In the Studio with Patti Shaw
Interview by Lorraine Edmond
Patti’s Ballard studio was on the Studio Tour held as part of the SDA-WA Surface Matters symposium last March, so many of you had an opportunity to see it then. But whether or not you’ve had a chance to visit Patti’s studio in person, you are invited in now as we feed our curiosity to look behind the scenes and see how this accomplished SDA member approaches her studio practice.
1. Describe your current medium and how you came to it.
My current work could be described as mixed media. I’m primarily working with the aluminum tabs left behind after votive candles are burned. I’m also making some embroidered pieces and drawing on fabric. I’ve made 75 quilts in the past but haven’t made a quilt in over a year.
How did I come to this work? I had a show at St. James in the chapel—I was showing some of the icon quilts I had been making. When I was there, taking down the show, a worker was changing out the votives, popping the aluminum bases out and putting them in the trash. It was one of those “lightbulb moments” —I thought “those mean something, those stand for someone’s prayer” and I asked him to save them for me. Now, two or three times a year, I pick up a large box from the church.
For quite a while, I didn’t know what to do with them, so I just stuck them away. Then I saw a call for entry for a show of art made from recycled materials, and I remembered them. I glued them on to a stretched canvas for that piece, but I later began to sew them together. First, I have to drill holes in them, then I stitch them together to create a metal “fabric.” I realize that connects this work back to my quilts, many of which were based on a grid, were tied, and had loose threads as a source of texture.
2. What is your creative process like? (How do you begin? Do you draw to work out your ideas? Do you have a vision before you start or does it develop as you work?)
I don’t plan ahead. I use the last piece to move forward. I like to take things that seem to be unrelated and find a way to associate them to reveal something new. I like to find objects and look for relationships among them.
3. What is your current workspace like?
I work in our previous home, across the alley from where we live now. I use the living room, dining room, an upstairs bedroom, and an adjacent storage area. (We are currently getting set up to rent out the rest of the house to visitors through the Air Bnb* program.)
4. If this isn’t your first studio– tell us about some the other work spaces you’ve had– what worked and what didn’t.
When we were living in the house, my studio was the small bedroom upstairs. It didn’t even have a closet, though it is adjacent to an attic storage area. I set up a couple of card tables and pushed them together to create a work surface. One of those was actually the same table I used as a child for my “crafty” activities! (The second one was one my husband and I found in an alley and it was identical to the first one!)
It was a small space to work in, but had some advantages, especially when my son was young. Fiber work with a small child nearby is relatively quiet and safe – no chemicals like resins, oil paints, mineral spirits, etc. Plus, it is easy to stop and pick up where you left off – a perfect medium for those brief moments of time you have available when taking care of a young one. Even in that small space, though, I had to be very organized, because I don’t work well with visual clutter surrounding me.
5. Do you have a favorite piece of equipment or technique for keeping your studio organized?
It’s not for staying organized, but my favorite equipment in my studio is my old Singer sewing machine. My mother bought it for me when I was about 13 after I learned to sew on an old treadle—I guess she thought I must really want to sew! It just goes forward and backward, but it does everything I need. I can even maintain it myself!
I do like to stay organized, though. I find a place for things and I put them back at the end of the day or when I’m done with them. When I arrive in the morning, I know where to find things.
6. Does your physical space influence your work in any way? If so, how?
Taking over a larger space really freed me up—I thought “I can make things really big now!” I did start making larger work. I also started making little installations around the house, just for myself. It has allowed me to play more and has inspired me to make things.
Bigger space means bigger work. Lots of light means a better mood. Less clutter means more focus.
7. Do you have particular habits that you think support your art practice?
I go to my studio every day, even on weekends. Not eight hours, but it’s the first thing I do after getting ready for the day. On the weekends, it may only be for an hour or two, but I make a point to do something. There’s always something to do!
I don’t take my laptop to my studio—it’s too easy to get sucked in—even looking up a word can take you off somewhere you hadn’t planned to go. I come home at lunch and check email then. I do listen to music in the studio.
I’ve also had three interns in the past year (one quarter each.) That’s been interesting. They come for 2-3 hours a couple of days a week, so for that time, I have someone to talk to, but there’s still enough solitude during the week. I find it has forced me to think ahead to make sure I have enough to keep them busy!
8. What is the best art tip you’ve ever received (or discovered)?
I think about what I’m working on the night before, so that when I get to the studio in the morning, I already know what I’m going to do.
9. What inspires you to work and how do you keep motivated when things get tough in the studio?
I do have times when I feel lost and am not sure what to do next. This often happens after I finish a project or a body of work or prepare a big show—I feel like I’m fumbling around for a while. It helps to have other artists to talk to—either for support or to listen as I brainstorm the next idea. I recommend having artists as friends (or marry one, as Patti did!), belonging to small groups, or being involved in larger art organizations.
To see more of Patti’s work, go to http://www.pattishaw.com/
Looking for a place to put up out of town guests? Check out her studio listing at AirBnb: https://www.airbnb.com/rooms/699460
Great interview. Nice to know Patti’s process since she makes such wonderful pieces.
I wonder how many of us learned to sew on a treadle sewing machine?
Patti and Lorraine, keep up the good work!