Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Madam Chino Talks

what is your personal title? aka "designer/artist etc."
"Madam Chino" was the white velveteen iron-on lettering on a teal t-shirt from a thrift store. I like to tell people that it was the first shirt i ever reconstructed. That's not true, but it represents my specialty and claim to teaching fame: t-shirt reconstruction. I still wear that shirt for the first day of all my classes.

What inspired you to be in your creative field.
I became inspired when I realized that fashion doesn't have to represent vanity or require extreme wealth; in a more wholesome view it represents self-expression, which is worth more! I wanted to make this accessible to people and explore this symbolic language. Clothing can transform the wearer into feeling their inner beauty on the outside! I also have a deep concern for human impact on the environment, and envisioned myself saving the earth through the recycling and reviving of throw away objects and side stepping the mall machine.

How did you get started, from the very beginning or your career? oh, i said career... :)
I started extremely mildly, because it was not a goal in mind to start a career, but more of an outlet of expression. I didn't want to work for anyone but myself. I didn't want to adapt to anyones expectations. I wanted people to buy my things because they liked them. Take it or leave it. I didn't want to take a single custom order, and I didn't care if I made money.
I had sewn a few things, but the real turning point into careerhood was when I got a dress form because it transformed my ability to work more efficiently and in the round. Everytime I advance my independant career it is when I organize my methods, my tools and my surroundings to become more efficient. This way I can do both things, if not at the same time: make things for others, and make things the way I want to make them.

how did you start organizing your fashion shows, fasten, teaching.... if i were to spend time on any question... i would love it, if this were the one....

Fasten was born out of pure necessity. Christina Perez and I were best friends in middle school, and grew together to find a common goal: to make and sell our art. However, as emerging artists, we didn't have enough of our own inventory, or money, to cover the costs with anything left over to motivate further action. So we did a call for artists, had them sign contracts, and managed their goods at one main venue, an outdoor market. It became a co-op so that people could volunteer to earn a better rate on their work, and we could share the responsibility of working. She, as well as the current owner Janelle Gramling, really brought a lot to the table, as far as how to create a system of inventory and do basic accounting, and the hidden world (to me) of marketing (how people respond to the presentation of products). One other main motivator was to have a cultural activity to do and share with others that did not rely on bars and drinking. I wanted to have a healthy alternative for interacting with others. Our first fashion shows were at the market itself, and we didn't get paid like the other entertainers (although we should have!) But even if fashion shows didn't draw in a ton or any money, I always viewed them as free advertising and press (which costs more than rent). I learned how to be an events coordinator, a job i find very exciting, which basically entails collecting all the information to answer the 5 W's and an H, and communicating that back to everyone involved and in the community. Fasten was a completely voluntary project, with a lot of vision and little means to the end except people power. The main thing that helped us overcome our money hurdle, being a "not-for-profit," was that we set up a supplementary income. The next year, 4 more women with real smarts proposed that we chip in on a button maker. We sold the buttons at local businesses, paid ourselves back, and then started a nest of money to put a downpayment and first months on a place. It took two years, and our first space costed only 300 a month. Teaching had always been the ultimate self-realization for fasten. To get other people to do-it-themselves too. This didn't happen until another 2 years later because we didn't have the space at our original location. In the mean time, we offered off-sight classes because the Boys and Girls Clubs of Milwaukee bought sewing machines and gave us the opportunity to teach with them. Now we offer many classes to the community at affordable prices at our new location taught by the artists themselves. I get a lot of community teaching opportunities because I gained acceptance as an artist through my values for recycling. I am plenty busy around Earth Day in April because tons of cool events go down and I get paid to do show people how to reconstruct t-shirts in public places! I also teach a week long summer camp with kids related to Costuming with Alternative Materials. I write my own curriculums based on the objectives proposed by these cultural institutions.

Where did you go to school?
I went to UWMilwaukee and have a BFA in Painting and Drawing, and a BA in General Arts where I mainly studied fibers. I have combined these two fields into my variety of works, where I am a soft sculpture/fibers installation artist, clothing/costume designer, illustrator, and screen printer. I sort of flip back and forth between 2D and 3D.
My image work is informed by my interests in exploring graphic language and the world around and inside of me, as well as psychology and earth science.

