While most traditional artists dip their paintbrush in paint to create works of art, Danielle Clough threads embroidery floss through a needle and paints with thread. The Cape Town, South Africa-based artist and designer describes her style as an indulgence in color, and it’s easy to see why. Her pieces feature vivid, pop art-inspired hues that, from a distance, are difficult to believe aren’t brushstrokes. She can embroider on just about any material—including chain-link fences and tennis rackets—and in any size, such as portraits the size of Hula-Hoops on scrap metal or tiny pendants that fit in the palm of your hand. Explore some of her stunning work below and learn about the woman behind the colorful threaded art.
Related: Make super-simple string art.
Who or what inspires you?
I am motivated by the way people work. The productivity, passion, and kindness of artists such as Olivié Keck and Lorraine Loots (two other South African artists). For my own work I find that inspiration is a fleeting feeling; it is motivation that is a more powerful and important force.
What are your go-to colors?
I love purples for shadows and pastel oranges and pinks for highlight. I choose colors based on a feeling, and my feelings are always changing!
How do you choose subjects for your work?
I choose my subjects for personal work in a few different ways. Sometimes it's based on a color, material, or new surface that I want to experiment on, and other times it's imagery I have seen or created, such as taking a portrait of a friend or watching a movie. Mostly it's just a whim that feels right, whether it's an embroidered donut or portrait on metal.
What is your favorite piece of embroidery advice?
The best advice I have been given is to look at my work upside down. It gives you a completely different perspective on the work and often reveals what the piece needs when you know it’s just not right but can’t figure out why.
The best advice I can give is to not compare yourself to others and follow your own instincts. This to me is the best way to enjoy creating and will lead to your own style.
What has been your biggest embroidery challenge and how did you move past it?
I find the biggest challenges I’ve faced are creative blocks on bigger jobs with deadlines. Because embroidery is so time-consuming, the fear of going down the wrong path and making mistakes has been debilitating.
When it comes to deadlines, you don't really have a choice but to move on and keep stitching, which helps because I find the action of doing is my best way to move through the stickiness of thinking.
What made you decide to start embroidering on non-traditional materials, like the tennis rackets?
A friend showed me a simple heart woven onto a racket and I took it as a challenge. I'm excited about the prospects of new surfaces and get a lot of pleasure from problem-solving.
What are your favorite sources for finding supplies?
I love going to car boot sales and strange secondhand stores. There are always interesting (outdated) color combinations, designs on crockery, and potential for new surfaces to sew into.
How has your style evolved over time?
I called my first embroideries thread sketches because I didn’t know what embroidery was and thought I had invented the art form—they were simple doodles with scratchy lines. Over time I added colors and used different types of threads. Since the early days of doodles, my work has become bolder while simultaneously more refined.