Where does inspiration come from? Do ideas spring from a single stimulus? Or are they generated by a creative environment fostered over time? Of course, we know the answer is both – and many more sources.
My daughter, Maggie, is obsessed with Minecraft, which (if you don’t already know) is an open-ended game that relies upon the player’s creativity to build her own world and solve problems along her journey. The game’s virtual world is made of cubes of materials – grass, dirt, sand, bricks, lava, and many others. Players survive and earn accomplishments by using these blocks to create other materials, structures, and any three-dimensional form.
Beginning October 13th, 2014 and as part of our ongoing Makeshift conversation, Alabama Chanin will host a series of discussions and lectures about design, art, business, community, and plenty of other topics. Events will be held at the Factory on the second Monday of each month. The format will shift, depending on topic and presenter, but you can look forward to informal talks, multi-media presentations, and hands-on workshops.
Makeshift began over three years ago as a conversation about design, craft, art, fashion, and DIY—how they intersect and how each discipline elevates the others. Since its beginnings, we have expanded the conversation, discussing how making in groups can build relationships and communities, all the while examining what the design community can learn from the slow food movement.
We’ve written about Maxine Payne’s book, Making Pictures: Three For a Dime, which highlights the work of a family of itinerant photographers – the Massengills. We were inspired by this catalog of the family’s work and incorporated those thoughts and feelings into our most recent collection. Alabama Chanin, in collaboration with Maxine Payne and contributor Phillip March Jones, has invited a number of different artists, writers, musicians, chefs, and creative types to offer up their own interpretations of the Massengill photographs in a series of posts for the Journal. The posts give voice to the images of the often-anonymous figures that appear in the photographs. For this particular entry, we invited Butch Anthony to “intertwangle” a series of Massengill photographs.
At Alabama Chanin, we’ve spent years working with textiles to find the perfect medium for our techniques and products: 100% organic cotton jersey. We are drawn to artists who utilize what some might call ordinary materials and tools to create extraordinary work. Dana Barnes has done just that; she has taken familiar techniques like crochet and felting and combined them with a common material, merino wool. But, her results are not ordinary. Rather, they are unexpected and exquisite.
Dana Barnes is a renowned fashion designer, having created collections for lines like Elie Tahari, Adrienne Vittadini, and Tommy Hilfiger. Her exploration into wool and textiles sprang from a practical issue – one that many mothers face: as her young daughters ran and played, they made a little too much noise for the neighbors living beneath the family’s expansive loft. At the time, Dana was experimenting with wool and felting and wondered if she could make a rug that was big enough to cover the family’s living space. What resulted was a massive rug sewn together by hand from large crocheted squares of felted, unspun wool.
One Saturday morning in the mid-1930s, Mancey Massengill, a wife and mother of two, saw people having their pictures made in a dime store photo booth in Batesville, Arkansas. According to her son Lance, “she watched close, and got the name off the camera, then wrote to the company and ordered the lens. She got the money for that by taking about two dozen pullets in for sale.” Her husband, Jim, built a box to house the lens and outfitted a trailer to create a mobile photo studio. On weekends, they would set up in little towns across the state and make pictures, three for a dime.
Jim and Mancey Massengill started this family side-business to make ends meet. The country was in the throes of depression and on the verge of entering the Second World War. Work was scarce in rural Arkansas, but the Massengills understood that even in rough times, life continues. Babies are born, children play, couples meet, and we all grow older. Someone needed to be there to capture those moments and that person could perhaps make a living doing it.
A few years later, the Massengill’s sons, Lance and Lawrence, and their wives, Evelyn and Thelma, worked their way into the business. They outfitted their own trailers and made their own pictures, traveling across the state in search of clients. The surviving family diaries and notes from this period attest to a very strong and entrepreneurial work ethic, with little mention of aesthetics or technique. The men and women of both generations describe where they went, what they did, and how much they made with only fleeting mention of life’s details. With few exceptions, the stories are left to be told by the pictures they made.
