Marion Barnett is a textile artist, an author, a milliner, a creative coach and has several blogs. She makes it seem effortless to maintain such a busy life. Marion has faced a huge obstacle in her life which could have easily defeated her. I think you will enjoy this interview with an amazing woman, artist, author, milliner, creative coach and blogger.
In a piece you wrote, you called yourself the Contrary Quilter, what is the reason behind that description?
I don’t believe in rules, and I don’t do conventional. I’ve been quilting for thirty years, and still have people muttering ‘Is that a quilt?’ when they look at my work. I don’t really call myself a quilter any more, preferring the expression ‘textile artist’, but I do still work in layers; layers of fabric, color and meaning. So, being a contrary person, I stick with it, even though I don’t actually fit in the quilting world too well.
Reading your FB page, I enjoyed your great sense of humor. I noticed that you aren’t afraid to approach topics that many choose to ignore. Can you tell us some of the issues that you are passionate about and why are they are important to you?
Mental health is very close to my heart. I suffer from chronic depression, and have done most of my life. I think it’s important to talk about that, partly to allow others to see that it is possible to live with this illness, and still be productive and creative in what you do, but also to ‘normalise’ mental health. Whilst I’ve never found it a problem to be honest about how I feel, I know many people are afraid of the stigma attached to mental illness, and keep it secret, failing to get the treatment they need as a result. I want to change hearts and minds, decrease the fear and lack of understanding around those issues. Linked to that is a strong interest in equal opportunities issues; I hate discrimination of any kind, and will speak out against it where I find it.
Finally, I’m passionate about learning. Through my books, blogs and coaching, I hope that I enable people to identify for themselves what they really want to do, what they are passionate about, and support them in learning how to make creative work ‘about’ those passions. Sometimes that learning is of a technical nature, as in the ‘Spunbond Sensations’ blog, where I show people how to work with materials such as Lutradur. Sometimes, it is of a self development nature, giving people the tools to manage their time and their ideas. And sometimes, it’s about developing ideas, getting in touch with one’s own creativity, and learning to express that, as in the new ‘Finding Creative Focus’ blog.
In looking back at your work from past to present, what do you feel has had the most influence on the direction you have taken as an artist?
I make art in order to make sense of my own reality, to find my own authentic voice. I believe that that’s a journey, rather than a destination. So my own internal landscapes are important, as are my spiritual beliefs . I had the childhood from hell; it is therefore important to me that that experience should be used to make meaningful work, and to help other people see that change is possible, and that good things can come out of bad beginnings.
Most artists’ work evolves over a period of time, as they find their own voice and develop their own personal style. What advice do you have for new artists just starting that journey?
Don’t give up too soon….and don’t compare yourself with others. Instead, create a clear vision of what it is you want to achieve, what you want to make, and observe the development of your own work. Compare yourself with yourself, if you like.
What style or defining name would you use to describe your work
Evolving is perhaps the closest I can come to a style or defining name. I don’t fit comfortably into any of the definitions from the quilting world. If I was forced to put a name to it, then probably mixed media textiles.
You are a very busy woman, wearing many hats, if you’ll excuse the pun. You’re a fiber artist, milliner, a creative coach, you maintain several blogs, you show your work and have a worked to raise awareness and understanding of certain mental health issues, you have a family, you’re a wife and a mom [including your kitty children], how do you manage it all? Where do you find your sense of balance?
My wonderful husband keeps me grounded. In the last year or so, I’ve been reviewing where I am and what I’m doing, and cutting back on a lot of the activities I’ve been involved in. I’m no longer painting, for instance, except on cloth, for stitch. The blogs are really a reflection of my ongoing work and my passions, so it’s fairly straightforward to keep them going, and the books also reflect what I’m doing at the time. I’m currently focusing on work with spunbonded textiles, creating learning kits and gathering materials for a new book…or two… I don’t see enough of my son, who lives in Scotland, but we stay in touch on the phone. I think what keeps me balanced is the view I have of what I’m trying to achieve. If you have a clear focus, it helps you to decide what to do, and what not to do…the latter is as important as the former. Just because I can do something, doesn’t mean I’m necessarily going to do it.
Who are the artists or persons that have been the most inspirational to you?
Dean Melville, an artist based in Inverness, was my painting mentor for several years. His encouragement, enthusiasm and generosity continues to support me today. I hope I’m half as good a coach as he is a mentor. I love Abstract Expressionist work, de Kooning, Pollock, Diebenkorn; it expresses pure emotion. Kahlo’s work is amazing; her ability to express herself through her chronic health problems is inspirational.
What do you do for fun?
I bake cake and force feed people with it, lots of laughter there! I read extensively, and make music; I play the lute and guitar, and sing traditional Scottish songs.
You seem to have a healthy sense of humor yet at the same time you don’t seem like a person afraid to call it, like you see it. Would you say that’s an accurate observation? If so, do you think you can get away with saying more, using that wit of yours?
It is a very accurate observation. I think that humor relaxes people, makes it easier for them to digest difficult truths.
-How would you describe yourself in a 6 words?
Oooh…! Determined. Inquisitive. Compassionate. Funny. Creative. Loving.
What accomplishment are you the proudest of?
My family. My mother was an alcoholic; I wasn’t mothered well. But we managed to raise a compassionate, empathetic, confident son, who has married a lovely girl, and is building his own future in a positive way. I’m not sure how we did it, but we did…
How have you managed the business side of your career?
If I’m honest, badly. Partly, that’s about the desire of every artist to spend all their time in the studio… Partly, though, I struggle with lack of confidence, rooted in the depression. I’m good at supporting other people to get past that, but not so good at getting past it myself. Ironically, if you read the visitors books from my open studios and other events, the most common word used about me is ‘inspirational’; sadly, however, that doesn’t often lead to sales.
What has been your biggest challenge? What helped you to get beyond it?
I had the breakdown from hell about fifteen years ago; I burned out in my ‘other’ career, that of Human Resources Manager. I spent a year in bed, unable to get out of it, was agoraphobic for about eight years. I don’t know how I survived. Getting beyond it is due to the love and support of my family and friends, medication, a seriously good therapist and my determination to create something meaningful, something positive from the wreck of my life. I don’t know how I survived, but I’m grateful I did.
If you could go back in time and change one thing, is there anything you would do differently
When I was written off by psychiatrists and my doctor, fourteen years ago, as ‘cured’, I would have asked for a second opinion… as it was, I suffered unnecessarily for two years, until we moved to the Highlands of Scotland, and was told that they got it wrong by my new doctor. I owe her a lot.
What is the driving force behind your creating art? Why did you choose an art career, over one as an accountant or a banker or perhaps beekeeper?
I like bees…but I don’t like honey, so beekeeper was definitely out! I was an HR manager for ten years, and don’t regret that time; it gave me the tools and techniques to allow me to coach. Fundamentally, though, I need to express myself in a meaningful way. Part of that is making the art; the other part is enabling people to do the same. I keep my coaching fees deliberately low, because I know how difficult it is to find the money for that kind of support. Really, art for me is not a career choice; it’s a way of life.