This interview is personally so, so thrilling! As a Fibers student at Savannah College of Art and Design, Denyse Schmidt is a hero, legend and all-around icon for young aspiring textile artists. Denyse’s quilts exude modernity in a medium often thought of as archaic and grandmotherly. Her vision transcends traditional Americana and breathes new life into the art of quilt-making. In addition to creating stunning quilts and penning books about them, Denyse is a leader of several workshops (people who live close to Connecticut-please attend one for me!) and also designs fabric/quilt patterns. So, without further ado, here is a peek into the studio and tool box of the overwhelmingly talented Denyse Schmidt! –Ginny Branch Stelling>
1. Design*Sponge: What is in your toolbox?
Denyse: I just got a new iMac. I use the computer a lot. I use Adobe Illustrator to draw my fabric designs, and to create my quilt designs to scale. I always start with pen and paper, and usuallyscan in my sketches as a template. I have to draw on blank paper- never lined or graph paper (I’ve always had an aversion to- and feel totally distracted by- lined paper. I’ve been using Muji sketch books for the last few years. They are affordable and I love the kraft paper cover.
My sketch books have to be spiral bound – I can’t draw in a book that doesn’t lay flat. I prefer fine line drawing pens or markers, preferably in black, though lately I seem to pick up whatever is around. I always seem to lose, or use up, my favorite drawing pens. When it comes to actually making an object, my fabrics are my most precious tool. I love my vintage bits and pieces. Our fabric storage area in in the back, out of the light (to keep it from fading). We have bolts of mostly solid fabrics, and then bins of scrap – lots and lots. Its organized (more or less) by color, and I remember just about every piece of fabric I have or had. It drives everyone crazy, I always know for sure if we still have something, even if they can’t find it.
2. Design*Sponge: Fill in the blank, “When I am in my studio, I feel….”
CLICK HERE for the rest of Denyse’s interview (how she stays organized and gets through creative blocks) after the jump!
3. Design*Sponge: What are on the top shelves of your inspiration library right now?
Denyse: A book about the textile designer Josef Frank, that I picked up in London recently, and the only magazine I subscribe to which is World of Interiors. I’m also looking at a book of lovely plant drawings by a Shaker sister. I’m still not great at looking online for inspiration (other than design*sponge!). It’s too easy to get sucked in – there’s no end to it like a book or magazine. The fact that I don’t have internet at home probably has something to do with it too. At work I don’t really have drifting time. I have a huge stack of quilt books both at home and at work right now as I am working on a new book of traditional quilt patterns with STC.
4. Design*Sponge: How do you keep yourself organized?
Denyse: I have my Muji calendar which I can’t live without. This year I bought my calendar too late and had to settle for the very small one, but I’m making it work. I type up a list every week – it has this week on the left, and next week on the right. I hand write my daily list and clip it to my weekly list. I even re-write my daily list as I mark things off and pressing incoming items need to be added. Overkill perhaps, but the exercise helps me feel like I’m on top of things, and I do a lot of planning, prioritizing, and editing as I make the lists.
5. Design*Sponge: What is your most beloved quilt you own and why?
Denyse: This is a tough question! It’s like asking which child is your favorite. I have a Works Special Edition Tangerine/Poppy quilt on my bed, and I never seem to tire of it.
6. Design*Sponge: How do you combat creative blocks? What tools do you use to keep your creativity flowing?
Denyse: Giving myself the illusion of a day off, of playing hooky, can go a long way. Also, I have a small group of creative friends I get together with once a month. While the group has stayed the same people-wise for the last decade, how we function as a group has morphed a bit over the years. But this regular meeting always helps to serve as a reminder that we all struggle with the process, and with fitting it into busy lives. Knowing this has helped me – as has experience – to just accept the angst, the procrastination, the doubt, the fear as part of it. The recognition of these things as an integral (albeit sometimes painful) part of the process makes them pass more easily, so I get to the fun part more graciously.
7. Design*Sponge: In addition to being a teacher, quilter, fabric-designer, and author, to name a few, what would you like to conquer next?
Denyse: I’d like to be a daily meditator, and take up the fiddle (or guitar) again.
8. Design*Sponge: What is your favorite part of what you do?
Denyse: Designing, dreaming.
9. Design*Sponge: Do you keep sketchbooks/scrapbooks/journals? How integral is it to your creative process?
Denyse: Drawing and writing is an integral part of my process. Nothing happens without it. At work I’ve been trying to get back to the sketchbook, rather than loose sheets which I seem to have moved toward in the last few years. I often like loose sheets so I can tack things up on the wall, but invariably I lose them or they don’t get organized properly when the job is done. I’ve been trying to get back to making a drawing a day at home. I can sketch quilts till the cows come home, but I want to get good at looking and drawing again. It’s hard to have the discipline. I did it pretty consistently right after my mom passed away a few years ago. I love the drawings I did, and while a lot of what I was going through was painful, it is part of my life.
10. Design*Sponge: If you could make a master mix-tape of music that is inspiring you at the moment, what would it be?
Denyse: It’s funny – over the last few years I find I don’t follow or purchase music like I used to. I think it’s another symptom of being too busy. But I do stream radio. I listen to NPR a lot, and NYC has interesting talk programming. There is also an amazing local station that is entirely listener supported – WPKN. All the programmers are volunteer, and the listening is all over the map. I love being surprised, I love interesting mixes of things. Frank Sinatra one minute, then experimental, then old time fiddle music. When I was little I used to set the alarm for the middle of the night so I could listen to Dr. Demento under the covers. I’m kind of in that phase of listening again.
–muji A5 kraft calendar [3.95]
–A5 muji spiral bound sketchbooks [$3.50]
–adobe illustrator CS5 [$599]
–josef frank: life and work [$86.00]
–denyse schmidt fabric [$12-$75]
–purl soho [quilt fabrics, prices vary]
–world of interiors [$102.95 for 12 month subscription]