Welcome back from the first of the season festivities! I hope you had a wonderful time for Thanksgiving and Hanukkah, or as one friend referred to it…Thankgivukkah!
This week’s sneak peek is inside the studio of a new quilting acquaintance I met at Quilt Market. Yup, I met a ton of amazing quilters who I will be continuing to feature here in case you are interested but I’ll still be featuring other artists of a variety of mediums. I actually met Sam Hunter of Hunter Design Studio while attending the BAQS Gala, she was one of the featured speakers. She spoke a bit about how we as creative women, makers and entrepreneurs MUST begin to better value ourselves and the work we create. She has begun a bit of a movement, check out We are $ew Worth It. When I heard her speak, she inspired me and I knew I wanted to talk to her more and hopefully share her studio with you all. She was so sweet to drop by the FabricMaker booth the next day and talk to me a bit about her working studio, business practices, fine art etc. I am $EW excited to be sharing her studio today because it’s such a unique space and this post is kind of a Farewell Tribute to her working in this space. She has great suggestions for organizing in her studio and shares some common sense logic and her opinions about how some people judge others organizing systems (this is exactly why I’m doing these interviews so read on!). She proves that when someone is really driven to create, they will find a way…anyway to make it work! I’m hoping that Sam will be featured again once she moves into her new space and we can see what systems came with her and what changed. She shares so many great ideas here so please take a look into Sam’s studio below!
HKPS::What age did you suspect or know you were an artist?
SH::I was six. I clearly remember laying on my tummy on the living room floor, redrawing a section of the Sunday newspaper comics section (I’m still thrilled by the tight humor of comics). I’ve always been aware of art, engaged with it, fascinated by it, seduced by it. I sewed for the first time when I was seven… attempting to make a dress for a Barbie doll. It didn’t fit because I hadn’t accounted for the seam allowance, but I adjusted for that on the second one and was thrilled to get it onto the doll. I love the engineering part of the puzzles that I solve when I make art. I’m about to turn 52, and I’m still twitterpated by art.
HKPS:: What mediums do you work with?
SH::Primarily fabric at the moment because most of my energy is in building my quilting pattern business. That said, I’ve done a lot of art that falls into the category of sculpture. I have a Masters of Fine Art Degree in Intermedia, which means I got to work in any media that took my fancy during the program (I custom printed a lot of fabric for my thesis show on large photo printers before the dawn of Spoonflower!). I tend to head to fabric or paper to resolve most of my fine art ideas at the moment (I’ve made some sweet little handmade books), but I’ve also worked in media as weird as scrap tires, and I once turned a Jeep Cherokee into a rolling chalkboard art car.
HKPS::Where do you make Art and how big is your studio?
SH::Currently, my studio is outside of my home – it’s 8 1/2′ x 18′ – a sort of glorified hallway in a friend’s studio that’s close by – and I’m super grateful to have it! But I’m about to move to a new apartment and plan to plant the studio in the living room (it’s about 10′ x 14′). I’ve worked both ways for the last decade – I had a dedicated studio a couple miles from home during my MFA, but worked out of the dining room for the years before it, and actually came back to my living room in the final year of the MFA to just get some peace and quiet from a noisy and active studio building. I’ve have found they both have their ups and downs. When the studio is at home, I tend to work earlier and longer, although I can be distracted easily by household chores, the lure of internet wormholes and the siren call of anything in the fridge! I love being able to look at yesterday’s work on the design wall while the kettle is boiling for the first cup of tea in the morning, and get my thoughts into it before the day’s monkey-mind chatter gets fired up. A downside can be that it’s sometimes hard to disengage from the studio… and all fields must get some fallow and rest before they can grow new crops.
When the studio is outside of the house, I tend to work in a more concentrated fashion – I go there and power through the work and then come home. However, the fact that I have to dress, shower and pack breakfast and lunch before I see the work in the morning can stop my creative head in its tracks. It can also be frustrating to need something that is at the other location… I have duplicates of a lot of tools!
After three years of a separate studio, I’m really looking forward to having it in the house again. Check in with me in a couple years and I’ll probably be jonesing hard to go back to a separate building! My dream would be to have it in a separate space that is attached to my living space… I can be in there in my pajamas, but I can still close the door and walk away.
