From Dolly Parton to protest posters, Lesley Numbers has been building Patchwork Printshop from her home base of Madison Wisconsin. Her screen printed imagery beautifully blends color and conscience while still maintaining a sense of humor. Lesley took time to answer some questions about her work, aesthetic and inspiration.
Maker Market- When, how, and where was Patchwork Printshop born?
Lesley Numbers- The birth of Patchwork Printshop coincided with the birth of my daughter in 2013. About six months after returning to my job, I decided to quit, stay home with my daughter, and sign up for a screen printing class. The actual business developed pretty spontaneously when I signed up for a few craft shows with a friend and realized I should have some place to direct people who wanted to buy my prints. I wouldn't have been able to grow Patchwork Printshop as quickly without the help of my husband, family, and friends. I'm very grateful to have a community that supports what I do.
MM- What kind of creative background do you come from?
LN- I grew up with a lot of creative people. My mom is a quilter and knitter, my dad writes, my grandma was a wonderful pianist and enthusiastic crafter, my best friend was a jeweler. Growing up surrounded by handmade objects was definitely inspiring to me.
I loved making art as a kid and I considered applying to studio art programs after high school, but for some reason I told myself I could never be an artist. Instead, I studied community art practices and art therapy and eventually got my degree in Art Education from UW-Madison. In between my time in college, I took screen printing classes and apprenticed at a letterpress in Asheville, NC. Making art with kids was a great experience; I learned not to take art too seriously and I got to practice developing ideas and creating projects with limited resources and time.
MM- What were some of your first designs? How have you developed your aesthetic how has it changed?
LN-I first learned screen printing in high school and I started out creating everything digitally. I took one digital illustration class in college and realized I really didn't like creating art on computers. Since then, I've tried to do as much by hand as possible.
"Poppies for Claire" was the first print I made that I loved, I created it in 2011 for a fundraiser. The subject matter was close to my heart and the image turned out better than the idea in my head. My aesthetic hasn't changed too much since the time I made that print. I like bold colors, hand lettering, simplified forms, organic lines and a handmade/folksy quality.
MM- Can you describe your creative process? How are the ideas formed and then realized?
LN- The ideas come from reading books, talking with friends, taking walks, gardening, listening to music. One of the great things about spending most of my day with a toddler is that I have a lot of time to daydream and come up with ideas--I try to write them all down and I probably won't get to most of them.
Ideas that have deadlines or are time-specific (freelance projects, holiday gifts, protest posters) are usually prioritized and come together quickly. I research and collect imagery (from real life, if possible), sketch a lot, and then work out a composition and colors on tracing paper and in Photoshop. I mostly work during my daughter's nap time or later in the evening and then have one day a week in the print studio. I imagine most of my art in screen printed form, even if I end up making a watercolor or embroidery, so I tend to use bolder lines and simplified colors and forms.
MM- Your design has a lot of cultural references. Would you consider pop culture a muse?
LN- Not really! I love music, but I don't listen to a lot of current music. We don't own a TV, but there are a few shows I love, like Twin Peaks. It's sort of perplexing to me why I keep making prints with cultural references, because I don't feel that connected to pop culture. I think it comes down to the fact it's fun and relatively easy to make the light-hearted prints; the deeper and darker ideas take longer to develop.
MM- You also feature designs with social messages. Is sending a message an important part of your process?
LN- It's important for me to make art that can connect to greater causes and spark conversation. I like the idea that art can be socially engaging; it can encourage, direct, raise awareness.
MM- As a one woman operation, what challenges you as a small business owner?
LN- Right now, the biggest challenge is turning down exciting projects because I know I won't have the time to complete them. I also do some things on a smaller scale than I would like because of limited time, energy, and resources. Learning how to run a small business (apply for permits, file taxes, etc.) has been challenging but manageable, thanks to resources like the Maker Market Sessions and Wisconsin Women's Business Initiative.
MM- What new items are in the works for Patchwork Printshop 2015?
LN-Mother's Day cards, larger scale floral prints, and I have a few random posters I really want to make--inspired by e.e. cummings, sun dogs, Kundalini yoga, and the song Jack of Diamonds. I've been creating scrap paper quilts and garlands from test prints and I'm planning to sell them once I've figured out a way to make them more durable. And possibly (hopefully) a very small line of hand printed underwear!
I'd also like to start selling more original illustrations. Last year, I made a sketch of a local plant on a recycled tea bag (almost) every day from the summer solstice to the winter solstice. I'd love to do something in the vein of Jacqueline Suskin (The Poem Store) and create small illustrations of found plants and objects on the spot for whoever wants one.
MM- What benefits do you see in selling your wares directly to the customer?
LN-The best thing about engaging with customers is getting to interact with people who appreciate what I'm doing and share similar interests. It's nice to have immediate feedback about my prints, marketing efforts, and product displays; I gain a better sense of how my energy and time is received by others. And selling directly allows me to keep retail costs down, which is one reason why I was attracted to printmaking. I like that it's a more accessible and affordable art form.
MM- What is currently inspiring you? Artists? Makers? Music? IG feeds?
LN- Always: Corita Kent, Alexander Girard, Margaret Kilgallen, Marimekko, WNCW (North Carolina public radio), folk art, libraries, embroidery, fresh flowers, seasonal produce, and the sky.
Currently: The anticipation of spring, The Wild Unknown Tarot, Flower & Bee's bouquets, the Joanna Poehlmann exhibit at Redline Milwaukee, Joseph Pintauro's Peace Box, Henry Miller, and breakfast.
To see more from Patchwork Printshop visit http://patchworkprintshop.com/ or to meet Lesley in the flesh visit Maker Market this Saturday at Discovery World.