I often get asked how I got started as an working artist or how long I’ve been making quilts. There’s a story behind that, as there often is. Artists always having a story.
We adopted our first son almost nine years ago. When we got him, I really wanted him to have a surf-inspired room. Our house is in Pacific Beach and his name actually means “son of the sea”. But, when I looked around at bedding and/or decor, everything was either super traditional quilting, all pastel or very cartoony. None of which was really up my alley. I wanted something bold and colorful, but classy and cool. I really wanted surfboards on his quilt but not just surfboard quilt blocks. After searching around, I decided I knew what I wanted and I could make it myself. I’ve been sewing since I was ten and though I hadn’t quilted before, I knew I had enough sewing and reupholstering skills to pull it off. Maybe not like a seasoned quilter, but we were the only ones who were going to see it, so it really didn’t matter, right?? So, I bought a bunch of cool Hawaiian prints and some beautiful Indonesian batiks and designed and created the quilt above. It took a while…I wasn’t used to any of the proper techniques and I made things up as I went along. But, I truly loved the way it turned out! It was different from anything else that I had seen out there. In the process, I learned to do what would become a signature technique for me–free-motion quilting. That coupled with my wild color combinations and fun designs, I began to solidify my style and brand. And that led to an idea.
I decided I could make and sell crib quilt versions of this surfboard quilt, and even crib skirts and bumper
pads. I couldn’t find anything like it out there, so I made a boy’s crib quilt and a girl’s version. I love my girl designs to be just as bold and strong as the boy’s designs, so I made them essentially the same but with more fuchsia. They were a hit and I started to get orders. I started getting orders faster than I could really handle
them, and at the time just wasn’t charging enough. And then, we got our second little miracle. We were given the surprise chance to adopt another baby boy. I put the quilting on hold for several years while I took care of my two sweet boys.
About two years ago, I started looking at the possibility of starting my business back up and getting studio
space in The Spanish Village Arts Center in Balboa Park. I submitted my work for the jury process and was accepted for my quilts and textiles! From there, I created more surf-inspired quilts and pillows and began to branch out to ocean-themed pieces, wall art and lots of other subject matter. Though I have branched out to other designs and motifs, I still often create surf quilts and textiles using batiks and Hawaiian prints. My boys are still young and time is still a limited resource, but I’m making it work.
One of my goals when designing and building a piece of textile art is to capture the feel of objects in motion, whether animals, or plants blowing in the wind, or both being carried by the ocean currents. When you feel motion, you feel life. I love to look at a static piece of art and be able to feel that movement that comes with something being alive. It’s amazing when an artist can capture that, and it’s something I aspire to. This new design is another example of that. I’ve had this sketch for quite sometime. It will require some difficult piecing, so I’ve been avoiding it, but I came across it again tonight and felt inspired that this would be the next big project on the table. I’m going to make it a twin quilt size, 70″x96″. Unlike most of my quilts and textile art, I don’t think it will have any appliqué. I think part of the beauty of this piece will be the skill it will take to piece in all those curves and have it look seamless. I want to add some sparkle into the sun colors, and will either do that with metallic threads or Swarovski crystals, or perhaps both. I’m not sure yet. My quilts usually tell me what they want when the time comes. Like my kids, only without the temper tantrums. Stay tuned to see this one come to life!
This amazing project has been one of my very favorites. A friend of mine from my theatre days at Texas Woman’s University is now the pastor at Broadway Presbyterian Church (BPC) in New York City. He contacted me a couple of months ago and wanted to commission a very large banner to be unveiled on Easter morning. I was thrilled and a little scared at the prospect of doing something so large that would be such a focal point on such a special day. Easter is one of the most attended Sundays at churches all over the country and this was supposed to be a special part of that day. The main challenge was the sheer size. Everything becomes more complicated. The patterning (especially since my design involved long lines, large pieces and lots of curves), the piecing, and mostly the quilting. I decided to eliminate any batting because it would not really make a difference in the look and it would add a lot of cost and weight. This was already going to be a heavy banner, so adding more weight for no added benefit wasn’t necessary. I started with a design. The idea came from my pastor friend, Chris. He liked the idea of a big sunburst but he wanted it to be fun and more abstract and joyful. He didn’t want the heaviness and seriousness of something overly realistic. I worked up a sketch and added color in Photoshop.
