Welcome to the latest artist studio sneak peek! This week I’m totally excited to share the studio of Lotta Helleberg with you! I’ve admired her organic textile creations that include quilted objects, Eco-printing/bundling, natural dyes, bookmaking and stitching for quite a few years now ever since I came across some of her work on Flicker (in maybe 2009?). She is a Swedish born artist and designer, living and working in Charlottesville, Virginia. I had the chance to see some of her work this year in person when I attended the SAQA Conference and show called Tarnished at Rockville, MD VisArts. At that point I decided I really wanted to feature her on the blog and I reached out to her and she agreed-Thank you Lotta! I hope to actually meet Lotta in person someday and maybe even see her studio in VA down the road. But this sneak peek is the next best thing!
HKPS::What age did you suspect or know you were an artist?
LH::I have been making things since I was young – paper dolls, clothing, and elaborate journals. But my path to become an artist was long and winding. I got my degree in journalism, and went from writing to editing, to page layout and graphic design. I was well into adulthood when I first started calling myself an artist.
HKPS::What mediums do you work with?
LH::I work with fabric and paper, making art quilts and books. My main focus is natural printing methods such as leaf printing, eco printing, shibori and natural dye techniques. My work is always inspired by nature and the environment.
HKPS::Where do you make your art, how big is your studio and how long have you been in this space?
LH::I share a studio with another artist in an English basement in an old house in downtown Charlottesville, Virginia. We have three rooms, all together roughly 600 square feet. We have one big common area with plenty of windows and light, one smaller room that is used mainly for messier work, and one large windowless room used for storage The upper levels of the house, is used by a group of massage therapists, psychologists, herbalists, and other alternative healers, which adds a sense of community. We all share a small kitchen, and regularly have lunches and other interactions. My studio is only a 10 minute walk from my home. I have been in this space for about a year now.
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?
LH::It is not always possible to find a perfect space for your studio, especially when there are financial considerations. In my case the main issue is finding a space large enough, and equipped enough to accommodate all the aspects of my work, from dyeing, to sewing and detailed handwork. My current studio can accommodate all of this except for the dyeing, which I still do mostly at home where I have a good space with access to water, a set up for outdoor burners, and a washing machine.
I believe that it is important to make the most of what you have. Creatively this is a perfect space for me. It allows me to focus and to be productive. I had some general ideas about how I wanted things organized. But mostly it has evolved during the time we have been here.
I purposefully don’t bring a computer to my studio. I have my phone so I can check email and play music, but I never spend time browsing or have online conversations while I am there.
Previously I was working from a spare bedroom in my house, which was problematic because of the space limitation, but also in regards of time management. I always struggled to carve out studio time amidst house chores and errands. Earlier I rented a studio in a gallery downtown, which was wonderful in terms of exposure, but not so good for concentrated studio time. I was one of just a few artists working there regularly, and it always felt more like an exhibit space than a workroom.
HKPS:: Do you consider yourself to be an organized person?
LH::I think I am fairly organized, but that does not always translate to being neat. I like to know where things are, but when I am in the midst of a project or under deadline my space can get messy.
Have you ever worked with another artist or gallery? If so did you learn any systems for organizing? I don’t have much to compare with except for how colleagues and friends organize their work and studios. I can’t point to anything that I picked up from someone else, my way of doing things have evolved over time, mostly from trial and error.
HKPS::What types of schedules, systems, tools or processes do you use to help maintain organization in your studio? Would you like to share any tips?
LH::I use clear plastic boxes for a lot of my storage. It is ironic, because I don’t use much plastic for anything else in my life… But they are so functional. They protect the content from moisture and dirt. It is still easy to identify what is inside, they are easy to stack, and they come in many sizes.
I like to store things that I know I will need regularly near my work space. My book making supplies are easily accessible, so are current textile projects (which I also store in individual plastic boxes). All ironing and sewing supplies are nearby as well. I also have a rolling cart that holds things such as needles, scissors, thread cutters, awls, and bone folders. The cart can be rolled around to wherever I am working at the moment.
I have a favorite thread that I use a lot and I have cut the skeins to perfect sewing lengths and keep them hanging on a hook for easy access.
Most everything else is kept in our back room, like fabric (which there is a lot of…), batting, interfacing, and notions.
HKPS::What kinds of materials/tools do you find challenging to keep organized or locate when you need to use them?
LH::I have lots of hand printed fabric, most of them are one-of-a-kind pieces, and it is hard to remember or locate what I have without browsing through a lot of materials. I am not patient enough to store them by spices (of leaves) or colors, so most of them are just piled up in boxes. Otherwise the only problem is whenI move things between my dye space at home and the studio. That is when things tend to get lost.
HKPS::How many projects are you usually working on at once? Is this due to space constraints, creative process, organizing systems or other influences?
LH::I usually have 3 – 4 project going at one time, mostly because I do a variety of things. My larger quilts take a long time to complete and if they involve lots of hand sewing they may follow me around for a while. I always work on smaller note books, but also on more complex artist books. And unfortunately (or fortunately) as I work I tend to come up with new ideas, which leads to yet another project. I am definitely a stacker, so most of the time you will find a few “active” piles on my work bench.
HKPS::How often do you purge, clean or de-clutter your supply stash and space due to space or other constraints?
LH::Having a studio mate is one of the best motivations for keeping your work space manageable. Neither of us are neat freaks, but I think it is respectful to keep your space clean and orderly. I occasionally go through my fabric stacks, but I rarely purge anything. There is always a use for fabric scraps, no matter how small. I will throw away supplies, such as paints if they are old, but that is all.
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?
LH::The only time when I crave a clean space is when I want to sit down and generate ideas, look at reference books, and sketch out concepts. Most other times I only keep my work area organized enough so I can find my tools easily when I return. I don’t tidy up as I go. Often when I cut fabric, I will just let the small scraps fall to the floor and I will sweep them up by the end of the day rather than throw them away after each cut. I often spread out—covering most of the available surfaces as I work.
I love to keep beautiful things and mementos around me. I find it inspiring to be surrounded by work and objects from friends and acquaintances. I also love to have plenty of books in my studio, both for reference and for eye candy.
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?
LH::This is not something I have thought of at all. I have not recorded how any of my pieces were made so far, besides short descriptions such as show submissions. I store all my finished works at my house and I always label them listing title, materials used, size and year it was made.
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 Lotta for inviting us into inspiring studio and sharing her amazing space through her photo’s, her personal systems and how organizing affects her creative process. Please check out her work over at her website and she has some beautiful things for sale in a wide range of price points!
* 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!