Meet the Maker: Lorna Donlon, Tapestry Weaver, Textile and Installation Artist
Lorna Donlon is a tapestry weaver, textile and installation artist, as well as a BSc graduate of UCD School of Biology and Environmental Science. Prior to becoming a student, Lorna spent 12 years teaching weaving at Grennan Mill Craft School in Kilkenny. Lorna is one of the many makers taking part in the Arts Week exhibition at Grennan Mill Craft School this week, running until the 14 August, as part of August Craft Month.
To find out more about this event visit the August Craft Month website.
To find out more about Lorna visit https://www.ucdartistsinresidence.com/lorna-donlon
What's a typical day in the studio like for you?
The shape of my day in the studio changes depending on whether I have a tapestry in progress on the loom or whether I am researching and designing my next piece of work. Hence, rather than having a structured daily rhythm, I am inclined to work in cycles of different activity. There will be periods of time when I am researching a topic for a new tapestry or body of potential tapestry designs. A typical day in this cycle will involve creating an enormous mess with patterned papers, scribbling in sketchbooks, dipping into books stacked in piles around me, researching topics on the internet, and more recently talking with scientists in UCD about their research, which is a huge privilege. Once I have a tapestry on the loom, I find myself compelled to be in front of it at all times, so I have to discipline myself to deal with emails and other administrative tasks before I sit down and pick up the tapestry bobbins. It sounds like a cliché but the day can literally completely disappear on me once I do. I become completely absorbed in the weaving and very disinclined to interrupt myself such that I often find myself working right through until the small hours of the night. This is a very bad habit and means I am not at my desk at 9am the following morning..! For me, being in the studio is not 'a day's work'. It is simply what I do.
What do you like most about your work?
I love tapestry weaving. I love mixing and winding different coloured yarns onto bobbins. I love the repetitive methodical process of passing the bobbins back and forth through the warp yarns and beating them into place. I try not to have my designs fully worked out before I start so that I am captivated and engaged all the time while I am weaving, actively making decisions all the time, while the image is built as I weave. When faced with the choice between putting in more detail, or 'getting it woven' I have never been able to resist the pull towards more detail.
What do you like least about your work?
I find the financial uncertainty involved in being a tapestry weaver quite difficult at times. In fact this is what recently drove me to take time off to get a degree in Cell and Molecular Biology in UCD. I often struggle with a real tension between feeling guilty for 'indulging myself' by making such impractical, ridiculously time consuming work that nobody actually needs and is not easy to sell and feeling a strange sense of responsibility to continue to weave tapestries, because I have the experience, skill and compulsion to do so.
What's your favourite craft item in your home?
I am lucky enough to have lived in Kilkenny for a long time, with good friends who are all craftspeople so I am surrounded by beautiful handmade things I have accumulated over the years. If my house were on fire I would throw the perfume bottle necklace (based on an old flea catcher) made for me by Peter Donvovan many years ago, Mark Campden's pinky gold lustre bowl and my blue spotted breakfast mug and bowl made by Klaus Hartmann into my pink-with-black-handles 'watermelon' basket made by Heike Kahle. I couldn't choose between them.
What other maker in your discipline do you most look up to?
My tapestry weaving role model is a weaver called Lynne Curran. She trained in Edinburgh College of Art. She lives and works in Tuscany and weaves the most beautiful finely woven, exquisitely detailed, emotionally affecting tapestries. Her work really touches me. She has mastered the art of integrating tapestry weaving into her day, as opposed to being entirely under its spell as I am, and I feel honoured to have learned from her about the importance of what she calls 'the hidden heart' when designing a tapestry.
What advice would you give someone who is considering this craft career?
I am not sure that this is a career that you choose. Rather, I am inclined to believe that it chooses you. The challenge is to accept it. I would perhaps be inclined to quote that infamous answer to the question, 'do you make a living from your art?' which goes; "...well, I am not sure if I make a living from it, but it keeps me alive..."
What's your favourite time of the day?
I love the light around 8.30pm as a Summer's day is starting to draw to a close. I am often drawn outside at that time. When I had a garden I loved working in it at that time of the evening and would regularly work away without even noticing that it had gotten dark.
How do you switch off?
I am very, very bad at switching off and doing nothing. I think perhaps it is because I don't actually feel that I have had to switch 'on' in the first place.
How do you start your day?
I am not a morning person. At all. It takes me a long time to wake up and quite a while to 'thaw' into the day. A cup of coffee is typically the first port of call
What's the first thing you do when you leave the studio?
At the moment I walk home from the studio which takes me about an hour. Sometimes I listen to music while I walk but more recently I just walk. I find it an amazing 'bridge' between the studio and home.
My favourite book is a small beautiful book called The Perfumier and The Stinkhorn, by Richard Mabey. The inside sleeve describes how "Mabey attempts to marry a Romantic's view of the natural world with the meticulousness of the scientist."
I have to admit that I have probably watched the 1990's movie Green Card about ten times.
Best concert you have ever been to?
Any Paul Simon concert. I've been to several.
Anything that ends with apple crumble and custard.
What do you listen to?
Everything and anything from William Byrd to Yellow Bird- I have very eclectic taste in music