The hard thing with design sketches that others have to approve, is that I can envision it in textile form, but not everyone can. The blocky colors of the computer design wouldn’t show all the batik patterns and the color variations and the stitching. But, luckily Chris trusted my instincts based on seeing my body of work and wanted me to just have fun with it and make it joyful. And I really did that.
We played around with the center of the sun a little bit. The logo for BPC is a trefoil to represent the trinity. He wanted a nod to it without it being overly obvious. So I played with the center of the sun until we settled on an abstract version of the trefoil. I turned it off center just a little so it was less obvious and also added a rounded off look to the sun.
Once everything was approved, I printed the image out full scale just in black and white at a reprographics.
Because it was so large and every single piece was different, I decided for my own sanity, I should cut each piece out and stitch it together as I went along. I know myself…cutting all the pieces out and trying to organize and label them and then sew would have been complete disaster! So, one night, in my tiny studio condo, I unrolled the first 8 feet or so and started in.
It actually worked surprising well to do it this way! Once I had the first section sewn together, then I just rolled it up to the next section and kept going. Each paper section was cut out and used as a pattern piece. I didn’t want to cut the circles out so I wrote the size and color on each one and then photographed them so I would know what fabric to use and how big they were and how to place them when I was ready to cut them out. Again, it worked perfectly. My years as a scenic artist creating large pieces in the theatre paid off!
Once the whole thing was pieced, it was time to take it in to be quilted. That was the scariest part! I do all of my free motion quilting on a regular machine. In preparation for this project, I had taken a class on the large quilting machines and then rented the machine specifically to quilt this project. It paid off because I was able to do the large scale quilting on this piece in a fraction of the time it would have taken me on my machine. I backed this banner with duck cloth to give it a sturdiness and crispness I would never have achieved with regular fabric. Not at such a large scale. Plus, I had fun learning to use one of these larger machines.
I quilted the background and got it all in place and locked down. I used a different pattern on each piece and kept it large and loose since the stitching wouldn’t be too noticeable from such a distance. But I hoped it would break up some of the fabrics and add a little texture. Once the background was in place, I added all the circles. Lots and lots of circles… Soooo many circles. These were backed with an adhesive so I could iron them in place. Everything is so much more complicated on a large scale piece! Every time you want to do even one some thing, you have to lay the whole heavy banner out. I decided to just do the quilting on my machine instead of rent the other machine again, and though it was tricky maneuvering that giant stiff banner under my machine, it worked just fine. I gave each circle it’s own design. I used about 5 colors of thread on this banner to add little extra contrast and texture.
Finally, it was finished! I turned the outside edge under and stitched it down. On a quilt I would normally add a binding. But, I didn’t want that border on this banner. I didn’t want it to feel like grandma’s quilt. I wanted it to feel like an art piece, so I let the design run all the way to the edge and I love the way it turned out. I think the binding would have made the rays look like they’d been chopped off and framed. This allows the eye to imagine them continuing on and on.
I finished it and shipped it off to NYC and I’m so proud of how it turned out! Chris wrote a description for the reveal and I thought it was beautiful. Here’s what he wrote:
“Today marks the unveiling of a new banner here at Broadway. Textile artist Susan Baker Scharpf has created a 5’ x 19’ explosion of light and color from a glorious array of Indonesian batiks. The banner, entitled, “…and there was Light,” explores the playfulness and creativity of God as Light bursts through chaos and a universe of marvelous diversity springs into being. As new worlds are born, God dances – notice the glimpse of the Trinity-knot at the radiant center of the piece.
Susan Baker Scharpf holds a Master of Fine Arts in Scenic Design from San Diego State University and a Bachelor of Arts in Drama from Texas Woman’s University. She has worked extensively as a designer and scenic artist in theatre and in television. She is a proud adoptive parent of two – and can frequently be found quilting original works inspired by the seaside beauty of San Diego. Find her on Facebook or Instagram @crystalpiertextilearts.”
