The science teacher who chose to break free from practicality, utility and patterns in textiles and paint.
This week’s podcast guest, Claude Larson, has been sewing for years, while also teaching science classes to middle-school age teenagers in the US.
A few years ago, Claude decided to throw out the patterns and instructions in favour of a new era of experimentation.
She stopped making practical, utilitarian items for the home and family, and began making art quilts.
She studied value, taking fabrics from light to dark and playing with them to see what they could do together. She also experimented with collaging fabrics and covering them with used tea bags.
This experimentation led to unexpected success, and Claude’s experimentation continues to this day, as acrylic paints come into the picture.
Claude’s story is a reminder that experimentation and letting go can lead to great things.
Don’t be afraid to explore your creativity and try something new. You never know where it may lead!
Clubhouse: @clairewaitebrown and Creativity Found Connect club
Researched, edited and produced by Claire Waite Brown
Music: Day Trips by Ketsa Undercover / Ketsa Creative Commons License Free Music Archive - Ketsa - Day Trips
Artworks: Emily Portnoi emilyportnoi.co.uk
Photo: Ella Pallet
For this episode, I'm speaking with Claude Larsen, the science teacher who, when it comes to textiles, and paint has chosen to break free from practicality, utility and patterns. Hi, Claude, how are you? Excellent. How are you, Claire? I'm very good. Thank you, can you start by telling me how you currently express yourself creatively. Currently, I work in textile, I have some series of work that I am absolutely in love with. So that is my fibre work at the moment. And for painting. I was for a long time a seamstress making clothing for myself and my family and others. And somebody gifted me some old patterns that I've no longer making clothes, I'm making art, but I actually put them down on surfaces. And I've been enjoying, like what shapes the intersection of lines make playing with shape and line and loving, like loving it. And I feel like this is my best work so far, which I say that every time I start a series, the next series will be better, you know, but right now I'm loving where I am creatively. So both on the painting realm, you know, inspired by patterns that would normally be used in textile, and on the textile realm. I just feel like, there is a time in our world in my life that we need the, you know, divine spirits watching over us. Um, well, that all sounds very cool, and very exciting. We'll talk definitely later about the difference between the textiles for producing and for the utility as opposed to the artworks that you then went on to create but let's start with childhood and what was your experience of creativity like as a child at home and at school? My mother was a seamstress. And so from a very young age, I was familiar with sewing machines and what they can do and I was happy to use scraps because you know, when you make clothing there's it's an odd shape. So there's these sort of odd pieces leftover so I was left to play with those and make clothes for my Barbie dolls and just sort of stitch things together even if there was no pattern and I was just messing around. That was sort of my first experience with textil I did some stitching and pretty much whatever I was permitted to have in the house. So if a stitch kit came into the house, I would work on that if 64 box of Crayola Crayons came into the house, I would work with that. I was more the outdoor, you know, I was turning cartwheels on the lawn and making mud pies under the back porch. And I mean, I do recall having to bring the spoons from under the back porch into the kitchen, so they could be washed. And we could have some in the drawer. So I probably, you know, drove my parents a little crazy with that kind of stuff. But I had a very vivid imagination as a child, it serves me well now, although it probably wasn't the easiest thing to have. Yeah. And how will you lead? educationally? Do you think I had some pretty good, you know, school experiences, I had some really wonderful art teachers. But there, there was one, I will say in middle school at that time of life, when, no matter how good a teenager appears, they're always a hot mess on the inside. And I, you know, like, Don't embarrass yourself, don't do something stupid, you know, whatever. She was just wonderful. She was kind, Mrs. Levinson, I'll never forget, I had her both years of my junior high experience. And she had us do stuff that wasn't, you know, it wasn't like the paint and sip of today. Like it wasn't, here's an example. And everybody's gonna paint this house with trees, and we're all using watercolour, and like, she would say, paint an abstract picture of your family. It doesn't have to look like people like what shape would they be? What colour would they be? I mean, you had to dig deep to find, what colour would I be? And where am I in relation to this family, and who's the biggest shape in this family. And, you know, those kinds of things. It was really very experimental for me at the time and eye opening of what creativity really was. And my