01 April 2011

Artist Interview: Joanna Read Cotter

"Bohemian Dream" dyes on 8"x54" flat crepe silk
copyright 2011 Joanna Read Cotter

Joanna Read Cotter, of Joy in my Studio, makes beautiful silk scarves in every color of the rainbow. Visitors to her booth at local art sales can't resist running their hands over their vibrant hues, and she's had steady Etsy sales since she opened her shop. You can also visit Joanna on Facebook or Twitter. If you aren't lucky enough to get to see Joy in My Studio in person, now's your chance for a behind the scenes glimpse of the magic that goes into Joanna's scarves. 

1) How did you discover making silk scarves?

I graduated from Umass Amherst in 2007 with a BFA in painting and minor in art history, and discovered the world of fiber art a few years later when I was invited by the artist to tour Judith Goetemann’s silk painting studio in scenic, seaside artist colony Rocky Neck. From there I taught myself how to paint on silk through the aid of books, online forums, and lots of playful trial and error. 

2) How long did it take for you to develop your technique?

The development is definitely ongoing. I work in a wide variety of methods, and am continually interested in learning new techniques and further refining my craft. Learning how to properly steam fix the silk dyes initially took months, and a lot of tears of frustration were shed in the beginning! It was all part of the learning process though, and it started to get me thinking more about non-attachment. 

3) How much space do you need in your studio for making your scarves?

The more space, the better! I am really fortunate to have a room in our apartment that I have been able to turn into an art studio. On most weekends, I'll set up sawhorses in the middle of the kitchen to stack frames of wet silk and clear out space in the studio for more work - and I always do my ironing in our dining room, where I know the silk will have no chance of coming in contact with any dye after I've steam fixed and washed it. 

"Lotus Pond" dyes on 22"x90" silk satin
copyright 2011 Joanna Read Cotter
 4) How long does one scarf take to make from start to finish? 

My scarves can take anywhere from one to twelve hours to complete from start to finish. My process varies with technique and I go more in depth about each one on my blog, but all of my scarves are stretched and suspended within a hollow frame, and after they have been painted and have had plenty of time to dry, I'll roll them in newsprint and steam them for four hours. The combination of heat and moisture from the steam chemically bonds the dyes to the silk fiber, creating brilliant, permanent color and leaving the silk with a very soft hand. After steaming, I wash each piece by hand and rinse out any excess dye, and then I iron the silk smooth and photograph it.

5) What's the best part about your art?
Making art brings me a great deal of joy, hence the name of my business. The flow of forming shapes, mixing colors, and applying dyes is an incredibly meditative process. I love learning new techniques and problem solving. Seeing someone's face light up when they try on one of my scarves brings a deep satisfaction.  And I'm really excited that I'm finally able to earn some income doing what I love!

6) What's the worst part?

This is true for a lot of artists - we tend to work a lot of very long hours by ourselves - usually in isolation, so sometimes it can feel a little lonely. This just makes me work harder to make sure I schedule in social time along with studio time - both are equally important.

7)What are your "essential" art supplies/tools/materials?

My sketchbook! It's filled with drawings and sources of inspiration, recaps on experiments, etc. 
Joanna's Color Grid
copyright 2011 Joanna Read Cotter
 My color grid - this took hours upon hours to create, but I'm so glad I stuck with it. I learned so much about the subtle differences of color mixing and layering just by going through the process of making the grid. It's hanging on a wall in my studio and I constantly find myself referring to it. 

Winsor & Newton watercolor mop brushes - expensive, but so worth the investment. I can paint a line as thin as a hair, or create thick washes of color, all with one little brush. And they never feather. I have 5 of them and I designate them for certain colors or shades. 

Masking tape! I use it for everything

My planner made by RI Artist Alyson DuPont - it's so pretty, and really big, which is perfect for all my scheduling notes. 

8) What is the one tool you couldn't live without?
My steamer! Again, expensive, but well worth the investment knowing my colors are set properly.  There is a method for creating a home-assembled stove top steamer, and I experimented with this a lot in the beginning, but it doesn't make sense economically - you can only steam one piece at a time and there are many variables that need to be controlled. 

9) Where do you find inspiration?

Nature and imagination are definitely my biggest sources of inspiration. I love going on jogs through the woods and just taking in all the sights, smells, sounds, and feelings, and then later translating some of that experience onto silk or canvas. This has me thinking I may want to explore plein air painting more this year. I'm just so happy when I'm out in the sun and fresh air!

"Sunset Melody" dyes on 14"x72" crepe de chine silk
copyright 2011 Joanna Read Cotter

10) What artists inspire you & why?
I'm inspired by so, so many artists - the masters from past to present. Locally speaking, some artists I'm inspired by include Richard Yarde, my art professor from Umass, for his inquisitive art mind, strong work ethic, and masterful understanding of color, design, scale, and pattern. He was the first one to really open me up to the idea of art as more about the journey and process than the end result. He has also done a lot of work with art as a process of healing. I have a postcard of his Visionary Anatomies show hanging in my studio. 

I interned with modern impressionist Linda A. Holt my junior year of college - she's a big inspiration. I have postcards of her paintings in my studio and in my office at work. She creates masterful bodies of large scale oil paintings that are so full of color, motion and life, with graceful, rhythmically sweeping brushstrokes. I'm most taken with her koi fish and pond studies, but there really isn't a painting of hers that I don't like.  

