This week's blog is brought to you by fiber arts artist and soap maker, Karin Kaufmann of Nadelwerk. Karin interviewed fiber arts artist Alycia Allen Tolmach of Alyen Creations.
How long have you been a part of Artistic Portland, and what appealed to you about joining the
I joined Artistic Portland in March 2018, after Susan Hunter of Bodie Design Studio talked to me at the Southeast Area Art Walk and invited me to submit my work to the jury, which just happened to be the next evening! I jumped at the chance, because aside from one or two shows a year, my quilts were languishing in a closet. To have a place where my work would be seen every day of the year, and to get to work in the gallery and to gain an instant community of new artist friends and to be part of this group effort was an incredible gift. It was something I needed, but I wasn’t even aware it existed. To be invited was such an honor!
What’s your background?
I have a degree in Journalism from the University of Florida. I retired from journalism in 1992, leaving the copy desk at the Philadelphia Inquirer to marry Andrew and follow him to Portland.
Why do you do what you do?
When I was young, I wanted to take art lessons, like my older sister did. When I got old enough, we moved, and I never got the chance after that. The only thing I ever really drew was horses, and only in profile, and only the left side!
What would you say was your “ah ha” moment in going from thought to passion to actually starting your business?
Many of my friends on the copy desk at the Inquirer were quilters, but I resisted the urge, because of the mess, the time and the obsession with fabric. But when Andrew’s daddy was diagnosed with terminal lung cancer, something just said, “Make him a quilt.” So I went home with one of my girlfriends after work, and she helped me design a block, and the next morning, I went to a fabric shop, where I heard someone exclaim, “I saw this fabric in a dream last night!” (Did I mention obsession?) Anyway, I showed her my quilt block and the colors I was using, and she told me to make sure to use different scales of patterns, so the fabrics wouldn’t blend into a muddy mess. (She probably saved me a year’s worth of bad quilts, with that one piece of advice.) When Andrew came back from his folks’ house, and I began to iron my first piece of fabric for his daddy’s quilt, I blurted out, “I think I just might be good at this.” I had to buy a machine and teach myself how to sew to make that quilt. I still can’t sew clothing! A couple of years later, when I retired from the paper, (at 30) I decided to start Alyen Creations, which is a name I came up with as a 9-year-old, from my name, ALYcia allEN. It’s pronounced Alien, like a Martian….
Where do you create?
I am fortunate to have a studio in my home, with 25 years of fabric and a pin-able wall to design my quilts on, a big cutting table and 2 Bernina 1090 sewing machines.
What motivates/inspires your work?
I make primarily landscape art quilts, based on photos from our travels, mostly in Europe and the Northwest. While I know I would be a lousy painter, somehow working with fabric allows me to convey the sense of places that I love. I also love it when people are drawn to touch my quilts. I know I have succeeded when someone wants to pet my work. That connection is such a thrill!
Who inspired you if anyone?
In 1992, I invested in a 200-pound bale of Vintage Japanese Kimonos with my best friend, and I was hooked. I have probably owned 1,500 kimonos since then. The fabric in each kimono is unique; the kimonos were hand-sewn and home-made in the 1940s-1960s. It takes an hour to take one apart. The fabrics often involve two or three design techniques, including jacquard weaving, kasuri dyeing, block printing, hand-dyeing, brocade, metallic and lacquered threads, shibori dyeing, resist painting, batik, roh weaves, gauze weaves – I could go on and on. The closer you look, the more you see in Japanese fabric design, and that inspires me to create art that pulls you in and rewards a closer look.
Tell us how you choose your supplies, material, you use in your Art?
For my collage quilts, Origami Kimono Ornaments, Origami Obi Cards, and some runners/hangings, I pull from my palette of several thousand yards of commercial cottons. However, for my landscape art quilts, I use almost exclusively Japanese kimono fabrics. My basement is full of kimonos, and I have taken apart more than a thousand. I sell to other fiber artists what I can’t use.
Did anyone ever tell you couldn’t do it?
No, but every time I walk into the studio, I ask myself if I still can! Some days the answer is yes, and some days it seems like no, but when I push past the doubt, the answer is a resounding YES, and that is when I remember how happy it makes me to create my quilts.
What kind of creative patterns, routines, or rituals do you have?
What is the most difficult thing about making your Art?
Starting. I am constantly starting, it seems, and I lose so much ground. I work in spurts, and sometimes they last for months, but then life gets in the way, and it can be months or sometimes years (like if we go on sabbatical to another country) and then when I restart, I have to relearn a lot of the techniques I devised, or re-solve design issues I forgot I had solved! It’s very frustrating, and sometimes it is easier not to start again! But that is one reason I was so eager to join Artistic Portland. Now, every day, art is a priority, in one form or another, be it the studio, working in the gallery, or taking on responsibilities to help run the cooperative, or brainstorming with other members about issues they have, that I have, or the gallery has. Thanks to Katrina, I am now having giclee prints made of my quilts. I never in a million years would have thought of doing that, but to her, it was obvious. Having others help me see what is outside my own little blinkered box, (to mix a metaphor) is incredible.
Do you have other staff, partners etc.?
Nope, just me.
What’s your favorite piece you’ve ever created?
A quilt of Saint Pere de Rodes in northern Catalunya on the Spanish Mediterranean. It is a ruined monastery, and the man who bought the quilt from me said that he was going to hang it right in front of his recliner, so that he could look at it all the time.
If you could wake up tomorrow with a new artistic skill, what would it be?
The ability to master perspective!
What do you like to do when you're not creating?
I like to read real books I hold in my hand, especially old mysteries and novels from the 1920s that smell like my elementary school library in Florida!