Hillary Fayle is part of the Living Legacy Project at the Burchfield Penney Art Center. Click here to listen to her artist interview or read the transcription below.
Hillary Fayle Waters hails from Elma, N.Y., and is an accomplished fiber artist, illustrator, and painter. She lives and works in Forestport, N.Y., near the Adirondack Mountains.
Fayle completed her Bachelor of Arts degree in fiber design at Buffalo State College in 2010. During a semester abroad at the University of Manchester in England, she studied embroidery, which has had a profound impact on the trajectory of her career. As she writes, “I began with using found materials and fabric and transgressed to leaves upon my return to America. I generally try to use renewable, sustainable, and environmentally friendly materials for my art, so this was an obvious choice.” 
The leaves Fayle works with are first coated in a non-toxic preservative to strengthen and protect them. Next she either embroiders them (using a mix of traditional patterns and techniques and those of her own design) or cuts intricate patterns into them. The final step is framing the finished pieces, or, in some cases, pinning them directly to the wall. 
Regarding the explicit and implicit themes of her work, Fayle notes, “There is a beautiful and intricate balance in nature and in the way that we can interact with the natural world around us. It is this delicate and elaborate relationship that I attempt to convey in my work. As I carefully select materials to use from the natural world around us, I in turn broadcast the importance of protecting and conserving our natural resources. Living consciously and sustainably is incredibly important to me in all aspects of my life. By using these materials to create, I am able to do what I love without treading too heavily on the eco-system.” 
Examples of Fayle’s work have been seen on the covers of Fiber Art Now (Spring 2012) and Embroidery (May/June 2012) and in several galleries and museums, including Indigo Art (2012) and Studio Hart (2012), both in Buffalo, and the Annmarie Sculpture Garden in Solomons, Maryland (2013). She was featured in both the 2011 and 2013 Art in Craft Media exhibitions at the Burchfield Penney, and in 2013 she was a Sylvia L. Rosen Purchase Prize winner.
In 2012, she was designated one of the Burchfield Penney’s first “Living Legacy” artists.
For more information on Hillary Fayle, visit hillaryfayle.wordpress.com/.
 Hillary Fayle, “LoveStitching,” statement on the artist’s blog, http://hillaryfayle.wordpress.com/lovestitching/. (Accessed 08/21/2013)
 Fayle, “Here I Am,” blogpost, http://hillaryfayle.wordpress.com/2011/09/01/hello-world/. (Accessed 08/21/2013)
 Fayle, “Content & Contact,” statement on the artist’s blog, http://hillaryfayle.wordpress.com/about/ . (Accessed 08/21/2013)
Transcript of the Living Legacy Project interview with Hillary Fayle Waters by Sarah Sally Blanton.
Transcription was completed by Maria Johnson.
Sarah Sally Blanton – Hillary Fayle, what inspired you to be an artist?
Hillary Fayle – I think I sort of, I always knew that I wanted to be an artist. Like, there was never really any other question in my head…I guess it was sort of fundamentally there and the question of like what I was realistically going to do with my life was sort of like the next step. But, I always felt like I wanted to just do art and draw and be a maker of things and that’s sort of always been in me, so I guess that’s – if it answers the question?
SSB – Yeah, yeah. So, growing up you…?
Fayle –Yeah, absolutely, like ever since I remember I was trying to draw and color and, you know, little kids in kindergarten, whatever… But, I also remember really being into sewing little things and hand sewing weird little things that didn’t look very good as a little kid, but I was always interested in that…making something tangible.
SSB – In school, were you encouraged to pursue art? Did you do it throughout your education?
Fayle – Yeah absolutely. In kindergarten I was good at coloring in the lines [laughs] so all along, kind of, I got people saying: “Oh, you should do this, you should do this, you should be an artist,” I actually had a very difficult time… I said I wanted to be an artist always, but actually believing that I was an artist didn’t come until probably two years ago, after my senior year of school, my senior year of college. And I always knew that I was always good at art and I loved doing art and that it felt good, but it didn’t really seem like I was going to be an artist, or that it was going to be a reality until the end of college, I guess.
SSB – And where did you go to school?
Fayle – I went to school at Buff State, good old Buff State, and I was able to get a really good scholarship and it provided me with a lot of opportunities to travel, which I’m pretty passionate about as well, so that was great. Buff State is really wonderful in the sense that there’s a lot of great resources. I finally came around and figured that out in the end [laughs] and I wish that I had sort of – had the drive and the motivation to figure that out in the beginning, but it’s really a good place to grow, and I think I did grow a lot at Buff State.
