederique Morrell all continue to inspire me. Oh and Walter Bruno Brix is incredible.
What is your favorite embroidery project that you've made? That someone else has made?
My favorite is ‘Cannonball Run’ for its placement of the coelacanths and the title. I like how this piece seems almost animated. The fabric, which has toy soldiers, cannons, and cannonballs and the colors all seem to work in harmony with my added coelacanths.
My current favorite piece has to be the Siphonophorae by Penny Nickels. This grand piece really inspires me to embroider something amazing, unusual, large, and from an underserved animal kingdom. Her punctiliousness and patience sort of scare me as well.
Do your friends / family / co-workers know that embroidery is a hobby of yours?
I am an over sharer, so pretty much everyone I know more than casually gets an earful about my latest stitching project. I seem to always be toting my latest piece around, if not to work on it to expose it to the nearest person. Plus I am sort of evangelical about the power of embroidery as a creative outlet, a means of relaxing, and a terrific low cost hobby.
Do you stitch in public? If so, what is the strangest / funniest / most interesting reaction you've gotten from others?
I do stitch in public, often while waiting for appointments. With 99 coelacanths to stitch I have to embroidery when I have a bit of time. One time at a doctor’s office a man just started talking to me about how much his family used to make latch hook rugs over in England where he was stationed in the military. But most people are too busy texting to notice me stitching.
Can you tell us about your current project, “99 Coelacanths"?
This series of coelacanths allows me to explore all types of embroidery on many different types of fabrics and materials. When I was about ten years old I read a book about the rediscovery of the coelacanth, and have thought it my favorite fish since then. Coelacanths are a primitive fish, virtually unchanged for millions of years, and they just hang out in deep water caves off the east coast of Africa. I like that they are an interesting shape, and don’t have a bunch of associations tied to them. They are a bit of an empty image I can use to explore color, pattern, and stitching techniques. Plus, living fossils are just plain cool.
As for the number 99 I like a stretch goal to aim for, and I love making a series of similar, repeated images.
What are your plans for your next project, or upcoming series?
I have a boat load of ideas for future projects, including a five foot long coelacanth, which would mean a life sized version of the critter. I am particularly excited about is a new series of 92 animals not normally seen in embroidery representing different animal phylum.
Thanks for the great interview, Mark! We can't wait to see what you do next.