other passion was science. So once I got to high school, I was kind of focused on that. Because once again, nobody encourages you to be an artist. They want you to have a sensible career, which I did, but I also made art. And now I'm doing that pretty much all the time every day. So speaking about the science, in the sense of all career, what were you hoping to do after education? And how did you go about it? Well, because I was very interested in science, I was originally going to be a physical therapist, that was my goal. I like movement, I'm into health, I was an active person, then I'm an active person. Now. I thought I will be a physical therapist. And I started out that way. And 300 volunteer hours later, I spent a lot of time with angry people, the young people were mad because they couldn't finish their sports season. And the old people were mad because they had had a stroke. And like, the really little little kids was like, heartbreaking. And I thought, I don't have an inmate to do this. Like, I applaud the people who can move past that and help. But um, I just was so I guess empathic of their energy that I couldn't be in that space. So I went into science education, and honestly, I had a great career, I had a lot of fun. And I think, looking back on it, I was a pretty creative science teacher, there was a lot of here is of four foot by eight foot, whiteboard, and a bunch of markers. And I want you guys to give me a real life diagram of Newton's three laws. And it can be funny, it could be seriously be anything you want. And then like listening to kids, and a lot of kids didn't think that science was going to have that sort of freeing effect. And I enjoyed it. You know, I did enjoy what they had to say, I get to laugh. And I'd get them thinking. I was like, This is it. You want your students thinking, and people now they they meet me and I say, oh, yeah, I was a teacher for 25 years. And they'll be like, Oh, are you an art teacher? No. I taught mostly physics and chemistry. And they just looked at you like really? Like scientists aren't creative. And I was like, you haven't met too many scientists then because I think they're great problem solvers. I think that's what set me up for being an art Is the persistence in problem solving? Because we know making any piece of art you go through the phase of well, now I've created a problem for myself, how am I getting myself out of this one? I think that might be what stops people, they get stuck. And they don't realise it literally doesn't matter. There's 1000s of solutions to this. And then they stopped because they don't know the right one. Like, there isn't one, there isn't a right one, just pick one. And there's the correlation in new discoveries. Absolutely. And I think that's the thing as you make your art, maybe you put down this shape of blue, and then you stand back and you go, Oh, hmm, now what do I do? Right? And in science, like, Okay, I got this information. So then you have to stand back and say, Now what do I do? It's, it's really the same. In my opinion, it's the same process. And if you've done a lot of science, you probably relate to that. It's just a series of problem solving to get you information, that in the end, helps you realise that you need more information. So yeah, it's like this painting isn't the end. Yeah, there's gonna be another. Yeah, it's like you said about the people who didn't know you, as a science teacher are surprised that you're a science teacher, when in fact, a number of my guests have been, for example, a few have been engineers initially, and gone on to, in this case, weaving and embroidery. And they do go together. And instantly you think, Oh, well, they're not the same thing. They're completely two sides of a spectrum. But in fact, there are so many connections and correlations. Absolutely. Okay. So, while you're teaching, I know that you continued to sew, and you continue to learn your sewing techniques. And you were sewing for the family and for practicality, tell me more about that time and how the sewing was fitting in with your life as a science teacher as well. Sure, so from a very early age, the sewing machine to me was utilitarian. And that's what fabric was for it was it was for making clothes. And, you know, I didn't grow up in poverty. But we didn't have a lot of extra. And we also had the good fortune that my father, we emigrated from Canada. So my parents spoke French, and there was limited amount of jobs for somebody who wasn't like fluent, fluent, and they were learning English as they went, and he got a job in a textile mill. So they would run off the most horrendous fabrics, you know, like, they always test colorways before they put it out to market. So here we are in the 70s. So imagine the colour palette, right? Hot Pink and electric blue and chartreuse, green. And yeah, so bold patterns. And they'd run it in various scale. So on a small scale, this sort of electric hounds tooth and then on a bigger scale. And so they'd run them all off. And whenever the manufacturer didn't want them, my dad would come home with just piles of double knit polyester, neon, bold pattern. So my mother not to let it go to waste made us clothes. And my sister