Danielle Clough

“I’m really good at not taking myself too seriously”

So, we’ve never met Danielle in person. In fact, all we know about her is what we’ve seen on Facebook. Anyway, after a message that we sent to her inbox, she ended up being really receptive and agreed to a conversation over Skype. Nervous and excited, we eventually remembered to hit the record button 5min into the conversation already… sorry. 

Khanya: …We decided to go print dude. We just thought it was really important for us not to go digital.

Danielle: I think with the nature of everything going digital, having something tangible is really important.

Khanya: Exactly.

Danielle: Feeling the paper, smelling the paper… it gives you a better understanding of the quality. 

Khanya: Digital just starts to feel cold and soulless, you know what I’m saying? So uhm, We’ve been friends on fb for a while. I’ve been seeing a lot of your work dude, and what really got my attention was the woven stuff you did that was from last year; when you started sharing all the art you did on the tennis racquets. 

Danielle: Yeah that’s all my embroidery work.

Khanya: Wow, that stuff was so amazing. I am always taken aback by creative work that I would have no clue on how to do myself; so that’s how things get my attention. If I see a piece of work and I have no idea where to start, like that shit’s attention grabbing. Do you want talk us through that? What was your inspiration behind that?

Danielle: Well it’s interesting that you say that it’s something you don’t feel like you could do, like, you don’t understand it. To me I kind of feel like I’m cheating. There is this thing that’s called Imposter Syndrome – which is like when you get told  you are doing well and you just start looking for excuses about why the person thinks that. You make excuses for why the praise is not justified. For me, I feel like a cheat because essentially what I do is colour in with thread, that’s how I feel. It’s so sweet that you say that. I started while I was studying. I studied art direction and graphic design at Red and Yellow, but I was always super interested in sewing. I really wanted to be a fashion designer when I was a teenager, and I thought I was going to be the world’s best fashion designer -giggling. I was like 15 and I had all these clothes I’d make myself – this jacket that was made out of a curtain and still had the rings inside, purple and lime green skirts. I did a visual arts course at FBC which is kind of like the drop out school. I didn’t know it was a drop out school when I went there, but then I got there and everyone was either pregnant or going to rehab. 

Khanya & Shannon: -laughing

Danielle: But I didn’t think it was a problem because I really loved it. From there I went to study fashion design and lasted two weeks. I was like “fuck thiiiisss” -giggling- and then I spent the rest of the yeahr thinking of what I wanted to do. I figured out what I wanted, and that was to do everything. I went into art direction and graphic design because that is as broad as it gets. You are conceptualising and you’re executing your own projects. It was very practical. I picked up photography because I was really into sewing. I would craft a lot of my projects. I would also make plush toys like this little guy here. 

I would make these plush toys for people at school, so sometimes we would do drawings and then go buy fabric together. I started drawing with thread on the fabric and thought that was dope and I just kept doing that. I didn’t take it to seriously until 3 years later, around 2013.

Later on I figured out it was embroidery. and it had been around for centuries. 

Khanya: -breaks into hard laughter.

Danielle: -laughing.  I thought I was special, but it was cool. That’s kind of where the medium comes from. Its not something I pursued, it was more something that I fell into.

Khanya: So it’s primarily an artist background? Because when I saw your work I was like this is exhibition type stuff, expressive artist. Its stuff that you can really attach yourself too. It’s like sit and look at it and ponder about it. However,  your background is more design?

Danielle: Red and yellow is an advertising school, so the background is a lot more commercial. I try not to identify myself as too much of an artist.

I’d rather like to be referred to as a designer, embroiderer or a photographer, because to me it’s more practical and it removes a lot of the ego. Lorraine Loots said it really beautifully, for her, art is conceptual and emotive. She just likes to paint cool cute things. So she would rather be called a painter. I’m the same. I have feelings and I have moments where I see a colour and I want to do something with it. It’s a lot less emotional and conceptual as it is just about making, which to me is like a designer mentality as opposed to an artist’s mentality. 

Khanya: So, what do you do full time? You said you were in your studio, so is that like your office?

Is it full time?

Danielle: I work for a company called Mama Money once a week doing design work. They are a really great company. It’s a socially minded business so it’s cool to be involved in something so positive. I am like a totally average designer though, they don’t really know that.

Khanya: -laughing.

Danielle: -laughing So yeah my studio is for my sewing. It’s taken off to the point where I am sustaining myself and I am able to have my own space. I have always wanted a space for myself to create. This wall behind me is full of old fashion tapestries, and then over there is my couch. It’s just a really small room I can hide away for a little and make things.

Khanya: Yeah your own little space. Looks cool. So you based in CPT or from CPT?

Danielle: I am a born and bred Capetonian.

Khanya: So no chance of you branching out? Moving elsewhere? Any plans to travel?

Danielle: Uhm I am going to the UK in July for a street art festival. I am one of 100 internationals from 700 applications that were selected. Which is super cool.

Khanya: Dude well done!

