Today sneak peek inside the Studio with Kris Westerson. Kris is a maker of Handmade Book and Paper artist that I met at a local maker space (imagine)! Kris is a fellow Charleston creative transplant and that is one of the reason’s I LOVE teaching and hanging out there, I meet the most amazing people. Kris makes incredibly beautiful handmade books and papers and one of the techniques she uses that is new to me is pulp painting! Kris envisions bringing more awareness and teaching of the book arts to Charleston and I am so excited to have her here! I interviewed Kris in her small home studio space and as she expands into the community I hope to be able to share any future studio spaces she creates as well.
HKPS::What age did you suspect or know you were an artist?
After my Grandmother died, I went through things she had saved that I had made her and found a small book about a horse, I had co-written with a childhood friend when I was about 10 years old. When I was a junior in high school, I won a trip to the Minnesota State Fair demonstrating how to make handmade paper with my mother’s blender and a dishpan with a screen in the bottom, using paper towels and dryer lint. Really ugly paper, but the process must have resonated. Then, when I lived overseas, in the late 1980s I taught myself calligraphy and when I returned to the States began to create cards and other things to print and also worked in a print shop.
I have been making things and interested in painting, drawing, and all things graphic since I can remember. The creative urge was always there and I “searched for my medium” for years. To coalesce, it took the space and nurturing instructors, which I found at the Southwest School of Art. Five years ago I began to make paper, books, and letterpress in a professional space and found my niche.
HKPS::What mediums do you work with?
Handmade paper, book arts, calligraphy, letterpress, poetry, photography – basically anything graphic
HKPS::Where do you make your art, how big is your studio and how long have you been in this space?
Kris::I moved to Charleston in June 2013 and into a two-bedroom apartment, knowing I would make the second bedroom into a studio space for making books and doing other dry work. My plan is to open a business that is an educational/studio/gallery space for making handmade paper, book arts, and letterpress, so my current space is temporary. Before I moved, I had a small space set up at home for binding books and rented studio space at the Southwest School of Art to make paper and print on the letterpress.
Kris::I am jonesing for papermaking and can’t wait to get a studio established to make paper and complete pulp paintings. My sketch book is full of potential paintings to make.
Writing is completed at the dining room table, which is in a different area of the apartment. I have a bookcase to hold other work (business planning, grant writing, class preparation) to complete.
HKPS::When you began working in this space did you plan any systems for the overall set up or did you let things evolve organically? How did past studio spaces or systems influence this space?
Kris::I have let it evolve organically, informed by the equipment I need and the furniture I have. Turning the closet into a storage area worked because there was some shelving already in place. The only things I have purchased since I moved were a Kutrimmer and table from Sustainable Warehouse to hold it. In my art making, I use a lot of different materials, not a lot of the same materials, so using clear polypropylene boxes from the Container Store (purchased years ago) helps to keep things contained and organized by medium. They also hold paper inventory and projects in process.
Kris::Never having a true studio space, I have always converted a bedroom or living room into a studio space, so this was par for the course. In a way, applying creative problem solving to resolve the studio situation is not that different than figuring out how to make something. Same energy, different outcome.
HKPS::Do you consider yourself to be an organized person?
Kris::Yes. Others have insinuated I am controlling – I call it being organized! Knowing where things are in my environment is important to me.
HKPS::Have you ever worked with another artist or gallery? If so did you learn any systems for organizing?
Kris::At the University of North Texas Art Gallery I was a Gallery Apprentice. The Director kept a phone notebook where every call or visit was entered so everyone could see who called. It was lined through when the call was returned and gave a nice history of contacts. I use that system when needed.
I worked as the Executive Director for a group of women artists for five years and saw how some organized their studio space – primarily by medium. Others had very small spaces converted from spare bedrooms. I really like how artists use containers that are not slick to hold their supplies. The organizing had an artistic touch. I use broken mugs, ceramics, and other beautiful objects to hold my supplies because they are the right size and beautiful.
HKPS::How or where else have you learn your organizing habits and systems?
Kris::My mother sewed, painted, decorated – was full of creative energy – so I absorbed how she kept her supplies and organized herself. She had multiple projects and much fabric and other supplies available and organized on shelves and nails (for thread), by color. In an incredibly small converted space, she held so many materials because of how she and my father envisioned the space. Floor to ceiling shelves on three walls, the sewing machine faced a window and the ironing board just fit into the space on the wall to the right of the machine.