and I would get matching outfits like pant suits with the flare bottom, like I think back on at the time, that was our a game, we were psyched to be wearing these things that nobody else had, for good reason. And so that sort of ingrained in me that this is a way to provide something and not spend as much money as if you were going to the store and buying those kinds of things. And that. I mean, it went a long way I served me well I have a very good skill set. You know, once you have your babies, you make them little outfits and your curtains and your mean, I made my prom dress. And by the time I was done, I was like making fully lined blazers. Really nice stuff. And that's when I think I just said like, that's it. I'm done. I don't want to do this anymore. And I don't know if I don't know if I was bored. I think I just felt I didn't have somewhere else to go. Like now I'm making the highest quality thing that I could possibly make. I was like over it. Okay, now what? And I came across a magazine about art quilts. I was at graduate school. That was it. I was done. I came home I threw away the patterns. I burned some. Like I'm done with this. I'm done following directions. Now. You When you tell a science teacher is done following directions, she is done following directions, because that's your whole thing in school, you're like safety first, please follow the instructions, you know. And, yep, I'm not gonna do this anymore, I'm gonna do something else. I don't know what it looks like yet, but I'm done doing the same thing over and over. Moving on. So with that, that's quite a dramatic change to throw away the patterns. And that's then getting rid of the structure of making clothes or making furnishings. You've mentioned the art quilts magazine. But how did you actually physically start making art? With fabrics? Did you find it an easy process? How did you approach it? How did it develop? At first, because of where my mindset was, I was trying to make pretty much representational things like, Oh, I have these fabrics in my stash. If I put these together, you know, this might make a landscape. And this might make a flowers in a vase. And so I started doing representational things, then, of course, I subscribed to a quilting magazine, which I had never done before, you know, you learned little techniques. Oh, that's cool. But then I did it in my own way. And then I just realised that that wasn't going to engage me for a long period of time, I was quickly going to lose interest. Because when you looked at the quilt, there were well made, they were well designed, you know, they had good placement of the elements, I guess, intuitively, I was just like, Don't stick things dead in the middle kind of stuff. But, you know, a vase with flowers on a pretty background was a vase with flowers. Nobody was ever going to look at it and say, I see this, you know, it was like, No, it was a vase with flowers. And it was fine. If that's what you want to see, every time you look at it, you should make it. But I wanted to imagine what it could be. What else could it be? What if I flipped this around? What if one day, I just look at it differently than another day. And I started making quilts that way. And I studied certain things at certain times. So let me study value. Okay, so if I take 12 fabrics from very, very light to very, very dark, and I play with them, and I see what they can do next to each other. And in a mixture. I've made a bunch of things. But I've learned a lot about value. What was exciting about it was now I didn't know anything, which is kind of like when you're seven, and somebody says okay, you can use the sewing machine supervised, right, and you learn about how to make seems without like putting a needle through your own finger. And that was so exciting. And it became like, I don't know anything. This is great. Now I have an art website and I sell my work. And I exhibited, and I've been in galleries, and I've done that stuff, which is awesome and also exciting. But then I wasn't I wasn't even thinking about that. If somebody would have said to me Your work is going to be in a gallery and people are going to pay you for this. I would have been like, oh, nobody's buying this. And surely they weren't because it was experimental, which was great. But it expanded on my skill set, which is why I had given up on the practical stuff. Because I felt like I wasn't expanding. I think that's what we all need. If you feeling stagnation, there's no joy in that. It's only when you're experiencing new things and growing yourself. So as you're doing this and learning new things and taking your cues from yourself, not imagining that this would ever be seen by other people in galleries. So what did change? How is it that now you are making lots of things in showing them to people I had found I had learned about a technique I hadn't done it but I had learned about this technique where you take fabrics sort of collage them together on a base and then you cover them with USD tea bags, if you can imagine and I thought this is just the weirdest thing but I like tea so I'll save a few of these bags. My husband was like What is with this bowl of tea bags on the counter like are we