Hen’s Teeth Art – tiny tales in textiles by Viv Sliwka

“Painted buzzing bees, embroidered flowers, hand drawn animals and characters make up the world of Hen’s Teeth Art. Telling tiny tales in textiles.”

I’ve discovered Hen’s Teeth Art some time ago, and I’ve got impressed how beautiful textile art can be. I invite you to discover the designer and maker of Hen’s Teeth Art, Viv Sliwka. Viv works from her garden studio in Staffordshire, where she creates all the wonders you’ll see next, in the interview that follows.

Hello Viv, tell us about yourself.
I have been married to a wonderfully understanding man for many years and we have two grown girls. I live in the middle of England in the county of Staffordshire, surrounded by pretty countryside. I work from a cosy, wooden studio in our garden. I have all my life collect vintage textiles and ephemera. I happily combine my love of stitching and drawing with these discarded, worn pieces from the past.

Is art an important part of your life?
Art is everything to me. It is all consuming and on my mind, pretty much, all of the time.
Doesn’t painting, embroidery and all the techniques you use in your works require a certain level of inspiration? Where does your inspiration come from?
Yes, outside forces come into play as inspiration… seeing something can spark an idea, design or technique. Inspiration personally comes from American Folk Art, old soft toys, flora and fauna. My own drawings can influence my work too. 

In your experience, what’s the best thing about crafting?
The best thing about crafting for me is when an idea comes to a physical fruition…when a piece comes to life and when someone loves it enough to buy it, that is the icing on the cake.

And the worst?
Not enough hours in the day for me, that’s the worst thing. I have so many ideas and not enough time.

How do you design your works?
I generally have a design in my head and work from there. Occasionally I will use my sketchbook to draw a design out, but I am not a perfectionist and do not plan my work…I let the ideas and designs organically flow. That works best for me.
How do you advertise your work?
I use social media. Facebook and Instagram.

Is it easier to promote and market your work if you participate in exhibitions and fairs? Do you go to these kind of events?
I attend one, maybe two Fairs each year. It is very good to meet people face to face and get feedback about my work. Socially, good fun too, but I can’t say that this is the best way of marketing my work.  I reach far more people using social media.

Do you consider painting on textile, better said sewing paintings on textile more of a challenge than working on a canvas or paper? Why?
No, I really enjoy painting on fabrics. It is fun experimenting with various mediums and textiles.

What do you think are the qualities that define an artist? What defines you as an artist?
I would saying expressing oneself is a quality of most people who create, me included. The deep need to work an idea onto cloth or paper is very strong and can be very frustrating if the time, or circumstances work against this process.
Do you consider yourself a good artist?
I cannot answer this, all I know is, that I live to create…I could not envisage a life without drawing and sewing.
An artist, I suppose, is judged in a personal way and not everyone has the same taste.  Some will think you are a fabulous artist, others not.

What motivates you to create each time such unique and wonderful works?
My creative work is my ‘day job’. This is a huge motivator, as my art sales is my financial income. So, I am fortunate enough to say that ‘I love my job’.

How do you keep in touch with the public or customers?
Other than social network, I have been publishing a Blog since 2008 and have just started to create a monthly Email Newsletter.
Why “Hen’s Teeth Art“?
There is a saying here in UK ‘as rare as hen’s teeth’… it just came to me one day to use ‘hen’s teeth’ as my trade name.

What do you say to these up-and-coming artists who are trying to learn the ropes of this difficult profession and see you as a role model?
I would suggest engage with as many people as possible, through all of the ways mentioned here. For example … website, blog, social media.
Be human, be professional, work hard, very hard and never give up!
Don’t let having a ‘day job’ get in your way…find time to work.
Have an online presence.   Sell online, attend Fairs, approach Galleries.
Gain confidence over time and follow your heart.

Is that how you learned?
Yes, I did all of the above.

Do you organise workshops?
From time to time I organise a workshop, but generally deliver workshops in other studios.
Have you achieved happiness and fulfilment?
I am very happy with my work and my day to day life. But, there is so much out there to engage with, so much more to see. To travel and experience these things, are my heart’s desire.

Tell me what are you working on now?
I am working on many pieces, as I am attending a three day Contemporary Craft Festival soon.

Good luck with that Viv. How long would it take you to do the work?
I have a variety of items I am making. For example, small brooches which may take a couple of hours each to make. Or, bigger and more intricate artworks which may take many, many hours.

What materials you use in all your works? I would like to find out how you decide which materials to combine, where from you get all these materials and what is the detailed process of your work.
My materials are generally old, time worn fabrics, papers and haberdashery. The older and more worn the better. The materials may spark the idea of what to make.  The fabrics themselves tell me what to make, it’s hard to explain.   I generally buy and source my materials from Antique Textile Fairs,  Flea Fairs and French brocante markets.
Do you work alone?

What themes do you pursue in your works?
My themes tend to be floral embroidery, combined with screen printed drawings of animals. I also enjoy using my sewing machine in free machine embroidery to ‘draw’ characters too.

What jobs have you done other than being an artist?
I have had many jobs in my time, from bar maid to hair washer.

What memorable responses have you had to your work?
I am really happy to receive happy feedback from a customer. A positive feedback comment is always memorable to me, as it makes all the hard work worth while.
Name something you love, and why.
I adore my little collection of old mohair and clockwork Donkeys. They are all time worn and have a personality all of their own.

What is your dream project?
My dream project is to one day learn have to make ceramic pots and incorporate my drawing and maybe even stitch, in some way.

Name three artists you like.
The painter – Elaine Pamphilon
Textile and mixed media artist – Liz Cooksey
Ceramic artist – Julie Whitmore

Do you have a message for people who have just read the interview?
Don’t allow anyone to dampen your sparkle.

Thank you Viv for your time and art! May all your dreams come true and your artworks appreciated and cherished by people around the world! 🙂

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