The talented artist Sophie Niemann is exhibiting her unique work at the ‘Beyond Knowing Nature’ joint exhibition at The Cape Gallery on the 2nd September 2018. This work needs to be seen first-hand as it is not quite as it seems…. first glance her art work looks like an oil painting but look closer… as incorporates African textiles and a technique known as ‘Thread painting’, making subjects of her work come to life with a unique texture, tactile appeal and depth.

Sophie Niemann, is a self-taught artist, who has lived and worked in Africa for the past 20 years. Art and wildlife has always been a passion for Sophie. During her time in Africa as a Zoologist, she has had the privileged to spend most of her days in nature working for a conservation and community organization, setting up programmes across Africa.

She uses her experience with wildlife and nature as an inspiration and hopes to express the beauty and wonder of nature in her work, touching a wider audience to educate them about the significance of conservation and the issues facing our vanishing species.

We asked Sophie more about her art and technique:

What inspired you to use fabric and embroidery in your work?
I grew up surrounded by fabric…literally as my mother made fabric models and I divided my time between enjoying nature or spending time in my mother’s ‘Aladdin’s cave of a sewing room’, rummaging about and creating things from all the off cuts of fabric. Through my teens and adulthood I always had a sewing machine for mending and the odd creation. However, I only picked up the hobby again when my kids went to school, when at the same time I revisited my love of art and painting. However, something seemed to be missing from my artwork, I missed the texture and patterns of fabrics and made a challenge to myself to see if I could incorporate the two. After discovering the technique of ‘Threadpainting’, basically ‘painting’ with thread on a sewing machine, there was no stopping me and love the texture it brings to my work and the challenges it brings to be to create the finished piece.

Describe the technique do you used to make your artwork?
Firstly, I have to decide on a subject matter, which is probably the most challenging part of the process for me. I keep a scrapbook of ideas, colour combinations, sketches or images that ‘strike a nerve’ with me. Then I find a particular image or subject seems to ‘get under my skin’ for a while and keeps jumping into my mind and then I know this is the one I should focus on next. Then I set to work drawing the subject, normally with charcoal on a canvas, then I used acrylic ink to mix and merge into its own creative way to form the background and colour tone of the work.

detail 2

Then I enjoy painting the whole picture in oils, despite most of it being covered with canvas later. It gives me more insight on where the shading, light and texture is, before I add the fabric over it..
Then I lay over water soluble fabric, which is transparent and proceed to choose and add fabrics over it, securing it with pins and glue. After this I remove the fabric section and add to an embroidery hoop and the many hours of sewing begins. For this part I use free-motion machine embroidery technique known as thread-painting. It is like a paintbrush, but instead of adding dark/light/details with paint, I sew layers of thread, leaving areas of design of the fabric here and there to depth and interest.
Once competed I cut out the fabric work and pin it back onto the original artwork, where I sow it on and give the last details while blending it into the picture to give the finished effect.

What is your artistic inspiration?
Nature and the vibrate African colours and fabrics. I have been honored to spend most of my time living and working in Africa in wildlife areas working as a guide, wildlife research, and traveling around Africa for a conservation organization and latterly training safari guides and living on a game farm. So I am naturally drawn to African wildlife, which I have had the privilege to know intimately, which helps in getting the feel and character of the animals in my work. Also African colours have influenced my work hugely and the fabrics I use, from the warm browns and oranges of winter to the vibrate colours and culture of the country. I love using traditional African prints such as Shwe Shwe in my work to give the artwork a more African feel and texture.
.view more work by Sophie Niemann

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