SSB – What were some of the resources that you found most beneficial?
Fayle – Uh, there’s just – Especially in the art department and the design department there’s a lot of amazing professors, and a lot of international… Presences, I guess, at Buff State, which I find to be really interesting and the perspectives – The different perspectives that they all bring to the table are really terrific for just kind of taking a different view of what you’re doing. There’s also a lot of space and a lot of freedom at Buff State and I kind of floundered a little bit with that my first two years. I didn’t really know what I was doing and then I went to England and I studied abroad, and I sort of realized what it was to be a focused artist and a focused student, and I came back, and it sort of made a world of difference. I was really into doing it in a way that I hadn’t before.
SSB – Was it being uprooted from what you were familiar with that kind of awakened this?
Fayle – Yeah, I think that it was being uprooted but I also think that particularly – What I was doing in England was really good. The schools there are different in the sense that they’re incredibly concentrated and there’s a lot of focus placed on being in the studio all the time and creating and making, and everybody around is doing that. So, if you’re not also doing that to the same extent, it makes you feel like you’re not up to the same caliber. So there was a lot of motivation to keep up with everybody and then it changed a little bit and it was okay I’ve got to keep up with everybody and then it became like “man this is great I’m making so much more work, and I feel so much better about it” and I could actually track the way I was feeling and the art and how it looked and what I was doing and what I was making and it actually felt like it was growing and progressing, and I think I just sort of figured it out – Maybe it took being away from home and being out of this country for a little bit to figure out what I needed to do to really create and to really make art but I did it finally, and so I came back and it was a world of difference like I could do it by myself after that. It was great.
SSB – So you came back with renewed purpose?
Fayle – Absolutely, and Jozef was wonderful. He also came from that European school of art and design and the drive is similar, the focus on making and creating and spending time and really figuring out yourself and what you’re doing, and he was really supportive of that.
SSB – And it was Jozef?...
Fayle – Jozef Bajus, the head of the fibers department [at SUNY Buffalo State], he was my professor for all four and a half years, actually four years, but he was great
SSB – So during your time at Buff State you were constantly involved with the fiber, you concentrated in the fiber arts or…?
Fayle – I did, I graduated with a degree in fiber design and I ended up doing quite a bit of ceramics by the end too, but incorporating that with fibers, like drilling into the ceramics and stitching into them. So, it was like a multi-disciplinary thing going on at the end there, but yep. Fibers all the way. [laughs]
SSB – That’s really interesting. So you spoke of Jozef, and I was wondering, who are some of your other most important influences as you’ve been growing as an artist? They could be mentors, influential artists that you…?
Fayle – Certainly, certainly – Jozef absolutely, with what I was talking about earlier with the drive and the motivation and the focus on figuring out what you want to do and doing it. I always, when I’m making stuff weirdly enough, think back to him saying, “Do samples and sketches, samples and sketches”, and I never realized the importance of that and now I really do. I love doing samples and sketches and it’s sort of a reversal to how I felt about it at the beginning. He was definitely influential, and he was there throughout the four years that I was in the fibers program. As far as other influential artists, there are certainly many of them. Andy Goldsworthy, though, I really love and it’s kind of easy to see where I would get inspiration from him and what he does but…
SSB – Can you tell us a little bit about what you see and what inspires you about his art?
Fayle – Yeah! Just – The simplicity of his work and working with the raw materials in nature and nothing else there. He’s not using glue, he’s not using really anything else and I think it’s really inspiring. It’s just such an interesting way to go about creating what you want to create, and I think it’s phenomenal and really inspiring. I sort of strive to create something as simple and beautiful, but I think he’s nailed that on the head. Yeah, other artists – I don’t know there’s so many; I grew up going to the Albright Knox all the time. My grandmother took me there every time there was an exhibition, my aunt worked there and so we went quite a bit, and I always had that as like a formative thing growing up in my head.
SSB – Speaking of talking about working with needle and thread as you were growing up and your different influences, can you tell me a bit about what you create? What is your art?
