Wilson begins with a concept and a sketch. As his work often involves detailed engineering and structural planning, this is an integral part of the process. Initial sketching contains information on content, as well as development of fabric selection and structural details.
Once Wilson has developed a concept through sketch, a more detailed drawing is created using digital drafting tools. Since the sewing and embroidery elements of each piece are extremely time-consuming and detailed, a paper maquett of the work, all of the notes, and instructions for the piece are written at this point in the process.
Next in Wilson's process is choosing the fabrics and threads used in the design. The fabric options include everything from leather, to Chanel boucle, to Hermès silk scarves. Fashion influence is largely reflected in Wilson's work, so selecting the right fabric is essential. Once chosen, each piece of fabric is precision-cut on a laser cutter.
For over 20 years, Wilson has created hand embroidery on a computer. How can hand embroidery be computerized? Using highly specialized software, the preliminary concept is loaded into the program as a backdrop. Then on the foreground, Wilson hand draws each individual embroidery stitch using a digital stylus. The artwork is essentially used as a tool for the embroidery design and has little to do with the final piece of art. When digitizing a design, Wilson determines the way the stitches look, how long they are, and how layered they will appear. He also determines how fast the machine runs and when the machine changes color. Once finished with the digitizing process, the embroidery machine is programmed to stitch exactly what is drawn. The computer software doesn’t aid in the design of the piece - it simply plots the points Wilson thinks of digitizing as painting with thread. The design shown here was a challenge to create, containing over 1,000,000 hand-placed stitches covering a 36” x 36” piece of fabric.
Wilson's Studio has over 25 state-of-the-art embroidery machines that stitch his digital designs at up to 1,000 stitches a minute. Every design is loaded into the machine to be stitched and each piece of fabric is placed onto specialized backing, aligned, and embroidered. Wilson enjoys finding new ways to push the boundaries of what is possible with embroidery and seeks challenge in the medium. For example, stitching on designer boxes was a contest to his skill, as stitching through cardboard and other packaging material is difficult. Each element is stitched one at a time, with a finished work composed of hundreds of individual elements.
There are more than fabric and embroidery thread used in Wilson's process. 3D printing, painting, laser cutting, and engraving also play a prominent role, especially in his sculpture work. Every element is crafted in his Charlotte studio, including the 3D printed elements.
The farbication of a piece is extremely meticulous. Not only does the finished work have visual and conceptual value, it also needs to last forever. Wilson devotes hundreds of hours of research and development into his process, and the finished work is intended to be a long-lasting and meaningful contribution to the genre. Each embroidered textile is meticulously mounted on precision-cut wood shapes and assembled together like a giant jigsaw puzzle.
Once the hundreds of elements are fabricated, they are placed together to compose the final work. During this stage, serendipity often shows up and the piece changes. Once the individual elements are arranged, he elevates and secures the components at varying heights to ultimately form the work. Wilson is experimental and open-ended in his process and the end result is often unexpected, no matter how diligently planned. For Wilson, the most rewarding part of creating art is the surprise at the end.