Comfort Zone

Comfort Zone: Patricia Thomasson

by Sabrina Smelko


As someone who works from home, I believe that while the benefits of a personalized live/work space cannot be discounted, at times, a dual-purpose space can make it difficult to separate your work from your personal life and your ability to just relax. For Midwest-native and illustrator Patricia Thomasson, her small but mighty multi-functional space has become the place she feels most at home, despite being located far from it in Queens, New York. Although it is quite literally the space where Patricia rests and catches Z’s, her bedroom / studio also operates in a completely contrasting way, offering her a space for her to create, experiment, and work from.

Although she’s the first to admit that being surrounded by work at all times — even when she’s off the clock –, can cause her to take it too personally, living and working within tight quarters also offers her the freedom to focus her energy on only those things that truly add to her life, while also serving as a daily reminder of the importance of practicality. An ever changing landscape, nothing in her space is permanent, affording it an unwavering permission to ebb and flow according to what she likes that week or day. No matter the season or happenings of a given day, Patricia’s studio keeps her inspired and on her toes, and today, she’s letting us into her domain to chat about what makes her tick, what bothers her, and what humor, recklessness and sentimentality have to do with it all. –Sabrina

Photography by Frankie Marin

Tell us about yourself.

I’m a multidisciplinary artist and designer from the Midwest working out of a studio in Queens with a strong lean towards the handmade. I grew up around story tellers with inventive minds and hands, so making is the driving instinct which informs the hand-lettering, drawing and sewing I use in my work every day. I also operate an online store selling lettered sweaters, embroidered goods and some printed designs!


What does home and this space mean to you?

Home is where you feel connected to yourself and the ones you love — and, sometimes, that has nothing to do with proximity. To me, this studio/bedroom space is part of that, but its also where I do good deal of thinking and growing, so it has to be high-functioning and receptive to change. It evolves all of the time because I like to have my projects visible at a glance, but capable of being stored if I have to switch gears. The boundaries of working where I sleep, living in New York and being in the company of most of my belongings, (most of every day) give me just enough limitations to feed my creative flow, and serve as a constant reminder that some of the best ideas are rooted in practicality. I’m happiest with the images and objects I make that are accessible with a little bit of mystery that keeps things open for individual interpretation and tidy without being boring at a repeated glance, so my room is a bit of a living mood board to reflect those concepts.


It can be a challenge trying not to take work too personally when it invades your living space, so I always pepper in some humor to keep things in check: a high-school aged ‘Old-time’ photo of some of my best friends with ridiculous props, paper masks of (Prince) Will & Kate hidden under an uncut sheet of cards, and a tiny clipped photo InStyle ran of Mindy Khaling as a kid with the same haircut I had at the same age taped above my desk. I’ve lived here around a year now, so I’ve slowly tethered myself to the space with a more and more sentimental set of belongings that keep me feeling close to the people and memories that are distant. Clothes carry a great weighty meaning for me, so there are also garments from my former fashion internships, gifts and pieces that played companion to past adventures! Above my bed is a hand-hemmed yard of Marimekko fabric of my favorite print where the screens’ ends met that’s seen every apartment I’ve lived in since college – I’m extremely sentimental to begin with, but I also grew up in homes with a running multi-generational theme of meaning and change so the nesting instinct is a difficult one to fight!

To me, this space is where I work, think, and grow as an artist, so it has to be high-functioning and receptive to change. It evolves all of the time because I like to have my projects visible at a glance, but capable of being stored if I have to switch gears. The boundaries of working where I sleep, living in New York and being in the company of most of my belongings, (most of every day) give me just enough limitations to feed my creative flow, and serve as a constant reminder that some of the best ideas are rooted in practicality. I’m happiest with the images and objects I make that are accessible with a little bit of mystery that keeps things open for individual interpretation and tidy without being boring at a repeated glance, so my room is a bit of a living mood board to reflect those concepts.


What makes it so comfortable?

