One Piece of Art: Erin Riley

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Erin Riley currently has several pieces at Empty Kingdom’s Summer Show at 111 Minna.  In order to show everything that goes into one of her insightful and relevant tapestries, we have asked Erin to takes us along on the ride.  The life of ‘History 37’ follows as well as her thoughts throughout:

Previously featured:
April 2014
Novermber 2013
December 2012
December 2011



THURSDAY July 3rd, 2014




How light is your work space? Is it lit by natural light? What time of day are you most productive?

The light in my studio above my loom actually just broke, it is this crappy fluorescent light fixture and for a while only one bulb worked. Now neither do. I have a window but I split my studio and the daylight doesn’t reach to my loom. I am productive from noon on. I generally work from 2pm to 2am but I just got an intern and she gets to the studio at noon so now I have to wake up much earlier. But it’s good to get out of bed before noon.

Where do you start? What is the first thing you do? What kind of preparation and clean up do you have to do
at the beginning and end of the work day? How much and in what ways do your pieces change or mature from the idea in your mind to the final product?

I start with finding the images online or take them myself, print them out, trace them, dye the yarn, make the warp (base threads) and set up the loom. There are a ton of little things to start. I trace the images to the size I’m going to weave and then start by weaving a few inches of plain color for hemming space; right now I’m using this rusty red in between pieces because I have so much of it. All of my work is woven on the same warp meaning I don’t cut off a piece each time it’s done, I simply weave plain color and then attach the drawing of the new piece with T-pins. I don’t do much clean up during a piece, only after one is done or if I need to for a studio visit. If there is a moment when I realize I don’t need any more of a certain color I might take the time to wrap all the color up and put it away just for organizational purposes. There is this thing called brown lung I try to avoid by sweeping up all the wool between pieces. My pieces don’t actually have much room to change or mature as I can’t edit something as it goes. I work along and colors might change but the overall image can’t exactly.




SATURDAY July 5th, 2014




How do you start your day? Is there something you do every morning?

I usually just make sure I have a decent amount of coffee and water within reach and make sure I have all the colors I need to work for a while. I turn on all the lights, fans, take my vitamins, check my email and then get to weaving.

With a painting or an illustration an artist can choose to work on separate pieces, if they get tired of painting the face, they can move to the leg, is your process linear? How is the medium of tapestry different in it’s execution? How does that factor into your approach? How does it affect the end product?

My work is woven from bottom to top, so I can’t change anything once it’s completed. (I could, but it’d be
insanely hard to do so without it showing) I guess because I’ve been doing this for so long I’m pretty used to the fact that once I’ve completed one small section I accept it. Also, weaving is so slow that not a whole lot is a surprise, by the time a section is finished I could have spent 10 hours on it. I have had pieces where I run out of a specific flesh color and have to improvise in the face or rest of the body but I usually prepare for that too.



SUNDAY July 6th, 2014




Do you take breaks? What do you do when you take a break?

I try not to take breaks, or even leave the weaving bench unless it’s to go to the bathroom. Sometimes if I’m just doing yarn prep or research for 8 hours I’ll sit in a chair but I find that it’s harder to get back on the bench if I’ve sat on something too comfortable so I tend to avoid that if it’s a weaving day. If I do take a break it’s because I need to email something or I’ve remembered an application is due soon or my stomach is growling. I eat at the loom, sometimes I need to stretch and I get up and do that but weaving is so time consuming I’m pretty strict about using my time wisely.

What part of the piece are you working on today? How does your emotional connection to a piece change as the piece comes to life? Are there parts of a piece that you look forward to? How can working on a specific piece affect your state of mind and your emotions?

Today I am working on the overpasses in this road piece, I am using multiple strands per vertical columns which adds to the complexities of the piece, any vertical line also adds challenges as well. This piece is hard because you can’t advance much in any section of the piece, you have to weave simultaneously throughout. I have been working on making sure every piece is harder than the last so it keeps me struggling and pushing myself further. My roads, car crashes and object pieces are a more solemn mood and the girls are enjoyable because the colors tend to be brighter and the shapes are curvier. It is more fun to weave, where the roads are a bit sad.




MONDAY July 7th, 2014




Do you have Mondays? Do you take days off? Is there a specific day that you enjoy more than any other?

I have Mondays now that I have an intern, but when it was just me I looked forward (kinda) to Mondays because the weekend is such a drought for professional email/mail. I’d get notifications from applications or hear back from someone. I have a thing for physical mail, but it’s kind of gone away now that I live in Brooklyn, I used to check my P.O. Box daily, waiting for checks or word from applications. Now I just check it once a week or less.

What can go wrong with a piece? You can’t just paint over or erase or hit ctrl+z, what do you do if something goes wrong? How can you fix an error? What do you do when you finish a piece? How do you feel? What do you do with the piece?

Weaving is so slow that it’s pretty hard to mess up, sometimes my drawing underneath isn’t specific enough and I have missed a shape but I usually go so slow and preplanned that I don’t have to unweave anything. If I do mess up I just take some of the yarn out and restart that section again. Once a piece is finished I cut it off the loom, serge the ends of it on my serger, hem, attach my title & year label to the back of it and then attach hanging hardware. If the work is going to an exhibition, I pack it up and ship it out otherwise I put it in my studio or hang it up for a while.