Hayley Sheldon

Where are you from and where do you reside?
I am from West Palm Beach, Florida and, after a short stint in Philadelphia, returned here where I currently live with my family.
What’s your favorite part of living in West Palm Beach?
I didn’t realize how much I appreciated the natural beauty of the environment here until I lived away for a time. Now that I’m back I find myself regularly drawing on it for inspiration. It’s exciting to be a part of the growing creative community here, which feels very collaborative and supportive. West Palm isn’t a major metropolis by any means but we have some great cultural institutions that are very easy to become engaged in.
Do you find that your location strongly influences the direction of your work?
I often joke that I couldn’t possibly live anywhere other than South Florida because I do so much of my prep and work outside during the day. On a practical level, I’ve built my day around nice, sunny weather. Here, my surroundings are bright, vivid and sundrenched. I definitely tend to filter those feelings into the work.
Did you go to art school?
I went to The University of Central Florida where I received a BFA in Drawing and Printmaking, from there I attended Tyler School of Art at Temple University and was also an apprentice at the Fabric Workshop and Museum in Philadelphia.
How has your work developed in the past few years, and how do you see it evolving in the future?
Over the past few years I’ve been transitioning my career as a display artist to more personal projects. I think working in both veins is great but I really had to make a conscious choice to shift away from client-based projects and make room for a personal studio practice. I knew it would allow me to make the work I wanted to without restriction and strengthen my point of view, which I had absolutely been craving. While on maternity leave after having my first daughter I had a little time to process and think ahead to what kind of creative work I wanted to be making. I knew my time would be more limited and I think it really pushed me to make space only for projects that I really loved or felt a deep connection to.

Aesthetically, I’ve found the work becoming more simplified, or minimal. I really want to be making things that are beautiful and optimistic and realized that there doesn’t need to be a lot of narrative to make that happen. I think single shape or a quirky grouping can communicate just as much as more representational work.

What are some themes you find recurring in your pieces?
I continually draw on the natural world for inspiration. Sometimes more directly, with floral forms and landscapes, and sometimes more abstractly, trying to communicate a color palette or texture. As someone who experiences the world synesthetically, I find some of my strongest experiences with synesthesia happen viewing an amazing landscape outdoors or simply noticing the sensation of bright sunlight beating on my face: these little moments that pass every day but really give my work so much fuel. With the screens, the rhythm of their making gives me an opportunity to revisit one of these sensations and distill it down to the colors that struck me in that moment. When the screens are completed I have building blocks that can be constructed back into new visual experiences.
Have you always worked with fiber?
Working with yarn and thread is something that is relatively new for me. Fibers began to slowly work their way into my practice, because like paper, fabric can be manipulated a seemingly unlimited number of ways and I like the challenge of innovating new uses for familiar materials. Using yarn came as an extension of experimenting with different fabric manipulations and I felt drawn to it for its tactility, abundant color options and its ability to achieve layered or transparent looks.
You have a particularly unique process for creating your artwork. What led you to this process and how did you know it was the right one to pursue?
The first series of screens were made to be a suspended, kinetic mobile of sorts. I had a hunch that by creating the wooden frames and sewing yarn into them would make an impactful grouping of objects but it was really a figure it out as you go along situation. Lots of problem solving happened with that first round: achieving a wooden curve, spacing holes accurately on a curve, choosing the right weight of yarn. It definitely provided an opportunity to refine the process.
How did the shapes of the Shape Screens come together ?
Obviously, there are so many basic shapes that could be utilized, but I do work within certain ground rules that I set for myself as well as the limitations of working within the wood frame. Initially, I was looking for shapes that would be simple but high-impact and allow for flexibility in arranging their compositions. I wanted there to be a variety, but only so much that groupings would feel dynamic and not overly busy. I was interested in focusing on shapes that could successfully display a color field but not feel too sharp or pointed, so triangles and diamonds were out. I like to think of the squares and rectangles as the grounding elements and all rounded shapes as the elevating pieces. The arches specifically hold the most symbolism for me, as I think of them as representing a passage, portal, or window.