The room itself is a great starting point because the space is so inviting on its own — flooded with light so I can keep plants alive, partially pre-furnished with the things that would kill me to seek out solo, and low enough in the building to hear whatever kids are shouting at each other out of context during recess but high enough to have real privacy— what makes me feel like I’ve made a home here is the balance of things with personal significance against practical needs like storage and lighting.

The walls are layered with revolving combinations of friends’ work, portably-sized bits I grew up with, prints from artists I admire, postcards from faraway friends, clippings, and bits and bobs of current projects. Photos of some of my best friends sit on the shelves that hold the sketchbooks I’ve filled since living in New York and a handful of gifted reference books I dip into when I need new eyes.

My bedding is a hodgepodge of ink-stained and pencil-streaked sheets from the college days, throws snagged from my mom’s house, hawaiian quilted pillows from my grandmother’s living room, (I lived in her house for six months after graduation) and a woven blanket gifted from my old friend and roommate all topped with an antique quilt from my dad’s collection – his eye is incredible.


What makes you uncomfortable? What is your biggest fear?

(In no particular order:) Being ungrateful, being unintentionally rude, disappointing someone who relies on me, misinterpreting facts, bad things happening to good people, arriving late, death, smelling bad, saying things I don’t mean, being rude by trying to be polite, making people feel bad, losing touch with people I care about, being caught in conversations with people who prove themselves to be hateful (and hateful people in general), roller coasters that pull you into upside-down loops, asking people to do things that I know they don’t want to do, giving people the wrong impression about what I’m thinking or doing, cockroaches, and missing out (AKA FOMO).


Have you ever thrown caution to the wind and departed from your comfort zone? What happened as a result?

Absolutely! I’m the latest in a line of anxious types, so caution is my default but I keep more adventurous people around who suggest the kinds of things that get me minor injuries and cherished stories! Now and then I get myself into the kind of jam that leaves me barefoot in a dress from the night before on a boat of horrible people planning an escape without a cell phone or stuck on the top of a high-rise (under the guise of work) being told by a man fifty years my senior that he wants us to swim together so I can ‘cobra out’ (paired with a gesture you’ll have to dream up on your own) — the jams I get myself into are much worse than those of my friends because it always stems from mis-placed attempts at people-pleasing or politeness where I should have placed caution above other gains. Moving and travel have been my biggest leaps; I’ve moved to three cities graduating from school in 2013 and those experiences have given me more joy than I can put into words! Recklessness can be a good thing and movement in any form is a great shortcut to adventure so whatever combination you can work into your life is worth taking the chance!


What would you do if you had a day, a week and a month all to yourself?

For a day, guaranteed solo, I’d have to take advantage of a lack of witnesses and do something naked – maybe something stoic like visiting a museum? Nakedly going to the Met or something similar, save for a pair of sensible shoes, mimicking the poses and facial expressions by myself would be an investment in permanent laughs going to any museum for the rest of my life.

For a week I’d love to stay in a luxe mountain hotel with a slough of sketchbooks, picture windows and some Nigel Cabourn getups in tow for any outdoors escapades because I love beautiful scenery, cold weather and unattainably cool men’s outerwear.

With a month on my own, I’d love to have a mess-friendly home at my fingertips in or around Santa Fe, New Mexico and a load of supplies at the ready to teach myself sign painting and gold leaf techniques, all the while blasting lively music with a closet full of (again) unearthly cool but weather-appropriate outfits. It would have to be close enough to Scott Corey’s ‘Santa Fe Vintage Outpost’ to sneak over and take notes every few days, because I feel like that place would live up to, above and beyond the hype.


What have you learned as an adult that you wish you knew when you were younger?

I’ve been an anxious person for ages, but had so many coping mechanisms built in that I didn’t realize I have actual, must-be-tended-to anxiety until early last year when some means of coping flipped and became stressors. If I had been more open to the idea of dealing with it as early as when I was in high school, I think the progression of treatment could have been a little less rocky — I mainly wish I’d known about it for the times when I turned that negative energy outward and inflicted it on others. When I was younger, I wasn’t introspective enough to admit that something bigger was wrong, which short-changed growth that could have happened in tandem with the never-ending line of people I’ve known with the same problem. There’s all sorts of things that I wish I’d never said to people and situations I wish I’d handled more compassionately now that I have the aftermath rattling around in what’s sometimes a new decade’s worth of distance. I’d like to think It would have gone differently if I’d been able to see the motivation for my own rudeness – being self-conscious held me back from doing and saying much healthier things, and I remember my comments with painful accuracy compared to any bullying or rudeness others sent my way.