How would you describe yourself/personality in relation to your work?
I consider myself high on the openness scale. I like to relinquish control and pretend I am merely a channel, allowing the fabrics to tell me what they want to do. Each peice of fabric has certain predetermined physical properties: stretch, pattern, size, shape, thickness, etc. In this way I just read into these things, and couple, form, and reconfigure them into garments based on what they say. One method of working that enables me to be so open is draping. Rather than having a predetermined pattern, I can just allow the fabrics to respond to gravity. This is a very informative test.
I have fancied myself an animist; giving a voice to inanimate objects, counselor of orphaned fibers; giving them reconstructive therapy, a mad-scientist of origami melding 2d and 3d, or a match-maker; performing marraiges of lonely single fabrics.

On a typical day at work or in the studio, what do you do?
I love studio days (and nights) and I do a bit of everything! There is lots of space to work and make a mess, so I usually start by cleaning up my last mess so I can see. Its best to start off by screen printing so that I can give time to let things dry and add layers. In between I work very sporadically on things, picking up and adding to things that my eyes fall on. I have organized my fabrics into types in big labeled bins, and my racks into stages of the process. These racks are: lost causes (my creations that need help), couples of fabrics to drape or pattern, cut patterns, pinned garments, the sewn items waiting for finishing touches, and the ready to get photos items, I also have an archive of teaching examples, and lots of installation fabric and shoot props, a chalkboard wall for photoshoots, and 2 rooms for screen printing. As you can imagine, there is something to do in every stage! Never bored.

What is your design process from design to final product?
i mean your clothes, your drawings... what ever...
I do everything myself from start to finish, from imagework to screening, to costume and marketing: I draw, ink, scan, adjust images, create screens, screenprint, heat set the fabric, cut, pin, sew, photograph, clean, and then market on the internet through etsy, or at the Fasten showroom. Sometimes this also involves setting up shows to market as well.

What programs or software do you use?
Printer-scanner-copiers are awesome as well as digital cameras. The only other things I'm super into are Photoshop for scaling and darkening images for screen printing, and just recently Microsoft Publisher, for creating books! I am working on putting together a comprehensive collection of all of my hand drawn class tutorials.

How do you get inspired to work? I go hunting for materials, images, and cultural experiences.

What training or education do you feel is necessary for this type of work (that you may have had or wish you had) ?
This type of work, being independant and self-taught, requires a do-it-yourself attitude. It seems that this stems from some sort of angst against the monoculture machine.

There is a lot of other artists working under the D.I.Y. umbrella, and it is an education in itself to view their work and methods. What personal qualities or abilities are important to being successful in the industry and your work in particular?

Determination and Patience are the key to success. In order to want to do anything, one must have a personal drive that pits them against failures. Sometimes I joke that all I ever learned in school was patience. If you stick to anything long enough, you can do it. Nothing over night. It is important to understand the nature of creativity and to recognize that failure is only when you give up, not when you screw up.

Creativity is a riddle and the answer is in the question! There is a lot of objective studies about this topic and I educate myself on them. Also, it is important to be organized in your format of presentation, and understand your method. These things become clearer when the process has been worked through enough. Finally, immersion in a culture that is also working in a similar vein. The internet is a great way to self-educate and find new cultures, to see what and how things are being done.

What part of your work do you find most satisfying?
The answer to this question has changed over time, but mostly I find it satisfying to get paid to be a self-directed artist. I like seeing lost articles find new homes, I like drawing and designing, I like seeing people out in my clothes, I like selling, and photographing, and teaching and reaching out to people. I like watching other artists who I work with and my own work change and improve over time. I guess I like all of it!

Most challenging?
I would say the hardest part would be to get space to work and store your projects in the mean time. I am lucky because I live in the midwest where its inexpensive and so I can have a lot of room for little costs. I am glad I have a studio separate from my living room because I can take on more. But the cost of rent could really break one's spirit, like some vortex swallowing up all your energy.

What are the salary ranges for various position in your business?
I don't make a lot of money, and am willing to sacrifice monitarily for my creative freedom. I make under 10 G's in a year, mostly freelance projects, and always reinvest all of it into my business materials and tools.

What advice would you give to a person entering this field?
Have fun and take risks. Otherwise, what is the point!?

If you could do things all over again, would you choose the same path for yourself? Why? What might you change?
I honestly wouldn't change a thing. I think it is fun to be me.

Madam Chino!
Im online!