This weather confused month goes out to Wendy Allen of Miss Fitt, in Durham, NC. I chose Wendy because she takes a fun and imaginative approach to her art (and life). Her creative outcome is something really special while still being functional. When her box of goodies came in the mail I enjoyed trying EVERYTHING on. Best part? Her long scarves double as belts! Come on cold weather! I need to strut these fashionable mittens around town.
Toni: Getting work “out there” can be a tricky task and sometimes it takes a lot of experimentation. It sounds like your first big break came when a local store owner spotted one of your hats and asked you to design a line for their store. Do you remember how that person came across your work? Is there anything you learned from that experience that you can share with other artists working on art exposure?
Wendy: The store owner was attending a knitting B at my studio (at the time I was mostly doing Burning Man Costumes and wedding dresses....in San Francisco sometimes those are indistinguishable).
She spotted a couple of felted hats I made in college and asked me to design a line for her store. The 10 hats she ordered sold out in a couple of weeks and I saw a niche worth exploring. Other stores started asking for my hats including The SFMoMa store and it snowballed from there.
My advice to artists trying to make a living from their art is to take some basic business planning classes at your local SBA. Working for yourself is a full time job with extra overtime and it helps to know how to price your work from the start.
Toni: As a musician, do you find that your music influences your felting and vice-versa?
Wendy: It's not so much that my music influences my felting or vice-versa... it's more that I tend to live my life inside my art at all times. I'm an escapist that's learned to build my own bubble in which to travel. I'm a magpie and a mantis shrimp.
Toni: There is something really special about NC art. I have talked to many artists who have moved from NC to a larger city for a while and then moved back. In your case, you moved to San Francisco, which we all know has an amazing art scene. What brought you back to NC and what is something about NC art that is special to you?
Wendy: We moved back to NC from SF because it's easier to afford to be an artist here, and it's gorgeous. My husband is from SoCal and was overwhelmed by the trees at first but loves it now. I can't say that I've noticed a particular difference in NC artists, but there are so many of us, which is quite wonderful.
Toni: Give me a little insight into your process. How does it start? Do you have an idea before you begin or does it come intuitively?
Wendy: My process is not consistent. I have ideas pop into my head all the time, many of which never get executed. However, because I started my business in wholesale fashion and therefore try to follow a yearly schedule for new designs, I take a few weeks out of the year to immerse myself in designing intensively. I start by getting a stack of fashion design magazines (typically GAP, which is nothing but runway shots of every major fashion the in the world broken down by country, and Japanese design magazines ranging from accessory to interior to industrial) and make collages for color and surface design. Then I go through my wool palette (which is around 150 colors) and come up with around 75 color combinations. Then I make sketches, possible new hat shapes, and surface design ideas. Next, I start making samples of the new shapes to see if my ideas are actually executable. Once I have about 8 new designs figured out, I assign them around 4 to 6 color combinations. Throughout the year, I'll collect snap shots of random things I see in my travels that inspire me for shape or color. I sketch things and collect them in a notebook to reference at design time.
Toni: What is it that attracts you to wearable art?
Wendy:By the time I graduated high school I had owned over 200 hats so no one was surprised I turned out to be a milliner. My training in college was costume design, but that was mostly so I could raid the costume morgue and wear whatever I wanted. I learned to sew from my mom when I was about 9 and started making my own clothes in earnest when she put me on a clothing allowance in Junior High. I'm not sure it was attraction so much as fate?
Visit The Shop at Greenhill to stay abreast of NC trends. For more information on Wendy Allen please email Toni Tronu.