I’m super excited to be back in the studio with our favorite creatives, this time bringing you the magical knotting of Windy Chien.
I first discovered Windy through Instagram and became addicted to not only the variety of knots she creates (which is mind-boggling) but the scale of the projects she works on. She has truly turned macrame into an art form, and a functional one at that! I quickly learnt about her ‘Year of Knots’, where she challenged herself to learn one new knot every single day in 2016. Having noticed that most macrame artists use the same few knots over and over, she set about delving deeper into the art and challenging herself creatively in the process. I simply had to know more about her creative journey (it’s an incredible one guys!), and am so happy to share her story and creative advice with you here. Enjoy!
Tell us a little bit about yourself.
I live in San Francisco, I’m Chinese American, and I’m turning 50 this year. I am currently on my third life, so to speak. In my 20s and 30s, I owned a record shop, then I was at Apple for almost a decade. I quit the corporate life because I realized that my two previous careers had largely been about curating and supporting other artists’ work — my musician and artist friends at the record store, and the work of musicians, designers and game developers whose work Apple promotes. These had been wonderful experiences, but by my late 40s, it wasn’t enough — I wanted to explore my own creativity. I took a big risk in setting the goal that I wanted to make a living from my art, but it has happened. These days, I’m wondering what my next few goals should be!
How did you start experimenting with rope?
When I quit my job, I knew I wanted to turn away from the computer screen and use my hands, but I didn’t know what medium the art would take. I signed up for classes in anything I was even slightly interested in, from ceramics (hated it!) to stone carving, interior design, LED wiring, block printing, etc. The only things that stuck were wood carving and macramé, which, come to think of it, makes sense because my father had been a hobby woodworker and my mother had taught me macramé back in its retro heyday in the 1970s. The things we experience as children have strong resonance within us.
Once I found rope, I realized I loved working with it — the notion of using the line to create volume and shapes in space, without weight.
What inspired you to start the year of knots?
Most macramé is made using the same two or three knots repeated over and over in different combinations. For that reason, most current macramé looks the same to me. I realized — in an honest-to-god lightbulb moment on January 4, 2016 — that if I wanted to express myself using this form, I needed to expand my artistic palette. I needed to learn all the knots.
In a flash, I intuited all of the self-imposed design rules under which I would create one knot every day of 2016, making the knots with white rope photographed on a white background, in order to highlight what I thought was the most compelling element of the knots: the line. I posted each knot to Instagram and Facebook, in order to keep myself accountable and to underscore the durational performance aspect of the project.
By the end of the year, I had 366 knots on my wall, and they hold together as a single work of art.
What is the process behind creating your designs?
It always starts with following my curiosity. Sometimes it is a conceptual idea that needs to be ‘sketched’ in rope, and sometimes the ideas come as evolutions from playing with rope and shapes from previous bodies of work. Either way, both of these starting points feel natural.
There’s no substitute for making objects and experimenting with your material. Somehow, the rope or the wood knows what it wants to be; materials have a logic all their own and you must become an expert in your medium.
As a child of the ‘70s, I love its graphic design, lines that harmonize, intersect, and travel together. And I love science and math concepts expressed in humble craft materials. I’m overwhelmingly guided by my own aesthetic and I’m very secure in knowing what I find beautiful and meaningful. With that, I am confident in improvising, for instance, my Circuit Board series, which are made without sketches or preconceived designs. And because the Circuit Boards are improvised, they are my favorite thing to make: I go into the flow state, which is utter bliss.
5. Do you have any creative advice for my readers?
I always say that in my experience, starting later in life was better, because, after two decades of honing my aesthetic, I was very quickly able to make work that I am satisfied with. Start wherever you are, it is never too late, be confident that your aesthetic is your own unique fingerprint, and pursue the expression of it relentlessly.
You should really like how it FEELS when you’re making work. I am process-oriented, so each step in the process must bring pleasure of some kind. When something feels great while doing it, keep doing it. Conversely, if you like the results, but don’t love the process, think twice. To paraphrase Steve Jobs, your work is going to fill a large part of your life, so don’t waste it doing things you aren’t passionate about.
Thank you so much Windy for all the amazing wisdom and giving us a window into your space and process.