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Craft With Conscience: Tessa Perlow

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: Tessa Perlow

Sarah Benning

Tessa Perlow // FIber artist // Asbury Park, NJ

Tessa is a fiber artist based out of Asbury Park, NJ. Using vibrant colors and expressive stitching her work seamlessly crosses back and forth between fine art, craft, and fashion. Often working from observation, Tessa reinvigorates an old world craft with rustic iconography, floral patterns, and plant design into something unique and modern.

To see more of Tessa's work check out her Instagram and visit her Etsy shop.


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?

The internet has definitely been both a blessing and a challenge for my artistic and professional life. I have to be grateful that the platform of instagram exists- it is initially how I was able to get exposure to promote my business and keep me motivated to produce work. Right now social media is the best tool for me to generate business with my etsy but at the same time, I really do not like to spend too much time on my phone or on my computer.

I think as a result of social media and wanting to make money, I find myself gearing my work towards what people want as opposed to what feels right for me. One of my goals this year is to be confident in my artistic vision and definitely to make time to work on pieces I want to make and not necessarily share everything I do on social media. Sometimes you lose confidence in yourself with social media because instagram is such an easy vehicle of comparison. It’s tough- I am always tempted to delete my social media accounts to get a little break from all the noise but right now it’s too valuable a tool for selling; I really rely on the income.

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 am always greatly inspired by nature- plants and animals are a recurring theme in my embroidery.  I am also greatly inspired by movies, books, art history, and science.

I like to come up with a little theme every so often that I keep to myself but use as a go-to inspiration for color palette and motif inspiration. I went to F.I.T. where I studied fashion design, and one of the best things we did with every project was make mood boards and inspiration journals. Because of social media, there is a pressure for everyone to brand ourselves and to have a 'look'; to have a 'lifestyle'. What I try to take from my time studying fashion design is that though branding is important for businesses & artists, as the seasons change and your mood changes, let your inspirations change as well. When I first started embroidering I relied heavily on pinterest (I am still probably on pinterest twice a day) and used a variety of reference images to source for my art. I still like to use reference imagery but I definitely prefer working from life. I am trying to transition my pieces completely to works based on observation to maintain originality and heart. personally, I feel Its just more exciting and free to embroider over my drawings of houseplants and my cats than it is to stare at a screen.


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've encountered an instagram account that I saw was very obviously using my embroidery designs on clothing and patches as well as other well-known embroidery artists. At first, it’s natural to feel frustrated or sad about it but ultimately I do not let stuff like that bother me.  Situations like that are opportunities to tell oneself- it’s no big deal, I am full of ideas and I'll just keep doing what I do. In general I feel the most healthy when I just focus on my goals and not worry too much about what everyone else is doing. Plus I understand that sometimes the best way to learn is to replicate. When I was growing up, I tried to copy things that I really loved either as a learning tactic or because I couldn't afford the real thing, so really I cannot judge!


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

My advice for aspiring artists is to firstly read The Crossroads Between Should and Mustby Elle Luna, It totally changed my life and I really need to give it credit for helping me through a tough time when I questioned if I deserved to think I could be an artist. Its an incredibly inspiring book and anyone who is creative in anyway should read it!

I think it’s most important to realize that you have a right to express yourself and that when you create, you enrich the world. I'd say never feel guilty prioritizing what makes you happy. For me personally, right now my happiness comes from embroidering and so I am literally spending as much time as I possibly can working on my craft. At the same time Its important to strike a healthy life balance, allow yourself to do other hobbies you love, and spend time with friends and family. As far as business advice goes I could definitely use some!! I feel very much like where maybe I have strong creative vision and am good at prioritizing work time, I probably lack in my business and communication skills. I am trying to not get too mad at myself when I feel overwhelmed by the business aspects of etsy and crafting but it is definitely the most challenging aspect of my life since I got my LLC. Still- we humans have to be kind to ourselves and remember we do the best that we can at any given moment. Embroidery isn't life or death, so when I find myself getting seriously stressed out I force myself to step back, breathe, and reassess what is so overwhelming.

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

 Even though instagram seriously stresses me out, I can't help but admit it is magical in how it has connected me to a community of totally awesome artists & especially embroidery artists. My favorite art account to follow is probably @alia_pop for amazing punchy color stories and painted graphics that are ridiculously dreamy. I also have been a huge fan of Fred Stonehouse's work since having babysat for a family that had a couple of his pieces. His handle is @fstoney1960 and he is constantly posting new work- so cool and weird and inspiring in terms of how prolific he is not to mention brainy and technically skilled. I've been really into contemporary artist Jonas Wood's work which is  really stylized paintings of houseplants, interiors as well as portraits. I love his style, I've only seen a couple of his works in person but I would really love a chance to see more, his work has been a huge inspiration to me this past year.


All images are courtesy of the artist.