On a totally separate, closet/budget note, there was a “science” theme trip to Florida I went on with a group of classmates in 7th grade where we visited Epcot and I had the opportunity to get an excessively badass deep teal satin bomber jacket emblazoned with a bird’s eye view of a walking tiger on the front, (probably something even cooler on the back) at a semi-decent price because it was 2004, and instead, I opted to buy total junk like a gigantic pencil and a coke-can bag that has since been handed to the good and patient people of Goodwill – I’d do anything to have kept a jacket like that around.

If I’m being constructive, I wish I had kept up with Russian and French lessons after high school and been braver about keeping a sketchbook in public – in either case, practice always helps, but with languages in particular, my brothers both do beautifully with them and it would have been a great thing to maintain together!


How do you unplug, recharge and unwind?

To really and truly relax, I like to hang out with friends, (or talk to distant ones on the phone) pet dogs wherever possible, seek out new music, read, do long bouts of yoga, draw for pleasure, sew for any reason, visit some form of nature, (I still live in a city) and watch any type of tv with anyone that makes me laugh!


Have you ever experienced burnout? How do you get back on your feet and stay inspired?

Yes, and it’s a horrible feeling so in a general way, these are some of my fail-safe favorites:

Drink a big glass of water, (everyone’s dehydrated and therefore crabby – I’m right there with you!) make and consume mint tea, walk around the block, make a new playlist, work with rainymood.com in the background, take a shower, do a few yoga stretches, run in place, clean my room, (feng shui) phone a friend, paint my nails, light a candle, (stoke the creative fire! in a very literal way) go to sleep at a decent hour, (or indecent hour if you’ve had a great schedule going, just to mix things up but I’m playing devil’s advocate) put on music and dance un-self-consciously around where others can’t see, change clothes, and —as an over-arching theme— *check in on others! Usually there’s a pal or two in the same boat, and while commiserating unearths some gems where ideas are concerned, it’s also important to step out of your own problems pretty regularly to support the people you love.

Learning how to do something new – basically anything – is another great way to reenergize your thinking. Being a beginner again puts you in a vulnerable position of having to be patient, lights up your brain in a new fashion and the pay-off is huge! If you’re good at the activity, then you’ve expanded your scope a little; If you hate the activity or don’t feel inclined to stick with it, you’ll more than likely return to the things you like and love with new eyes and appreciation all-around!

When someone’s in a bad way, it might be the last thing they want to do is to make a round of sad and continuous phone calls ‘burdening’ others or reliving personal horrors. To have someone reach out when you’re going through something, just by nature of filling someone’s thoughts to the point of communication is to be given a showing of meaningful loving support. Equally important is measured patience and understanding when people aren’t ready to talk, as well as being willing to open up when someone offers an outlet for care. Creatives have to be especially careful on all sides because there’s some extra sensitivity to take into account with how people process their lives.


What do you think the world could use less of, and more of?

Less avoidance of individual responsibility, more compassionate motivation!


What’s one question you wish you had the answer to?

What am I going to learn in 2016?

Suggested For You


  • It’s so great to read such honest and thoughtful responses! So often it feels that everything is so great for everyone and the things that aren’t are only vaguely mentioned in some big can-mean-a-lot-of-things words. So thank you so much for sharing! I can relate to all of the things that make you uncomfortable and I hadn’t even defined them for myself before. All the best to you!

  • LOVE! LOVE! LOVE! I think this is my favorite one ever. Her honesty and attitude is so disarming. I have a feeling she’s going to do amazing things, both creatively and as a human being in this world that needs more people like her.

  • Something about this interview struck a chord. Maybe it was the refreshing honesty and insight into her own quirks. Great read and I love the pillows and quilt.