Meet the Artist: Orla Cook

Did you know, punch needle art has an incredibly rich history, dating back to the ancient Egyptians who used the hollow bones of bird wings as needles!? Incredible! Today, there’s no need to get quite so macabre to make art. The beauty and artistry of this embroidery technique is taking on a new, contemporary twist with artists employing bold designs and colour-ways to create striking artworks. With punch-needles! Not birds wings.

One such artist, Orla Cook, has just delivered a range of 9 unique pieces to Forman. We are rapt to add her to the Forman family and excited for you to see her work jump off the walls. Using a colour palette reminiscent of the mid-century modernist movement, Orla experiments with geometric forms and fluid linework.

She works from her home in Melbourne’s eastern suburbs and has made art through a variety of mediums all her life. She chose to study a Bachelor of Science, she muses, instead of art –  but this is perhaps what makes her an interesting emerging artist to watch in 2022.

A self-taught fibre-artist and a very gentle soul, Orla was initially drawn to clay and ceramics, but it was the combination of colour and materiality within wool that really captured her heart. She has dedicated countless hours to mastering her craft and like many of us, used the long hours of Melbourne’s lockdowns to re-focus her attention to what really matters to her; the pursuit of creativity. We are so excited to be able to share her first body of work with you!


What has your journey in art looked like? When did you first become interested in art? How long have you been creating art?
Like many artists, I was an obsessive creator as a child. My mum loves telling the story of 2yo me in a high chair, yelling “More paper, more paper, more paper!!” as I frenziedly scribbled out endless drawings with my crayons. I was that classic off-in-their-own-world imaginative kid, and so creating with my hands brought me outside my mind and into the physical world, utterly fascinated with making my ideas tangible.

While I have drawn and sketched for as long as I can remember, my first true art love was ceramics. I was introduced to the medium by the truly fabulous art department of my high school, and was totally enamoured with the physicality of building and shaping a form from a shapeless lump of clay.

I chose to pursue my interest in science subjects instead of art and went on to complete a Bachelor of Science at university, majoring in Ecology. Fast forward a few years and the seemingly endless time of Melbourne’s first pandemic lockdowns finally gave me the mental space to create. I have been weaving and working with wool since 2017, but the lockdowns supercharged my creativity and I simultaneously noticed an incredible upwell of happiness and calm appearing in my life. I made a commitment to myself there and then that I would never not-create ever again.

I think I’m drawn to wool because of that physicality element that I loved so much about clay. But wool has the added bonus of being already chock-full of colour – it’s that magic combination of colour and texture that puts stars in my eyes as I walk through a wool shop! There’s a wonderful energetic quality to wool. The hard edges of a design are softened, warmed; allowing colours and shapes can be both bold and gentle simultaneously. It’s quite a marvellous phenomenon!

Do you have any formal training? Or how did you develop your skills?
My skills in creating fibre art come from years of straight-up, old-fashioned practice. When I was learning to weave I found free resources online to learn the basics, and through Instagram I was so inspired by what textile artists around the world were making. This was also how I discovered punch needle embroidery – there is a fabulous maker named Arounna Khounnoraj in Canada whose work had my jaw dropping, saying “Oh man, I have to try this!” Countless hours of refining my skills and technique later, and I couldn’t be more in love! 

What medium(s) and techniques do you use?  What themes do you explore/ What do you try to achieve with your art?  What inspires you?
My work is a little unusual in that is made entirely of yarn: thousands of tiny loops of wool that are individually poked through fabric with a punch needle, and then stretched over a frame. It’s highly labour-intensive, but luckily I find the slow process of building an artwork loop by loop wonderfully meditative.

 For as long as I can remember I’ve loved abstract art, and have a strong affinity for shapes and geometric design. The thing about abstract artistic expression for me is the symbolism – the way that something that isn’t anything (i.e. not a recognisable object or figure) can communicate such a depth of feeling has always captured my heart. This concept of making things that are intangible, tangible, informs much of my work. For me, abstract art has an amazing way of reflecting a feeling back to you – as if you somehow recognise something in yourself being mirrored back by the art. For me as an art-viewer that’s the biggest kick – the sensation of seeing an artwork and going “Yes!! THAT is how I feel inside!!”

I think this is some of what I try to achieve with my own work; expressing feeling and energy in a visual language. Sometimes I’m describing gentle, quiet energy – with flowing curves and harmonious colour schemes. Other times I’m expressing big, bold feelings of confidence and joy and strength – which I think are where the zig-zags come from, being so sharp and bold in shape and colour scheme!

My geometrics are all about composition – exploring themes of balance and imbalance through arranging simple shapes. I am a HUGE fan of hard-edge geometric painting. I’m interested in how the softness of wool warms up the harsh lines of the style, creating geometrics with a gentler atmosphere while still holding their edgy (no pun intended!) aesthetics.

My designs and colour palette is influenced a lot by the Mid-Century Modern design movement – the balance between visual minimalism and playfulness with pops of colour really speaks my language! I particularly love warm and retro-style colour palettes, with a balance of light and dark. I’m also endlessly inspired by the colour wizards of art – think David Hockney, Van Gogh and Brett Whitely, and modern artists Heather Day, Adébayo Bolaji and South Australian artist Greta Laundy.

What is your creative process?
With textile art you really need to be a planner. You can’t simply just ‘paint over’ a colour that isn’t working when you’ve spent an hour filling in that space, it’s just not practical! So the vast majority of my work is designed in some way before I start. I sketch out ideas on paper and on my iPad – which I LOVE because it’s zero waste (that’s the ecologist in me talking!).

 For me the key is to keep exploring until there’s a certain “somethin’ somethin” catching my attention. Then I play with colours, which are usually chosen based on what I have in my yarn stash, which really help bring a sketch to life. When a composition has presence, a certain expression, feeling or character, I know I’m onto a good thing. Sometimes I have a specific (or even vague!) sensation that I’m trying to express, other times it is pure creative play. It’s very much about listening very closely to a sensation that’s bubbling away in my subconscious, and trying to give it the space to reveal and express itself. Once I’m happy with how a composition is feeling, I trace in onto the fabric and start creating the final piece in wool.

There are other times in which inspiration comes as a flash across my vision, usually a distinctive shape or line that I must immediately scribble down somewhere. I love that aspect of my creativity – it’s as if it has its own idea of what I should be making, and is more than happy to interrupt whatever I’m doing to let me know! It certainly adds an awesome element of randomness and fun to my creative process!

Orla’s works are currently adorning the walls at Forman and we’ve already had so many glowing comments, so please come in and enjoy them IRL for yourselves, or pop over to our website to see more.