Meet the Makers | Joan + Kaitlin
Today I'm introducing a monthly Meet the Makers edition of my weekly letter to you. Below are the highlights of a great conversation between two highly admired All Hands teachers - Joan P Bogart and Kaitlin Bonifacio. They both happen to be mothers, entrepreneurs and textile and pattern lovers. They've each already taught dozens of happy students their crafts here at the studio, so it was delightful to hear them reflect together in person on their creative journeys so far.
Joan: Kaitlin, do you remember when we first met?
K: I do! I remember coming alone to the LUBO event where there were lots of people and then seeing your face...
J: And we both had glasses!
J: We also discovered a connection through fabric - your shibori dyeing practice and my love of Indonesian batik print.
K: What is one of your earliest memories of making something with your hands?
J: Throwing back to the 80s, I remember loving those latch hook rug kits.
J: Using a wooden pen-like tool, I'd work on the process of weaving and hooking yarn into a sort of color-by-numbers rug. How about you?
K: I remember my mom teaching me embroidery. I had these little embroidery hoops that I'd draw patterns on and try so hard to stitch until they were finished. I saved up my money to buy embroidery floss in all the cool colors.
J: How did you begin your current creative practice?
K: I've always been interested in textile arts. My mom is a quilter, a dressmaker and a sewer, so I have those skills, but I've always been more freeform. Making textiles is way more fun than following patterns to make a garment. When I first learned shibori, it was addicting. I was living in Hawai'i at the time, so it wasn't just indigo. I was able to use anything around me, and I was surrounded by beautiful flowers of all different colors. So I figured out how teach myself and also found classes to take. How about for you? I know you were an art student. Is that how you got started?
J: In the late 90s at Berkeley, I fine tuned my practice of drawing and fine art. Only about a year ago did I start teaching myself printmaking from online videos of people sharing their process and their mistakes and what's possible. Being here in Santa Cruz, I wish I could go back to college and join the print department at UCSC because I have heard and seen so much of the amazing instruction and quality work that comes out of that program.
J: What do you enjoy the most about your craft?
K: When I started my business, I found a lot of joy in the making process. I was thrilled to make 30 dinner napkins and see how each turned out differently. But I have two small kids, so when I work on a big retail order, I do it at night in my garage by myself when I'm tired. Or I'm rushing through it because I have two people pulling at my legs asking for snacks. [Giggles.] So it started being less fulfilling until I started teaching workshops last summer. Teaching others is what is the most inspiring thing for me now, because seeing people learn shibori for the first time and get so excited brings me so much joy. It inspires and energizes me to do more of my own work.
J: For me art is like yoga. It's a practice. And what I enjoy the most about printmaking is actually the carving. Subtracting and carving out the linoleum or rubber block after I've drawn is so meditative and focused. It feels like you're really being productive.K: It's so satisfying! I remember from when I took your workshop. J: Using my hands as an artist is so visceral. Carving is a way to be delicate with line while also being committed with conviction.
K: What have been some challenges you faced in your practice and how did/do you face them?
J: Because I'm a self-taught printmaker, there was a lot of trial and error in the beginning. I used to waste a lot of ink and paper because I didn't know things like how to work with lack of moisture or how often to clean the plate or change the ink or using mediums to reduce tack. Those kinds of things led to frustration. So I give myself more time to work with materials and often stick to my favorite water soluble inks.
K: My biggest challenges are replicating things. I work towards consistent results when making things to sell, but of course the mark of the hand is always there. When I'm making dye out of avocado pits in my kitchen, I wonder is the tap water different that week or were the avocados from a different place. Is the temperature different? There are so many variables that go into it, and sometimes that's the most exciting part. And sometimes it can be a challenge when, for example, I'm trying to send out six of the same thing. Or when I think I know what I'm doing and then it turns out different. Like why did a dye this time turn out brown when last time it turned out yellow? In my business, the biggest challenge I face is doing everything by myself and not getting so overwhelmed with things to do that I get paralyzed.
J: On the business side, the challenges that I found were the result of not having enough time. I don't have someone to update my website or post something on my Etsy shop. And it's because I prefer spending my time on the making and experimenting.
J: How has your cultural heritage informed your practice?
K: My family are all artsy people. My dad is a trained fine art teacher and painter. My mom is a textile artist. Her mother, same thing. They've always done a lot of handicrafts - embroidery, cross-stitching, crochet... When my grandmother passed away a couple years ago, we unpacked her house and she had things that were made generations ago that she was hanging onto. Yeah, handicrafts have been a part of my family's history, and that gave me the tools and the mindset that if I want to make something, I can. I just have to figure out how to do it. What about you?
J: I'm Indonesian. That's my ethnicity. But I was born in the United States, so I wasn't practicing Indonesian culture. If anything, I'm more beach-California culture. [Giggles.] But an appreciation for Indonesian batik is coming through in my line work and my designs and now I have a more heightened awareness of its cultural history. I'm trying to impart some of that cultural knowledge to my viewers, so that it's not just an object but something with my heritage behind it as well. It's a tribute to and an appreciation for the culture of my parents. When I was at Berkeley, I took a class on Southeast Asian art, and I did a report on the Wayang puppet. I was just so amazed by this form of puppetry's shapes and shadows. So that might be a future subject for me. The shapes, the stories and the symbolism of the Wayang.
