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PRACTICE/PROCESS: Artist Interview with Sarah Neubert

Can you briefly describe what your studio practice looks like? Walk us through what goes into making a single piece.

I’m a pretty self-reflective, meditative person, so most of my ideas come from that place. I do a lot of my thinking in nature, so natural textures and self reflection become all bound up together; the work that results is usually an attempt to describe my inner world by paying homage to the outer one. As I weave I am sort of building a monument to a moment in time – that thing I saw in nature that spoke to me as I was pondering this or that emotion, question, relationship or situation.

Once I have an idea in my head, I select materials that will lend the right mood to the piece. One of the most enjoyable parts of my process is learning how to work with my materials. It’s a process of discovery and collaboration. Raw hemp behaves differently than raw linen, silk behaves differently than wool, and of course, whenever I introduce a non-fiber element such as wood or metal, I end up with unexpected challenges – but it’s a wonderfully tactile, spontaneous way to work. I try to be an open channel, truly working with my materials rather than bending them to my will. It’s part of the spontaneity and surprise. Of course, sometimes I will try a new material and be unsuccessful the first few tries. But that makes it all the more satisfying when I finally discover the right technique or combination of materials.

I generally focus on the feel of different fibers rather than the specific shapes or forms. My pieces tend to be heavily textural, organic and meditative, rather than colorful and busy. Most of the time I select my fibers first, and then I weave either spontaneously or I will create a loose representation of a mental image. Even when I am creating client work based on a pre-determined design, there is always an element of surprise. I never quite know how my pieces will turn out, which is, I think, one of the best parts of my process.

I am very interested in exploring the human connection to the natural world, especially in a culture that has largely lost sight of that connection. A major element of my work is a search for my own place in the rhythms and cycles of the earth. Weaving itself is one of the oldest crafts in the archaeological record, and has always been a collaboration with nature – taking things that grow on the earth and using them to weave coverings for the body, vessels for holding food, and ceremonial items used in rituals to deepen our understanding of our relationship to nature. It’s a rhythmic, meditative craft that serves as a beautiful metaphor for the way we are all connected to one another and to the fragile planet that sustains us. I hope my work gives audiences a sense of grounding. I hope they are reminded that we are small parts of a huge, interconnected whole.

Can you tell us about a piece that didn’t go according to plan and how you handled it?

Since my pieces are usually created around a loose concept or mood, it’s not unusual to get unexpected results. Most of the time I’m pleasantly surprised, but there are times when I’m deep in a project and realize I hate what I’m making. This happened recently when I was working with jute rope and trying an experimental technique on a larger piece. I was about 20 hours into the weaving when I decided to scrap the whole thing. It might seem tragic to spend so much time on something and then trash it, but honestly, I love giving myself permission to do whatever I want with my own art. It was really liberating to cut that hideous beast off the loom, knowing I wouldn’t have to spend one more second with it.

I think that artists have an inner voice to guide us in these situations. Sometimes the voice says, “Keep working at this! It’ll be worth it!” and sometimes it says, “It’s time to stop working on this and move on.” We have to tune into that voice and trust that we have something to learn from whatever it tells us to do.

What is your favorite part of your artistic process?

I love it when I dip into the flow. Flow is something most artists experience, whether they know it or not – it’s that liminal place where you are so completely absorbed in a project or activity that you lose track of time, forget about your ego, and there ceases to be a distinction between your body, the materials, and the process as you participate with the work. I don’t always reach the flow state when I’m working; if I’m bored with a project or trying to execute a challenging concept, my brain isn’t in the right space. But there are times when it feels effortless and joyful, and I have the sense that I’m exactly where I need to be, doing what I was meant to do.

My other favorite part is seeing people respond to my work. As I said before, we are all connected, and I think art is here to remind us of that. I feel so grateful to have reached a point in my career where people want to own things I’ve made because it reminds them of a truth that they want to remember. It’s humbling and awe-inspiring to know that I was a channel for something real, something that goes beyond my own experience and touches something deeper.

What is your least favorite part of your artistic process?

My least favorite part of the process is dealing with impostor syndrome. There are a lot of things about being a full-time artist that are uniquely challenging. When you’re working for yourself you have to deal with your shortcomings in a very intimate way. And so, when I let myself down or face struggles that are unique to my personality quirks, I sometimes spiral into self doubt and my negative self talk gets pretty ugly before I even realize what’s happening. I start thinking that I’m not suited to this crazy life, that I need to just give up and find a “real” job, that my work is lame and unoriginal, and all those other terrible things we tell ourselves when we’re reacting to a mistake. I’m getting better at catching it early and I trust myself so much more than I used to. But there will always be times when I feel like completely giving up.

The thing that saves me in those moments is thinking about the alternative. Not making art for a living would be awful; I really feel like I have no choice but to do my best to steward this life, with all its ups and downs, because the rewards far outweigh the struggles.

What do you consider your most successful work and why?

I made a piece from a deconstructed mop head and some unspun flax fiber (shown on right). It was a weaving for an art show; I had literally zero plans for the thing but I liked the textures when I held the materials side by side. All my most successful pieces seem to start with no expectations, when I sit down at the loom, let go of my ego and basically let the piece weave itself. I honestly don’t know how to create the right conditions for this - it still feels elusive and magical to me. I have a hunch that it has to do with being faithful to the process and showing up to the loom even when it’s not flowing, so that you’re ready when the inspiration does come. Whatever the factors, I ended up with a weaving that just works. It’s minimal, with lots of space for breath, but it also contains movement and emotion. It sold almost immediately at the show and I’ve been commissioned to make several more works in this style. I’m grateful that I showed up that day.

Find more of Sarah's work here:

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