The Big Red Chair goes miniature…
The New year introduces some changes to the Big Red Chair on Mesmered. Rather than limiting it to just indie writers, I have decided to extend it to people I meet in real life and virtually who fascinate me, in the belief that something of their choices and their activities will interest you as well.
Three years ago I was a fledgling indie with my first book in print. At that time I met a woman online who was destined to become a kindred spirit. She is an artist, a sculptor, a woodworker, an intellectual, a stitcher and best of all a wit. She lives in California and I live in Australia and yet more than half the time we talk as if we just live over the back fence from each other. Her former profession fascinates me, her current profession enthralls me. She is Patricia Sweet of Bo Press Miniature Books and she has agreed to be interviewed in the Big Red Chair…
Pat, to begin with why don’t you tell us a little bit about yourself – where were you born? Raised? Schooled?
“ He was a farm boy from Way Down East and she was a dame from Brooklyn.” He wanted to teach college math, and she gave up her job as a chemist to move to West Virginia with him and their baby (me). I grew up surrounded by love, science, math, straight white Anglo-Saxon Protestants, and the Fanny Farmer cookbook. My father’s motto: “Hmmm. . .better not.” My mother’s motto: “You might as well laugh.”
My small-town childhood was idyllic, but it wasn’t a very intellectually welcoming atmosphere for a smart kid, so I held my nose until I went to college, at the little two-year university feeder school where my father taught. There I discovered theater and costumes, and pursued them at West Virginia University, and after a couple years working in the costume shop in a regional repertory theater, I got my MFA at Southern Methodist University.
What did you want to be when you were twelve, eighteen and thirty? And why?
When I was twelve the only available professions for girls were teacher, ballerina, nurse, and stewardess. And of course, Wife and Mother. All I really liked to do was read, so teacher, I guess.
When I was eighteen, we were all given a list by our guidance counselor and told to pick a profession, and she would give us information about it. The first job on the list was archeologist, so I picked that. The counselor told me she had no information about archeology, and to pick something else.
Thirty? Now you’re talking! I wanted to take New York by storm as a costumer. I stayed there two years, realizing I would never have the ambition or nerve to live as a freelancer, and besides, my sublet was up. I got a job offer from an old grad school chum in California, and jumped at it rather than undergo the humiliation of having to move to one of the outer boroughs.
What strongly held belief did you have at eighteen that you do not have now?
That I had to solve every problem myself, from scratch. I still had the common teen-age belief that I was unique, or crazy, or Martian. It took me a long time to realize that I was just like everybody else, with the same dreams, fears and problems, and the more important knowledge that this was a good thing.
What were three big events – in the family circle or on the world stage or in your artistic life – you can now say had a great effect on you and influenced you in your career path?
My first college had a little theatre club, and I went to their first meeting. When asked what I wanted to do for their productions, I allowed as how I was too shy and stuttery to act, but that I could sew. Great, the director said, you can make all our costumes, and as for being onstage, trust me, you’ll like it. I discovered that my stutter disappeared when I was speaking memorized lines, but the great event was when the director complimented my first costumes and said the magic words, “You know, you could do this for a living.”
In grad school I realized that designing costumes was fun, but making costumes was even better. I grew to relish my increasing skills and mastery of pattern and fabric, and working out the technical problems of stage clothing was fascinating. When I told my committee I would be a cutter/draper and costume shop manager rather than a designer, they were disappointed, but one professor praised me for knowing my own mind. I still think it was a wise decision.
At the age of 55, after many years alone, I got married. This caused a cascade of new experiences and ideas that changes my life profoundly. I retired early and started making miniature books, first as a hobby, and then as a business.
Your work in the theatre could be called work in the large, in the round. So why go so completely the other way: to miniature?
Artistically, the problems of scale are surprisingly similar: both small and large designs benefit from simplified designs with minimum detail. But I think the real reason for my love of making miniature books is hand sewing. I didn’t get to do a lot of it in the theater, because what doesn’t show doesn’t matter, and time is money. I would have loved to lavish beading and embroidery and hand-sewn tailoring on my costumes, but it just wasn’t cost-effective.
And yet you don’t restrict yourself to the miniature field. You are challenging yourself with other work. Can you explain?
I learned to use Photoshop as a designer, and I make the illustrations and format my books with it. As with bookbinding, I’m self-taught, but I’ve been designing maps and illustrations for the Eirie and Gisborne books, and hope to do much more. Learning a new skill is the most fun thing I know.
What is your opinion of the electronic world and its vast social media and does it work in your career?
It’s been the life’s blood of my new career. If not for the existence of eBay, Etsy, and Facebook, Bo Press wouldn’t exist. I use social networks almost exclusively for business, but I’ve also found new friends and pathways to new ideas and methods that wouldn’t have come my way otherwise.
Pat, I know you often have several different things on the go in the studio, please tell us about your latest piece of work or works.
I’m working on a miniature version of French fabric sample books, using swatches of fabric from famous paintings as samples. It’s been a great education – I’ve looked at hundreds of paintings I never saw in Art History class. Painting fabric is one of the greatest challenges for an artist, and seeing how painters have handled it through history has been fascinating. I’m also planning more miniature library furniture: book stands, traveling libraries, map cases . . .
If your work could change one thing in this world – what would it be?
I hope it will give the people who see my work a few moments free of cynicism.
Whom do you most admire and why?
My mother and my husband, and for the same thing: bravery.
Many people set themselves very ambitious goals. Do you believe in goal setting? What are yours?
Whatever works, but I was born with no ambition. I work hard, and follow my nose. Sometimes I don’t know I have a goal ’till I achieve it.
What advice would you give artists of all persuasions?
Never apologize for your work. Never, never, never. If there’s something wrong with it, plenty of people will be glad to tell you. If you’ve looked at it closely enough, you already know what’s wrong with it, so fix it. If you tell people your work is good, they’ll believe you. If you tell people your work is bad, they’ll believe you. Never.
What are the last five websites you visited?
Google (for spelling, my downfall)
Coryographies: a new blog by a lady I met on Etsy, who just mentioned Bo Press.
Facebook: a friend’s puppy got stung by a bee!
PayPal: filling orders
Amazon: damn Kindle
What is your guiltiest pleasure that few know about?
I’m dead to shame. All my pleasures are out in public.
If music be the food of love, what do you think art is and please explain your answer?
Music is to food as art is to _______?
Music is the food of love as art is the food of _______?
Music is to the food of love as art is to the ______ of ________?
M x food/love = AX Solve for X. Show your work.
I don’t trust myself to define “food” accurately, much less music or love. Or art. You’re on your own.
I have an occasional partnership with Pat and between us last year we created a miniature version of Gisborne containing a short-story. What that tiny book did was make me realise a second volume of Gisborne could be in the offing and that has turned out to be the case. The miniature Gisborne sold well internationally with perfect Gisborne black leather binding and an arrow clasp… reminiscent of the man after whom it is named…
Pat and I are also working closely together to create a WordPress blog on the fantasy world of Eirie which will tie in with publication of more of the fantasy Chronicles. On the blog people will have a chance to become intimate with a world where shadow and magick shape the lives of all who exist there.
Already the Bo Press illustrations have fired my own imagination. It is incredible to see something from my mind interpreted visually and for it to harmonise perfectly with my writing. I can’t wait to see what else she comes up with.
Thank you Pat, for being in the BRC today!