What tangible objects or intangible moments are you most interested in representing through your works?
I’m increasingly inspired by fleeting moments and gentle transitions in the natural world. The slow growth of plant life, the gentle shift of sunset to dusk, etc. Visually these moments can be vibrant and bold, but still hold a rhythm that requires a stillness to detect. I think this phase of motherhood has helped me focus on and appreciate slow, tender, meaningful moments that I might otherwise have taken for granted.
Are there any specific inspirations for pieces in this recent body of work you would point to?
The shapes are organized into two different series, each with a different point of inspiration: Big Palm is a distillation of many feelings circulating around high summer, like looking at the world through squinted eyes when the sunlight is intense and bright, memories of a summer in Italy where I lived in a tiny but ancient apartment that had a roof deck sprawling with climbing jasmine, sea and sand, and palms lush, dry and crinkly at the same time. The palette encapsulates all of these ideas into one for me.

Pink Sky is a riff off of a palette that I’ve been gravitating towards for a while now. Experiencing a sunset that casts a pink sky so strong that it kind of envelopes everything is one of my favorite simple pleasures in life. This series was specifically grounded in the memory of experiencing one of these pink skies while on a trip visiting the desert of Utah.

What’s a usual day in the studio like?
I always start the day with writing out a list of things I’d like to achieve. Seeing it on paper helps me wrap my mind around goals and also adjust if I’ve set my expectations on productivity too high or low. It’s very rare that I would have an entire workday to devote to my studio practice. Most days I’m fitting projects into the daily routine of being at home with my two young daughters. This usually means working during nap time, at night after they go to sleep and carving out 15-20 minute chunks here and there while they play independently. For the Shape Screens, this looks like prepping, sanding, and finishing a few wood shapes during the day while the girls are playing outside so that by the time they go to bed at night I can get some weaving in. I’ve been working this balance for a few years now so it feels like I’m starting to find a predictable rhythm and productivity level.
What is the most difficult part of the artistic process for you?
Planning, dreaming, and sketching comes pretty easily to me but when it comes to the very beginning of physical creation I often get a little hesitant and anxious. Subconsciously it must be something to do with questions like ‘Will these methods work out the way I think they will?’ or ‘Do these colors actually achieve the feeling I am going for?’ and so on. As much as I try to work through a project in my head, there’s always a gap between it existing as a thought and as an actual physical object in the world. Obviously, you can learn a lot through trial and error, shifting and making edits, but I think there’s always a motivation for me to see the initial concept succeed and that first part of physical creation starts to show me if my instinct for a project was correct or not.
I’m increasingly inspired by fleeting moments and gentle transitions in the natural world. The slow growth of plant life, the gentle shift of sunset to dusk, etc. Visually these moments can be vibrant and bold, but still hold a rhythm that requires a stillness to detect. — Hayley Sheldon

Specific to color - how do you know that you’ve achieved the feeling you’re going for?
As I pull together colors, before the weaving begins, I make little clusters of yarn combinations on my workroom table and sometimes leave them there for weeks, constantly revisiting and rearranging. It almost feels like the hot/cold game. I can sense moving closer or further away from the “right” combination. I look for the sense of satisfaction that happens when the colors I’ve chosen are aligned with the mental picture I’ve been holding on to as the original point of inspiration. So I guess it’s more about feeling that something is right, rather than knowing it is.
How do you choose your materials?
My previous work has really moved me all over the map in terms of materials. In a way, I feel like I have a little database in my mind of materials, tools, and techniques I can pick and choose from based on the feeling I am trying to get to in the final piece. For the screens, I knew the weight of the yarn and strand spacing would heavily influence the end result. A ¼” spacing with medium-weight yarn allows me to achieve enough density to create a solid color field while still allowing a sense of transparency and lightness.
How important is spontaneity in your art?
With the shape screens there is a lot of planning and precision that goes into making the wood frame itself, but creating groupings and compositions with the completed shapes happens very spontaneously and intuitively. There is something about physically moving them, grouping them, seeing which ones want to “live” together, that feels a lot like play and really is one of the most satisfying elements of working on these pieces.
How do you recommend collectors create groupings?
I think it’s important not to overthink groupings too much. While I don’t think there can really be any bad combinations, I find they are most successful when they utilize both straight sided and round shapes and include a variety of sizes. Even if you are going for a very vibrant color palette, I find the groupings to be more balanced by including softer or more muted tones. They ground the grouping and accentuate the brighter shapes. The colors all work well together, so it’s a matter of what really speaks to you.
Is there something people would be surprised to learn about you?
I danced ballet for many years when I was younger and although I wouldn’t say it’s a direct influence on my work I think there’s something about the movement, repetition and grace of dance that I still draw on for inspiration.

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