Jen Hewett

03/19/15

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It’s been awhile since I’ve featured an Interview with Someone I Admire here on Today is Going to be Awesome. But I’m back today with a good one. Today I talk to Jen Hewett: artist, pattern designer, print maker & gifted teacher.  Full disclosure: she also happens to be one of my closest friends. I love Jen for all kinds of reasons, including her sense of humor and her pragmatism (and of course her adorable dog, Gus). And I think you will also notice here that Jen is humble and reflective about her journey, whip smart, and open hearted about sharing her process. She’s also got a keen and unique aesthetic,  mixing pattern and color together in ways I don’t see anywhere else. I hope you’ll enjoy this interview with her!

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 Lisa: Tell us a bit about how you got started as an artist. Did you study art? Are you self taught? When did your creative “journey” begin and how did it evolve over time?

Jen: I am almost completely self-taught. I have a bachelors degree in English Literature, and a minor in French Language. Not exactly the most marketable degree, but not having a zillion job offers upon graduation made me scrappy. After a few years of working in education, I decided that I wanted to start a stationery company. This was 2000, and the dot.com boom was in full force in San Francisco. My friends were going to work at tech startups, and I was selling paper.

I did all the illustrations and layout for my company. I was very pleased when, at trade shows, buyers would ask me where I went to art school. I’d managed to create a great line that was sold in places like Anthropologie, Paper Source, and Neiman Marcus – without an art degree. But, despite all my scrappiness, I made some business mistakes and sold the business after I finally came to terms with just how much debt I had taken on while growing my business.

I then worked for an e-learning/interactive company doing operations and finance. That allowed me to pay off my debt and save up some money so that by the time that company folded during the height of the Great Recession in 2008, I could survive on unemployment and my savings until I was able to find a job.

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I’d taken a screenprinting class at the Mission Cultural Center a few months before I was laid off. It was originally just a creative outlet for me while I worked a non-creative day job, but I was quickly hooked. I posted a couple of pieces I’d printed on Etsy, and they sold. So, when I was laid off and was unable to find a job because the economy was so bad, I’d go to the studio to print, in between job hunting. My work started to get noticed – it was the early days of both blogging and of Etsy – and I realized that I might be able to make a living as a printmaker… eventually.

I did eventually take a full-time “regular” job, but that job was such a bad fit that I quit after five months and started consulting part-time and making art part-time. I was also still so scarred by all the debt I’d amassed in my first business that I decided that I’d have a part-time day job until I absolutely knew I could support myself full-time through my art. It’s nice to be able to pay the bills, and not have to worry about money all the time. And yes, I still have the day job.

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Lisa: Tell us about how you got into print making as your “thing.” What kinds of print making techniques do you do and/or are your favorites? Also, what is it about print making that appeals to you over other kinds of art making processes?

Jen: I like the physical, operational, and strangely meditative nature of printmaking. There’s a process – especially with screenprinting – and I love it. I like navigating all the steps that go into creating a print. By the time I actually start printing, I’m ready to switch away from the more cerebral part of the process and instead “think with my hands.” Your mind stops blabbing, and your hands do the work. I was a competitive runner in high school. There was so much training that went into getting ready for a meet. But once the race started, all thought stopped.

I know that other media are like this, that this is what flow is, but I achieve this most often through printmaking.

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Lisa: You teach classes on print making, most notably on fabric. How did that start? What do you enjoy most about teaching? Where can people find out about anything new or upcoming you might be offering?

Jen: In 2014, I launched my 52 Weeks of Printmaking project. Every week, I created and shared a new print. I’d originally intended to explore printmaking, and work with a lot of different print media, but I consistently waited until the last minute to do my print so I would only have time to work on a block print. That meant, though, that I got to be pretty decent at block printing, even though I was self-taught.

Block printing is fairly accessible. You don’t need much special equipment, and you’re rewarded immediately for your work. I’d always wanted to teach – I’d led trainings and workshops in my non-art career, and am pretty comfortable talking to small groups. I pitched a block printing class to Makeshift. I loved teaching that first class, and the students really took to block printing, so I lengthened the class and found locations that could hold more students.

Every time I posted a photo of my work, or of a class I was teaching, on Instagram, I’d be asked if I could teach a class in Vancouver/Portland/LA/Sydney. It’s not economically feasible for me to travel to all those places to teach, so in December 2014, I launched an e-course.

I continue to teach in-person classes in the Bay Area, at Handcraft Studio School and at Yonder Shop and I’m offering my e-course again in May. More information about all those classes is here.

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Lisa: Your designs are very distinct and very beautiful. I love your use of color. When you are designing prints to adorn bags or clothing, what do you think about or take into consideration? Both in designing (the more aesthetic part) and also in knowing you will be printing by hand? (ie; the more technical part — there must be things you must consider differently than if you were printing digitally).

