Creative Courage Interview Series has been one of my long-time “to-do” for quite a while and am delighted to finally kick off the series. I enjoy hearing firsthand from the artists as they explain their work, their inspirations and thoughts they had while making it, and the funny behind-the-scenes stories. All of these elements help it come together as a meaningful experience with a work of art for me. In the series, we will get tips and advice on how to move more quickly in the direction of our goals as these men and women tell us their personal tales and explain how they are finding and following their creative dreams.
Do you know Joe L. Jackson and Rin Carroll Jackson? If you do, then you already know how amazing they are, an unique husband and wife team behind Sleeping Bee STUDIO/Design Office, creating vibrant, hand-designed art shirts, providing unique batik work, graphic design, illustration, mural services, and more. The creative couples’ use of local beeswax, rain barrels, and artistic techniques fits right in with the amazing neighborhood focus of SE Division and Clinton Street in Portland, Oregon–trees, bioswales, and roof-top gardens. Rin–founder of SE Area ARTWalk, a community venue—and Joe–guitarist of Red Cedar Shakes & co-creator–have been dedicated to sustainability in their process of creating Batik Art Shirts since 2004. Their “Made in the U.S.A.” products–large hoops, batik clothing, prints, cards, candles–are available online at etsy, cafepress, periodic studio shows, various local events, by appointment from their studio in SE Portland, 3561 SE Division St Retail Offerings, and Bartleby Bear’s Book Collective.
My family and I were lucky for our meeting of the mind and heart, the energized couple and their vocal boys–Sawyer and Corri–back in 2007 at our first Chautaugua family retreat, north of Lincoln City, OR.
Like us, Joe and Rin decide on their own–totally independently of any superimposed authority—what they want their boys to learn, how they want them to learn it, the pace and depth at which the boys would do it, and the means through which they would learn it. What an empowering life they all live!
1) HOW DID YOU GET STARTED AS A CRAFTER/ARTIST?
RIN: How far back do you want me to go? I was born with a crayon in my hand. No, really, I was fortunate enough to be in a school in 6-9th grade that offered a great art program. That is where I was exposed to various techniques of creating art. Art was my focus in high school also when I was not being an athlete. My college years, I would consider the time I got my feet wet in a commercial capacity. I was a Studio Fine Arts Major at St. Lawrence University. I did my first mural in the Student Center after winning a contest. I did a Trompe L’oeil (fool the eye) of an elevator complete with buttons, numbers, potted plant and ash can. I had people confused as there was never an elevator there before. Funny. In addition to that, I began to freelance and would find any opportunity to do Posters, T-shirt designs, and printed programs (back when you had to do layout and paste-up work by hand.) Guess I have been on that track ever since.
JOE: My story is quite different. I had to take an art class in high school. And I did, but, only because it was a requirement. Incidentally, I made my first batik there–a tie in the school colors with an image of a basketball on it. This would have been in 1983. The next one I tried was 20 years later. My crafting story really starts with making tie dyes while working at a summer camp. I learned some different folds and techniques from my brother. Over the years I made several tie dyes for myself and helped others to make them, but, never made them to sell until 1993. I had always liked batiks. When I was laid off from my social services job in 2003, I thought it would cool to learn how to make them for myself. I specifically wanted to make a few designs I had created while doodling during slow parts of meetings. So began the trial and error. We eventually divided the tasks between us, for me, to mostly focus on dyeing and Rin to mostly focus on design and waxing.
2) WHAT IS YOUR FAVORITE TYPE OF ART/CRAFT?
RIN: If you had asked me 20 years ago, I would have to say illustration and drawing. As a result of creating a body of work over time, I currently promote and sell a product line in which my artwork is featured. With all the computer technology, I can reproduce my art. Since you are asking me now, I would have to say murals leapt to mind. Maybe it is the scale of the paintings and the planning that goes into getting it from your brain onto a big wall. I am very detail oriented and consider it like a puzzle. In addition to the scale I really enjoy the involvement of people. So many great stories evolve and members of the community combine their skills to get it completed. Batik would be a close second.
JOE: I like making batiks. I like the detailed focus the process requires. At its best, it can be like a meditation, although admittedly I don’t get that deep into it very often due to other demands on my time (like homeschooling.) Nonetheless, it’s an interesting process. Each time you see a finished product, it’s like opening a gift.
3) WHAT IS YOUR FAVORITE PIECE THAT YOU’VE EVER MADE, AND WHY IS IT YOUR FAVOIRTE?
