Black Cat Creative Studio – looking at new horizons


Sometimes on social media we stumble on strange, unique universes. The one created by Andreia Cabral is a bit gothic, symbolic, full of humour and spider webs! Let us meet this generous artist.

Text and legends by Andreia Cabral – following Claire de Pourtalès’ questions

I was born in Portugal, where all the young ladies, when my mother was being raised, learned sewing and needlepoint. She took it to another level and soon she was working on a haute couture studio. Needless to say, she was the one who taught me the importance of taking time to be quiet and to exercise patience while creating something tangible.

Andreia Cabral / Black Cat Creative Studio / “Me. A highly professional photograph taken by my daughter. I don’t like to be in front of the camera…”

My first embroidery lesson was when I was three, a simple outline using stem stitch limiting an inner area filled with wild rice stitch, on something that vaguely resembled an orange. I never stopped ever since! Chain stitch came next and then cross stitch. During art classes I’ve learned a lot of different tapestry techniques, like Arraiolos, a Portuguese tapestry that had a huge impact on me, because of the old designs, that made me travel back in time, and because of the natural wool that we used, which gave it a very characteristic smell and touch, as well as a range of mute colours that I never knew before. I still go back to an old project I have in hands that I haven’t finished yet due to the unrealistic size I’ve chosen…

Poisonous Woe / A magical species of mushroom that may be eaten, when their lifetime hits the final countdown… yet, if the person has any sorrows and regrets, the mushrooms will be poisonous. Also, the living beings are tremendously accurate on judging people’s personalities and they will react accordingly to that (this piece is mine).

When I had to decide my future career, having in consideration that all my hobbies involved art and the fact that art is a big deal in my family, all the clues pointed to an easy choice… but I went to college to study Biology, because I was in love with Genetics. During all that time, all my extra money was earned by selling cross stitch work. Big, complex, framed works, that I used to make under pressure, rushing against time, to be able to present quality, but without jeopardizing my studies.
I wish I could say that Biology was the choice that made me happy, but, the white, sterile laboratory life was not for me. So, when my first daughter was born the decision of leaving all that behind was easy. Two more girls and the family was complete! They grow too fast and soon I realized I had to find what to do next. After analyzing my opinions, it was clear to me that only one path could be taken towards a happier life and creativity was way ahead my scientific interests. Embroidery was my passion and if I had to start fresh, I would do it with something I truly love. I couldn’t waste more time!

My cross-stitch experience gave me discipline, precision and a great knowledge about colour. However, working under so much pressure, as I did before, made me run from the perfectly structured cross stitch patterns… the idea of obeying a pattern at that point didn’t make any sense to me.
I started doing what I was looking for but couldn’t find anywhere. Of course, in the beginning I’ve struggled with my inner voice. The worst critical voice is always our own, I couldn’t help comparing my work with the work of others, feeling all the time that my work didn’t fit in any of the embroidery “boxes”… I didn’t belong anywhere! My work is a little bit bizarre, I need to express feelings and emotions, even if the subject is a plant or a mushroom; I love the idea of telling a story with each embroidery. I need at least a surprising element and if I manage to make the piece mutable that’s perfect… I do that a lot by using fluorescent and light effects threads between stitches, so that the colours are able to change a little. Painting the background is something that when I started, I couldn’t see much in other’s work, another peculiarity of mine… but I had no choice, because I needed a gradient of colours to make the scenario of my tale a little bit more interesting. I needed a backdrop where shadow and light struggled for attention.

A couple of pieces from a large series I called Pace of Nature. I try to portray in each one a little fragment of a forest ground, where all the components are linked, intimately connected and living in perfect harmony. This pieces also evoke silence, not an absolute silence, just the right amount to feel/hear our own heartbeats (both pieces belong to their rightful owners, somewhere, out there).

Once the cotton/linen is properly stretched on the hoop I start by painting the background. I try to make the embroidery following only a few guidelines, for which I use Micron permanent markers. The colour palette usually starts with no more than ten colours, but when the piece is finished I usually have more than twenty colours on my desk… sometimes, a lot more! I use cotton thread preferentially, but metallic thread and silk have been taking their rightful place… slowly they are becoming increasingly important and that has a lot to do with the light/shadow effects I’m after and the perfection I’m trying to achieve with my spider webs.

Room with a view / The story behind this piece is one of my favorites and I have great memories associated with this piece… that’s why it was so easy to let go! It’s about a spider who found out it didn’t need any more nourishment than the one provided by Moonlight… that reflected light, gentle light, was enough to keep him alive. So, he built a special cobweb… the perfect “Room with a view”! (This piece was a turning point for me, and it made no sense to keep it, it is deeply engraved in my memory, so it was sold immediately and it’s now in better hands. I believe these delicate spider webs I make are such a mystery to people that they became a favorite to everyone who follows my work.)