Jen: I like constructing things, which is also why I love to sew. Printing really appeals to the operational part of my brain. Particularly with screenprinting, I have to think about the number and placement of colors, because each color requires a separate screen, and a separate “pull” (the process of pulling the ink across the screen). I also have to think about how the print will align (“registration” in printing terms), which can be extremely difficult when I’m printing two or more colors. Each color adds another layer of technical complexity. One of the ways that my silkscreened fabric is very different from a lot of other work out there is in the number of colors I use in each print (many small textile printers print just one or two colors). Another difference is that I mix most of my ink myself, instead of using the standard, store-bought ink colors without any alteration. When I run out of a color, I have to mix it again, which means there are variations in color between print runs.

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Size is also key – the larger the screenprint, the more difficult it is to print. The largest size I can comfortably print by myself is 18” in width. Anything larger than that requires two people to print simultaneously (both holding the squeegee on either side of the screen). I don’t have the space to screenprint on large pieces of fabric.

Finally, the scale of an image is really important. This has really been driven home this year, as I’ve started to block print yardage for clothing. A print that looks great on a small scale – on a zippered pouch or a dinner napkin, for example – can get lost when used on a larger item, like a skirt. The opposite is also true; a large image that isn’t very interesting on a bag or a napkin can look fantastic on a skirt. Block printing fabric for clothing has been a fun, challenging, learning experience.

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Lisa: I love the way you approach your creative process. You also work part time as a human resources consultant, but you still manage to create all kinds of interesting projects every week. You also share a lot of your process, even your mistakes. Tell us about how you approach your creative process, including your thoughts on risk taking, experimentation & work ethic.

Jen: I can’t yet fully support myself from my art and my classes – though this will probably change in the next couple of years – so I need to have a day job. I think that my part-time day job (and, therefore, a steady income) is crucial to my creative process right now. I can create work for its own sake, and I don’t need to worry about whether or not it will sell. I’m allowed to experiment, and to have flops.

For my first few years as a printmaker, I would release a new item whenever I felt like it. It was a great way for me to get lots of practice designing and printing (and it was also great content for my blog and social media), but after a few years of that, I decided that I wanted to create more cohesive collections that I’d release twice per year. My 52 Weeks of Printmaking project was really born out of a need to create and share work during the times when I didn’t have a new collection to show!

I am not the most organized person, but because I have a day job, I make myself create regular schedules – and stick to them. The time that I have to create is precious. It is finite. If I slack off on a studio day, I can’t get that day back. And because printing is so physical, I have to do it regularly to build up my muscle memory.

A lot of my creative process is about discipline, about doing work on a regular basis. I think that a lot of creative people spin in circles – worrying that what they haven’t yet created won’t be good enough, spending a lot of time doing research, thinking about everything that could go wrong. For me, the best way to move forward is to just get started. I do the Pomodoro technique when I’m feeling especially futzy.

I’m also a recovering perfectionist. Until I was in my thirties, I lived with massive amounts of anxiety, and was terrified of making a mistake. After a couple of panic attacks, I finally got help. During our first appointment, my wonderful therapist told me that my assignment was to intentionally go out and make a mistake, and then to let her know what happened. Guess what? The world didn’t fall apart. No one shamed me. Life went on. Over a couple of years, I let go of that perfectionism. There’s no way I would be here today if I hadn’t. When people ask me what I’m most proud of, I tell them that I’m proud that I learned how to be a confident person as an adult.

So, experimenting is much easier if you’re not a perfectionist. Mistakes aren’t fatal. Bad work is just bad work. I sometimes share my flops because I think it’s important for people to know that flops are just another part of the process.

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Lisa: Do you have a “dream” project or two? If so, what are they?

Jen: I’d like to do more licensing, so that my work will be on products beyond just those items I create myself. I’d especially like to license for fabric and tabletop. Licensing will be more of a focus next year, after I’ve done some work putting together a portfolio.

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Thank you to Jen for sharing her story, your process and your insights! To learn more about Jen’s classes & work, you can visit her website, her blog or her Instagram feed.

Have a great Thursday, friends!

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Block Printing E-Course!

12/17/14

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Friends, I’m so excited to share a new online ecourse by my friend Jen Hewett. In this sure-to-be-fabulous two day class, Jen will use videos, photos, and downloadable notes to guide you through the process of block printing on fabric. At the end of this class, you’ll know how to print your own custom fabric, which you can then use for tea towels, bags, quilts, or other fabric and sewing projects. Awesome, right?

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The course will take place online on January 31st and February 1st 2015 (PST), and will be accessible to you until March 3rd, so if you can’t take the class on that weekend, or if you want to work at your own pace, you’ll be able to access all the course materials through March 3. You will also have access to an exclusive Facebook group, where you’ll be able to ask Jen questions, as well as network and get feedback.

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And from now until December 31, 2014, you’ll get the early bird price of just $99 for the course! The price will go up to $109 on January 1st. Go get it!