Danielle: Yeah that’s like a big dream for me, and as far as being in South Africa forever, I think that is a really big commitment. It’s a very kind of conflicting situation, it’s a conflicting country with different highs and lows. So I think being committed to it is similar to being in a rocky relationship; when it’s amazing, it’s amazing and when shit gets worse you’re not sure how to have the breakup conversation -laughs. So it would be a bad idea to stay committed to South Africa. Im settled here, just open to things changing one way or the other.

Khanya: I had another question I wanted to ask you, it just slipped my mind now. Uhm… What other interests do you have outside of sewing? Like, I went into photography as an outlet to try and explore more, learn more. Do you have other outlets?

Danielle: I go through phases. The photography thing has actually now become the hobby, so I have some film cameras and I pretty much only shoot on film, unless it is my work, and that to me is kind of a creative outlet; that I don’t put too much pressure on. I also think it is really important to be experimental and be like a kid. So I just go into art shops and I am super excited and I touch everything -giggling. I most recently bought ink because I live with this kid called Jack Fox – He is a really talented, amazing artist and he was telling me about ink, and that I would really like it.

Khanya: Yeah I saw that A4 spread you did, that was pretty dope, like the doodle.

Danielle: Yes, just stuff like that, for me it’s interesting questions, because I am having those moments where I don’t want the embroidery to become, uhm… this is my passion and it’s the thing I love the most, and I don’t want it to become a chore. So I think it is just a matter of thinking of the jobs that you love and feel passionate about and not doing stuff for money. So it’s about balancing that and balancing people’s expectations as well, and being honest with yourself.

Khanya: And I am sure balance is important, because… (she jumps back in) – 

Danielle: Money is one of the main killers of your creativity, because as soon people have to be creative it takes away that spontaneity and energy. I am very aware of it, at the moment I am really happy. Its important for me to take on jobs that are challenging or really exciting. Its imortants that I am always authentic towards the client or the person who has commissioned me.

Shannon: So how does it work? If I want to buy something, where would I go? Is it me sending you a DM asking you to make something, or do you have a whole lot of pieces that you make and sell?

Danielle: I launched an online shop in February when things started picking up. I try to make as much stuff as possible, then I stock it and launch them all at once. The nice thing about that is that it also feeds into my spontaneity. If I wake up and really want embroider a fox or I embroider one of my friends, then I can – this allows me to do the stuff that I want and decide if its going in my shop. every now and then I get a lot of commissions but I can’t take them all on just because by the nature of the craft. It’s really time consuming.

Danielle: People are amazing -laughing. But sometimes the projects feel really authentic and I am excited and the person is excited. 

Shannon: How long does it take, or is that entirely dependent on the piece?

Danielle: Yeah the piece dictates the time it will take.

Khanya: I just saw a piece where you experimented with a different medium. The one you did on a fence. So I am sure the platform you are using determines how soon you will finish a piece?

Danielle: Yeah totally and also the smaller type stuff takes long because the thread is thinner, or the thickness of the paintbrush. So I have never churned anything out in a day. Like nothing, nothing -laughing.

Khanya: So I want ask you one last thing. I stumble upon inspiration all the time, from different place. For example, I have this thing I do where I snap and upload one dope pic a day – dope in my opinion –  to train myself to get better with the camera. How and where do you get your inspiration from?

Danielle: I am moved by different things. I am moved by colours, materials and like new possibilities. walking down the road and being like oh, shade cloth, like it would be cool to use shade cloth. There is always some kind of stimulation to find, especially if you are hungry for it. I think that everybody is constantly inspired, Well, not everyone, but most people one way or another. You see something cool and you share it and tag it or you double tap it, you know. There is a big difference between inspiration and motivation. A lot of the time you get these bursts or sparks or see something cool or maybe that thing that gives you a spark is envy of your friend, like shit she looks so hot and i also want to dye my hair pink, whatever it is, but it’s the motivation that makes the difference I find. I am easily inspired by the tools, but more motivated to get shit done you know. I have to be busy – the things that inspire are really boring everyday things. Really.

Khanya: You also strike me as the type of person who puts things out there because you like them, not because you want people to like them. And I think that’s super, super important, like it took me a couple of years to realise that. 

Danielle: I think that it stems from having a really cool mom. Like she is just really supportive. She really doesn’t get what I do -laughs.

Khanya: Neither do my parents -laughing.

Danielle: But she totally supports me. I would come home with a really bad hair cut, wearing this jacket, such a weird hippie, and I am like “mom look at my hair cut do you like it?” and she goes “I don’t really like it, but it suits you” -all laughing.

Danielle: It’s just like this relentless support, she doesn’t always understand what i am doing, but it’s cool, she has a ‘just go for it attitude’. That support makes a massive difference, so I have always just posted and shared stuff because I just assumed everyone was like that. You either like something or you don’t and it’s not malicious. I have always navigated with a certain expectation of that type of kindness and as I have gotten older, I have realised that so many people are assholes and that they think their opinion matters, but you learn that those are just those kind of people. 

Khanya: Agreed. Yo man, thanks dude! It was really awesome chatting to you!

Danielle: Thanks guys, super dope chatting to you guys too!