(Pictured above L to R: Keri’s travel journal, Cover of her book – Wreck this Journal, seed bombs, illustration of food consumed in one day, photograph of Keri Smith, and illustration of her important list.)
Keri Smith is one of my new inspirations. We met via an email introduction from Irene Mc Gee of NoOne’s Listening and I have become addicted to her blog. Keri’s an illustrator and the author of such books as Living Out Loud, Wreck this Journal (see review in upcoming CRAFT: 04), and The Guerilla Art Kit due out this November. She has reopened my eyes to finding creativity and inspiration in everyday things as well as the motivation to just do something, anything, to unleash my creativity. I have a fear of a blank page sometimes and quite franky, just give up, especially when it comes to drawing. Keri is actually in Spain right now on her first vacation in years, no doubt on an amazing journey there. Before she left, I got the chance to talk to her about Wreck this Journal, her inspiration, and how we can all find creativity in the everyday.
Nat: Please tell me about your book, Wreck this Journal. What was you inspiration in writing the book?
Keri: This book is so multi-layered, there are many things that brought me to it. I was thinking about how I have been able to stick with journaling for so many years, as an avid procrastinator it seems not in my nature to finish or stick with things for long periods of time. And yet i’ve been journaling for over 12 years now. For most people working in a journal can be intimidating — many are afraid to make a mistake. The journal itself becomes a precious thing. The blank page a big hurdle.
In looking through my own journals the answer I came up with is that I give myself room to make mistakes within the journal, and at times just use it as a forum for experiments. So the idea presented itself to make a journal where the context was solely based on experimentation. What if the purpose was not to make something beautiful, but in fact do the opposite. Make a mess. Try something different. Screw it up. Use whatever you have around you at any given time, not concerning yourself with having the right materials or supplies. all of that is irrelevant. a coffee spill becomes a source, a footprint, a gesture, a quick movement. So the book itself is filled with prompts of this nature which instruct you to systematically destroy it. For some people this can be incredibly freeing. For others it instills some ingrained terror. In our culture we are taught from a young age to not wreck books, (Don’t bend the pages. Don’t write in it. Don’t get it wet.) The book asks you to do the opposite of everything you were taught, a destructive revolution of sorts that hopefully leads you into some new places. What if you just tried the opposite of what you were taught? Where would that lead? It’s a kind of forceful challenge of the inner critic and it can be intensely satisfying.
I also wanted to create a work that was very much about a physical experience connected to daily life. Not sitting and thinking about creating, but making actual physical marks. What if we stopped thinking so much?
Nat: Where do you find your inspiration?
Keri: Inspiration is everywhere, and found in everything. I like to not categorize it too much because I never know where it will show up and I like that. It could be in a drop of water, or a smudge on the sidewalk. I admit that I am an avid reader and am always following an endless thread of ideas that goes from one book to the next. (One author leads to another. One theory evolves into something else.) And this weaving of ideas is what gives me the most enjoyment in life and in my creative work (which are not separate at all). For many years I have been finding inspiration in nature, by collecting, and documenting and observing. John Cage said, “Imitate nature in her manner of operation” and I am starting to grasp the concept after a couple of years of being drawn to the idea. Not to say that I understand nature, but I am starting to get that I don’t understand it and probably never will. And THAT is interesting. It forces me to let go of a lot of things — control, thought, analysis, etc. John Cage has been the most influential on my work in the last couple of years, his whole body of work was based on experimenting, that is to say, not knowing where you are going. to me it is only in that place that interesting work/ideas can emerge.
Nat: What kind of crafts do you like to do?
Keri: I grew up in a family with a heavy craft tradition. It’s strange to use the word “craft” because it is just the way of life in Newfoundland, where my family is from. There is no choice in it, as the people in the smaller towns are quite poor. If you want to have clothes you have to make them, usually out of something recycled. And while I grew up near Toronto Canada, for me crocheting, sewing, knitting, rug hooking, quilting are almost as natural as breathing. I cannot remember a time when I didn’t know how to sew. My mom always made all her own clothes, as well as clothes for my sister and I. My grandmother knit socks, scarves, mittens, hats and slippers for us for the first ten years of my life. Store bought clothing was uncommon. Only now do I realize that this was a unique experience in our modern world. I think it taught me that you can always create your own existence in a kind of literal way. The women in my life are incredibly resourceful. I know that if I want something, I can make it myself. And this has never left me.
Nat: What’s a new craft that you would like to learn?
Keri: I would like to do more in the realm of printmaking. I’ve always been drawn to this medium and took a couple of courses in art school, but I’d like to try serigraphy or some of the more complex ones like intaglio or etching.
Nat: What are some of your favorite craft projects you’ve worked on?
Keri: Having a bit of a short attention span I tend to like the projects that happen quickly and are spontaneous. Knitting a bag up in a day. I like that feeling of “I want a new addition to my wardrobe” and getting excited to wear it later that day. What’s been really challenging is a couple of years ago I moved to the US from Canada and I couldn’t bring my sewing machine. So ever since then I can only do things by hand, (which is much slower), but it does help your hand skills. As an illustrator, I really enjoy making pillow doll characters based on my drawings. A few years ago I made a character named Sydney, who is an elephant/business man in a fancy suit. I also did a pillow sculpture for “Learning to Love you More”, the interactive website created by MIranda July. It was a bust of a taxi driver named Steve. Steve (the sculpture) was just invited to be a part of a touring gallery show for the site so that is exciting for me.
Nat: Do you have any tips you can give our readers to help inspire their creativity?
Keri: I get this question a lot and I think I answer it differently every time (which is good because predictability is boring). My answer today is “EXPERIMENT”. It’s best if you don’t ever know where you are going because some of the new territory you venture into will give you new insights and push you into some new places. Doing work in a controlled way does not make for interesting results. This is the hardest thing to do, to let go of the outcome. But if you want to know what the outcome will be every time, it might be better if you partake in accounting or something. What is beautiful about craft is it’s imperfections — the human mess — the fact that this thing could not happen again in the exact same way. That is what draws us to it in the end. This last one most importantly.
Nat: What are some future projects we can expect from you?
Keri: I have another book coming out in the fall of 2007 called The Guerilla Art Kit. It’s a kind of recipe book for ideas you put out into the world in an anonymous way. The concept becomes about making connections with the place you live in, adding to it, shaping it, bonding with public space in ways we are not normally encourage to do. There are lots of activities with varying degrees of daring, some simple ones that involve leaving objects with notes in public places, and more involved ones, creating a scavenger hunt for others to partake in. There is also a short section on “guerilla art for the office”, things to do anonymously to bring life to your workspace. It’s a lot of fun stuff, and I’m quite proud of the result.