I can vouch for Jen’s fantastic teaching: here I am earlier this year taking a block printing class from her in which I made some fabulous yardage that I used to make a dress.

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You design and carve your own blocks, so you can make your patterns unique to you. To learn more about the course and what supplies you need and to sign up, go here!

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Happy printing and happy Wednesday!

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Block Printing Class!

07/30/14

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As you may recall, I’ve been learning & playing around with block printing recently. I have been wanting to experiment with printing my own fabric so I signed up for my friend Jennifer Hewett’s Block Printing on Fabric class at Handcraft Studio School this past Saturday. The class is designed for beginners, and most people in the class had never carved blocks or block printed before. Since I had some experience, I had grand plans for the class! My goal was to print enough fabric to make a dress. I brought some of my own linen (Jen provides fabric if you don’t bring your own) and extra rubber blocks since I wanted to carve five different shapes to make a pattern.

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Carving blocks (especially when they have intricate detail) can take time, but it’s not difficult. Most people in the class exclaimed with glee at how addictive and fun block carving is! The rubber is soft like cream cheese and fairly easy to carve (as opposed to carving linoleum for linocut printing, which is much more time-consuming and a bit more difficult). Drawing your design, transferring it to the rubber and then carving the block is an important & enjoyable part of the process, but, for me, the printing is where the magic happens. My block designs were big, simple shapes, so it didn’t take me long to carve all five and I got down to printing pretty quickly.

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{Photo by Tracy of homesteadhandmade}

I decided to create an all-over design in four colors on my fabric. I didn’t make a perfect repeat. Instead, it was more random, but I was paying attention to overall balance and composition, using the shapes and colors as my guide — sort of like I do when I paint a canvas. Block printing is, by nature, an imperfect art — every time you lay down your block to print you don’t know what you are going to get! And that’s what’s liberating about it: the beauty comes from the imperfections.

After five hours of printing (whew!) with a short break for lunch, I managed to print this giant piece of linen. Later in August, I’ll be making a dress from this fabric (if I can bear to cut it up!). I’ve saved the blocks, of course, and I plan to print some tea towels with them soon. So stay tuned for that!

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I really, really enjoyed this class & the process of printing fabric! Jen is a great teacher. She explains the process really clearly, she’s there to help if you need her, and she is very encouraging! I also loved meeting & talking to the other women in the class. Here is my friend Rae printing some fabric with a small block she carved:

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And here is another class participant with the small tote bag she made from a more intricate block she designed:

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{Two photos above by Jen Hewett}

Bay Area folks: lucky for you, Jen is offering her class again on September 6 at Handcraft Studio School in Emeryville. If you want to learn to carve blocks and print on fabric, this is a fantastic way to spend a Saturday. To boot, Handcraft Studio School is a lovely, light-filled space run by the kind & generous Marie Muscardini. I can’t wait to take a class there again. If you are interested in printmaking, I also recommend following Jen’s 52 Weeks of Printmaking project.

Have a great Wednesday, friends!

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Collaborations with Clay :: Project 1

04/29/14

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A couple of months ago my wife Clay and I were talking about my sewing project this year in which I have committed to making my own clothes or buying them second hand for the entire year — all in an effort to consume less & save money, or at least to be more conscious of my consumption & spending. Clay mentioned that she’d been thinking about how together we could extend that idea to gift giving. We collectively spend a lot of money on gifts each year — for things like birthdays and holidays, and also for smaller things like going to a friend’s home for dinner. She suggested that we spend time about once a month designing and making our own gifts for friends and family, all ready made to give away.

So this past weekend we embarked on our first collaborative project: citrus bath salts (made from scratch, which is super easy!). Clay came up with the name Un Bon Bain (that’s “a good bath” in French), I designed the packaging (which was carved for block printing), and we made the bath salts and block printed the packaging together.

Here are the stamps I carved to make the packaging. For more on carving stamps & block printing, I recommend Christine Schmidt’s book Print Workshop. My friend Jen Hewett (another amazing block printer) is also teaching a block printing class at Makeshift Society in May. I was lucky enough to spend the afternoon block printing with Jen last week (after reading Christine’s book) and got to put everything I’d read into practice.

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Ahead of time, we purchased all the ingredients for the bath salts (we used Martha Stewart’s recipe here), the jars (purchased at a local food coop), and everything we needed for block printing (I used my friend Christine’s book, mentioned above, as a reference for that).

Then Sunday we got to work. Making the bath salts was super easy and fast. Printing the labels took a bit longer because there were some mess-ups (all part of the learning process since block printing is new to us).

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In the end, we have 12 jars of bath salts, ready to gift! We plan to make different gifts monthly, and next (since not everyone wants to take a bath), we’ll be making some flavored nuts with their own packages. Stay tuned for that.

Best part? Spendng time with Clay getting ink on our hands.

Have a happy Tuesday, friends!

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