Caroline Wayne’s creates pieces to a story, she forms images that together form a larger narrative of how early childhood traumas affect our behavior, relationships, and healing as adults. These images are first drawn, but then they are miraculously and meticulously transformed into beadwork by the talented (and patient!) hands of the artist. Growing up in a creatively supportive environment, Wayne fell in love with working with fabric. In her current work, she uses techniques such as stitching, embroidery, sewing, and couching, just to name a few. Each three-dimensional piece is detailed with tiny beads and sequins, creating a mesmerizing affect with different hues, opacities, shapes, and surfaces.
Join us in conversation as we dig deep into the complex process of Wayne’s work, and explore the ways in which her art creates connections and allows for herself (and others) with similar experiences to be seen.
When did you begin creating art? Did you grow up in a creative environment?
I think creating art was always a natural impulse for me. I was lucky enough to have a lot of support from the adults around me from an early age, including a babysitter-aspiring-illustrator who taught me how to mix colors super young, and one teacher who started an after-school art program for kids elementary through eighth grade. It was in that group that I got to experiment with materials I would have never encountered on my own. I learned to stitch for the first time in her class.
Your beadwork is absolutely gorgeous. Having never worked with this material myself, can you walk me through a bit of the process? It looks like it would take a lot of patience to learn this skill.
Thank you. Patience, yes, but as mentioned, I learned stitching at a pretty young age, even going through a needlepoint phase with a bunch of girlfriends in grade school. I revisited embroidery once I was in the fibers department at art school so I spent decades messing around with a needle and thread in some form or another. I didn’t start embellishment in particular until deep into my millinery obsession in the latter years of college and a fashion history professor assigned to me a research project on the embroidery house of Lesage. I then practiced with beaded headwear, and eventually, when wanting to make more narrative work, moved off the body and into the sculptures I make now, still using mostly the same processes I learned in millinery class. A quick summary of a sculpture start to finish: To build the felt base, I carve it’s mold (called a “block”) out of stacked polystyrene and then paper-mache and coat it in polyurethane. Then I take a damp piece of felt and with steam, ropes, push pins, and a lot of tugging, stretch it over the block until all surfaces are smooth. After a few days, I can pull the felt off and have a hollow 3D shape that I can sew in and out of and avoid wrong sides, piecing, or seams. For the actual beadwork, I just make a few marks with chalk or a sharpie on the felt based on my sketch, then draw an outline with the beads themselves using the couching technique. The rest is just filling everything in and adjusting as I go. I use beading needles and pre-waxed thread that you can find from millinery or furrier suppliers, since sewing so many passes through thick felt with raw thread can be pretty frustrating.
How much planning goes into a piece before you begin?
I tend to plan in bulk. Meaning I like building collections of work instead of going case by case. So I’ll sit down and write about what I currently feel needs to be said, then come up with a dozen different stories that fit that theme, then images will appear immediately. I spend a lot of time writing and doing any necessary research before I draw anything, but usually once I have the images I make a simple sketch in colored pencil for each sculpture and use those for my models. I’ll often revisit the writing process throughout a build to expand on the original concept. While I’m sewing, connections and buried thoughts pop up all the time, and what my immediate instincts told me to draw start making a lot more sense, which is why the writing breaks feel necessary.
What materials do you use in your current work? Have you ever worked in any other fiber arts, like weaving or quilting?
A finished sculpture is made from felt, a petersham ribbon keeping the bottom edge in place, and glass or metal beads, along with at any point sequins, faux pearls, and sometimes thumb tacks in a process I use by blocking two pieces of felt and sandwiching the tacks in between so the points stick out. I spent a lot of time in the fashion department in college making headwear, but I had started in fibers and focused mostly on hand-pieced quilts. I regret never taking a weaving class, but I did recently impulse buy a beading loom, so we’ll see.
I am obsessed with your mesmerizing piece titled Deep Creep. Can you tell me about this piece and the inspiration behind it?
Thank you, and yes. Deep Creep was made in the group for Grown Cyclone, a collection that examined how early childhood traumas affect our behavior, relationships, and healing as adults. This sculpture in particular related what I’d call a hyper-vigilance over being watched on social media to growing up in a household where I could never escape the predatory gaze of my abuser. I had developed a habit of obsessively tracking Instagram algorithms and patterns to find out who might be watching me, whether threatening or sexy I could never tell, and it became an obsession. The eyes in the center are mine, searching everywhere for clues. The profiles on the sides that echo in multiple colors represent an invisible audience that I can never seem to define as just one or an infinite number of onlookers. In short, it’s about social media stalking, but perhaps just me in my role as counter-stalker, a skill I learned young in order to protect myself.
What do you think is the most rewarding thing about dedicating your life to art?
Hands down when someone tells me they can relate to an image I’ve made. No matter what career I might have pursued, I’d always have kept a craft-based hobby. My hands need to be busy. I chose to do this for real finally in 2017 after writing briefly on a very unread blog and included a few hints at what my experience was like growing up. I received a really heartfelt message from another woman who had gone to my high school that indicated she was just like me. That kind of connection felt like reason to keep going, but writing is not my medium. I believe I’m best at communicating through image, so I decided this message through this particular work would be my mission. Nothing makes me feel better than when someone walks up to me in a gallery and lets me know they’ve been through a version of this too. My goal is to make as many people as possible feel less alone, more normal, more seen, and connected. Any confirmation of that is the biggest reward.