Vanessa Filley has a broad repertoire. Peruse her website and you’ll see just a few examples of her wide-ranging mixed-media art forms. As noted on her website, her work ranges from large-scale sculptural installations to tiny embroidery pieces to poems and photographs.

Vanessa Filley in her home studio. (Submitted photo)

The simple line is essential to much of her art, and it is often represented by thread, Filley’s primary medium. After learning to sew as a child, she continues to return to the thread, whether for recycled clothing fashion, props in images she’ll photograph or her current geometric abstraction project.

Filley’s studio is in the former dining room of her 1894 Victorian home. The room has a tall ceiling and good light, augmented with artificial lighting. It includes a large drafting table, a long desk with sewing machines, a flat file cabinet to store fabric pieces and a built-in cabinet that holds art books and her threads.

Her thread supply has grown over many years. Vogue Fabrics in Evanston is an excellent resource where she currently sources cotton and silk natural fiber thread. The threads in her studio are stored on a thread rack by color, texture and spool size. For paper she uses hot press for watercolor images and cold press for colored pencil images.

All her work starts with an inspiration, often from a dream or a concept that she wants to visually express. The concept evaluation for a new project might include months of rumination, mental composition and/or rough drafts before she lays hands on paper to start creating the artwork.

“Even Ice Has A Memory” by Vanessa Filley

Her current project, “Homing Maps,” is a series created on watercolor paper with self-created pricked holes. To create the images, Filley uses watercolors, colored pencils and thread. In this series she pulls energy, curiosity, feeling and visual ideas from maps and quilts by watching for “things that stick out.”

“We Send the Wave to Find the Wave” by Vanessa Filley

To start the artwork, once she is satisfied with her mental composition, Filley determines the needed threads for her colors and color matches, watercolor paints and/or colored pencils. She gathers all these in a large bowl on her work surface so that she has the entire color palette before her in one place.

Next, she chooses the paper and sketches the structure with pencil, starting with the lines used to position the thread elements. After she lays those out, she uses a pin to prick holes where the thread will go through. Her pricking tools include a round-headed fabric pin, a leather thimble and a piece of muslin to cover her hand. Her experience enables her to no longer measure the distance between the pricks, but when viewing one of Filley’s finished pieces, the spacing seems perfect.

“What is Stored Where” by Vanessa Filley

After pricking the holes, she erases the sketched structure. Then she adds the watercolor and/or colored pencil elements. Lastly, she installs the thread through the pricked holes.

“Disparate Notes on Breathing” by Vanessa Filley

Filley works on one piece at a time. Only infrequently will she repeat an image. She prefers the unique, creative aspect of art rather than repeating a predetermined production process. Even with commissions, she says they have only been successful when she can bring her own inspiration to the work in synergy with the client request.

To learn more about Vannesa Filley’s work, you can access her website. There you can see examples of her work, find a list of her many studio shows around the country, see biographical information or contact her, including scheduling a studio visit.

Jean Cunningham

Jean Cunningham retired from the business world and is now enjoying the next phase, including writing about local artists to increase awareness of Evanston’s amazing art community.

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