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The Business of Selling Out.

Being an artist is an interesting dichotomy. I have an MFA in set design, and after seven years in the theatre departments of three different colleges, I have rubbed my fair share of shoulders with artists and I have rarely met one that doesn’t struggle with the line between being what he or she considers “a true artist” and “selling out” to make a dollar.  Or lots of dollars.  As artists, we want to only create things that are meaningful and inspired and born out of pain or suffering or joy or some extreme.  But we (most of us…) would like to actually earn money and not have to work as a barista and live with our mothers. (no offense to those who do either or both…)

My mother is amazing. And I would totally live her, don’t get me wrong. But I want to create and earn a good living doing it.  Is that too much to ask?  So, if I create things I know people will love and buy, am I selling out? Am I no longer a true artist because I made little sea turtle and not something with a political and/or social agenda?

The idea to create notecards was actually my mother’s suggestion.  These 5″x7″ textile notecards are the smallest pieces of art that I make so far.  They are the simplest and they are one of my best sellers.  They came about because my mother told me that she loves to buy things from local artists when she travels, but often winds of buying notecards instead.  There are two reasons.  One is that she is kind of done collecting things for her home unless it’s something extremely special.  (She’s already passing out the special pieces that she owns to us kids because she’s afraid we’ll fight over them when she’s gone.) But, even if she does find a special piece of art she loves, she can’t always afford an original.  Notecards are always affordable and easily framed and serve as a reminder of a trip or an artist or a beautiful image that artist captured. Because she is drawn to them so much, she kept telling me I needed to add them to my repertoire.

But, here’s the problem.  It’s very difficult to create an original work–not a print–for $12-$15 and have it be profitable.  And since I am making a career of my art, I definitely had to make it profitable. Breaking even with a fun hobby ain’t gonna feed my kids!  It took me several attempts, but I finally found a process that works for me and is a mini version of the same process I use for my quilts. And at first, I could hear those old artist voices in my head saying I was selling out. I was making cutesy little tchotchkes to earn a few extra dollars and I wasn’t creating “art”. But I’ve learned a few things in creating these cards.

  1. Simplifying down to a very basic, clean, graphic design is not only more difficult than it may seem, but it is also a true skill.  Any artist will tell you that form and line and composition, no matter how big or small, is one of the keys to a beautiful piece of art. I have a tiny amount of space and time to catch your eye and make you fall in love.  It’s much more difficult than a piece you might stare at for a long time, discovering all of it’s intricacies. It takes an clever, somewhat calculated eye.
  2. Forcing myself to only spend a few minutes on each design makes me very frugal with my lines and I have to pay close attention to where I place the details. In other words, I have to edit. I have to keep the most important thing and scrap the fluff. I can do that with colors, patterns and the shape of the appliqué. All those things go into the creation of one 5″x7″ piece of art.
  3. Perhaps the most important thing I’ve learned is that one man’s simple design is another man’s meaningful symbol. Maybe creating a flower is not such an emotional process for me. But, when a woman comes in grieving the loss of her husband and she sees an rose on a card that reminds her of him because he bought yellow roses for her when she had their first child–suddenly that insignificant (to me) little piece is going to take on a emotional meaning, and isn’t that what true art does?  It’s not up to me to spoon feed the meaning of my art.  I believe that often the piece of art chooses the owner. A person walks in and sees it, and past experience or a loved one or a special connection to a place or a person creates the meaning behind the art.  Yes, sometimes there is a story behind a simple design that I make. But that doesn’t really matter all that much if this elephant card reminds a woman of a once-in-a-lifetime trip she took to India with her mother.

I do think these little cards are special.  And I think they’re art.  Maybe art with a lowercase “a”, but “art” nonetheless. Am I selling out? Maybe just selling.

I’ve included tons of photos here of different notecards I’ve created in the last couple of months.  I try to have a wide variety and will write more about my process soon, but wanted to talk more about their significance today. Enjoy!

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How it All Began.

I often get asked how I got started as an working artist or how long I’ve been making quilts. There’s a story behind that, as there often is.  Artists always having a story.

We adopted our first son almost nine years ago.  When we got him, I really wanted him to have a surf-inspired room. Our house is in Pacific Beach and his name actually means “son of the sea”.  But, when I looked around at bedding and/or decor, everything was either super traditional quilting, all pastel or very cartoony. None of which was really up my alley.  I wanted something bold and colorful, but classy and cool.  I really wanted surfboards on his quilt but not just surfboard quilt blocks.  After searching around, I decided I knew what I wanted and I could make it myself.  I’ve been sewing since I was ten and though I hadn’t quilted before, I knew I had enough sewing and reupholstering skills to pull it off. Maybe not like a seasoned quilter, but we were the only ones who were going to see it, so it really didn’t matter, right??  So, I bought a bunch of cool Hawaiian prints and some beautiful Indonesian batiks and designed and created the quilt above.  It took a while…I wasn’t used to any of the proper techniques and I made things up as I went along.  But, I truly loved the way it turned out! It was different from anything else that I had seen out there.  In the process, I learned to do what would become a signature technique for me–free-motion quilting.  That coupled with my wild color combinations and fun designs, I began to solidify my style and brand. And that led to an idea.

