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Craft With Conscience: Erin Dollar of Cotton & Flax

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: Erin Dollar of Cotton & Flax

Sarah Benning

Erin Dollar // Designer // San Diego, CA


Erin Dollar is a textile and surface pattern designer who specializes in minimalist geometric designs. Her artwork is screen printed onto natural fabrics like linen and wool to create modern home goods that are handcrafted with care in California. Erin’s passion for collaboration has expanded the scope of her work — her second fabric yardage collection with Robert Kaufman fabrics debuts in August.

Check out more of her beautiful work at Cottonandflax.com and her Instagram

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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 one’s own visual vocabulary. The internet is an ever growing fixture in many artists’ lives and businesses, could you talk about the role the internet plays in your artistic and professional life?

The internet makes my creative career as a textile designer possible. I got my start as a creative business owner on Etsy -- their platform helped to level the playing field for artists who wanted to try out e-commerce without a massive investment. Initially that gave me a way to share my patterned throw pillows with a larger market, without having to do expensive markets or trade shows. I'm grateful that these resources exist!

Connecting with other artists online, including the vibrant communities I’ve encountered on Flickr (RIP), the Etsy Forums, and now Instagram, has played a huge part in my ability to share my work with people beyond my local community of friends and supporters. The internet allows me to work collaboratively with companies over email, without leaving the comfort of my studio. Social media allows art directors and home decor enthusiasts to find my work organically, and go behind the scenes of my journey as an artist. What could be better than that??

At the same time, the internet can also be a huge distraction from my work, and worse, contribute to feelings of worry and self-doubt about my creative career. Distraction and self-doubt are normal parts of life, but I find that the internet really amplifies those things for me. I really thrive when I can put some structure around my time online -- setting tasks for each day, and keeping my phone and computer out of reach when I'm working on creative tasks.

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

I find that I create my best work when I spend some time away from social media. I maintain creative momentum in my projects when I can put blinders on and ignore what others are making and sharing for a while. I've found that spending too much time scrolling on Instagram really puts a damper on my creative fire, which is such a pity, because I really enjoy seeing what all my creative friends are up to, and getting peeks into their lives! I'm currently trying to add more offline creative play and discovery back into my routine... trips to museums or design events with friends help me to feel connected to the creative community, without adding as much self-doubt into the equation.

On the other hand, lots of my favorite creative collaborations have come about because of connections on social media. Encountering more quilters and fiber artists on Instagram was a big reason why I pitched my first screenprinted fabric yardage collection to Robert Kaufman... I was excited to create something special for the quilters who had requested fabric from me for years on social media!

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3. How have you, as an artist, found your creative voice?

Through lots of practice. Starting a business around my craft really forced me to focus in on what makes my work unique, and getting feedback from customers further helped me to understand and describe my artistic style. The modern, minimalist geometric patterns on my textile designs are all drawn by hand, which helps to give them a unique, imperfect quality that sets them apart from digitally created designs. Sharing my craft and teaching creative workshops has also helped me to hone my creative voice! By teaching others the methods behind my work, I've been able to see how my students take the exact same materials and tools, and create completely different designs. It's a great reminder of the incredible variety of creative work that can be created with a simple set of tools.

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4. 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?

Yes, this is a problem that comes up from time to time. Luckily I’ve mostly had good experiences connecting with those who’ve truly infringed on my creative work, and making things right. When it comes to the more grey areas of inspiration in the craft world, things can get more complicated. Those of us who have put years into learning a craft, and honing our skills know how frustrating it is when hobbyists leave comments like, "@friend Let's make this!" in our Instagram feeds. Some people are shameless when it comes to biting another artist's style, and I'd be lying if I said it never got under my skin.

The reality is that many aspects of what I do in my design work (other than the artwork or 2-D designs themselves) cannot be covered by a patent or copyright. I think all creative business owners should connect with an expert in the world of copyright law, to learn more about what you can and cannot protect in your designs. Information is power!

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

Make time for play, experimentation, and random chance in your creative process. Take good care of your body and mind, because they are the ultimate tools in your creative process.

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

Feeling very inspired lately by my friends, and the way they bring their creativity into their work. Laure Joliet is a photographer who I love to follow, because her view of the world is sensitive and beautiful. I also recently stumbled upon Soft Century on Instagram, and it's so fun to see her colorful, wild weavings pop up in my feed -- they make me smile.

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