HKPS::Do you consider yourself to be an organized person?
SH::Absolutely, although I’m not sure I was born with it. I learned a bunch of classic business organizational skills working in project management for IT departments, and I still use them today. I’m a huge list maker, and all of my spaces have whiteboards in them. I get a thrill out of crossing stuff off. I also organize and work efficiently because I don’t want to waste time… I’d rather go out and play than hunt for lost shoes, so I put things in their home space pretty automatically. As I always told my son who was about as organized as Pig Pen from the Peanuts strip as a teenager, if you put it back where it goes, it’s going to be right there next time you need it!
I really want to make it clear that my organization is about efficiently using time and space to make more time and space… I don’t feel compulsive about it at all. I do have plenty of unorganized spaces in my world. For instance, I never make my bed unless someone is going to see it – which I suppose could be classified as efficient in terms of gaining those few minutes to do other things! But really, efficiency and organization for me are just the means to more time for a creative and fulfilled life… they are not end goals in and of themselves!
HKPS:: How or where did you learn your organizing habits and systems?
SH::Part of it comes from my step-mother, who just wouldn’t tolerate any mess coming from my quadrant of the house (although, like every other teenager I used to love just putting my stuff down wherever… we had a lot of good fights about that… fights that I later had with my own son!) Part of it came from an efficiency demanded by juggling work, single-parenting and going to school at the same time – I had to get efficient because I had no time to waste. Other parts have been gleaned from the likes of the Franklin Covey system, and any organizational article in women’s magazines over the years (I still always read those articles even now, though I find little that I don’t already have figured out my own way these days). I also have a healthy obsession with Ikea and The Container Store… some of their stuff is just pretty boxes (and there can be a point that over-sorting stuff wastes space and makes it even harder to find), but some of it really helps mold space to be more efficient. I plan to build my next cutting table using Ikea bookcases for legs as a way to double dip the space under the table. I also place things where I will easily reach them: for instance… I keep quilting rulers stacked at the top left of my cutting table, and cutters and scissors to the top right. This makes it easy to grab a ruler in my left hand and cutter in my right, which as a right handed person, is how I use them on the mat. I can then put them right back into their home space easily as well. Pens are on the right on my desk too, for the same reason. These are really little things, but add up to a greater efficiency.
One thing I learned from the Franklin Covey system was to spend a few moments at the end of the day planning the next one. I started doing this when I was working (for 4 different managers at the same time!) and going to school as a way to stop being stressed out that I would forget something important – it also allowed me to more completely change from work head to school head and back without worrying about one when I was supposed to be engaged with the other! But I still do it every day even now, and mostly for the same reason – it helps me keep my head present to the space I’m working in (extreme multi-tasking is soul sucking bullsh*t – it’s so much more juicy to be fully, deeply present to one thing at a time). In the studio, it means I put away my tools, file my scraps (I have a system!), take out any stinky trash, shut down anything with power and drain my iron (I use the most expensive Oliso and so I want it to last!). I also lay out the next step I need to work on, or make a note of it on an index card or sticky note. I also note what I worked on – I keep track of the time I spend so that I can accurately calculate the hours I have invested in something when I need to price it… (http://huntersdesignstudio.com/ew-worth-it-2/)
At my desk, it means updating my lists… I often re-write them every couple of days (a Franklin Covey thing) so that they stay fresh and so that I can re-prioritize whatever is now in most need of my attention.
I also practice certain processes that are in magazines all the time like never touching a piece of mail twice… I sort mail over the recycle bin, and I never just put it down somewhere then have to go find it. It’s either in the trash or in an actionable pile on my desk.
HKPS::What types of schedules, systems, tools or tips do you use to help maintain organization in your studio?
SH::I still do my most important list-making on paper or the studio whiteboard. I keep my calendar on paper too – I need to see a month view to gauge if I’m over-committing myself… a window of just a few hours of a day, or even only a week is just too small. Fortunately I don’t have a life that has hourly appointments, so I can print a perpetual 6 week calendar (I have a custom Excel file that I built for this) on a single sheet of paper and keep track of it all there (assuming I don’t lose the paper!) As much as I love my iPhone and iPad, I don’t use either for keeping track of lists (although I’ve read some great things about TeuxDeux and plan to research it further once I’m moved). I will say that one thing I like on the iPad is Feedly for reading blogs… so easy to just page through them.