In the shop, my father’s tools were organized in holders and boxes and the workbench surface held what he needed. I come from craftspeople and I think my urge to make is genetic, as is how to organize the space as part of the sequential steps to complete a project.
HKPS::What types of schedules, systems, tools or processes do you use to help maintain organization in your studio?
Kris::I use plastic pocket protectors or wax bags to hold book jobs as I work on them and also to hold the completed project. They protect the surface and keep them organized as I work. If it’s a special order, I complete a form to keep with the project. The form identifies what the client wants in their book. Other times, I include little notes about what is left to complete on each project and keep it in the pocket. I guess I learned this from the print shop days – it is basically a job folder.
I have some fabulous boxes I purchased at the Container Store (11 x 17 and 8 ½ x 11) made in Sweden, which holds both papermaking/pulp painting and book projects in process. They are polypropylene so are water proof and easy to clean, plus they stack. Best buy I have made for organizing!
HKPS::What kinds of materials/tools do you find challenging to keep organized or locate when you need to use them?
Paper. I could use a flat file to keep large sheets and binder’s board easily accessible, protected, and organized. When I get my new space, there will be flat files!
HKPS::How many projects are you usually working on at once? Is this due to space constraints, creative process, organizing systems or other influences?
Kris::Right now I have about ten plus projects happening – maybe more. This is my normal. For me, the ideas come fast and it is the completing that bogs down – from metaphysical to physical is challenging and each takes three times longer! I have heard other artists say the same thing. Why? Sometimes it is acquiring and prioritizing materials within budget constraints (money!), sometimes the idea hasn’t resolved and needs more experimentation, sometimes I get bored after completing one and have to push to complete the entire edition, and sometimes it is lack of space and when things get put away because of space, they are out of mind.
HKPS::How often do you purge, clean or de-clutter your supply stash and space due to space or other constraints?
Kris::I am pretty good about keeping things lean and de-cluttered. I use materials until they are gone or until there is very little left. Paper can be cut and cut and cut and used for smaller books, collage, or other projects. I intend to pulp small pieces and add to vats when I have the papermaking space open, which will keep things clean. Although, when I move I am always astounded at how much stuff I have been able to keep in a small space! Packing the studio always takes so many more boxes than anticipated! It is then that I really de-clutter and give things to other artists or donate to nonprofits.
HKPS::Please describe how creative cycles of organization or dis-organization affect your creative process? Are there certain phases of projects that are more or less organized?
Things get really messy when I work and then I clean up at the end of the project. Cleaning up at the end is the final step that completes the project. I really love the process – idea, sketch, make mock up/experiment, resolve, adjust, complete, clean up, document. I approach life this way, whether in cleaning, cooking, or moving. Idea, mess, order from chaos, clean, document/celebrate the completion. Begin again!
HKPS::How much thought do you give to your artistic body of work in terms of historic value and the overall legacy you will leave behind? How do you store/archive your work or records?
Kris::None. I just hope someone will relate to what I do now.
I photograph everything I make, not because of historic record, but so I will remember! If someone wants to reorder, I have a copy of what they purchased and can refer to it – although it hasn’t happened yet! Every once in a while I peruse iPhoto and enjoy seeing the pieces I have created over the past years. It debunks my negative self-talk of being lazy and validates I know what I am doing! It also pushes my creative inquiry, especially experimentation with color and pattern.
As the “Pocket Protector Queen” I use the same pockets to store patterns, images, sketches from each project in a three-ring binder. Sometimes I reuse them or they are a starting point for something else.
I keep photographs on iPhoto by type of work and also have a catalog number on each piece I create based on type, date, price, how many made in that month. For example the first Coptic stitch book I made in Dec 2013 for $50 would have this number: 1213.A.CS.50. It is written in the back of the book on an area of the stamp I make and also recorded in an inventory book I keep. In the inventory book I also include the materials I used to make the piece. My goal for 2014 is to take this process to the digital and include a hyper link of the image in an excel spreadsheet inventory form.
My greatest wish is that through seeing how other artist work we can learn from one another. There is no ONE correct system or way of organizing. There are as many creative systems as their creative makers! My aim is to highlight these unique makers in each interview. A HUGE thank you to Kris for inviting us into her studio and sharing her personalized systems and how organizing affects her creative process. Please check out her work over at her website and if you live in the Charleston area be sure to check her schedule of upcoming classes on bookmaking and handmade paper techniques! She’s a very talented lady and I’m so glad to have her in our local community!
* Inside the Studio was my brainchild in 2011. 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!