And a few more close-up photos of the banner. This was an amazing project to work on and I hope to do more large scale art pieces like this. Thank you for the opportunity and the trust in my vision, Chris!
I’ve always loved working with textiles. I’m a painter by trade and worked as a scenic artist in the theatre for many years. But, when I got back to working with fabric, I found my love. Part of what I love is that the way I create detail with the prints and colors that someone else designed keeps me loose and free in a way that holding a paintbrush and zoning in on small details inhibits. Not that you can’t be loose and free with painting, and in fact, painting scenery requires it. But fabric—it’s a whole new world. I love that I layer tons of different prints to create a field or a sky or in this case, that line where they both mesh together. Where a close up view of tall grass breaks the straight horizon line you might see from a distance and the blues and greens blend together. I love all the fun prints that make that happen. So, when it came to these poppies, I decided they needed to be more solid in color. A bold pop of brilliant red with no print to help make them blend. I wanted them to stand out. To stand strong against the meshing of the field and sky. Blocky stems and large, rounded, more abstract flower shapes make them the focal point of this piece. I used orange thread on the poppies to add a touch of highlight to the two red fabrics. The background was stitched in lighter weight blues and greens to add a hint of the sky and grass textures. Heavier weight dark blue and dark green threads finished it off, sketching in stem outlines and a horizontal bold skyline to offset the horizontal stitching of the grass and stems. A little abstract but fully recognizable.
Okay, it really is a bear, people. But, apparently it’s many things to many people because those are all the animals people in the studio thought this piece portrayed. I was only slightly offended at the octopus, though the person saw it upside down as I was trying to show it to them and I guess the fur looked like tentacles. The sloth–somewhat understandable I suppose. I was intrigued by the idea of a shapeshifter and that may be a subject for a future piece! That said, this piece has garnered tons and tons of attention. Perhaps it’s because it’s different than a lot of the pieces I make in that it’s more realistic in it’s woodland color palette and style, or maybe it’s the more details stitching in the face or maybe it just stands out in the studio against all the ocean colors. Whatever it might be, I always love when a piece gets lots of attention. And I do love this bear. I never could decide if he was a brown bear or a full on grizzly…I’ll leave that up to the new owner. I used six colors of thread to create his powerful face and am very happy with how it all came together. I used a cream color thread to stitch all the fur and the hint of redwoods behind him, and then focused the attention on his face to bring out his bold, strong shapeshifter-at-heart personality. He needs a name. Maybe I’ll ask his new owner what that will be.
The first seven images are the different layers of thread as I worked up to the finished face. The others are finished details. Enjoy!
This quilt is immensely personal. It was conceived, constructed and stitched during a year that was perhaps the most difficult of my life. The imagery was inspired by the William Ernest Henley poem, “Invictus” which brought to my mind the phoenix rising from the ashes.
Out of the night that covers me,
Black as the pit from pole to pole,
I thank whatever gods may be
For my unconquerable soul.
In the fell clutch of circumstance
I have not winced nor cried aloud.
Under the bludgeonings of chance
My head is bloody, but unbowed.
Beyond this place of wrath and tears
Looms but the Horror of the shade,
And yet the menace of the years
Finds and shall find me unafraid.
It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll,
I am the master of my fate,
I am the captain of my soul.
I think most of us are familiar with the last line, but a few of the other phrases are what struck me the most. “Out of the night that covers me”, “my unconquerable soul”, “unbowed”, “unafraid”. I wanted to mesh the image of the phoenix with a very recognizable human female form. She is rising out of the ashes and flames and she is looking upwards, unbowed and unconquered and unafraid. I used bold warm colors for the sun and flames and cool blues and greens for the phoenix. I wanted the contrast of the warm and cool colors so she would stand out and be a strong image, but I also sprinkled in a few warm colored feathers to represent the fire, especially in her heart. She is beautiful and strong, bold and colorful. I stitched her in orange thread to bring a little of the warmth to her body. The sun is stitched in gold metallic thread and the flames have regular red thread and also red metallic thread. Lots and lots of details in the free motion quilting give her added depth and spark. The quilt is finished with about 1000 Swarovski crystals in the sun and two larger ones in her eyes. She is definitely an autobiographical statement that I hope inspires others to also rise up from whatever it is that is holding them down and be what they want to be.
