Interview with Carolyn Phillips

Pat Winter © 2008

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Recently I was browsing the last issue of CQMagOnline’s Readers' Showcase when projects featuring beautiful paintings on cloth caught my eye. You know I am a sucker for ciggies and pansies; I had to study this further. The work was from Carolyn Phillips. There was not any contact information listed for Carolyn and I just had to contact this woman so I mentioned her name on my own blog. Apparently she is very popular because she had several people inform her that I was hunting her down. Thanks bloggers!

Carolyn contacted me that day.  I saw even more of her paintings and thought it would be something of interest to share with the CQ world. A cloth image is nice, but a hand painted cloth image is really special. To my delight, Carolyn was very sweet and agreed to an interview; she is surprisingly grounded for having such talent. If I had known how famous she was, I would have been very intimidated and nervous. This woman you are about to meet is a self taught artist with extraordinary painting skills. She sews and paints as well as teaches in places such as Japan. Carolyn shares a project with us in this issue. Thank you so much Carolyn. I look forward to seeing more of your work.

PW: Tell us a little about yourself.
CP:  I live in Southern California with my husband, Ralph, four dogs, four cats, and thirty-something koi and goldfish in our backyard pond.

The light gold one in the middle is our “butterfly” koi, who loves to display her beautiful “wings” at any opportunity.

PW:  Describe your art.
CP:  I tend toward a somewhat realistic, but not photographic style, but I really enjoy painting in a more fun, whimsical style, adding elements such as bees, butterflies and one of my favorites, ladybugs. On wood pieces like “Pansy Chest,” I like to soften and tone the sometimes too bright images with a light coating of antiquing medium. My favorite style of Folk Art painting is Dutch Hindeloopen, which is a very freestyle form of stroke work.

“Pansy Chest,” 10”x14”x18”, features faux maple burl trim and some of my favorite flowers: pansies, tulips and roses. This was a commissioned piece, presented to the Society of Decorative Painters,’ Decorative Arts Collection, by the Orange County Tole and Decorative Painters, in Southern California.

“Pansy Chest,” top view.

One of my “Back to Basics” articles for Paintworks Magazine.

“Ants at the Picnic,” 8 ½”x11”, on Bristol board.

A grouping of my first crazy quilt blocks, and some of my first fabric painted (cotton) blocks that were made for a crazy quilt exchange on HGTV’s “Needlework and Quilting” message board.

Dupioni silk painted hearts for friends.

“Peachy Pansy,” approximately 3”x3”, is one of my recent silk paintings.

PW:   How long have you been painting?
CP: I can’t remember a time when I didn’t have a pencil, crayon, or paint brush at hand; they’ve always been a part of my everyday life.

I am, for the most part, a self-taught artist, and have used nearly every medium and surface available, including Crisco on wallpaper when I was about five years old. Mom was not impressed at my first foray into the world of art.

I began painting with oils in my early twenties, and then took an extended hiatus for kids and PTA. My daughter tells me I wasn’t that good, anyway! LOL!

In 1985, while out for an evening walk with my family, I found a small shop offering folk-art painting classes. Those classes were the beginning of a teaching and publishing career that would take me to nearly every state in the union, as well as Canada and Japan.

In 1993, I was invited to teach a month-long series of eleven classes in eight cities in Japan. More than eight hundred students attended. It was a unique, wonderful, and exhausting experience!

In 1994, I was asked by Viking Folk Art Publications to author a soft-cover painting instruction book, and four more books followed soon after. In 1997, I was invited to do a series of step-by-step articles, titled “Back to Basics,” for PaintWorks Magazine. And, in 1999, I was invited to do a “Tips and Techniques” series for Jo Sonja Jansen’s Artist’s Journal.

After twenty fantastic years of writing articles and doing painting lessons for most of the decorative painting industry’s magazines and journals, I retired myself two years ago, and since then have been painting at a much more relaxed pace.

To say I feel fortunate is inadequate in describing my gratitude to have been able to work in an industry with so many wonderful opportunities.

PW:  What type of painting do you do? Oil ? Acrylic? What kind of cloth?
CP:  After using Jo Sonja’s Acrylic Gouache (rhymes with squash) paints, there was no reason to look any further; this is the paint that allows me to paint in soft, pastel hues or in vibrant, saturated color, all from the same tube of paint.

In the world of folk art and decorative painting, I’ve painted on nearly every surface imaginable, including canvas, wood, fabric, parchment, watercolor paper, tin ware, silver, floors, murals and faux painting on walls, and innumerable other surfaces.

When painting the pieces I use for crazy quilting, I love using dupioni silk. My first experiments were on cotton, which worked well, but didn’t give the look I was going for (even though I didn’t know what that was). Finally, feeling a little discouraged, I went to JoAnn Fabrics and spent most of an afternoon touching, lifting, stroking and smelling (just kidding) just about every fabric I remotely thought might work. When I found the dupioni silk, it had exactly the hand I wanted in my fabric, but I couldn’t imagine how it could accept the water-thinned paint I use without it bleeding out into the background; but I bought a quarter yard each of several pale colors, including ivory, white, creamy yellow, and a piece of soft coral that I couldn’t resist. Fortunately, it was on sale at 40% off.

The first time I touched brush to silk, I was hooked! Oh, my Lord, it was exquisite. I’ve found that the white and the ivory are the best background colors for my watercolor style of painting, with the ivory being my favorite. I begin by layering several applications of water-thinned paint, and then use more concentrated paint as I progress through the painting stages, and finally I use a very fine liner brush to paint all the tiny details that bring the paintings to life. I’m probably lucky I didn’t discover silk painting before now; otherwise I probably wouldn’t have had such a varied background in painting.

PW:  How long does it take to complete a painting?
CP:  When painting the small crazy quilt paintings, it can take from a couple of hours to six or eight hours. When working on a painting I will quite often take time to set them aside, within view, while I work at other household duties, and try to figure out what I need or want to do next.

PW:  How long have you been using your paintings in your creations and how do you incorporate them into you work?
CP:  I’ve been doing the silk paintings for only about a year, which is when I started crazy quilting as well. I often will make an especially pretty painting the focal point by placing it in or near the center of a block. I enjoy painting on a black (cotton) background when I want a more dramatic looking piece. I especially like (Eek!) painting spiders and their webs on black.

PW: What are your favorite projects to use your paintings with?
CP:  In addition to using the paintings in crazy quilt blocks, I have loved painting a friend’s favorite flower, and then making it the focal point on the front flap of small (3”x 4”) crazy quilt gift-card purses and sewing cases. The paintings are very pretty when used on fancy crazy quilt pillows.

PW:  Do you sell your paintings?
CP:  Yes, time permitting; I will paint pieces to sell.

PW:  Do you have a website or blog? How do we contact you to purchase?
CP:   I don’t seem bright enough to put together my own blog or website, but I can be reached at my email address:, and some of my paintings can be seen on my photo site,


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