List-wise, I separate it all into categories… Take Care of ME (this is SO important… we absolutely MUST make taking care of ourselves a priority), Studio/Business, Studio/Art, Desk/Business, Desk/Life, Errands and Appointments, Epic Sh*t (really big ideas that can’t be done right now, but that I want to keep in my present consciousness so that my resting mind can keep working away at them). Anything in each category then gets a priority (I use the Covey grid of Important/Urgent). I recently read a suggestion that you should assign an approximate duration for each task too, so that you can see if you’ve been avoiding something that is really only going to take 15 mins – and who hasn’t put off a 15 minute task for weeks only to feel like a complete dunce once it was quickly dispatched?! I think I will start trying that to see how it affects how I approach the list!
I keep my studio materials organized in drawers and on shelves. Fabrics are grouped by type (Batik vs print or solid) then by color, or theme (such as conversation prints, or heavier fabrics I use to make bags). My thread is organized by type and then color (easier to find the perfect red when you have all the reds together). All marking tools are in the same drawer, and so on.
Fabric projects are bagged in large zippy bags, or even drawers of their own if they are that big. I tend to be serially monogamous to my projects (I start one and see it through), so there aren’t a lot of half cooked piles in my studio. I’m also ruthless about dumping UFOs that no longer serve me… if I have learned what I needed to know, or become completely disenchanted with something (to the point that I won’t even finish it for charity) I will put it in a scrap giveaway and never look back. That said, I have a couple of projects that I have worked on for over a decade, and will keep at until they are done because I love them.
Stuff on paper stays grouped with its project, or in a zippered file pouch that I carry around pretty much all the time – separated with mini binder clips. Works in progress are all in that file, along with a couple of pads of graph paper and assorted pencils and rulers. Finished and published projects go into an archive file box.
I carry a classic Moleskine in my handbag for any inspiration, and use the Notes and camera functions on my iPhone relentlessly to snapshot ideas.
On the computer, I try to keep stuff well sorted in folders with detailed names. I have a local full external backup of it at all times, as well as a cloud storage backup for it. I take the time to maintain my backups because it’s far less time than I would need to recreate lost master files. And don’t even get me started on how gutted I would be to lose all my digital photos! I got pretty diligent about backups after working for a company that lost theirs… the system said it was backing up but the files were empty when they needed them. I also had a friend lose a huge term paper the night before it was due, and had no backup copies to re-start from, not even printed on paper. I backup as a good defense! I also would hate to have circumstance steal an opportunity from me (like the F my friend got for her non-existent term paper), so I try to think ahead a little so that I have that good defense ready. There is an old Italian proverb that says “The best defense is to stay out of range” – I can’t agree more, so I have a few processes in place to make sure Murphy doesn’t really screw me over if he comes to town!
Another thing about the studio is that I try to keep it well stocked… I buy needles, blades, batting and spray baste in bulk because I don’t want my creative flow interrupted because I have to run an errand for something – there’s that efficiency=more time thing again! Also… dull needles can harm your machine, and dull blades can put you at risk for getting hurt, so again… I see a supply of both as efficient defense against a possible greater expenditure!
HKPS::What kinds of materials/tools do you find challenging to keep organized or locate when you need to use them?
SH::Anything with an awkward shape! And stuff that I use infrequently (my strobe photo lights or mat cutter) because it tends to get buried under and behind stuff. My spaces tend to be small, so having to excavate a corner of a tightly packed room can be an adventure, not to mention an exercise in not getting hurt as I end up lifting in twisty ways!
I have a love/hate affair with thread storage… I keep them in boxes so they don’t get dusty, but at the moment I have 3 different box shapes to contend with because of the sizes of the spools. I haven’t found a good one-size solution yet.
Also – there is always that drawer full of stuff that just defies categorization – the studio equivalent of the kitchen junk drawer. I’ve just had to make my peace with not being about to sort every single thing all the time!
HKPS::How often do you purge or declutter your supply stash due to space or other constraints? (ex. yes monthly/few times a year or when I feel like it/no-having lots around inspires me).