going to live like this now this is weird. There I was cleaning them out and ironing old used. And I put them on this fabric and I was Like, wow, this makes such a cool service. And I think, as I say this, I think this was the thing that had me crossover because now I had to use an acrylic medium. And so now it's like, oh, acrylic paint. Wow, this is exciting. And I feel like that was sort of the step along the path that brought me to acrylics. But I just played around, I made this quilt. And I had told one of my colleagues that I was doing this, of course, you get the sideward glance, you know, like, Oh, really, you're using old tea bags. She said, I'd love to see that when you're done. Like just being honest. I think she was just being polite, you know, Oh, I'd love to see that when you're done. And I showed it to her. And she bought it. She said, How much do you want for that she went to her classroom, got a chequebook. And like, wrote me a check. I was like, Whoa, this is a thing. And so you know, I did little things, but I just knew that I was going to keep expanding, you have to kind of hold your nerve, I'm going to stand there, and people are gonna see my work, you know, you don't want people to know you made it. Because if they hate it, you don't want to be standing next to it. But I was getting really positive responses for these little events that I was doing. And people were buying some of this work. And it was very exciting. At which point, I thought, well, if this was all experimental, I should just keep experimenting, because I don't know where this is going. And the more I let go of concern and worry, and what will people think? Or can I sell this, the more I let go that the better? In my opinion, the better my work becomes? I think it's because I'm free are making it. And there's no, there's no energy of worry in it. If you don't like it. That's okay. Because there's a lot of art out there in the world that I look at it, I stand back, and I go, Yep, that is not something I would put in my house. I it's not something I particularly enjoy looking at. And I figure if like, point 1% of the world liked my work, it'd be like millions of people, wouldn't it? Yeah, I'm good with that, you know, don't worry about it. Creativity found.co.uk is the place to go to find workshops, courses, supplies, kits, and books to help you get creative. So if you're looking for your own creativity, found experience, go have a browse to see what's on offer so far. And if you can help adults to find their new creative passion, please get in touch on social media, or through the contact details on the website. Up until 2019, you are doing this but you're still working in school as well. But you're not working in school now. So why did that change? Or how did that change? Okay, so yeah, in 2019, I met all the requirements, to be able to have a pension, and retire from my job, get what was fully allotted to me. And I had decided that I had done that. And I just wanted to get on and do other things with my life because well, one I really wanted to travel and my husband's a little older than I am. And it was one of those, you know, the moment of clarity, you will get to travel for a period of time. But there comes a point where that's gets harder and harder. And then maybe impossible. I don't know. But we don't know when that time is. So I said if I retire we'll get to travel, get to do all these things. We've never lived above our means. And we still don't. And so we save and I'm like I'd rather have experiences. And I'd rather do things that, you know helped me grow. Not that I wasn't growing as a teacher, but I was in the same place for 15 years. And they had me teaching physics and chemistry for 12 out of those 15 years. At one point I said I need to change. I gotta go to a different grade. Like you have to let me teach something else. Because I know where all the aha moments are. I've got all the labs down. And I don't want to be the teacher who's phoning it in. Even though the labs were exciting, and the science was fun and the kids were being creative. It was like I've been here and I've done this and I need something else. So I left the grade For a few years, and then due to budget constraints, they had to let go of some teachers and I got put right back where I was. And I was just like, Oh, but wait, I thought I cut the fence and got out of here. So there I was. And I just knew that I had had something else in me. And it was time, it was just the right time. And things just started falling into place. I wrote a book the last couple years that I was teaching. I got that published shortly after I retired. And I've been, you know, marketing that promoting that, which has been nice. I have another book sort of in the, in the hopper, tell us know, tell us about books. Okay, so the book that I currently have out, it's actually, technically I'm going to call it three books. It's really based on one book, in my 24th year of teaching I had what any teacher will know that year of students that were so extraordinarily challenging, not individually, but when you put all the personalities together. It was like gas and a match, like every day, compounded by the loss of attention