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Craft With Conscience: Allyson Rousseau

Craft With Conscience

'Craft With Conscience' began in early 2016 as a weekly Instagram series dedicated to sharing the work of other creatives and as a platform to openly discuss certain aspects of ethical art-making and consuming in the age of the internet and social media.  

This series arose out of my own frustrations related to seeing my work constantly copied stitch-for-stitch, sold without permission, and credited to other people.  Rather than wallowing in unproductive negative emotions, I wanted to find a way to bring this common issue to light in a positive way.  My solution was to share the work of artists, crafters, designers, and makers who I greatly admire for their originality and dedication. Initially, I shared work similar in materials or subject matter to my own, having heard the argument, "There are only so many ways to stitch plants, I'm not copying you..." one too many times.  The truth is, no matter what the medium or subject, every artist from hobby crafter to professional painter has their own perspective and voice. It takes effort to develop one's visual vocabulary and it can be disheartening when your's is taken and misused by other individuals and sometimes larger companies.

All that being said, now is an incredible time for working artists because of the vast resources of the internet including sources of inspiration, the ability to reach a large and global audience, and as a community building tool. As you may know, I love sharing my work on Instagram and following other makers. It's a wonderful way to connect with other artists, be inspired, and feel supported, but we all need to be aware of how we use these resources and what effect it may have on others.

Since the start of 2016, 'Craft With Conscience' has grown and evolved just like any other creative pursuit and has recently expanded to include short interviews with featured artists. I've asked participating artists a series of questions about their studio process, sources of inspiration, and how image-sharing sites like Instagram and Pinterest influence and affect them. I hope you read on to see what they have to say!

Craft With Conscience: Allyson Rousseau

Sarah Benning

Allyson Rousseau // Fiber Artist // Montreal

Allyson’s work explores the relationship between traditional methods and contemporary design. With each piece, and each new idea, her goal is to express a simple concept of good design by breaking down the design elements; color, shape, texture, space, and form. With this process, she is creating work to push beyond the realm of traditional craft making, with the ultimate goal of contributing a unique and lasting perspective in contemporary Fibre Arts.

Check out her website and scroll through her instagram to see more of her amazing work.

1. I began my #CraftWithConscience series as a way to simultaneously promote the work of other makers and to discuss the complicated issues surrounding creative inspiration and developing ones’ own visual vocabulary. The internet is an ever growing fixture in many artist’s lives and businesses, could you talk about the role the internet plays in your artistic and professional life?

When I began teaching myself how to weave back in late 2013, there were very limited resources available for self-teaching (on the internet, and elsewhere). Ironically though, the first woven art pieces that I discovered and that inspired me to learn how to weave were found on the internet. I could just sense that weaving was about to explode back into focus and have a huge impact on the practice of contemporary fibre artists.

Flash forward to 2017, and the resources are now very accessible, all over the internet, published in contemporary how-to’s, blogs, and new weavers are born every day through the facilitation of workshops held all over the world (and online!). It has been a really wild and insightful experience to have begun my practice sort of at the “start” of this new wave of weaving, and see how quickly it has spread and grown.

For my personal practice, I would say that I have been fortunate to find most of my clients internationally through the exposure and sale of my work on the internet. I started a shop on Etsy a few years ago, and I share most of my work on Instagram with the intent of reaching a large and broad viewership. So that is to say that the internet has a tremendous role and impact on my work. The possibilities for creation become endless when you open your work up to the whole world, and I think it has helped put me on the path to succeeding in certain goals that I have for my work.

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2. Where do you find inspiration for your work?  Do you work from life or from images and in what ways has the internet and/or social media impacted your design process?

I do my best to avoid the work of other weavers (which is maybe easier said than done) and the internet altogether actually, and instead take my inspiration from areas of my physical life. I am curiously interested in the good design of everyday objects and environments, and I think that a lot of my inspiration manifests itself subconsciously through various media that I absorb from my surroundings.

Social media has impacted my design process in the ways that I protect my work. As soon as you post an image or share an idea on the internet, you lose a certain percentage of ownership simply because others can take inspiration from that work and you lose control of how it is shared. So I think it has made me aware and cautious of what I post, and I try to share only completed ideas that are uniquely my own.

3. Sites like Pinterest and Instagram are popular places for artists’ to share their own work. They also act as public visual archives, often leading to creative work by others that walks the line between ‘inspiration’ and ‘infringement.’ Have you encountered copies of your work online and how does it affect you? What are your strategies for dealing with it?

I have yet to discover outright copying of my designs (and I hope that I never do…) but I have dealt with a number of instances where my style and designs have been appropriated in others’ work. I think that it is becoming increasingly difficult to brand myself as an artist, when there are so many weavers out there, and it can be discouraging to feel like one, in a sea of many.

The line that lies between “craft” and “art” is very thin. For some, weaving is a hobby craft, or an outlet to feel a sense of “place” in a community, and for others it is their art form, their chosen medium to produce thoughtful and contemporary fibre art. I categorize myself within the latter distinction, and feel I am constantly standing up for my work to keep it in that category- in the eyes of its viewers.

The way I can make sense of it simply, is that you would never ask an artist outright for their tips on how to achieve a certain technique in a painting…with the intent to do the same in your own work, for example. Art and Artists demand(s) a certain level of respect, and I find that because there are so many weaves out there, the vast majority of it automatically falls into the craft category…wherein people are comfortable copying techniques, and approaching other weavers for their tips and tricks. The line is made even thinner when you are trying to separate your woven artwork from the “hobby craft”, when weaving is after all a craft!

My strategies for dealing with instances of possible infringement issues are still a work in progress I think. The more of a following I accumulate, the more I learn about my own process for sharing work on the internet. I want to maintain engagement with my followers, and I wholeheartedly appreciate their interest in my work, absolutely! After all I am sharing it on the internet, so that it can be seen. But I think that dealing with any such situation requires respect and awareness on both ends, and maybe I need to adjust the ways in which I brand myself as an artist in order to receive the respect that I wish to have for my work. One way in which I can do so would be to stray away from Etsy as my shop platform- because Etsy is notoriously known and used for crafters.

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4. Do you have any advice for aspiring artists or creative business people?

The best advice I can give, taken from my own experience is to be original. Create unique, and thoughtful work. You’ll never be able to please everyone, but staying true to your own style will give you leverage in what can be a very competitive field. Don’t sell yourself short. Make sure that your pricing fairly pays for your time and the quality of work that you produce. If a client really loves your work, they will pay the price. This is something that I have learned in dealing with customized work, and knowing when you might be dealing with somebody who is shopping around for the cheapest price.

Respect others and work hard!

5. Do you have any favorite blogs, artists, or Instagram accounts that you’d like to share?

I’m not a big blog person, but this is a good opportunity to share the IG account of the artist that first inspired me to learn to weave: @bymimijung, and on that note I recently came across fibre artist @britt_wilkins who coincidentally explores very similar elements of shape and form in her work.

I love the illustrative work of @martinapaukova, @karl_joel_irsn, and @atelier_bingo. Artist @micahlexier has a great eye and style for shapes, lines, forms, design, and found objects.

When I am looking for a laugh or a dog I turn to @napkinapocalypse.

All images courtesy of the artist.