Feature Friday May 2018: Mom

My mother, circa 1980s
I've been in the habit of sharing mostly work by other artists my own age, especially other illustrators, because their practice is most similar to mine and we deal with many of the same questions about the role social media should play, work/life balance, and growing an art business from the ground up. However, it would be silly to pretend I'm not influenced by artists and makers of other generations, especially because I grew up with one!

With Mother's Day coming up, my Feature Friday this month will be about my mother. It seems especially fitting since this month's sticker set on my Patreon was inspired by a pair of fabric sculptures she made almost 30 years ago. Almost everything about our practice is completely different, from the medium to the underlying philosophy. All the same, her work has been an influence on me from the very beginning and I think it says a lot about how I arrived at this point in my life and my practice.

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So, I sent her a list of questions but told her she didn't have to answer all of them:


Q: How long have you been a practicing artist?

A: She called me to discuss my email and said, "What if I told you I don't consider myself an artist?"

She was initially reluctant to answer any of my questions. At first, I thought it was out of privacy concerns, but I realized it was about the fact that she doesn't make or sell work actively. When I made it clear that, for me, the point was to talk about how her work has affected me, she opened up a little more.

Q: How long have you been a practicing artist maker?

A:
I’ve always made things. My grandmother and my mother taught me to sew on a sewing machine when I was eight years old, but I had been sewing dolls and doll clothes and stuffed animals by hand for several years before then. My father painted with acrylics on canvas — which, for him, began as art therapy for a severe back injury and developed into a self-taught art education. From a very early age, I learned from the people closest to me not only how to make things, but how to make something out of nothing.


Q: What do you make?

A: My mom makes what she calls "Trash Art," by which she means both art made of trash and art that's not meant to be deep and meaningful. We used to go on on walks sometimes and she would stop and pick up scraps of metal, telephone wire, glass shards, and other potentially useful junk. (In high school and I was extremely embarrassed by this, but eventually I got over it and started saving up junk to give to her next time I saw her.


For more than a dozen years, I’ve been making Found Object Assemblages (whimsical collage-sculpture-assemblage art) made almost entirely of found objects. Except for glue, I rarely purchase materials for art. It’s one of my rules. I wholeheartedly believe in “Reduce, Re-use, Recycle”. The very idea of giving new purpose to discarded items and cleaning up the planet, while you're at it, is vastly appealing. I grew up with such ideas long before they became slogans. It’s simply part of my lifestyle, ingrained in the way I think. 
Like my father before me, my artwork began as art therapy — it helped me deal with bereavement and stress. I thank my mother for giving me my very first lesson in finding stuff. When I was a child, she taught me how to find money — you just have to train your eye to notice particular shapes. It was a natural progression to notice interesting objects and bits of stuff on the ground and to begin collecting them for collages. 
These days, I have less need for art as therapy; however, after so many years of making things, I cannot resist the creative urge. I’m still attracted to peculiar odd bits. I’m still compelled to arrange and assemble objects in a way that makes visual, logical, or even psychological sense to me. I almost always disregard customary uses of items and I make fun of common associations of objects whenever possible. Sometimes even my own self-imposed rules are ignored. I think the resulting artwork is seriously light-hearted and fun.
The other piece of that philosophy is that she makes things to get rid of them. If she can't sell it she doesn't make it, which is why she's stopped making the paper quilts she used to make for years like the one hanging in my studio (pictured at the top). This is probably the biggest difference in how my mom and I think about our art. She has no interest in selling prints or selling through the internet at all (even though I offered to help her set up.) For her, art is where hobby meets creative expression meets yard sale, and that's it. 

Q: What are you working on currently?

A: Aliens and their pets.


Q: Name another artist who’s been especially inspiring to you lately.


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It seems obvious that the main values I've learned from my mom's making practice are ingenuity and resourcefulness. In addition to making crafts from the things that others throw away, she has a range of talents, from sewing and fabric arts to paper craft to sculpture. I do this too. I hop between large, finely detailed pencil drawings to small quick and silly sticker designs to paper dolls, and when I was younger I also made a bunch of other crafts out of the blue like a board game and an I Spy booklet. There was never a shortage of supplies at home, and even now when I visit her house art-making is usually the go-to family activity.

However, the thing she gave me that turned me from a hobbyist into someone developing a full-time art career was simply... support. She has never scolded or nagged me about pursuing art for pay. In fact, she's mentioned before that she once dreamed of being an illustrator but chose the seemingly more practical field of graphic design instead which lead her to work in typesetting. Even though we live over a thousand miles and one time zone apart, she always herself available for a phone call to hear about my latest schemes and plans several times a week and sometimes helps me finance my supplies. (When I was younger, she was always, always willing to buy me any kind of art supply or art book I wanted.) 

Above all else, she showed me that the lifestyle of making and selling things was always open to me if I wanted it.

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