span, because of scrolling social media, the group texting where they would meet up to vape in the bathroom, the lack of self control, they could not stop interrupting me. Like if I paused to breathe, they thought that was their opportunity to all start a conversation. I was like, Guys, sometimes I inhale. Give me a second. It was frustrating. And so I decided that I had to take a chunk of my time where I rather than teach science, I was going to teach ancient wisdom. What is excellence? What is the power of your attitude? What is the highest function of your mind, things like letting down grudges, building your courage, building resilience, just these topics that they're timeless. But the kids now don't have a lot of guidance in that realm. So I made myself a vow on a Friday afternoon when my shoulders were killing me from tension. I was super frustrated. It had been a long week. And I said, I'm coming in on Monday, I'm going to do a mini lesson, I'm going to talk about what is excellence or what is attitude, whatever, I made a list of things. And I said, I'm going to do this for 10 weeks, because I can't continue to do what I'm doing now. I'm so frustrated. That's not good for me. And I want to enjoy coming to work. And I went in on that Monday, I did like two or three minute meditation. And then I talked to them about the power their thoughts, and how every thought they have is a choice that they've chosen to think about. And it came back to me from my colleagues, because we had a team setting where we'd all share the same like 150 kids or so a year. They were coming to me, I couldn't start my class, they were talking about your class. And I mean, this was a 10 minute conversation I had in the beginning of each of my classes that day. Then I went out and taught my lesson and they were more engaged. They did not interrupt me. And I thought to myself, nobody's saying anything. I have either just fallen flat on my face. And they are all gonna be like hysterical out the door, or they were paying attention. I literally did not know which so my colleagues came, the aide in the cafeteria told me they were all talking about it at lunch. It's like, really, the the phys ed teacher, they were all talking about it in the locker room. So I kept going and on week 10. I said, Well, this is gonna be our last one. Our last Mindful Monday I had sort of nicknamed them that. And they were like, What, wait a minute. No, no, no. What do you mean, this is gonna be the last one. I sit down. This is it. I plan to do this for 10 weeks. This is my plan. One student who really had a kind of a rough home life and he was pretty angry about life in general. He says, I think we need more of this. So I kept going. And I went the whole year and then the following year. I said why wait till I'm frustrated? And I started right at the beginning. Within the first couple of weeks of school. I went all through the year and then it kept coming to me. This is about Look, this is a book and it became a book. You could buy the ebook. And it has a companion journal. And you can buy it as a teacher's edition, which has all of the original lessons, plus class activities you can do that never have students divulge any personal information. I've had really great reviews on it. And yeah, I've got another one. It's a it's in the works. It's thought provoking without telling you what to think this was a very personal book, you know, like, who do you know, that's excellent. What makes them excellent. In your mind? Obviously, what makes them excellent is something you value if you say they're excellent, because they listen to you, you value being heard, if you say they're excellent, because they're, you know, amazing at their job, then you value being a productive member of society, right. And it just brings the conversation into a very practical realm, at the level that teenagers can understand. Yeah, I can see that. That's wonderful. And it came from you feeling exacerbated, and it's turned into something that's so helpful to so many other people. Yeah. You've also told me that you have a good grasp now of your energy levels. And when you work best at certain activities, can you give me a rundown of what you mean by that, I have to say, I'm delighted that I no longer have a 430 alarm that goes off. But yeah, I get up. still relatively early, I would say, usually between 6:37am I have a really great pace. In the morning, I do some meditation, I do some Chi Gong, I am a certified Qigong teacher, Qi Gong healer, I'm a Reiki Master. So I'm really all about like building the energy early in the day. And from there, it's pretty organic, I do like to exercise early in the morning, then I really just like to go down in my studio. And I will work until I look at the clock. And as soon as I look at the clock, it's time to go, because I'm not in it anymore. I'm worried about time. And sometimes that's an hour, an hour and a half. Sometimes that's four hours. So I try to get any creative juice out early. And then my more administrative stuff, you know, maintaining the website, or if I do some YouTube videos, I'll do the editing and that kind of stuff in the afternoon. I also have recently decided that I need to take