More Cape Ann artists - I got to know many of them well during my time at Rockport Art Association: Linda Goldberg's richly textured monoprints have always sang to me. Betty Lou Schlemm's and David Curtis' landscapes of Cape Ann are so inspiring and full of life. I love Judy Robinson-Cox's colorful, abstracted photography and playful approach to her process. And of course, Judith Goetemann's silk paintings of florals and landscapes are just immaculate. 

11) What is the most rewarding part of finishing a piece?
Wearing it! Or hanging it on my wall, if it's a 2-d painting :) I also LOVE setting up for shows and surrounding myself with all the vibrant, shimmering paintings. The energy is so palpable. It really gets my heart pumping just thinking about it!

12) How do you know when you are finished with a painting? Is it a gut feeling or something else? Artist Teesha Moore says that you should push past the feeling of thinking a piece is finished at least twice. Do you agree or disagree?
Another great question! I love Moore's idea of pushing past the feeling of thinking a piece is finished at least one or twice - it can be your best teacher. In pushing yourself this way, you won't always end up with a piece you would feel comfortable showing, but I think you really need to do this in order to grow and learn. Ultimately, this can really build confidence and make you more empowered as an artist. I do think it's good sometimes when you're feeling uncertain, to just put the piece aside and come back to it a few days or even weeks later with a fresh, unbiased mind. Sometimes I'll turn the piece upside down or reflect it in a mirror for a fresh perspective.

13) How does your art reflect your personality? Or... how does your personality reflect your art?

That's a great question! My painting and my personality have evolved hand in hand over the last couple of years, and I've learned a lot about myself through my art and how I react to it. I definitely have a Type-A personality, and when I first started painting on silk, I was most interested in creating tight, highly detailed work. If one little drop of dye fell on the silk in the wrong place, it would completely alter the image, and often I'd see this as really frustrating! These days, I'm much more open. I'm learning to relax and loosen my grip, literally and figuratively, and see where the process leads, rather than trying to force anything. A lot of my work still does require a high degree of focus and concentration, but having that increased awareness of the process has made each experience in the studio so much more fulfilling and meaningful. I think that my genuine enjoyment of making art is translated in my work, and I want it to be felt and experienced in some way by the viewer - uplifting and inspiring them.

"Spring is in the Air: Ethereal Roses" dyes on 22"x90" silk chiffon
copyright 2011 Joanna Read Cotter
 14) Do you have an arts background?

I have been making art my entire life. I went to an after school art program in my middle school years which had a really big influence on the path I chose in highschool, where I took every art class imaginable. l had an outstanding art teacher who for four years, really went above and beyond to help me create a portfolio that would get me into college and win scholarships. Thanks in part to his teaching, I attended Umass, Amherst on scholarship and received a BFA in Painting and Art History Minor. And now, here I am!

15) Do you have any all-time favorite paintings / scarves / works of art?

I have so many favorite paintings and scarves for different reasons, it's impossible to name only a few. Each piece sings to me in a different way. 

16) Do you make art daily? Do you have any other daily creative practices?

I definitely am doing some sort of work with my business every single day. I am constantly recording new ideas and moments of inspiration so that I can return to them when I have the time, and I consider that part of my creative practice. My best work develops when I am able to designate long chunks of interrupted time, so the weekends are sacred for art making, and I try and take care of all the other parts of running my business (writing, shooting photos, developing new marketing material, steaming/washing/ironing, inventory, long range planning, number crunching, web analytics, mailings, etc.) when I get home from my day job during the week. 

17) What do you do if you are fresh out of ideas?
Most often, just taking a walk outside, looking at art or looking through my sketchbook will get an idea going for me. But when that isn't enough, I switch gears for a few hours, put on some good music and clean - reorganizing my workspace so that it makes more sense and getting rid of clutter. It's as if the act of physically clearing space actually clears space in the creative part of my brain. Works every time!

18) Do you have any favorite websites or resources that you'd like to recommend to others?

I'd Rather be in the Studio - by Alyson B. Stanfield - great advice on how to market your art and develop professional habits. Check out her blog, too. 

The Creative Habit - Twyla Tharp - Sage advice on embodying the flow of creative life.  

The Art Spirit - Robert Henri - Essential art beliefs and theories of a great teacher and American artist. 

Design Sponge and Meylah blogs - gems of inspiration and nuggets of knowledge for your creative business!

Massachusetts Cultural Council ArtSake & Rhode Island State Council on the Arts Blogs - both chock full of artist opportunities and resources. 
"Dance of the Honeybee" 12"x12"x2" hand painted silk,  india ink, wax medium on panel.
copyright 2011 Joanna Read Cotter
19) Where do you see yourself and your business in the next five years?

Continuing to teach and exhibit my art, reaching larger audiences and forming new partnerships. I will continue with my scarves, but also have a greater focus on 2-D painting, while also expanding my knowledge into the realms of 3D art and new mixed media techniques. 

Also, my secret dream is to someday have my own light-filled studio where I can hold art workshops and also teach yoga classes, with a beautiful garden out front filled with colorful flowers, fresh fruits and vegetables... and my own honeybees :)


See all of my artist interviews here.


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