Sunday, November 27, 2011

Interview with Sayward 'Say' Johnson

Welcome, welcome, welcome back!

It has been a long period of silence, but this interview is more than timely - a true gift for the upcoming Holiday season!!!

We have many talented artist-weavers from Canada, Say is definitely one of them!
Enjoy this unique interview with

Sayward  'Say' Johnson from Ottawa, Ontario, Canada.

Say represents Etsy Store "Art and Woven Things"

Random Facts about You

I love Star Wars, cats and I tree-planted for fifteen years. I am originally from the town of Danvers, Massachusetts. Danvers' claim to fame is that it was originally named Salem Village and is where the infamous Salem Witch Trials began. I came to Canada for university in the 90s, married a Canadian, and have lived in Ottawa, Vancouver, Halifax and Montreal over the last fifteen years. New England is still one my favourite places in the world though. I will always be a New England girl at heart. I would run away and live in Vermont or Maine in a heartbeat if it were practical.

How long ago have you started weaving?

Since 2005

What got you started weaving?

I actually started out as a knitter. I taught myself to knit when I was in my mid-20s. It was not my first attempt but it was the first time I had buckled down and forced myself to do more than knit and purl. At first, I was obsessed with sock-knitting, but eventually I decided that I wanted to learn how to weave. That desire drew me to textiles program at the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design (NSCAD). My first warp was white, green and purple 8/2 cotton. The first time I threw my shuttle through the weft I had a wonderful moment of aha! I pulled my beater and then I stopped and looked at my warp because I knew I would never forget that moment.

Any particular technique(s) that you enjoy the most?

When I am working with copper, I love undulating twills, modified overshot patterns and satin weaves. I also love to hammer and dap woven copper. I remember a metalsmithing instructor saying that the reason copper moves beautifully beneath a hammer is that it is porous; my weavings are simply more porous. I also love patinas - to me copper is most beautiful with a patina. When it comes to embroidery, I am currently obsessed with French knots and cross stitch. Last but not least, I am addicted to knitting small sculptures out of copper wire.

Waiting, 2010 (detail) Hand-woven copper in undulating twill with patina

Lace Cups, 2011. Hand-knitted copper with patina and shellac

What part the process makes you the most passionate?

I enjoy the planning and brainstorming phase but I always have about a dozen projects on the go because I find it impossible to work in a linear fashion. Often pieces need to go away and 'rest' for a while before I can finish them. Many of my patinas take several weeks to develop. When I'm working, I'll have pieces patinating, pieces resting, and pieces beside me at various stages of completion.
I most enjoy moments of rediscovery, where I pick up an unfinished piece and suddenly know how to finish it. I love when something becomes its own work, not at all what I had envisioned at the start.

Nostalgia 2011 (detail) Hand-woven copper in braided twill with patina, salt, pencils and embroidery

What is your source of inspiration?

At the moment I am obsessed with lichens, old, crumbling walls, rust and boreal forests.

Where do you sell?

At Etsy, at locals shows, through my website and in person.

Apart from creating things, what do you do?

I am mom to a nearly three year old who already knows how to help full scarves and happily narrates while I warp my loom; "you take a thread and put it through the heddle, then you slide it over. You take another thread and take another heddle...." 

Sigourney at 2, at the weaving bench

 What first made you want to become an artist?

Honestly, growing up I never thought I would be an artist. In my mind, art equalled representational drawing and painting and I didn't have the 'drawing' gene. When I attended NSCAD, in order to go through their textiles program, I had to learn how to draw and paint and open myself to all kinds of new ideas. I loved it. Attending NSCAD was truly life-altering for me. I felt as though I was exactly where I was meant to be and doing what I was meant to be doing. Art-wise, I feel like I am only at the beginning of a long and wonderful journey. It is both exciting and daunting, but mostly exciting.

Please describe your creative process

Usually I will weave a long copper warp and then cut it into sections. Out of one warp I may wind up with four or five different pieces. For my copper pieces, the weaving is just the beginning – it's like making my canvas 

I try to soak up new techniques whenever I can and try them, so all of my work is part of a constant, fluctuating process. I weave with copper, patina it, embroider it. Sometimes I embed copper in wax. At the moment I'm taking an introductory paper-making class at the Ottawa School of Art so I've been pressing weavings into hand-made paper. Everything I do or try bleeds over into a different technique. I would describe my creative process as experimental and happily chaotic.

Sunburst Lichen Study, 2011

Study in Encaustic No.5, 2011

What handmade possession do you most cherish?

A Raku style coffee mug from my cousin. She studied pottery for two years and then decided to become a lawyer. She graduated from Yale with honours – she would have made an amazing studio potter!

What advice would you give to artists who are new to Etsy?

Be open-minded, explore and take good photographs.

What do you like about Etsy?

It's flexible, I can edit anything instantly and it's easy to connect with people.

How do you promote your work?

Online and through shows.

What weaving activities or guilds to you participate in?

I'm a member of the Ontario Craft Council and plan on joining the Ottawa Weaver's Guild this year.

Do you have a website, blog, Facebook page, or other online endeavours?

Encroachment, 2011


  1. What a fantastic and gorgeous and incredible work! Thank so much for this inspiring interview!
    I love avery stuff on your site!
    You are a big artist!

  2. Wow! I agree with mirtextil. Your works are gorgeous and you are a true artist; an inspiration. Thank you for the wonderful interview! Happy Holidays!

  3. Your work is fascinating and just beautiful. Very different and inspiring! Your website is lovely. Do you happen to have a blog?

  4. Very inspiring work. I love your description of how your work evolves as it progresses until it becomes what it should be, sometimes even different then you had in mind when you started.

  5. Thank you so very much to Alana for the interview and to everyone who posted. As I mentioned to Alana, I am in awe of the weaving posted about in previous interviews, so I feel lucky to have been included.

    Sandra, I do have a blog; it's Alas, I've been terrible about updating since my daughter was born.

    Happy creating and happy holidays everyone!