An Interview with Taylor Painter-Wolfe

October 21, 2017

Tulsa Art Studio Tour

Sunsalt, Felt & Thread

In conjunction with our Tulsa Art Studio Tour, we sent our Tour artists some questions to gain valuable insight to inspiring concepts and what life as an artist looks like.

 

Where are you originally from and how did you come to be a practicing artist in Tulsa?

“I am originally from Tulsa. I lived away from 1999-2011, mostly in Kansas City and Washington state before returning to Tulsa in 2011. I got a BFA from the Kansas City Art Institute and then a Masters in Early Childhood Special Education from the University of Washington. I came back to Tulsa to teach special education because of the low cost of living and to be close to family and friends. I barely made any art for a number of years while I was in grad school and then teaching. I started to get back into it though in 2014 and at the beginning of 2015 I made a commitment to prioritize my art practice and trying to be a working artist. I made my studio in the living room of my best friend’s house where I was living with her and her kids at the time until the beginning of 2016 when I started working out of Urban Art Lab Studios.”

Tell us a little bit about your work and the processes you utilize.    

“I’m a fiber artist and I exclusively use felted wool in my work. I learned how to felt and dye wool in the early 2000s in the fiber department at KCAI. I fell in love and never looked back! I make all of the felt I use so there are a number of steps involved in that process. Some of it I make with white wool yarn on a knitting machine, some with pre-felt wool batts, and some with raw wool roving. I get a different texture and thickness from each different kind of felt I make. All of it I wash in hot water with a special soap called Synthropol and it shrinks and turns into felt. Some of it I leave white and some of it I dye with acid dyes on a propane burner in a big pot in my backyard. Then I stretch it on a padded wall in my studio to dry. I usually make one large piece of white felt that I think of as my canvas and then all the different colored pieces that I think of as my paints. I cut shapes out of the colored felt, layer them on the white piece almost like making a mosaic and then sew on top of it all. I use aerial photography and satellite images as inspiration for my work. I usually find an image I think is compelling, make an abstracted colored pencil drawing of it, and then make the piece based on that drawing.”

Are there any people in your life or in the greater art world that have played a role in your work?

“My parents have probably played the biggest role by always being so encouraging. I knew a lot of people in art school or people who would like to have had the chance to go to art school whose parents were really not into their choice to pursue art as a career. It made it a lot harder on them and made me really appreciate my parents for being so supportive. I always loved art and had lots of art supplies, encouragement, and opportunities to make art from a young age. I took lots of art classes in high school but I didn’t even know studying art in college was a possibility until my parents took a trip to Chicago and brought me back a catalogue from the Chicago Art Institute. They told me I should go to art school and I was like, what, that’s a thing?! Sign me up! Now as I am further along in my art career, they are still my biggest supporters and my mom is always encouraging (hassling) me to promote my work and sell myself more (a thing I, like most artists, hate doing). I also was fortunate to have great art teachers at Booker T. Washington High School. I will always be grateful to Linda Stilley and Andy Zaller for the amazing instruction and support they gave me in high school.”

 What are some challenges you have faced and how did you overcome them?     

“Probably the whole time/money balance like all artists. I’ve had so many different jobs trying to make enough money to live while leaving me enough free time to actually make stuff. Waiting tables, washing dishes, retail jobs, sewing custom made kilts, shellfish farming in Washington State, weird jobs, normal jobs, odd jobs, etc. It’s hard to find a balance and it’s easy to end up putting the creative efforts on the back burner. I did that for about 5 years at one point and I wasn’t happy when I was neglecting that part of my life. I’m really thankful I was able to get back to being an artist again. In order to do that my main priority in life has been keeping a low cost of living. I want to make money, of course, but I also currently have the freedom to value time over money. I teach art part time a Lee Elementary School. Obviously, I make very little money doing this but the time it affords me to work in my own studio is well worth it at this point in my life. I live in a very small, cheap place and I drive a 16-year-old car that looks like trash on the outside. I could make a lot more money teaching full time in a different state or trying to go into administration but I know that would take a toll on my creative pursuits. So, for now I’m happy having my time in my studio while being super cheap and driving a busted car!”

What is the weirdest thing in your studio and what is its purpose?

“I have a lot of machines in my studio that people are usually pretty interested in. I have 3 sewing machines, an embellisher, which is a machine with a bunch of tiny needles that fuses wool together, and a very large quilting machine. I also have a knitting machine which is probably the thing people ask about the most. It’s a little weird looking and people sometimes think it’s a loom. I use it to knit wool yarn to turn into felt. I can get probably 10 yards (before felting) off of one cone of yarn and it is much, much, much faster than if I were to do it by hand.”

Is there any advice you’d like to give to someone who is aspiring to follow in your footsteps?

“I would probably refer back to my answer about making the time for yourself to create. If you’re able to, find as many ways as possible to prioritize making that time. Also, I would say apply for every exhibition, fellowship, grant, artist in residence, etc. you can. Most of it you won’t get and it will be a bummer sometimes but you have to try and it will be well worth it when you are chosen for something you really wanted. Also, it’s just good practice for writing artist statements, proposals, bios, and all that. When I first started applying for things, the writing part of it was so stressful to me. Now I have lots of different lengths and versions of all of my submission documents and every time I apply for something I can just copy and paste and tweak things here and there. I feel like the way I present and talk about my work gets better with every application I do and helps me along the way to becoming more and more eligible for highly competitive opportunities. Hopefully some that will even make me a few bucks here and there. That 2001 Toyota Camry isn’t gonna last forever!”

 

 

The 2017 Tulsa Art Studio Tour is Saturday and Sunday, October 21-22, from noon to 5pm each day.

For more information and to purchase tickets, visit: ovac-ok.org/programs/tulsa-art-studio-tour