These spider webs, I believe, were that one thing, the turning point, that made people notice my work. That and obviously the stumpwork mushrooms.
It’s incredibly interesting how things evolve… sustainability is fundamental to me and I’m always figuring out new ways to have zero waste and these mushrooms were the solution I found to use the corners of fabric I cut out, when I’ve finished stretching the fabric into the hoop, and all the little pieces of felt I collected over the years in a box that was already bursting! I couldn’t be more surprised; people seem to love them, and I couldn’t be more grateful.

Nocturnal Wedding / Another cobweb… Odin crows, Huginn and Muninn had a secret wedding performed by Aragorn, an ageless, wise sorcerer who united their soul forever and beyond. I love this piece for so many reasons… when I’m fully pleased, I let go easily… so, this piece was sold, even before I’ve finished it and found the best place to live, I could ever hope for. I’m very lucky!

The finishing of the backs of the embroidery hoop is another peculiarity and I’m constantly being questioned about it. I cover the back, because I don’t like collecting dust and making this kind of tambourine allows me to fill the hoop with organic lavender or rosemary, and that’s a way of introducing one more sense. Colour, texture and smell are all there, sometimes I add little bells, for the sound and, who knows, maybe I’ll find a way to include taste?! Painting this back has only to do with the sustainability of the process. It’s the way I found to rehearsal new ideas. If it works painted in a back, it will work embroidered on the next piece. I can say there’s a sequence, one’s back becomes the next one front.

 The eyes of the soul / I still didn’t find in me the will to let go of this piece. It’s an attempt to express a “what if?” thought that often comes to my mind… I’m a biologist, who can only find answers in science and even these answers are not always definitive to me. Still, not having any faith on any superior identity who decides for us all, it warms my heart having now and then the thought that the soul could endure, persist over time. This piece should be called “I want to believe, but I don’t”…

Inspiration is everywhere!
Each one of us is driven by the experience life provided. I’m an avid reader since early age and I can say without much modesty that I have a great collection of books. They are my vehicle to travel, even through time, and to experience numerous lives that could never be my own, because I lack the time and mainly the courage. Theater and movies, specially animation, are also a “heavy weight” source of inspiration. The constant presence of botanical elements has a lot to do with the biologist that still lives in me and fantasy is part of my DNA. And, certainly being the mother of three girls that truly believe in magic, makes it easier to accept that part of me.

Ouroboros / Another subject I keep repeating but guided by different points of view. This was a custom-made piece that evolved with total creative freedom, following only a description of the recipient’s personality, values and aesthetic tastes. I love to work like that, mixing psychology with symbology to make different ideas become a tangible object, on which several hidden messages only make sense to the people who collaborate, with open mind, to achieve the result.

I’m afraid of pointing out people I admire, because I know I’ll leave important people behind and that’s not fair, specially, because many of these artists were infinitely kind with me… and, you know, there are days when I ask myself “what’s the point?”, frustration takes over and usually there’s a kind voice, from this generous community, that is there to remind you what is the point! And the point is: I can’t do anything else! I do it to feed my curiosity, to fight my anxiety issues and to calm myself. I do it because I have to be honest with myself and because I need to know I made everything in my power to be truly happy! I am happy today!

Lovers Eyes / Eyes are probably my favorite subject… Nothing express emotions and feelings in such an unequivocally profound way. I don’t try to make them too accurate, too real… I need to add some drama, a magical touch, something unexpected… My lovers’ eyes, based on the antique jewelry pieces that I find so interesting, almost daunting, are always completed by botanical elements, simply, because I like how they look (this piece also found its rightful owner before it was completed).

Well, I’ll share some names of people, who make me want to be a better version of myself every day, knowing that I’ll definitely leave great names behind… (Many names are just Instagram accounts):

Miniature embroidery / Once in a while, I make a bunch of these, for two reasons: to rehearse new ideas and to avoid wasting materials. Making these little pieces, often turned into pendants/brooches, allows me to reach more people, while using all kind of materials I couldn’t be using otherwise. It’s also a wonderful way to challenge my patience… with great results, so far!

The content of this site is free and is not damaged by un-welcomed publicity. I do this work with love and passion but it requires a lot of time. I would like to continue to offer a wider market to our artists, to show how embroidery is a wonderful art. But I do need a little bit of help. If you feel like it, you can participate with a little donation to help me continue. I will be so grateful! Thank you! Claire