RIN: I can’t really say. That is so hard. If I had to pick something from the time I have been in Portland maybe I could narrow it down. As I think about it, a mixed media piece called “Five.” It has elements that touch on comfort, family and my boys when they were younger. It combines wood, a photograph, fabric, batting, ribbon, string, beads and wood stain. The photo is a wet hand print of mine that resulted from me pressing my hand on snow and then transferring it to a flat rock and quickly taking a photo before it disappeared. We were on a hike and the idea for the photo came to me. Later on I added it to a mixed media. One reason I like mixed media is that I can carry on the process of working with elements that both my Mother and Father introduced me to. Woodwork and sawing from the more masculine side and sewing and decorative techniques that touch on more the feminine side. Not that any technique is meant to be carried out by strictly one gender, but, that tie to my family comes out in the piece for me.
JOE: I think I would have to go with one of the first batiks I made. It was my own design and I was doing all the waxing and dyeing. It came out great, but it really shouldn’t have. The design was terribly complicated and I had to work with very small amounts of wax. I wouldn’t even try the design now that I know more about batik. Nonetheless, the final product was nearly perfect. A close second would be the “peacock feather with instruments” design Rin and I created. This was one of the few that had us both working on the graphics of the design and I think it came out better for that collaboration.
4) WHAT INSPIRES YOU TO CREATE?
RIN: I have always had an inner drive to create things. Art has a very therapeutic aspect for me. “Getting into the zone” when I would be working on a drawing was something that was very beneficial. My focus would reach the extent where everything else “drops away” from consciousness. Very zen and soothing to the soul. The process of art really provides an outlet for me. Often times if I am struggling it seems to help me sort things out, a tool to delve into how I really feel about something. A form of art therapy, I guess, before I knew that was a thing.
JOE: For me, I’d have to classify music as my primary artistic outlet, and I have a stronger drive to “create” in that arena. When it comes to crafting, it’s usually because I think of something that I’ve never seen, but that I think would be cool. Then I want to create it. “What if” is also an important part of it for me. Once I make something, I can’t help wondering how a slight change in part of the process will affect the final product. I guess you could call that “curiosity”.
5) HAVE YOU EVER JUST WANTED TO MAKE *SOMETHING* BUT FOUND YOURSELF AT A LOSS FOR WHAT TO DO? IF SO, HOW DO YOU OVERCOME CRAFTER’S BLOCK?
RIN: Never. Okay, of course there is that feeling of “what to do.” Some of the most unlikely successes have come out of mistakes. For me, I think the process of “getting ready” to create was a big part of it. My surroundings and materials at hand, going through the motion of setting the stage, opening to the process and jumping in. Numerous times, having two things going in adjacent spaces and seeing the materials placed near each other trigger an idea. Self trust is a big part too. Let it be okay to fail to just humble yourself to the fact that stuff is not always going to work or be successful. I would rather push the limits and stumble onto something cool than bring fear or trepidation into the process. Patience in my own process, but, pushing my limits within that process can catapult me past creative blocks. Or just walking away from a piece when it makes you want to pull your hair out and returning to it with a fresh perspective.
JOE: Again, I’ve had this feeling more in music than in crafting. I have felt the “need” for a new design or something, but, not really the urge to create something without having an idea of what I want, except in music.
6) WHAT ARE SOME OF YOUR FAVORITE GEEKY INTERESTS?
RIN: Creating things that make people scratch their head in confusion and then reach a point of understanding and laugh to themselves. Love that. I will turn to our in-house “geek interest specialist” for his answer.
JOE: I do tend toward geeky interests. I read quite a bit and enjoy detail. I like to be surprised. So, I read about: fractal geometry, physics/cosmology, music history, politics, philosophy, classic science fiction, comparative mythology and anything else that looks interesting. Some might consider my depth of involvement with music to be “geeky,” especially when considering my collection of live music (which falls somewhere between a hobby and an illness.) I also like the humor of Monty Python and can quote far too many bits of their sketches (not to mention the Simpsons and literally hundreds of different songs.)
7) DO YOU HAVE ANY SUGGESTIONS FOR CRAFTERS TRYING TO GET STARTED ON ETSY OR OTHER ONLINE-SELLING PLATFORM?
RIN: I will look to my singer songwriter friend’s lyric “Don’t wait to feel confident before you proceed.” ~ Christie Josef
Have a camera, a product, and get your brain pumping for presenting it in a fun and engaging way. It is a platform that you can develop over time. One pointer I have heard is to try to add to the shop frequently to get “noticed.” If you start simple, it enables you to get the hang of it and not be overwhelmed. There are also local groups that meet to give support in learning etsy or other online techniques. I have to say that, I myself should attend one of these and have meant to, but have not yet. You can find many tutorials and forums that can help you familiarize yourself with the set-up and maintenance of the online shops. After some research, just decide if it is the right fit for you.