Fayle – So, my art is basically [laughs] it’s taking leaves – I take leaves and I stitch onto them or I cut them, cut windows through them, cut negative spaces and then stitch through the negative spaces, and this is something that I sort of picked up, oddly enough – it’s like a conglomerate of the parts of my life that I have had growing up. So, the stitching, obviously, I had studied fiber design and I specifically studied embroidery when I went to England, so that is something I became really fascinated with. The really intricate lacey stitching of really old timey embroidery, that is something called insertion stitching, which would actually bind two pieces of fabric together, like if you were making a quilt, and they used to do it all the time when all they had was hand stitching, that’s how you made quilts. But it’s a traditional method of binding two pieces together, so I started out by binding different materials and I was going for like – whatever I could find, and there was like a theme, I think it was laundry, so I started by taking the laundry – The laundering tags out of clothes, like all my clothes I ripped the tags off [laughs] and anyone who was willing to give me their tags. And you know they’re little tiny things, an inch or two by a quarter inch or half inch, square or rectangle and I sort of fit them together all in a patchwork so they would make a rectangle and then went to work stitching them and it’s this tiny tiny work, so I sort of figured out that I could do it, and when I got done I was like, “Wow I really like this, it’s kind of great,” so that’s where that started, the stitching and the insertion stitching.
So, then I came back from England and immediately went to go work at a summer camp and I grew up going to this summer camp and it’s environmentally themed, I guess. It’s an environmental education summer camp to teach kids about the environment and nature and being responsible consumers, and that’s something that’s really close to my heart, so I had my needle and thread there when I came back, a couple art supplies but not much. I thought, “Well okay I’m here for the whole summer and I don’t have a lot to do, I wonder if I could stitch leaves together?” And that’s kind of how that started, I grabbed an oak leaf off of a tree and cut it into sections and then went to work stitching those sections together. Then I realized “hey I can do this” and everybody I worked with was like “wow that’s really awesome” so I was like, “hey maybe this is good, maybe I should go somewhere with this.” So, I just kind of kept doing it and kept playing with it and eventually instead of cutting leaves up I started cutting windows into them and making negative spaces and just started stitching through there, just kind of simplifying what I was doing and pairing it down, so that’s kind of where I’m at with that right now.
SSB – You don’t talk to people every day that create their art through completely organic matter, and that’s just everything about it, and so what’s your creative process?
Fayle – My process is… I do something that is really close to my heart is sustainability and being kind to the environment and realizing that whatever you’re doing you’re taking matter from the biosphere, and that’s either going to stay in the form that you put it or it’s going to biodegrade – Realizing that whatever you do, all your actions have a weight to them attached for the environment. It’s kind of something that I feel strongly about and that’s why I choose to make art on something that’s completely organic and biodegradable and the thread is cotton thread, so it will biodegrade. When I can I try to use natural dyes if I’m framing them, I try to – It’s a whole mindset that I’m striving to push. So I have realized that certain leaves work better than others for sure, but if there’s a really striking shape or interesting leaf I’ll definitely pick it up, I’m always picking stuff up and stuffing it into my notebook, and sometimes I get back and it’s like, oh this crumbled and now I can’t use it but [laughs] I definitely do take things from wherever I go. Certain leaves, as I said, work better than others, and sometimes I’ll go out on like dedicated missions to find those leaves and its lovely going for a walk [laughs] and picking some leaves on the way.
SSB – And working with such organic material, how do you preserve them?
Fayle – They – It depends on – I’ve been doing something else recently where I’m just cutting into the leaf and cutting really delicate shapes and patterns and that is different, but in both cases, they get a clear preservative, it’s nontoxic and biodegradable, which really helps them to just retain their color. I don’t think that it will stop them from biodegrading eventually, you know in a hundred years they won’t be looking so hot. That’s kind of part of it, this is art, this is living art, this is organic art, and I think as it grows, as time goes by, the art will have this life of its own and maybe this slow slow decay – If it’s preserved and behind glass in a frame I don’t think that it’s gonna go anywhere soon. The natural life cycle of a leaf is to lose its color and start breaking down and I’m just slowing that process, I guess.
SSB – So you create windows in the leaves, and then – I’ve seen images of your art and I’ve seen many different intricate designs, and what is the inspiration for the design of the thread? Are you trying to mimic what the leaf would do or is it something completely different?
