This week I am interviewing Redfern based fibre artist and designer, Jane Balke Andersen, AKA Queen Babs (named after her bunny)! I stumbled onto Jane’s work on the internet a few years ago. Being a textile artist, and someone who has worked in public art, I loved her colourful installations. They not only brighten the landscape, but also gather the community together.
Tell me a bit about yourself and your creative practice
All my life I’ve been crafty, read books, told stories and been fascinated by people and tried to be kind. I’ve been a high school teacher (humanities), taught art and craft, been a caterer, a house and pet sitter, and sold my creative works.
Since childhood my health had always been poor, however after drinking poisoned well water, over a three-month period in a remote community more than 25 years ago, I suffered a massive decline in my health. The resulting outcome continues to resonate with me to date, though I never give up, and I continually fight to improve my health.
I am now disabled, housebound and bed ridden most of the time, but that doesn’t stop me me making the most I can from my life and it certainly doesn’t stop me being creative! It’s who I am, not what I do.
What is your genre/medium?
I’m a fibre artist – I design patterns in crochet, and I yarnbomb and install large scale installations all using acrylic and cotton yarns, crocheting by hand and knitting by machine. I taught myself to crochet via YouTube in 2013, and began yarnbombing the same year.
For those who don’t know what yarnbombing is, it is a form of street art where knitting and/or crochet is attached to an object in a public place.
Previously I have worked in paper arts, collage, photography, scrapbooking, stamping, card making and entertained myself with sewing, quilting, decoupage, embroidery, appliqué, beading, jewellery making, painting decoratively and more.
Jane is being quite humble today, and what she hasn’t told you is that she has created installations for QANTAS, OPTUS, the Garden Expo, Central Park Mall, the National Centre of Indigenous Excellence, Burning Man USA, peace conferences, and a variety of music and community festivals. The list is endless, and her work includes national and international collaborations.
What is your favourite installation?
Each installation has a story or purpose. It may be to raise awareness (eg Fibromyalgia/CFS/ME, Depression, marriage equality), celebrate and build a sense of community (Redfern or others) or culture (eg Indigenous culture), and to spread kindness and love.
One of my earliest public pieces, The Garden of Imagination, for the Sydney Garden Show, is a large (2.5m x 1m) crocheted representation of my childhood drawings of gardens. As my first paid commission, it was a huge leap of faith in myself, as it challenged me as an artist and a crocheter. It also reinforced my creative partnership with my husband Martin, who supports my dreams and helps them become real. He helps create, install and photograph my work. We are a great team!
I created many pieces for The Plot music festival, inviting people all around the world to contribute to the Hippy Peace Love theme. The Rainbow Bicycle includes little motifs from many people and friends, and again stretched my skills as I worked out how to take the picture in my head and turn it into reality.
It’s the fact that I was so ill, and I did most of while bedridden, that makes it more important to me. Martin cleaned, restored and painted the dilapidated bike. He placed a sheet of Masonite over the bed, and shifted the bicycle into position as I stitched, sewed and glued the pieces. Friends visited and helped me while I was stuck in bed. Not only is it a rainbow of colours promoting peace and love, it is a concrete reminder that I can still express my creativity while housebound and bedridden.
These days as my health has deteriorated from vestibular and hemiplegic migraines, I have turned to designing crochet patterns, most with a heart at the centre to keep spreading the love. So far, the Lovebomb Mandala has been my favourite design, every stitch is love and kindness expressed in yarn.
What is your first memory of being creative?
I come from a creative family. Everyone makes, bakes, creates, photographs, gardens or they play music, sing, dance and act. When I was young I learnt to cook at my grandmothers’ knees, pulling up a chair to reach the kitchen bench. My sister and I were always encouraged to be crafty and creative. One of my earliest memories is of our mother who would draw the most beautiful pictures of historical women’s dresses for us to colour in.
I loved stories and was a voracious reader, and I also remember being encouraged to write stories, make up games, act and sing. We didn’t watch a lot of tv growing up, we filled our days with creative play and reading.
Who or what inspires you?
I am inspired by people who are kind, share their skills generously, and are passionate about what they do whatever their field of interest.
Colour, shape and texture have fascinated me all my life. I used to joke that a perfect job would be designing Christmas ornaments for all the shape, colour and glitter! Nature, particularly flowers, inspire my colour choices in my work.
There are many yarnbombers, fibre artists and designers who also inspire me, and I enjoy their journey and work via Instagram.
Is there anything special you do to get into the right mindset and get the creative juices flowing?
I don’t have to do anything special to get into the right mindset to get the creative juices flowing because, unless I am really ill, my mind never stops coming up with new ideas. It’s always been this way and I call it my “monkey mind”. I’ve learnt to write the ideas down because I get so many I cannot keep up with them. Alas, there’s is only one of me! I wish I was a clone or two, I might get more done.
Currently, I have at least two dozen design ideas for crochet patterns waiting for me to flesh them out. I’m just waiting on some time with good health.
How do you deal with creativity blocks?
I don’t get creativity blocks, I get blocked by my health and disability. Often, I am too sick to crochet, design my patterns or Yarnbomb.
So I do what I can, when I can. I tend to have intense periods of creativity when pieces fly off the hook and words fall over each other, describing my stitches and method.
These days, I have learnt to ask for help installing Yarnbombs, and friends and my wonderful husband install pieces for me.
What is one tip you would give other creatives?
Your creativity is not an option, it’s not a hobby, it is a living, breathing part of you. Give yourself time to play, permission to make many, many mistakes so you learn new things and discover your joys. Be brave and plan time for yourself to be creative just for the sheer joy of it. You will become happier.
What is your favourite, colour, book, song, food and place?
My favourite colour, red and pink, I cannot just pick one! Book, what an awful thing to ask! Good Omens by Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman is a fave fun one. The 80s music of my teenage years, plus big band swing, The Beatles and Aretha Franklin. I love good cups of tea, cake and Chinese food. My favourite place, places of natural beauty and peace, or my big old brass bed with a good book and a cup of tea.
Like many of the creatives I talk to, Jane inspires me. It’s not only her creations and passion for colour, but also her ability to see the glass half full, not half empty. I really appreciate her giving us an insight into her creativity and her life. Also a big thanks to Martin Anderson for the photographs.
If you want to see more of her work, or connect with Queen Babs, the links are below.