Maria Popova is the founder of Brain Pickings, a website designed to introduce you to a broad variety of subjects that feed one’s mind and inspire creativity. Since founding Brain Pickings, Maria has spent countless hours researching and writing – hours that have taught her many life lessons. In honor of the website’s 7th birthday last fall, she was generous enough to share 7 things she learned from those 7 years of reading, writing, and living.
The 7 Lessons:
- Allow yourself the uncomfortable luxury of changing your mind.
- Do nothing out of guilt, or for prestige, status, money or approval alone.
- Be generous with your time and your resources and with giving credit and, especially, with your words.
- Build pockets of stillness into your life.
- Maya Angelou famously said, ‘When people tell you who they are, believe them’. But even more importantly, when people try to tell you who you are, don’t believe them.
- Presence is far more intricate and rewarding an art than productivity. As Annie Dillard memorably put it, “how we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives.”
- Debbie Millman captures our modern predicament beautifully: “Expect anything worthwhile to take a long time.”
We at Alabama Chanin have long been obsessed with and inspired by Maira Kalman. She has a rich and singular voice – as a visual artist, author, illustrator, and storyteller – that imbues people, objects, and words with knowing wit and humanity.
Maira has written and illustrated 18 children’s books, all of which have been popular nighttime reading with my daughter Maggie. Maira’s illustrated version of Strunk and White’s The Elements of Style resides, beautiful and dog-eared, on my desk each day—as it has become part of our company style guide. And for years, I have traded and passed on copies of and links to her columns from the New York Times, The Principles of Uncertainty and The Pursuit of Happiness (both of which are now published exquisitely in book form).
We’ve written before about the importance of color – from a cultural standpoint and a design perspective. At Alabama Chanin, we tend to embrace more muted tones for our design color palette. Muted colors have a reduced intensity, so any saturated color stands out in comparison. We are drawn toward natural tones and some of our fabrics are colored with natural dyes to create rich, pure shades of color.
When it comes to individual style, our feelings about color can be personal; a color can make you feel happy or sad, energetic or depressed. Colors can transmit mood, thought, and feeling. When discussing the best way to exhibit the color options for our DIY projects, Olivia – a member of our design team – suggested that we approach the display as an art project. The result of her work, this wrapped canvas, is beautiful, simple, and focuses the viewer’s attention directly on color. Anything else you take from this, like your thoughts on color, is personal.
“In visual perception a color is almost never seen as it really is – as it physically is. This fact makes color the most relative medium in art.” –Josef Albers
Color, as we see it, results from our eyes and brains working together to make sense of the light around us. Since as early as the 15th century, artists and philosophers alike have tried to understand how this works and create a unified approach to color – a color theory – to understand how colors complement or contrast with each other and why they rouse our emotions and influence our decisions.
Essentially, color theory, like the interaction between our eyes and brains, helps us make sense of what we “see.” Perhaps one of the most influential color theorists was artist and educator Josef Albers, who published Interaction of Color in 1963. A tome of a book on color theory, it was made for interaction, to be pored over and actively, even emotionally, involve students as they learned Albers’ philosophy of color.
Sun Young Park, a freelance illustrator living in New York, is an integral part of the Alabama Chanin team. If you own Alabama Studio Sewing + Design or have ever browsed our Studio Style DIY Custom DIY Guide, then you’ve seen the beautiful sketches of our garments, illustrated by Sun. I met Sun several years ago by accident through a mutual friend, which resulted in an impromptu breakfast at The Breslin, April Bloomfield’s restaurant at the ACE Hotel in New York City. I was immediately taken by her enthusiasm and had been looking for a new illustrator for my books. Our chance meeting was good fortune.
Sun creates illustrations for a variety of projects, including April Bloomfield’s new book, A Girl and Her Pig: Recipes and Stories, and Gertie’s Book for Better Sewing. We love Sun’s illustrations, doodles, and drawings and recently were able to chat with her about her beginnings in illustration, inspirations, artistic process, and desire to create.