SH::I reset my studio at the end of each project – I put everything away before I bring out the new, maybe dust and clean if it’s feeling like the bunnies are coming for me. This can be a good time to shed things that no longer need to stay. I often do a deeper purge if I start running out of drawer room (maybe a couple times a year) – if I can’t put all my fabric away I can usually find some that no longer thrills me and give it to a friend or to charity.
I also go on massive studio cleaning and re-org paloozas when I’m desperately avoiding or procrastinating! Sometimes it’s hard to bravely dig into a new thing, and cleaning helps me think about the new thing, even if I’m avoiding it! I also find that as I touch everything I own while I clean, it helps me put all my available materials back into fresh memory so that I know what I have to work with for the next idea.
SH::I find that too much chaos just completely stops me. I can get really messy while I’m working (either in the studio or at the desk), but there is absolutely a tipping point at which I have to stop and put stuff away in order to keep trucking. I had a couple of professors in grad school that always gave me grief for having a tidy studio because they assumed it meant that I wasn’t working. On the contrary, I do my best work in a relatively tidy space – and remember, my spaces are small so untidy can happen really fast when there’s not much surface to spread on!
I think when people criticize your level of organization (and I would say those of us creatives who err to the clean side rather than the messy side get a lot of flack about our supposed OCD problems!) it is important to recognize that they are talking about THEIR OWN process, and that unless you are interested in gleaning some wisdom from how THEY do it, it really has nothing to do with you! So don’t let it get to you!
HKPS::Do you give much thought to your artistic body of work in terms of historic value and the overall artistic legacy you will leave behind? How do you store/archive your work or records? If not why?
SH::I do think about it… as stated before, I’m pretty good about keeping the electronic stuff. I have a stack of Moleskines brewing, and fantasize that they might become part of an exhibit when I’m dead!
I have piles of quilts everywhere… I’m careful about keeping the important ones out of the light (6 weeks of careful museum lighting on fiber or paper takes 10 years of rest in the dark to undo the UV damage according to the curator of fabric and fiber at LACMA) – although I’m terrible about labeling them. I also haven’t done a great job of documenting them in the past, but I’m getting better about it (I hope!)
I’m aware that fiber has a transient nature… yes, it can last years, but it will never have the life of metal or stone. I do try to make sure that what I make will hopefully outlast me, but after that I just can’t worry about it. Really… like I’ll be here to care!
For gifted quilts, I’d rather they get used and blanky-dragged and given back to me as a well loved ball of shreds in 10 years with a request for another than kept safe in cedar and never used. I don’t want presents made for loving to not get loved. But I’d also be hurt to find one of my quilts on a dog bed before it was raggedy, so I choose who gets my gifts carefully… I need to know that they understand what it takes to make my art and will respect it accordingly!
Like my pal Megan Dougherty, the legacy that matters most to me is the one I leave for my son. If he thinks I’m getting it right, then that’s plenty good enough. He happens to own a LOT of my quilts, and protects each one fiercely, so I think I’m good there! After that, I’d like to be know as the person that began the We Are $ew Worth It movement that upped the value of handcrafted art – that actually matters more to me than seeing my work in a museum.
Sam, thank you so much for sharing your space with us and for providing the photo’s and insight into how your creative process is affected by organization. We all need to create custom systems for how we best work but we can learn so much from one another when we keep an open mind and don’t judge someone’s process or working systems. I hope Sam inspired you and if you would like to see more of her work or learn more about her process, she has blogged about specific topics over here. She also shares her fine art work over at Sam Hunter Art. We are wishing you the best in you big move! I’ll be back with another artist feature in the next week! If you missed any of my previous Inside the Studio posts please go back and take a look!
* Inside the Studio was my brainchild in 2010. There are a lot of popular studio features on the web and in magazines but I’m specifically interested in showing how organizational process influences the artists studio work. These photo’s are not styled and are typical of how the artists working studio looks. I request that each artist leave their space as it would be on a daily basis (just like I ask my clients). This series is meant to highlight how artist REALLY work rather than showing STYLED shots (popular in home and organizing magazines and blogs). I’m sure just like me, you are fascinated by the “behind the scenes” sneak peek into these artists working lives!