Fayle – Sometimes it is a mimicry of the patterns of the veins or the shape of the leaf, but I never actually really know. [laughs] I start out and its sort of like a process that goes around and around and I add a layer of stitching, and then I go around and add another layer of stitching to that until I get to where I think it’s finished. And sometimes it ends up being very organic, focusing more on the leaf itself and sometimes it’s focused on the stitching and showcasing that, but I never really – Now I’ve done so many of them that I sort of have an idea like “okay if I start with this pattern it’s gonna end up looking kind of similar to this or this way” or whatever, but I don’t necessarily always have a plan and because I don’t have a plan I do end up spending a lot more time on them going back taking out stitching, which is tedious. My least favorite part is when I get done with a layer or two of stitching and then realize it’s not what I wanted at all and then I have to go back and re-do it. [laughs] But it’s okay, it’s a process and even though I say that’s my least favorite part, I do love doing it. It’s better than doing the dishes, or whatever; it’s what I want to do.
SSB – Definitely. You’ve spoken to this already in some capacity, the summer camp and what you teach there. Is there anything else that you’d like the viewer to take away from your art?
Fayle – Honestly, I think that the sustainability thing is really – It’s kind of indirect, but that’s what I feel like I’m going for. Being aware of your actions and what you’re taking from the earth, and just trying to create something simple and beautiful. And, actually, I want the stitch and the leaf to balance each other, and the leafs are beautiful in their own sense. I think that I go for something that’s a mimicry of the truly beautiful and intricate patterns that you find in nature.
SSB – That’s amazing to think about, because your art is like the moment where the human hand touches nature and it creates something beautiful instead of something toxic.
Fayle – Wow that was flattering.
SSB – Your work is being embraced by… I’ve seen a few publications, right?
Fayle – Yeah, there’s been a couple magazines recently, which is exciting. It was another one of those “Oh, wow! Maybe I am an artist” moments. All of a sudden your work is on the cover of a magazine and you’re like, “Okay! This is something!”
SSB – Yeah, you’re doing something right. [laughs] So, at this camp, you took what you knew about embroidery and your natural surroundings and you’re making these beautiful embroidered leaves. What do you foresee in the future? Are there other materials that inspire you? Like “maybe I want to start messing with this?”
Fayle – Well yeah, I think that to go to the next level really, I have thought about this a lot and I wanted to actually take living plants and figure out which plants would work best for this, but embroider directly onto living plants and see how they take the embroidery and potentially like a living landscape as well. I actually have a residency coming up this week and the point of that, it’s in the Catskills, is to go out and find natural canvases and natural spaces that would be a good frame for the work and just create them in the forest, of course photograph them or whatever. The point being that they will exist for the time that they exist and then they will eventually biodegrade and fall apart and that’s okay. But I just want to see if I can do it and if it comes out well. I don’t have any clue if it’s gonna work out at all, so I really want to try that. But other materials, I’m always kind of thinking about what I can do other than fabric and other than leaves.
SSB – So, what different kinds of things have you done personally to advance your career in the arts? You said that it was only two years ago when you said, “I am an artist.”
Fayle – I feel like I have done – I feel like I’ve been lucky and put in this scenario where I’ve gained this small bubble of people who know me and know what I’m doing, and that has really opened a lot of doors, you know for let’s say, this program and Buff State, that’s been a really, really wonderful thing for me. But I think that taking every opportunity and not waiting for opportunities to knock on your door is really important and you know you get discouraged and you get like, “oh I’m not good enough, I didn’t get into this show” and I think that trying to keep going and say, “whatever it doesn’t matter I’m going to keep doing this anyway” and it’ll work out sometime. I’m sure that’s what everybody says, but I just feel like starting out now, it’s important just no matter what happens, no matter what people ask you to do, as long as it’s you and you’re making your art and you’re doing what you want to do, say yes. Every opportunity is helpful.
SSB – And that’s maybe advice that you would give to a student that’s…
Fayle – Absolutely! Absolutely, and I would say as far as giving advice to someone goes, absolutely do not wait for opportunity to come to you. You need to get out there and look for it and talk to people. That’s so important and not something that I necessarily, going into school, I don’t think I really realized, it’s all about the people that you know, and art is people. People really love art and if you’re not making art for yourself and for others then what are you really making it for? It’s about people and the people who love it and you loving it. I don’t know, I think that’s incredibly important and – And realizing what an amazing inspiration people are. It’s great for me to go out and work in the woods and do it by myself but I can’t always do that, I need to be around people and to bounce ideas around and have some sort of positive feedback, [laughs] I can’t do it without that, I think you get way too discouraged.
