Jess Williams is an Art of Austin artist! Get to know her and her fiber street art!
Jess Williams, aka Will Crochet, is a fiber artist specializing in crochet street art.
AoA – When did you realize that you were a creative being?
Jess – I have always been a creative being, but I really never considered myself a visual artist until about a year ago.
I have been a musician my whole life; I’m a classically trained violinist, I have been a singer and a guitarist in many bands, and I am a songwriter.
My partner, Jarid, and I play together and have recorded a few covers:
So, I never considered myself a visual artist – that was always my friends or family – but creativity has always been part of my life.
AoA – Where do you derive inspiration (motivation?) from?
Jess – I have crocheted for about 12 years. I started out making crochet blankets, hats, and scarves and everyone I know eventually gets a crocheted blanket from me. My very first street piece was to turn the stop sign on my block into a flower by adding big crocheted leaves.
I am literally never without yarn and a crochet hook. I can’t not crochet. I crochet in work meetings, I crochet on the bus during my commute, I Netflix and crochet…I’m 100% obsessed.
I spent the first 10 years learning the foundations of crochet. It can be very intricate and delicate, and while there are a lot of stitches, it’s more about how you combine four or five basic stitches. Looking back, this is what a more formally trained artist might have done in a BFA program: learn the foundations and once those skills are acquired, experimentation can lead to unique results.
A whole lot of things came together in the last year and a half that inspired me to finally call myself an artist:
- I put up crocheted hearts all over Paris in September in celebration of my brother’s wedding (he lives there and his wife is French) and absolutely loved interacting with all of the street art in Paris. I even found a few of the artists or they found me on Instagram. I looooove how international street art is.
- I started experimenting with crocheting landscapes and single-celled organisms.
- I rearranged my bedroom so that one whole corner is my studio, I lifted my desk legs all the way up to be a standing work table, and used a ton of milk crates to create yarn storage that is functional with all of the colors visible.
- I was very involved in the presidential election and put up a bunch of crocheted taco trucks on corners around town that said “Vote” or “¡Vote!” prior to election day.
After the election, I put up about 70 crocheted hearts around Austin as a way of coping with the results and I started my Will Crochet alterego on Instagram with photos from that installation.
My goal is to use a traditionally female genre (fiber arts) to create non-traditional pieces (landscapes, single-celled organisms, signs, etc.) and put them in non-traditional spaces to provoke thought or joy.
AoA – We first found your work flying out in the wild. Would you say that you are primarily a street artist? We’ve seen your work hanging in shows, no?
Jess – I would definitely call myself a street artist because I came to the visual arts from a very indirect path. A lot of my work communicates a message and the street is the perfect space for that.
My first art show since highschool and my first art sale were last month at the Art Will Save Us event at Cherry Cola Dog. I definitely hope to continue showing my work in a gallery setting.
AoA – There are not a ton of crocheters out there – I feel like your work is very unique. Your friend, MrsProfessorCrochet and maybe Yarn bombers around town? Is there a community of crafters here in Austin?
Jess – I am absolutely seeking out a community and would love to collaborate with others!
There are a lot of crochet and fiber street artists all over the world, so I have a really robust community on Instagram that is super supportive. The fiber arts are traditionally female-dominated and I consider myself part of a contemporary feminist movement that uses traditional crafts such as crochet, knitting, or embroidery to explore issues in this post-election world.
There are a lot of crocheters and fiber artists with super successful ETSY or craft businesses here in Austin, but you’re right, there are not a lot of active crochet/fiber street artists in town. @MrsProfessorCrochet and I have collaborated on several pieces and I’m sure we will do more. @TwineTheory is doing really great installations using string to make letters and geometric shapes.
I’m also on the lookout for opportunities to teach others to crochet.
There are many studies that show that crochet and other crafts are therapeutic and I am really motivated to share that with others. Here are a few articles!
AoA – Can you talk a little about your creative processes in creating a piece? Do you have a certain place in mind for installation as you work on something?
Jess – I’m actually working on a site-specific piece right now, and I am constantly scoping out possible places to install. Being a bus rider really helps with this because I walk a lot and I don’t have to keep my eyes on the road while traveling around Austin. I have considered doing a pop up crochet class on the bus. (Side note: public transportation rules! My saying: Cars…not everyone needs one.)
AoA – Ha, if more people in the ATX adopted your philosophy, 35 and Mopac might not be constant parking lots!
Jess – I definitely feel bad for all the drivers battling traffic while I’m leisurely crocheting on the bus. As far as places go, I refuse to put anything up on living trees. A lot of yarnbombers use trees, but I just don’t think it is nice to the tree. Concrete, telephone poles, and fences need to be livened up so I use those as my canvas instead.
I keep a sketchbook in which I do rough sketches of ideas and locations. I update sketches with the color palettes I’m using (I literally tape yarn into my sketchbook…it’s pretty lumpy) and also where and when I put them on the street. I don’t write out full crochet patterns, but I do use a sort of shorthand that helps remind me of what I did.
Because I crochet everyday, I am constantly engaging with the medium and, as we all know, the more you practice your craft, the more ideas you get. I literally started keeping a sketchbook because I couldn’t keep up with all of the ideas (it’s a great problem to have). It can take days, weeks, and even months to crochet pieces. But that also forces me to work on things constantly and that constant practice definitely generates tons of ideas.
Since I rearranged my studio, I get inspired by seeing all of the colors of yarn that I have (not at intervention levels, but it’s a lot) and I have several go-to palettes that I keep balls of on my work table. Serendipity comes into play a lot in choosing color palettes. Many times, I accidentally notice balls of different colored yarn that I just know belong together and that is why I like all my yarn to be visible.
Even though crochet is super time-consuming, it can be very exciting. I love experimenting and I often find myself giddy and excited by outcomes of decisions I’ve made. I also find myself undoing a lot of things that didn’t work out, but that’s part of the joy of it too.
AoA – That is absolutely fascinating insight into your process, Jess! Where can we find your work in general? Do you have any shows/events/installations planned for the future?
Jess – I live in South Austin, off of South Lamar, so I tend to work within my natural habitat. I post photos of my street pieces to my Instagram @willcrochet and to Facebook @willcrochetart. I mentioned that I’m working on a site-specific piece, that will go up on the Lamar underpass walls in the next week or two.
I need to put something up at Hope Outdoor Gallery before the impending move, so stay tuned for more info about that on my social media sites.
I am going to have work in the West Austin Studio Tour with Curtis Griffin and others at the Art of Austin stop, #223, May 13-14 & 20-21. I’ll be doing some live-crocheting there and I’ll have extra hooks and yarn, so bring your rocking chairs! (some crochet humor for ya).
I’m a huge supporter of the free arts movement and I love contributing to Free Art Friday, so definitely be on the lookout for those posts on Instagram. #atxfreeartfriday is the hashtag, this is the website: sprATX Free Art Friday.
(I have been working on my ETSY store for several months now and I will try to have it open this week – I’ll update this when it’s up)
AoA – Jess, we thank you so much for exposing your processes and yourself, not only here in this interview but in your work itself – it honestly shows. Thank you so much for sharing with us! Keep flying and please keep us updated!
Connect with Jess Williams!