at least one day off every week, having a day or two off, if I'm busy, I am that much more eager to get in there on a Monday than if I had been in there Saturday and Sunday. So it actually helps to sort of rekindle my spark. And what does that look like when you do get in the studio? So first of all, I'm a sucker for materials. Where do you get your fabrics from? How does the working process or the inspiration come to you in the studio. And also, let's lead that on into how the acrylic painting has become more a part of what you're doing as well, please? Sure. So fabric, I used to have some pretty good shops that were reasonably local within an hour's drive. And they've all kind of gone by the wayside. So I started hand dyeing my own. And that's mostly what I do now is I hand dye them in the colour palettes that I want to play with. I do snow dye, I bury fabric under snow, I put the dyes on top of the snow and as it melts, I get very unique fabrics. So hand dyeing has become probably a predominant part of what I make. And when I travel I try to bring I always try to bring home something from that area be that international, or just within the US. I also have an embarrassing amount of fabric. So I had a pretty good stash to begin with. So I pull from that. But then one piece of fabric will inspire me and then maybe I'll dye a whole range of fabrics to go with it. Which is really what I've now learned about painting I used to buy colours of paint that I liked, and use them out of the bottle and now it's kind of like dying. fabric. Rather than using it straight from the bottle, I've learned how to add white to it to make tints, how to add black to make shades, how to add greys to make tones, and how to mix the colours together. So that even though you think on its own right, this might be a really sort of yucky, ugly colour. But when you put it within the other colours that you're using, it turns out to really highlight some of the other things. And I've taken that from fabric and I've crossed it over into painting. And once I made that leap, my paintings got so much better. And I enjoyed mixing the paint almost as much as getting it down on a surface. And it plays back and forth. Okay, so I did all these things, blending paints, and I came up with all these colours. And now when I make dyes, then now I'm more playful about mixing them, I don't just go like Well, here's a little bit of dye and have a gradation, so they're all the same colour in different shades. Now it's like, well, if I take these two colours, and I mix them in different proportions, all of a sudden, the nice thing you get is the perfect grey. Then when you put that grey in with those, there's some of that dye in each of the pure colours, I guess. And it just really pulls the piece together. It's like the difference between having a Jackson Pollock, which is like a lot on the eyes. And then like when you edit it down, and you quiet it with these Gray's, you really start to appreciate the other sections. That's where art quilting is going at the moment. Yeah, it's limitless. I can blend any two colours and come up with a really cool palette, like something that really excites me to want to play with. Yes, yeah. Do you have any plans or aspirations for the future? I am currently in the hunt for an artist residency. Oh, and I have put in a couple of applications. I'm very, and I think this comes with age, I'm gonna call it age and experience. Wisdom, right? I know what I want. I know what I don't want. And so I'm very discerning, but I'm putting my efforts into an artist residency that will meet and this is going to sound strange, maybe because I know people go and they have space and time to themselves uninterrupted and all of that I want a residency where I will be in a place where I feel all and when I realise how vast everything is, and how small I am in it. I will be able to drill down and know that even though I am small, I am important in the scope of this vast thing. And the art that I make from there, I think will be just so meaningful for me. Wow. Brilliant. That's been absolutely fabulous. speaking with you today, how can people connect with you? The easiest low level is on Instagram at clode be Larson's CL a UDB la r s o n have a YouTube channel clode Larson art. And I have a website that you can subscribe to my newsletters. You'd get my resources, my blog posts, you get to see what art I'm currently making. So that's yeah, that's where they can connect with me for art if they're if the book intrigues them. It's on Amazon and it is called the power of choice A teens guide to finding personal success. Brilliant. Brilliant. Thank you so much. Thank you. This has been a delight. Thank you for me to see you soon. All right, find out. Thanks so much for listening to creativity found. If your podcast app has the facility. Please leave a rating and review to help other people find us on Instagram and Facebook follow at creativity found podcast and on Pinterest. Look for us Creativity found. And finally, don't forget to check out creativity found.co.uk Who website connecting adults who wants to find a creative outlet with the artists and crafters who can help them tap into their creativity?