I wouldn’t mind going to work here every morning. Open, well-lighted, quiet, and colorful, Sue Henry’s studio space in the back of her Del Ray rowhouse is a perfect retreat and workspace.
Sue initially envisioned the studio as a place where she would throw pots and make sculptures, to continue the work she studied in art school in Philadelphia. After she had kids, though, the studio space evolved into a printmaking studio where she carves linoleum wood blocks and prints her designs onto fabric.
“I realized that my time would be limited,” she says, “so I decided to create textiles. I needed something that was more immediate, something where I could both see the results quickly and where if I left it for two weeks it wouldn’t turn to dust or dry out. Also, I have rough and tumble boys, and for all of our sanity I needed to make things that they couldn’t break.”
Sue finds that carving the blocks gives her the same thrill as carving clay. And the bigger the space to carve, the better. Sue buys the largest linoleum blocks she can find from Utrecht. She uses a sharp carving tool to create a relief design from the linoleum. I’ve done this with the small 4 x 4 inch blocks and I know how difficult it is and how easily you can cut yourself or ruin the design with one false move.
Sue then inks the raised portions with a roller, or brayer, using fabric ink.
She either presses the giant “rubber stamp” by hand onto the fabric, or as in the case with this print, she lays the fabric over the stamp and rolls the brayer on the outside of the fabric, allowing the design to stamp onto the opposite side. She often works with canvas, which she also buys in bulk from Utrecht.
The fabric is then hung to dry.
Sue turns the textiles into table runners, tote bags, curtains, table cloths, pillows, and wall hangings.
I personally love her cotton prayer flags. She has the authentic Tibetan flags strung across the door to her studio, which are also made from wood blocks on cotton.
I also think the blocks themselves are art objects. I would hang one on my wall if I could.
Sue’s inspiration comes from her travels in Asia. In her twenties, she backpacked in Thailand, Malaysia, and Indonesia. She uses imagery from her travels in the wood block designs, such as elephants, mandalas, layered waves and clouds, and lotus flowers.
She also looks to architecture, mythology, and the plant world. “I am a big fan of Remedios Varo and Frieda Kahlo,” she says, “for their surrealist, dream-like paintings.” You can see the plant forms – cacti and ferns – on some of the smaller blocks she’s carved.
Sue has sold her textiles on Etsy, but is currently not taking orders due to other commitments. She still tinkers in the studio though and will eventually turn her attention back to her textile design art. We’ll be ready when she does and hope to share more of her art on DIY Del Ray.