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Q&A with Award Winner Tea Okropiridze

Connection by Tea Okropiridze, winner of the Shayna Heisman Simkin Award.
Connection by Tea Okropiridze, winner of the Shayna Heisman Simkin Award.

Created on a simple frame loom over a period of months, the tapestry above was awarded top honors in the September all-media exhibit. Juror Joann Moser said Connection by Tea Okropiridze was a “tour-de-force” of woven art.

We asked Tea — who is also teaching a two-day Tapestry workshop and weekly class this fall — to tell us about the process of creating this strikingly detailed and richly textured piece. More photos and details in our Q&A, below.

What’s your creative process — how do you go from an idea, to dressing the loom, to a finished product?
Tea Okropiridze: Creating tapestries is a long process, and it all starts from paper and pencil. My first step is to always create a small size sketch/painting as a main idea and concept for a tapestry. However, my sketch almost never ends up the way I envision it at first. During the creative process some new ideas come up and one simple brush stroke can change the final image and dictate the creation of the rest of the composition.

The 7" x 4" sketch for Connection.
The 7″ x 4″ sketch for Connection. (Click to view larger.)

When I am done with the small sketch/painting, the time comes to decide what would be the optimal size for the actual tapestry. Before I start weaving the tapestry, I place an enlarged cartoon line drawing (representing the sketch) behind the loom. This way I have a general idea of the pattern which I am suppose to follow. I have the actual sketch right next to me in order to reference it for color and details. Dressing the loom is a time consuming process, but not too complicated for me, since I use a simple frame loom almost for all my tapestries.

Most of my works demand long hours, weeks and months of weaving, especially since my compositions require very fine and detailed work.

What materials did you use for the sketch for Connection?
I used acrylic paint for a base color and mixture of glue, bronze powder and acrylic paint for texture. As I remember I was experimenting a lot to achieve this look.

What was your inspiration for Connection?
I felt connected to the shapes I’ve been working with and highly inspired to create conceptual work, as they were representing different emotional stages for me at that moment. Arranging those shapes on a two-dimensional surface as well as choosing the right colors was a little challenging, but at the same time very pleasing.

Detail from Connection.
Detail from Connection.

What draws you to the woven arts, instead of some other art form?
In the country of Georgia, we have very strong traditions of weaving and textile art, therefore I was always drawn to it. When I was a student at college and university, I explored various media of fine art, such as sculpture, painting, drawing, etc. However, when I started weaving tapestry I knew that this was the medium which I would love to continue working in. I felt an immediate connection to it and I could see it becoming a part of my life.

What materials did you use? How do you choose whether cotton, acrylic, wool, etc., is the best fit for a certain piece?
As materials go — for warp, I usually use cotton or linen. It does not really matter what color, since in tapestry you never see it.

Choosing and/or dying yarn is another challenge. Even though tapestry has to be created from wool or at least some natural materials like cotton, or silk, I do not limit myself and I use whatever yarn I have available, which matches my composition and helps me to achieve my goal. I keep all my scraps and leftover yarns from every work, because you never know how useful it might be for the upcoming project. I, personally, prefer dyed yarn, especially the ones which have been dyed with natural dye. It tends to give yarn and the overall tapestry very deep color and a rich look.

Since I used bronze powder to create the composition for Connection, I had to achieve a similar effect in the woven piece. Therefore, I had to find yarn which would give it that golden shine to it. The closest match for me was caprone (pearly-thread), which I dyed in different shades. Afterwards, I mixed it with wool and cotton and mélange-ed it with other colors. This technique turned out to be the best solution for this particular tapestry.

What are you working on now?
At this moment I have two compositions I am working on; one is small realistic composition called Message in the Bottle and second one is, like always, an abstract composition. It remains untitled for now.

You can see Connection and the entire September All-Media Exhibit through October 7 in The Art League Gallery.

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