K: How has motherhood influenced your practice? [Joan has an 8 year old daughter, a 7 year old son and an almost 3 year old daughter. Kaitlin has two daughters, 4 and 2 years old.]
J: Actually the whole catalyst for getting into printmaking a year ago was helping my two oldest children with a class project. I researched projects I could do with young children and did bone and rubber printing with them. Then I had all the supplies and decided to practice it more on my own. So I feel like motherhood prompted me to explore something that now I'm addicted to. And I'm actually learning a lot from my oldest daughter just by seeing her practice art. She wakes up in the morning and she draws. She gets home from school and she draws. And that's not what I did when I was her age or even when I was in high school or college. So I'm actually really motivated by her. What about for you?
K: Motherhood has really impacted my creative side. Before I had kids, I had one of those lifestyles where you don't realize how busy it is until you step away from it. When I had my first kid, I took three months off of work, and that was the first time I'd taken off of work since I was 16. I realized I had had this drive to always be doing something. And then we moved to Hawai'i and it was a much slower pace, and I was working part-time and able to do things like take an art class and forage flowers and make something in my kitchen while my baby is napping. The main thing that really launched this though was getting into indigo when I was pregnant was Charlie - which was a tough pregnancy - so it was nice to have something to distract me. And then when she was born, I made a shibori indigo ring sling. And people were stopping me every day to ask me where I got it. So I started making slings on the weekend and the first set I put up on Instagram sold out quickly, so I kept making as many as I could. So that's how it started. Motherhood gave me the chance to slow down and think about what were the intrinsic drives that I had that I didn't really have time to listen to before.
K: Is there anything on the horizon that you're excited about?
J: I'm always excited about the workshops that I teach, because they are each unique. I have a show right now at Stripe Men which I'm excited about because the style of my work and the style of their clientele overlap and intersect. So I could get my work in the homes of my potential target audience. Also, I'm looking forward to doing a kid-friendly workshop at the Sanctuary Exploration Center. The subject is sea animals, and we'll be doing a form of printmaking called collagraph over Mother's Day weekend. What about you?
K: I also have some workshops coming up that I'm excited about. I'm doing my first family friendly workshop for Easter here at All Hands. We'll be naturally dyeing Easter eggs, which is something I did with my mom and was my first ever natural dyeing experience. It was so Santa Cruz, using beets and cabbage to dye Easter eggs.
J: I'm excited to take that workshop!
K: I also have some cool stuff lined up with Cabrillo this summer, including a teen camp, a 2-day shibori intensive and a 3-week series of natural dyeing. So I've set myself up for a summer full of growth.
K: How do you nurture and sustain your creativity?
J: My subject matter tends to be botanical and nature-oriented, and I am so lucky we live right by the Arboretum. I'm attracted to a lot of plant varietals that are native to Australia, and they thrive here in Santa Cruz. So I love to be inspired by plants. Then we have the ocean, so life beneath the water is another source of inspiration for me. And going forward, I'm going to elaborate more on my heritage, so that's where I want to take the evolution of my designs. I'm always learning from other people online, and I'd love to take up screenprinting and other forms of print to further my practice. What about you?
K: I think of us as mothers, and wonder where it all comes from. Like how can we feel so rundown and tired and used up sometimes and still manage to pull these creative things out of ourselves? And I really try to think about where that is coming from and what I need to do to get more of that. I think for me it's about momentum. If I'm excited about something, then I get another idea about something I want to do. And whether it's something I'm making or something I'm planning for, I try to just keep in constant motion. Because, you know, if you stop you might get stuck there. I feel like setting goals for myself months ahead of time keeps me accountable to myself, and especially when I enroll people, then I'm accountable to other people. I'm just the kind of person who needs to put a deadline for myself to do something, and if I do, I know I'll be successful at it.
J: I also wanted to add that I am becoming more connected to my local art community. And that involves attending First Fridays or art openings or exhibits. I think the amount of warm welcome and seeing familiar faces has really invited me to have a voice and to participate, because I'm contributing to the contributing to the community and I'm learning from the kinds of art that people are practicing. I get connected to other printmakers and other illustrators, so that's another source of inspiration for me, the art community, which is huge.
K: Yeah, I agree! The arts community here has been so helpful in giving me the space to say, 'Whoa, I am actually an artist!' I still sometimes don't have the confidence to tell people what I do and say, "Oh, I stay home with the kids." When actually I run this business, and do the accounting and the website maintenance and the social media and the marketing and the teaching and the preparation and the clean up. I actually do a lot, but it's hard to find the confidence to say that is what you do and to take yourself seriously. But everyone that I've encountered in this community, whether it's at networking events we go to or when I'm teaching, or at other galleries around and other artists that I've met, everyone has been so warm and inclusive. And I try to give that back to the community too, where we're in this mutually-lifting-each-other-up place.
K: That's a huge source of inspiration for me too, having a safe place to actually feel like I'm doing this and I'm being successful at it.
PPS. Anyone else feel like this could become a podcast?!