JOE: I have no idea in this realm. Rin handles this part, except the occasional request that I do a specific chore.
8) IF YOU COULD CHOOSE ONE SUPERPOWER FOR YOURSELF, WHAT WOULD IT BE AND WHY?
RIN: To visit with those who have died to access information left unanswered. JOE: I would like the power to travel through time. Because who has enough time, time travelers do!
9) WHAT ARE THE PRINCIPLES FOR THE SUCCESSFUL WIFE-HUSBAND BUSINESS TEAM?
RIN: Not an easy thing to answer. Thanks for making me think about it. I would think foremost in the scenario is that the team has to have compatible personalities so an arrangement is feasible. I handle the business umbrella of Art Endeavors, LLC. Over the years, I have developed my own product line. For Joe and myself, there has been a “team-oriented” aspect of our relationship since early on because Joe and I have the common interest in the creative process. Sleeping Bee Batiks evolved out of our interest in experimenting with tie dye. Eventually, with trials and errors and the natural learning curve, we combine the skills each of us has developed individually to produce the batik clothing. I think the thing that makes it work is that we both have our hand in a different part of the products completion. There is rarely a time where we are working side by side for the production aspect. We have our own zone where the technique takes place. Yet both aspects are vital for the process. If you asked me to make a whole batik shirt I would need to be trained in the dye process (again) and he is much more interested in the science, quantities and calculations of his process. It involves much back-and-forth with the item and takes communication and instructions between us from one stage to the next. We each bring our own experience to our designs and have to strike a balance when deciding the final color or effects we pick. The fun part is we usually agree on what course the item should take. The formula seems to go smoothly most of the time.
JOE: I think Rin hit most of the salient points, but, I would phrase it a little differently. First and foremost, you have to genuinely like one another and enjoy spending time together. Some situations are going to be stressful, and if you start in with recriminations, you’re bound for failure. I do think it makes it a little easier for each to have part of the process they “own” so that one doesn’t feel subservient to the other. Clear communication is also vital.
10) ANY OTHER FUN/RANDOM FACTS YOU’D LIKE TO SHARE (secret obsessions, other hobbies not covered by geeky interests, pets, favorite things, etc.)? RIN: I guess I will mention the rain barrels that I built. We currently have 3 barrels with a 165 gallon capacity that run off the new studio roof. I LOVE to plan and design projects with various elements and watch them unfold, and hopefully be a success, in front of my eyes. The barrels provide us with boiling water for the final step in our process.
JOE: I have a strong dislike for certain color combinations (most of which are reasonably popular with people for some reason inexplicable to me). So I have to make them anyway, but have a hard time liking the final product.
Artistic creativity is somewhat innate, generally and personally; but, circumstances in one’s life facilitates if one is to become an artist or not. As in Rin and Joe’s case, it’s a place to go to. But who is to say that is what made them an artist. It seems that they just always knew they were one. It was just there. Some people can become artists, like a career decision. But, it’s not the same thing as one who always knew and who cannot do anything else. Sometimes people come to it late. Late bloomers are sometimes the best artists…at least I keep telling myself that. I believe the personality of an artist is innate, it’s the circumstances and drive that allow it to happen.
When Rin is not working, you will find her often making an “intense killing” by tapping the ground, moving the ball, and advancing towards the opposition’s goal with her hockey stick on the rink.
and Joe performing with his Red Cedar Shakes trio–including guitar, bass, mandolin, and voice–an Oregonian acoustic band performing in local Portland establishments. Be prepared for a wild trip through great songs–from the 19th to the 21st century–with their wide repertoire of acoustic Americana, covering the ground from Clarence Ashley to Warren Zevon, with a few originals thrown in for good measure. For more information and event booking, contact the band at firstname.lastname@example.org
Based on my own speculation, pursuing their own personal interests–outside of the designing studio–is one of their key ingredients for success between the couples in this mechanical life, loaded with work. :D) I do hope you got an extra boost of creativity, courage, inspiration, and motivation through Joe and Rin.
If you are in Portland, be sure to stop in and see the newly improved showroom Sleeping Bee Studio. Say hello to this amazing couple while you are at all. “Awaken to art!”
Happy crafting and keep those creative juices running!
(still doesn’t do texting, MySpace, Twitter, StumbleUpon, DiggIt…but caved into Facebook!)