It’s Tuesday morning and Sara’s just offered me a coffee in the bright, airy studio she shares with Jill Sawatzky on Princess Street. The ceiling rafters, partition walls and floorboards have all been dashed with a healthy dose of white paint. Plants perch in corners, make their homes on tables, and hang from neon rope around the room. Jill’s stacks of fabric, some cut, others in waiting, make a home with Sara’s baskets of roving and a few finished pieces hanging for display.
Our chatter runs the gamut of the pitfalls of home ownership to marrying your high school boyfriend while I snap photos and Sara works on a piece from her new collection of fibre wall-hangings. Later, we seat ourselves in a far corner and talk more specifically about her work as Jill cuts fabric on her half of their massive work table in the centre of the space.
FULL: You’ve worked with a lot of different mediums over the years. Can you tell me more about that process?
Sara Clark: I started with cast resin jewelry. I’d recently become a mother and needed time to connect with something creative again. Working with resin was fun, however, I encountered some trouble with it getting soft or cracking in certain places and I couldn’t repair it. I thought maybe if I incorporated a different material to change it up more, that would help with those issues. I started adding wood for a bit of warmth and texture, something to give the pieces a more natural feel and some contrast.
When I started working with wood, it meant that I had to use another kind of resin altogether. That involved a whole other process. I had to outfit an entire workshop with a band saw, compression tank and other equipment to get the bubbles out of the resin and properly cut and sand it. It became a more involved process, but I was much more excited to wear those pieces, show them, and see other people wearing them. That collection was a light bulb moment.
Near the end of releasing that collection, I started to get really bad rashes. I went to the doctors and they thought I had shingles for about five months, but it turns out they were allergic reactions to the resin. I struggled with skin infections because of it. As I wrapped up that collection, I tried to move towards a different medium.
I started working with fibre, thinking that was something that would appeal to me and break up the wood and resin a bit, still appeal to the customer base that I had, and maybe gain some new customers. When I started working with fibre, I went a little crazy with online ordering. I wanted different kinds of roving and got excited by silk and bamboo and other varieties. I ended up with a little bit of everything, which was actually pretty fun, because I had a chance to experiment.
Now I’ve started playing around with wall hangings, and that’s been a nice departure. As beautiful as bodies are, and as nice as it is to see your work on them, walls are a little more forgiving. I’ve discovered that people are freer to express themselves in their home, and not as often with themselves. Statement pieces can be a tricky thing. They don’t appeal to as many people I find. People are more inclined to spend that chunk of money on something they’ll wear every single day - more dainty chain or something like that. A big rope and roving horse hair piece can be a little intimidatingfor the average customer. So I feel that the wall hangings will appeal to a wider range of people, and going from there, I’m hoping to work some wood into the fall collection, maybe doing some wood and fibre.
It’s been nice to work with so many mediums, because I feel I have this bank of knowledge and skills now that I can borrow from whenever I want. If I want to work with wood, I have those skills, I have resin-casting skills (should I figure out how best to deal with that), I have different fibre techniques and knots. It’s been really nice to explore that many mediums, I know it seems a little strange to jump around that much, but it has been very rewarding personally.
FULL: I don’t think it’s strange, it’s more that whenever you learn something new there’s a big learning curve with that. So it’s definitely a way of not letting yourself get too comfortable and too mindless about things.
SC: Even still, sometimes while sanding certain pieces for example, I’ll watch two seasons of something on Netflix and I haven’t actually thought about the work I’ve completed. While it’s enjoyable, being a human production factory is not at all what I’m in this for. I’m hoping to continue to explore and build my skills. I want to have a wide range so that I constantly have something new to put forth. Especially in Winnipeg, a lot of the people who come to the markets have seen my work already. If I’m putting something new out every season, then they’re not going to walk by my table going, “Oh yeah, I know what she’s about.” and keep walking. A different material, or technique, or for the home instead of the body: I like to change it up and keep it fresh for myself and customers.
FULL: When you choose a more creative line of work, people on the outside tend to focus on the creative side and fantasize about that, forgetting the repetitive labour that happens after the creative design moment. What are some things that you do to help yourself through that part of the process?
SC: Music is good. Having something on in the background keeps me moving. Working alone has been a struggle for me. Quite often I have Jill here, which is nice, but it’s hard when you don’t have a boss breathing down your neck. It’s mostly wonderful, believe me, I breath down my own neck enough. But if I want to clock out after two hours I can. Then the only person that loses out is me.
Trying to keep myself focused and motivated at work, then balancing a home life and having fun while being that creative person who runs a business can be a challenge. It’s so easy to become overcome by it. Just sitting down at a restaurant with my significant other having supper, I’m getting emails with requests and immediately it washes over me. As exciting as these opportunities are, there’s a little bit of fear or intimidation around it. The support of the community in Winnipeg means that one day it’s a hobby and the next day it’s very much a business. Trying to wrap my head around all the business stuff in addition to learning the craft: it’s a wild ride.
FULL: It sounds challenging to work out how much you can handle. You can have as much work as you want, and at what point can you say, “No, this is too much, I need to be able to say no sometimes.” Figuring out how to say “No” is its own challenge.
SC: I’m just reaching that point now, where as a one-woman show, I’m going to have to put in more than 40 hours a week in order to fill some of the orders that I have. “No” is going to become a very important word in my vocabulary. As much as I want to take every opportunity and say “Yes” to everyone that shows up, I literally can’t. There aren’t enough hours in a day.
FULL: Have you ever thought about doing what Jill has done, hiring other people to complete some aspects of the work for you?
SC: Absolutely. That’s something Jill and I talk a lot about. The other day, Jill told me, “I’ll cut it, I’ll sew it, I’ll put it together, but I need to have someone to press my seams. That’s what you need to do.” And I went, “Yes, that is what I need.” Because even if it’s just someone putting stickers on bags or going to pick up the packaging, or placing those orders, or taking inventory, I know I’m going to need help very soon.
FULL: I find that for a lot of people, making things is a kind of return to a creative process they left behind when they were teenagers with more time. What kind of creative endeavours did you pursue in high school?
SC: I was very much an art nerd. I didn’t have the God-given talent in any way, but I would spend hours and hours on a single drawing or sculpture. I designed the logo for our high school grad outfits. I did all of those things because I loved doing them, and then I became an adult, had a kid, a mortgage, a job that takes up 60 hours a week. There was no time for drawing or sculpting. I put it on the back burner, and didn’t realize how important it is to commit some time to that.
The creative process seems to be important. Watching yourself make something, learning from mistakes, being okay with making mistakes, fixing those mistakes and seeing a completed project: there’s a lot of pride in that. There’s power in knowing that it was up to you to complete or not complete, and to execute to a level you’re satisfied by. Maybe it’s perfect, maybe it’s imperfect, and being okay with that is entirely up to you.