Interaction with people is a huge part of it absolutely, and I think that is really – Making something and I’m feeling like “I love this, and other people love it too” and that’s so great. I can’t even tell you how great that feels and so that’s a huge thing for me, but I would say going to museums, seeing other people’s art, seeing what other people are doing, hanging out in cafes; just all those stereotypical artist things. It really is true, it’s a stereotype for a reason. Just kind of hanging out and being with people and realizing what the world is about in some sort of fashion, not that I know what the world is about. Just coming to some level of understand of some thing is – Now I sound philosophical, but I don’t know, I just moved away from Buffalo and it’s very difficult sometimes, I live in the middle of nowhere now, it’s really tricky to get that. I find myself using the internet a lot actually, and looking at a lot of design websites and different art websites every single day, it’s a habit and it’s kind of like a routine. I get up, I have my coffee and I look through these different blogs, or whatever, and I’ll try and go do something on my own because I feel like “all these people are” – And it’s not fiber stuff usually, I’m usually looking at tattoos or I really love typography websites and I really love what people are doing, and a lot of graphic design stuff – Illustration; that’s kind of like [laughs] close to my heart, I love illustrate, I love to illustrate, I love to draw. So, there’s a lot of that going on. And then I don’t know… That’s what makes me tick a little bit and then I go and I do my own thing and it’s completely different from all that and that’s what gets me motivated and gives me that kick to go and do it.
SSB – So, there’s kind of… That’s the ebb and flow of getting inspiration but also having time to digest it on your own?
Fayle – Exactly, yeah.
SSB – What are some of the real challenges that you face?
Fayle – Real challenges, I would say… I don’t know, I’m still sort of in a weird spot where I’m like “Yeah I’m doing this art thing” and I’m trying to make it work and I’m also substitute teaching and trying to make money to pay the rent. [laughs] Again, that’s such a stereotypical thing to saybut that is – It’s tricky, you know you can only go through like… I don’t know, I haven’t figured out the right balance of I can produce art all the time and at a consistent pace and get it somewhere or sell it or give it to people or have people see and get into shows. I haven’t figured out what the best way to do that is yet. So, in that sense, I guess I’m struggling a bit really.
SSB – Do you think there are ways that the larger community – What are some of your needs as an artist that you think the larger community would be able to provide?
Fayle – That’s a tricky question. I think, as far as that goes, I think it’s really important to have programs like this that are inclusive of emerging artists, and having art galleries and having spaces, you know obviously, where you can go and get inspiration and talk to people and feel like “Okay I can do this.” You know sort of have that, but sort of finding your niche and expanding that for yourself is really important. I think if there are programs like this that sort of assist in that it’s really fantastic.
SSB – Finding the seed and nurturing. [laughs]
Fayle – Yeah, yes exactly! It’ll go with the theme.
SSB – So, as far as the totality of your body of work, what themes would you give your body of work?
Fayle – I think that, I sort of touched on this before, the stitching is one thing. That’s very delicate and time consuming and I love doing it but it’s tedious and [laughs] sort of hypnotic for me in a way, and I do that and that’s one thing. But then in doing that I realized like “Hey I can cut these leafs and I can make whatever picture and windows I want,” and it sort of turned into almost like paper cutting art on a leaf which is also really tedious but that sort of plays on the graphicy illustrationy part of me that wants to come out. And so, kind of creating these images and patterns on a leaf is an interesting way to keep with my theme but also broaden… Broaden out my horizons, and then the living plants will be a different direction and I guess seeing where it goes from there.
SSB – So, is there anything else you’d like to add? Any other comments?
Fayle – Well that was part of the email you write me, I was like “I don’t know, what else!” I don’t know, I don’t really think so. I think it is important to – And I know I sort of touched on this, but I have found it incredibly important to really figure out what you’re doing and take advantage of – Not figure out like “okay this is my life and this is what I’m doing with it” but if you’re in school, realize that you are in school and you better make the most of it. I know that someone saying that doesn’t always mean that it will click, but I think that if someone had said that to me, especially in my first couple years at Buff State I would have been like “oh yeah,” but like that being a reality. Make the most of where you are; if you’re working in a café and going to school or whatever, do that and do it to the fullest and meet people and make connections and I cannot say enough for that. I guess on that note, whatever you’re doing, do it to the fullest and that’s really been my mantra if you will, just “ ’kay this is what I’m doing and I’m just gonna jump in and do it,” and I have found that that really is what keeps me going sometimes, like “Well, I said I was doing this so I’m doing it.” Especially on those days when it doesn’t feel like you’re gonna do anything, it’s kind of like “well I’ve got to do something ‘cause I said I was gonna do it.” [laughs] Holding yourself to that is really important, for me at least.