Making A Racquet: Danielle Clough

At just 12 years old, Danielle Clough got the first indication that her artwork might catch on with others. “I doodled something on paper, and a friend said: ‘I would totally tattoo that on myself,’” she recalls. Among preteen girls, there could be no higher praise, and Clough went on to experiment with various forms of visual expression in her formative years, including fashion design, photography and graphic art. “I tried a lot of things on for size,” she says.

But sketching stuck with the 28-year-old Cape Town artist, who has become known for her unique thread “drawings” on unconventional surfaces, including chicken wire, coffee bags and, most recently, athletic rackets. She got the idea after seeing a pixilated heart pattern on a similar grid. “I thought, ‘I can do that. But in my own way,’” she says. Clough headed to the Milnerton Flea Market, which proved to be a gold mine of inspiration. “It’s this big stretch of dusty road, and people normally sell bric-a-brac and weird, gross things,” she says. “I’ve been super-influenced by it; the selection is almost tasteless, or a little off-style and antiquated. I love it.” There, she found a few vintage rackets, which she brought back to her studio. “I started to experiment with different scales and how to change the canvas,” she says.

Out of this came Clough’s signature design: richly embroidered patterns that cling to the strings of a racket and often depict nature themes, such as flowers, birds and small animals. Her process typically involves taking a photograph and turning it into a black-and-white image that she draws on the surface of the racket. “Then I ‘color’ it in with thread,” she says. After posting photos of her pieces on Facebook and Instagram last fall, the response was overwhelming. “It’s an everyday, granny art form, but shifted slightly so it feel new and fresh,” remarks Clough, who has made (and sold) about 25 different kinds of rackets: “Squash, tennis, badminton — whatever I can find that has good quality and an interesting shape.” Despite the complexity of her embroidery work, Clough is mostly self-taught, and finds her practice almost meditative, which is why she doesn’t generate pieces at too rapid a pace.

Growing up in the suburbs of Cape Town, Clough left high school for a specialised visual art program before enrolling at the Red and Yellow School of Logic and Magic, “which sounds like it’s from Harry Potter,” she says, but gave her a background in art direction and advertising. After graduating in 2010, she worked a number of design jobs before deciding to focus more intently on her woven artwork, which she’s done for the last five years. Apart from rackets, Clough has embroidered sneakers for Vans (to mark the brand’s 50th anniversary this spring) and emblazoned a rusted gate (on Cape Town’s Canterbury Street) with her colourful stitched patterns for the United Nations.

She does all this in a studio that’s less than 200 square feet. “The most important part is my couch,” she says. “That’s where I spent most of my time; I play with my threads there.” The vibe in the room, which is part of a house located in the Brooklyn-like Gardens section of Cape Town, is cozy and low-key: “There are boxes full of pompoms, pens and sewing paraphernalia, and containers with tools and cameras,” she says. “I needed a space full of my own weird little trinkets, where I can spread my work out without invading anyone else’s space.”

Much of Clough’s inspiration comes from street culture, and her love of music. As a side gig, she works as a visual jockey doing live music events and has performed with D.J. artists Haezer, PH Fat and Los Tacos among others. (Her stage name is Fiance Knowles, a nickname she picked up from a friend. “I thought it was hilarious. I’m skinny, pale and freckly — I’m definitely not rivalling Beyoncé in any shape or form.”) She’s also part of a hip-hop collective called Uppercut.

Still, she has embraced the old-fashioned nature of her art form quite comfortably: “You just need a hobby that makes you feel like a 70-year-old woman, and then you’ll be on your way.”

Original article and image published by NY TIMES

Visit Danielle's website www.danielleclough.com