It’s official: fiber arts are all the rage right now. I don’t know about you but I can’t get enough, especially when it comes to weaving. Having tried it myself I know just how hard it is to create anything tight and uniform which makes me respect (rad) ladies like Shelly Sazdanoff all the more.
There are lots of weavers out there right now but for my money Shelly’s work stands out in it’s perfection of technique and designs that meet at the intersection of minimal and maximal. While I’m often heard declaring ‘More, please!’ when it comes to color, print and pattern, what drew me to Shelly’s work more than anything is how she can make me love a simple square design made entirely of silver linen. It just speaks of time, knowledge, skill and an impeccable taste level. On the other end of the spectrum, Shelly also makes designs like this one which incorporates multiple colors (all perfect), geometric shapes and rakish side fringe – yes please to all of that.
I recently visited Shelly at her sweet in-house studio where I was immediately charmed by her and her adorable family. I also noticed the locally made pottery from Mimi Ceramics lining her shelves as well as the locally designed and produced romper she was sporting from General Public; Shelly is all too happy to support other lady makers which is just one of the many reasons she’s a Rad Lady.
Read on for Shelly’s story …
VGS: What was your path to becoming a fiber artist? If you hadn’t gone down that road, what do you think you’d be doing instead?
S: I’ve always had my hand in something creative since I can remember. I was a musician in a touring band for a few years, opened a boutique, helped run a magazine. I feel like I have tried a lot in my life and can see all of those pieces and experiences leading up to where I am now. My career path before this one was the magazine. I had my hand in almost every part of it. I was super committed but after two years straight pretty much working seven days a week I got burnt out and stepped down from that position. I took a sort of creative sabbatical and in that time we moved to Portland. After a few months of living here I felt that creative restlessness and knew I needed to do something. I had been following a few fiber artists on Instagram and thought I would give it a go. So I ordered a loom and read a few tutorials. With the first piece, everything clicked and I have been weaving almost everyday since. It’s hard to imagine doing anything else. Before finding fiber art, I toyed with the idea of becoming a florist. I love the thought of floral arranging being temporary art and bringing joy to someone whether the occasion was a sad or happy one.
VGS: Tell me about your typical day …
S: I’m a mother of two young children so my day starts early around 6:00 – 6:30am. Breakfast for them first then coffee for my husband and I. My husband leaves for work at 7:30 and then it’s just the kids and I for the day. If we have nothing planned, I usually work for a few hours in the morning while the kids play and then a few hours during their nap time in the afternoon. My studio is in our home so I feel lucky to be able to both be a mother and also pursue my passion.
VGS: How has your art evolved since your beginnings? How did you come by your current style?
S: In the beginning it was all about the finished product and how quickly I could churn a piece out (which at the time was probably every two days and makes me laugh now because two days is probably 4-5 inches of work these days). I tried every style I could. As my skill slowly evolved, I started paying attention to the process. Learning what I liked and disliked about each piece as I finished and actually listening to that and using it to move forward. I eventually found the medium linen and fell in love with its stiff texture and how it looked woven. Due to its thin nature it caused my work to take longer with each piece. I really learned to love the process as much as the final product. I also learned things about myself as I listened to that process. Like my love for negative space, clean lines and use of texture and shape. Paying attention to these things has allowed me to hone in on my voice.
VGS: What are your thoughts about collaboration? Any advice?
S: It’s kind of a joke in the fiber art community that it’s such an introvert art. We spend hours alone working to create something. So with that said, collaborations don’t come up often but when they do, and it feels right, I am all about it. I recently made two small woven pieces to be sewn onto garments as pockets by Canadian designer Tony Chestnut. It was great in the way that it stretched me and got me thinking about weaving in a new and different light than what I am used to. As far as advice goes, I’m probably not saying anything groundbreaking but keeping an open mind and try not being too attached to your own ideas. Allowing the other’s voice to be heard and finding that balance will only help the collaboration process.
VGS: What are your biggest inspirations currently?
S: In my latest works, I’ve scaled down my color palette and am trying not to be so distracted by choosing from a rainbow of hues which in turn will hopefully allow me to go deeper in my work. I have been really drawing inspiration from some of my favorite contemporary artists who use similar palettes and have such distinct voices: Anselm Kiefer, Cy Twombly, and Antoni Tapies.
VGS: What is the biggest challenge you’ve faced so far and how did you overcome it?
S: I would say social media has been the biggest challenge for me. Tools like Instagram are so incredibly helpful and provide such amazing ways to find a community of artists and run a business. But there can always be a downside to those. For one they provide instant access to a viewers reception of your work and make way for petty comparison. Like, “This piece didn’t get as many ‘likes’ as my last one.” Or losing a handful of followers after posting new work. It can really mess with your head when you are vulnerable and still trying to find yourself as an artist. Also there is the copying or straight up photo theft that occurs. Both of which have happened to me and are super frustrating but wound up being the catalyst to push myself and say what only I can say with my art so I suppose there is always silver lining.
VGS: How do you stay motivated?
S: I feel like I have been lucky where motivation hasn’t been an issue for me. Because my pieces take on average 1-2 weeks to finish, my hands can’t keep up with my sketchbook. I also have a lot of time to brainstorm new ideas while I’m weaving and sometimes whatever I am doing in a current piece can trigger a new one.
VGS: Why Portland? What is the best part of living here in terms of your art?
S: Oh Portland! I could give so many reasons – the city, the mountains, the rain, the food, the coast. Everything is at our fingertips. And as far as my art goes, I couldn’t ask for a better city. The creative community here is so supportive. From my experience, everyone encourages and looks out for each other which just fosters a healthy community and not a competitive one.
VGS: If you could go back and give younger you advice, what would it be?
S: Oh man, I would say to not look at doors closing or shifts in life as failures or time lost or energy wasted but to see that everything you do shapes you and builds character. Some things you will lose but most of the time, experiences, jobs, etc. – whether good or bad – will mold you and make you a more well-rounded person.
VGS: What’s your favorite patio in town?
S: Doug Fir Lounge.
Many thanks to Shelly and her cute kiddos for letting me invade their darling house (during snack time, no less!) and for being an all-around sweetie!