(Follow me on Instagram @crystalpiertextilearts or Facebook at Crystal Pier Textile Arts for daily updates and process shots)
My mother loves to travel and collect cards from local artists. It’s her way of getting a little piece of their work when she can’t buy a larger original. The inspiration for these came from her and I’m so glad I finally listened to her and created them. Each card is a unique mini version of my quilts with a fun design cut from bold, colorful fabrics and finished with free motion stitching. Each finished textile is then stitched to a 5”x7” notecard and is signed. I feel every single one has its own unique personality, and even when I make multiples of the same design, I never duplicate the same fabrics and it’s impossible for me to free motion stitch them exactly the same, so you can be sure you have an original. I make dozens of these a month, but here are just a few examples of some of my favorites.
A couple of years ago I came across this Rumi quote and it really affected me. I’ve been going through a period of rediscovery and have been trying to define who I was. Sometimes we want to put everything and everyone, including ourselves, into a category. But, we are so often many contrasting things at the same time. I love that we can be peaceful and wild, and so many other opposing things all at the same time. There are perfect times for all parts of us and we don’t have to choose just one thing to be.
I layered the batiks for the background and then built up the design until I had her just right. Lots and lots of free motion quilting in many different colors of thread came next. The final touch was to add all the bling. Fifteen hours worth of hand beading, rivets and Swarovski crystals. The photos don’t do justice to the way that it sparkles. All those ideas and thoughts and dreams and emotions either bursting out of her head, or being poured in. You decide. Or maybe it’s both.
We are all connected. The seas, the creatures, the moon and stars and sun all move together to create life and write our story. We rise and fall like the tides and somewhere in there, there’s a splash of magic.
That was my artist statement for this quilt.
This quilt is one of the first ones I’ve done that has more of a story to it. The original idea was to have sea stars rising up from the ocean and when the cross the horizon line, they become the night time stars. I loved the idea of a strip quilt for the background. It gradates from a dark night sky into a sunset, and then from the bright surface of the ocean dow
n to the darker depths. As I was looking at the original sketch, I thought there needed to be more life and more connection between the sea creatures and the elements. I had this idea that an octopus would have his arm(s) full of sea stars and would be sending them up at dusk. This created an incomplete circular motion, so a setting sun seemed to complete that circle. But, of course we needed to have a moon in the sky with those stars, and I loved the idea of it being a crescent shape to mimic the crescent wave. The moon affects the tides so that seemed like another beautiful connection. I love the overlap of the two crescent shapes, especially since they both are in constant motion. The last piece to be added was the mermaid. Since all the other elements were connected in some way, I thought another creature should be involved in helping the moon to rise up into the sky. When I added her, it felt complete. I love all the bold colors and prints and how they work together to create a beautiful composition that feels like it is in motion.
Very few things scream Southern California beach culture like an old VW bus. Especially with a surfboard strapped to the top. I know they came from Germany and originated with no thought of the hippie life, but here, they are nostalgic and look their best with a peace sign wheel cover on the front up against an ocean backdrop. We used to have a white one and though we got tired of repairing it on a regular basis, I do miss roadtripping in it. This quilt was inspired by all the times I’ve seen one, often with the baby blue accents, parked at a beach while a surfer gets ready to head out to catch some waves. I designed it so you would only see half of the classic front end, with it’s signature circle headlights, the old 1960’s split window and of course, a surfboard leaning up against it. You can see the parking lot and posts and in the background, the beautiful California sunset coming to an end. This surfer is heading out for a famous sunset surfing session to relax after a day of work.
The background is a strip quilt and I gradated the colors to capture the darkening sky at dusk and the sunset reflecting off the water. I pieced together the strips and the parking lot colors. The sun, posts and bus are all appliqué. I love the contrasting colors, the larger, rounder shapes of the sun and the bus against the angular lines of the sunset. My backgrounds are often a little impressionistic while the appliqué details clarify what you need to know about the scene. This quilt didn’t last long, and I truly think it is because it’s such a classic, nostalgic image. If you’ve been here in San Diego for any length of time, you’ve seen this play out in person. It still makes me smile.