On today’s episode of the Craft Industry Alliance podcast, we’re talking about building a career as a textile artist and creativity coach with my guest Clara Nartey.
Clara Nartey’s textile artwork has been widely exhibited in solo and group shows in museums across the United States. Her work is held in both private and corporate collections.
Clara is a self-taught artist who learned by stitching together a curriculum of workshops, art lessons, and several hours of studio practice. She’s an artist, an educator, and the creator of The Clara Nartey Blog – a Top 20 fiber art blog. She holds a bachelor’s in Computer Science/ Statistics and a Master’s in Business Administration.
Clara is known for her heart-centered teaching and her ability to unlock people’s undiscovered creative potential which leaves her clients with confidence. Clara believes in equipping creative people with skills that go beyond techniques. She’s the creator of training programs like Clarity to Create, which teaches you to get into the right mindset for creative excellence, and Innovate to Create, which teaches you to build systems so that you can enjoy creative and financial freedom.
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Clara in her studio.
Clara was raised in Ghana and we begin this interview with her talking about her childhood growing up with two sisters. Clara’s mother sewed clothing for their family, and her father believed his daughters could do anything they set their minds to. Clara came to the US with her husband in order to take care of his mother, and later attended graduate school in the US. She went on to have a career in IT. Still, she says there are lessons she learned at that time in her life that she carries forward into her current career.
Next, I ask Clara how she first discovered art quilts. Clara says she always had an artistic eye and was good at making spaces beautiful and organized. She had a jewelry business with a friend in college. When she was laid off from her IT career she felt at loose ends and sought out something she could do with her hands. A friend asked if she would monogram handkerchiefs for him so she bought a sewing machine. Then, she wondered what else she might do with the machine and began searching online. Having grown up in a place that didn’t have a tradition of quilting, when Clara first encountered quilts she regarded them as art and as bursts of color.
Clara with some recent works.
Clara has made a series of quilts called Black Crowns. She explains the way that hair is a part of identity and, in this series, she is exploring the black crown stories of Black people in America generations ago. “Which of the hair traditions did they bring with them? Which of these hair traditions still remain among their descendants here in the USA, in Africa, and the diaspora. How did they groom their hair in a country that didn’t have the potions and hair implements they were used to?”
We also talk about another portrait quilt Clara made recently, Charleena Lyles. This quilt commemorates the life of a pregnant mother in Seattle who was murdered by police in front of three of her four children. This quilt is an emotional piece and is now part of an exhibit entitled, ‘We are the Story” curated by Dr. Carolyn Mazloomi, founder, Women of Color Quilters Network, and the Textile Center of Minnesota.
Charleena Lyles quilt by Clara Nartey
We talk about the process Clara uses to create her portrait quilts, from sketching in her sketchbook to drawing digitally and filling in spaces with vector patterns, to having the artwork digitally printed on fabric, and then finally using her machine to creating intricate stitching patterns that enhance the design.
Clara also teaches courses about how to be creative and tap into your own creativity. We talk about the intertwining process for her of creating art, and encouraging others to become more creative. Her most recent release is the Creative Juice Box art kit.
We also reference:
- Clara’s blog (she shares tips during this interview about how to be a consistent, authentic blogger)
- Clara’s post about harnessing feedback
- Caryl Fallert-Gentry’s work was especially inspiring to Clara when she first discovered quilting
And, of course, I ask Clara to recommend great stuff she’s loving right now. Clara recommends:
- a 50mm camera lens
- ring light with tripod stand and phone holder (affiliate link)
- flexible tabletop tripod with smartphone mount (affiliate link)