I'm so excited to have Hillary here today. I've been following her current project on Instagram for awhile now. I love her 80's/90's subject matter and her captions crack me up. Welcome to year of creative habits Hillary!
Crystal: Tell us a little bit about yourself.
Hillary: I am an aspiring artist, currently mixed-media, living in the space between San Francisco and Sacramento with my husband and two sons. It's difficult to say which type of artist because I flit around using different mediums so often that it feels silly to claim one. I didn't exactly know what I wanted to do in school so I took every art class offered, from hand lettering to photography. Eventually I made the choice to earn a degree in Business Admin and work in a beige cube, but I still take any opportunity I can to learn and participate in creative endeavors. I have shown work in a few photography exhibits around the Bay Area, and have been lucky enough to have some mixed media pieces in the California State Fair Fine Art show. Mostly though, I create what I can when I can just for the sake of it.
C: Tell us about your creative habit. How did you begin? Why embroidery?
H: My Nan taught me the basic embroidery stitches when I was a child. I'd only put it to use a few times, mainly stitching silly things onto the knee patches of my son's pants. (There was also a phase in '97 where I embroidered bananas onto all of my t-shirts, but let's move on.) Last year she handed me a box stuffed with embroidery thread and asked if I had any use for it. That got me mulling over ideas, but I kept avoiding the first step for fear of messing it up. Then I see on Instagram that Elle Luna is starting a 100 Day Project and it felt like the perfect opportunity to stop over-analyzing and just DO something. I took a square of fabric leftover from an upholstery project, serged the edges, and stitched a ham in the corner.
C: What's your process? How do you work it into your schedule?
H: I started with an Excel spreadsheet, five columns with twenty rows each, to list out each day in advance. I quickly realized that my case of office brain was worse than I'd thought, deleted the spreadsheet, and have been thinking of them day to day since. The one bit of order I did keep is alternating on a five day cycle; food, something from my childhood, animal kingdom, household item, something that has been an inspiration. I was afraid that without a pattern it would end up being all greasy food and 80's cartoons.
Once the story times and tucking-ins have taken place each evening, I make some tea and get to thinking. I sketch it onto the fabric and stitch over top in one take. No do-overs. This is going against every step of my usual routine, which is to have an idea, try for a day to make it perfect, get insanely frustrated that it's not just working out, deem myself the worst in the world, and throw it away. I much prefer my new routine, less hating my hands for failing me and more humming whilst stitching.
C: Who/What inspires you? Where do you get your ideas?
H: My Nan has always been a huge inspiration for me. She marvels over the details in everything and has taught me that there is so much beauty if you just pay attention. She puts flea market handkerchiefs in my face and says, "Look at that hand work! Isn't it gorgeous? Can you imagine the woman who sat and made this?" She has taken me with her on travels and tried her best to instill a love of the arts, culture, and education of any sort. The best advice she gave me was to never be dull and I can't be grateful enough to her for that.
Kurt Vonnegut's writings inspire me to be whimsical and to keep perspective on life. I have one of his Confetti screen prints on my wall that says "We are here on Earth to fart around. Don't let anybody tell you any different." It's difficult to be too self-serious with that notion in my face everyday. Artistically, Egon Schiele has been my biggest influence. My figure drawing teacher in college, Marc Pandone, suggested that I check him out and I had the light shining down, cue the music, wide-eyed moment of finding exactly what I needed to keep going. My access to French prostitutes being limited as it was, I just kept taking figure drawing until the college wouldn't let me anymore. Alexander Calder is another big influence, similar to Schiele in that his work has bold lines but keeps a delicate overall feeling. After seeing his mobiles in the SFMOMA, I went home and started bending wires, making sculptures, and my love of mixed media began.
For this project the ideas mostly just come to me as I sit with my tea, with the occasional exception of a special request from my son. In the beginning I asked for suggestions from friends and did a few, my favorite being Cindy Crawford's mole. It's fun to think of and execute them within one evening because it doesn't leave any time for hesitation.
C: How has this creative habit affected you?
H: This has been so helpful in reducing my level of pride. I honestly do not like about half of the embroidery I'm putting out for anyone to see. If not for this 100 Day Project serving as the force to make me do it, I'd be hiding these away or, more likely, would have deemed it terrible in the first week and thrown it out. This process has made me much more open to sharing ideas and works in progress without feeling terrible about them not being fully formed or perfected. There was a point where I wouldn't have even shared this interview with anyone I knew, how ridiculous is that?
There is a meditative quality to stitching and just allowing myself a daily bit of time to do something purely creative and silly has had a positive effect on my brain in general. My older son has even started his own embroidery project of a train engine, so it's turning into something he and I can continue to do together now. I'm hoping that once this project ends I will carry the momentum over into completing projects that I've done nothing but stared at for months, and by months I mean years.
C: What tips do you have for those who are just starting out with a creative habit?
H: The biggest thing with a habit like this is not overthinking the end result because it is too easy to get overwhelmed. Let it happen and keep at it, even when you know it's awful, even when you think it's not worth doing. The simple act of opening yourself up to a community of creative people can only make you better. I would also suggest taking classes whenever possible in every form of art, creative writing, history, anthropology, anything! Go to every museum within reach, talk to people, make things. Your art and ideas will benefit so much from having a wider breadth of knowledge and challenging your brain in new ways. That's more of a suggestion for life in general, but that's what these creative habits ultimately do is lead to a more creative life.
The simple act of opening yourself up to a community of creative people can only make you better.
Thanks for taking time to share Hillary! You can follow Hillary on Instagram at http://instagram.com/hillahree.