The design for my first boy’s crib quilts
The back of the boy’s crib quilts
The front of the girl’s crib quilt
The back of the girl’s crib quilts.

I decided I could make and sell crib quilt versions of this surfboard quilt, and even crib skirts and bumper
pads.  I couldn’t find anything like it out there, so I made a boy’s crib quilt and a girl’s version.  I love my girl designs to be just as bold and strong as the boy’s designs, so I made them essentially the same but with more fuchsia.  They were a hit and I started to get orders. I started getting orders faster than I could really handle
them, and at the time just wasn’t charging enough. And then, we got our second little miracle. We were given the surprise chance to adopt another baby boy. I put the quilting on hold for several years while I took care of my two sweet boys.

About two years ago, I started looking at the possibility of starting my business back up and getting studio
space in The Spanish Village Arts Center in Balboa Park.  I submitted my work for the jury process and was accepted for my quilts and textiles! From there, I created more surf-inspired quilts and pillows and began to branch out to ocean-themed pieces, wall art and lots of other subject matter. Though I have branched out to other designs and motifs, I still often create surf quilts and textiles using batiks and Hawaiian prints.  My boys are still young and time is still a limited resource, but I’m making it work.

A few more of my favorite surf-inspired designs:

One of my absolute favorites. Simple and clean, graphic and bold. Such a strong female image.
I combined the Hawaiian prints with the batiks to make a little more abstracted version of my ocean quilts. A simple sun, turtle and a little kelp polish off this design.
My simple surfboard island design.
My surfer girl pillow. Another strong female figure, bold prints and a little bit of abstract design.
This is a 6″ mini quilt with a little glass beadwork on the sun. Free motion quilting adds the hint of a surfer on the wave and the foaming water.

 

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“Connected”, 50″x70″

We are all connected. The seas, the creatures, the moon and stars and sun all move together to create life and write our story. We rise and fall like the tides and somewhere in there, there’s a splash of magic.

That was my artist statement for this quilt.

This quilt is one of the first ones I’ve done that has more of a story to it.  The original idea was to have sea stars rising up from the ocean and when the cross the horizon line, they become the night time stars. I loved the idea of a strip quilt for the background.  It gradates from a dark night sky into a sunset, and then from the bright surface of the ocean dow
n to the darker depths. As I was looking at the original sketch, I thought there needed to be more life and more connection between the sea creatures and the elements. I had this idea that an octopus would have his arm(s) full of sea stars and would be sending them up at dusk. This created an incomplete circular motion, so a setting sun seemed to complete that circle.  But, of course we needed to have a moon in the sky with those stars, and I loved the idea of it being a crescent shape to mimic the crescent wave.  The moon affects the tides so that seemed like another beautiful connection. I love the overlap of the two crescent shapes, especially since they both are in constant motion.  The last piece to be added was the mermaid.  Since all the other elements were connected in some way, I thought another creature should be involved in helping the moon to rise up into the sky. When I added her, it felt complete.  I love all the bold colors and prints and how they work together to create a beautiful composition that feels like it is in motion.

Each sea star got it’s own little design with the free motion quilting.
I thought the moon needed the mermaid’s help.
The batik I used for this octopus is one of my all time favorites.

 

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The Bus at the Beach.

I started with a strip quilt for the sky, ocean, sunset reflection, sand and parking lot.

Very few things scream Southern California beach culture like an old VW bus.  Especially with a surfboard strapped to the top. I know they came from Germany and originated with no thought of the hippie life, but here, they are nostalgic and look their best with a peace sign wheel cover on the front up against an ocean backdrop. We used to have a white one and though we got tired of repairing it on a regular basis, I do miss roadtripping in it.  This quilt was inspired by all the times I’ve seen one, often with the baby blue accents, parked at a beach while a surfer gets ready to head out to catch some waves.  I designed it so you would only see half of the classic front end, with it’s signature circle headlights, the old 1960’s split window and of course, a surfboard leaning up against it.  You can see the parking lot and posts and in the background, the beautiful California sunset coming to an end.  This surfer is heading out for a famous sunset surfing session to relax after a day of work.

I have an awesome homemade frame I use to stretch my quilts out so I can create the appliqué design while being able to step back and look at it vertically. Next, I added the sun and the bus.

The background is a strip quilt and I gradated the colors to capture the darkening sky at dusk and the sunset reflecting off the water. I pieced together the strips and the parking lot colors.  The sun, posts and bus are all appliqué. I love the contrasting colors, the larger, rounder shapes of the sun and the bus against the angular lines of the sunset. My backgrounds are often a little impressionistic while the appliqué details clarify what you need to know about the scene. This quilt didn’t last long, and I truly think it is because it’s such a classic, nostalgic image.  If you’ve been here in San Diego for any length of time, you’ve seen this play out in person. It still makes me smile.

Next, I added the fun details on the VW bus. The bumper, headlight, peace sign, and the surf board.
The back is a fun stylized sun batik. always love to see the stitching on the backs of my quilts.
A little close-up so you can see the stitching from the back a little better.
My quilts have a thin layer of all cotton batting so they are nice and warm, but light enough to fold up and carry with you.

 

 

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