what's in your toolbox

What’s In Your Toolbox: Grace D. Chin

by Annie Werbler

What's In Your Toolbox: Grace Chin, on Design*Sponge

With a fiber artist mother, Grace D. Chin grew up in a home where creativity was not just encouraged, it was an integral part of life. It comes as no surprise that as an adult, Grace’s own multimedia explorations range from printmaking, to drawing and paper sculpture. After graduating from the University of Kansas, she has stayed in the town of Lawrence and reconnected with her crafting roots, making paper flower wreaths with messaging that explores intersectional feminism. “It’s all about fighting negative forces in the world and in ourselves by using words. I sincerely believe in the power of internalizing and imbibing positive messages,” she explains. “It was satisfying to translate those ideas into real objects. I’m still pleased and honored that people want to keep the words and the work in their homes.”

Grace uses the time spent in her studio as an opportunity to be vulnerable and honest with herself, finding that this process often allows people “to say something you weren’t able to before.” There is no need for rigid organization during these unscripted moments. “I’ve just accepted that when I’m onto something good, my desk is going to be chaos,” she jokes. Believing that physical movement stimulates creativity, Grace explores her environment to harness “the power of the mind at rest. Wandering is good for the mind.” —Annie

Photography by Kelsey Hunter

What's In Your Toolbox: Grace Chin, on Design*Sponge

What’s in your toolbox?

I’ve found that many tools designed for different media are useful for making paper flowers. I’m Marie Kondo’s worst nightmare — I keep nearly every art tool I’ve used. However, the essentials are:

-Kai rubber-stamping scissors (I’m picky when it comes to scissors)
-Doublette crepe papers and florist crepe papers from Castle in the Air
-Miles of florist wire
-My trusty wire cutters
-Cricut Explore — I used to hand-cut every single letter, but found that scanning in the hand-cut letters and using the cricut has made my process more efficient
-Tombow glue pens or Elmer’s Board Mate
-Prismacolor NuPastels — I don’t pigment my flowers often, but this is what I use when I do

What's In Your Toolbox: Grace Chin, on Design*Sponge

Fill in the blank, “When I am in my studio, I feel ____________.”

When I am in my studio, I feel vulnerable and strong. Making things is most of all an act of vulnerability and honesty. This is especially true if I’m making something for myself. There’s a lot of power in that: to be able to make something, especially if you’re able to say something you weren’t able to before you made the work.

What's In Your Toolbox: Grace Chin, on Design*Sponge

What’s on the top shelves of your inspiration library right now?

I’ve got my inspirational materials split into two camps right now:

Still Life / Florals

-Rachel Ruysch’s still life paintings
-The photographs of Kim Keever
-The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett
-National Audubon Society Field Guide to North American Wildflowers
-The work of Edo era painter Itō Jakuchū

Irreverent/smart/funny feminist women

-Motherland Fatherland Homelandsexuals by Patricia Lockwood
Broad City
-Rookie magazine
-Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
-Bell hooks, all the time
Got a Girl Crush magazine
-Rebecca Solnit

What's In Your Toolbox: Grace Chin, on Design*Sponge

How do you keep yourself organized?

My work surface is a lost cause — I’ve just accepted that when I’m onto something good, my desk is going to be chaos. The best way I know is to write everything down. I’ve got a graveyard of unused productivity apps, but the tried and true (Office Depot calendar and Mossery planner) is what works for me.

What's In Your Toolbox: Grace Chin, on Design*Sponge

If you could have one superhero (or magical) power, what would it be and why?

The honest answer is flight. I dream about it often, and every single time, I actually believe it’s finally come true. I chalk it up to watching so many Miyazaki films growing up.

What's In Your Toolbox: Grace Chin, on Design*Sponge

What is the best advice you have ever received, and what is the one piece of advice you would offer to a young artist, maker, or designer?

The best advice I ever received was from one of my professors when I’d graduated art school and hit a block. She told me to be fearless when applying for opportunities and that talking myself out of applying was not my job. The task of selection belongs to jurors and it wasn’t fair to try to take that job away from them. This is advice I’ve gotten time and time again: to be undaunted by “no.”

As a fellow young maker, the piece of advice I would offer is to seek out “your folks,” i.e. the people who help ignite your sense of curiosity, who help you wonder, “why not?” They don’t even necessarily have to be working in the same field. The only way to keep moving forward creatively, and otherwise, is to keep asking questions. It feels easier when there are other people bringing fresh air into your mind.

What's In Your Toolbox: Grace Chin, on Design*Sponge

How do you combat creative blocks?

The first thing I do is get out of my space. Usually this means walking because I really believe in the power of movement to activate lateral thinking. Because I live in the same town I went to art school in, I still have a creative community that I rely on heavily. One of the ways I get unstuck is to talk to them. Mostly, I strive to look at something else, do something else, because eventually my mind returns to the task of creativity on its own, and willingly. There’s a wonderful quote from fellow Midwestern artist Grant Wood, “All the really good ideas I’ve ever had came to me while I was milking a cow.” I’ve never milked a cow, but it’s a great way to think about the power of the mind at rest. Wandering is good for the mind.

What's In Your Toolbox: Grace Chin, on Design*Sponge

Where do you like to look or shop for inspiration?

I’m very lucky that I work at an art gallery/stationery shop/art supply store called Wonder Fair. It’s the perfect milieu for seeking inspiration, because there’s new work from a great mix of artists, illustrators, and designers. I do like looking at tumblr and other online platforms for visual inspiration, but ultimately, those images are less likely to stick with me than something in a book or in a museum. The wealth of visual material on the Internet is overwhelming and I like the ability to sit and soak in an image. For studying flowers, I go on walks in my town and (respectfully) snoop on what people are growing in their gardens. I’m planning on visiting some botanical gardens close by later in the spring.

What's In Your Toolbox: Grace Chin, on Design*Sponge

If you could peek inside the studio or toolbox of any artist, maker, designer, or craftsperson, whose would it be and why?

The late Margaret Kilgallen. Finding her work in college was a bit of a revelation. Seeing someone combine so many different influences (folk art, the Mission School movement, street art, printmaking/typography, and women’s history) in a way that was accessible and playful but still so smart, it changed the way I thought about the art I wanted to make. I’d love to see how that all came together.

What's In Your Toolbox: Grace Chin, on Design*Sponge

What’s on your inspirational playlist at the moment?

A lot of it depends on the project I’m working on, but I listen to:

A few podcasts including Welcome to Night Vale, Dear Sugar Radio, and of course, After the Jump.

Full Communism – The Downtown Boys — they make me feel less like I missed out on riot grrl.

The ArchAndroid – Janelle Monae — I listen to this to get amped up and feel re-galvanized.

A Day Without Rain – Enya — I listen to a whole lot of Enya, mostly because my mother, who is also an artist [who] listened to it when she worked, so it’s been ingrained that it’s working music.

Ys – Joanna Newsom — for when I’d like to get lost in my work.

What's In Your Toolbox: Grace Chin, on Design*Sponge




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  • Thank you Grace Chin, via Annie Warbler’s brief profile of your work for your thought filled art and for introducing me to Margaret Kilgallen’s work.

  • I feel like the weight of the world was just lifted off my shoulders reading about this artist’s approach and message. Thank you so much. I love everything about this toolbox. Keep rocking out, Grace!!!

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