In this week’s interview, I’ve got with me, Cheryl Rezendes. Cheryl is a fabric surface design artist, an author, and a teacher. The multi-talented Cheryl and I will be discussing:
- The unlikely story of how she landed her book deal and what’s involved in writing a book.
- Why she switched from successfully working in a different artistic medium to textiles
- How she built her art business even though art school doesn’t teach you to make money from your art
- Why she creates fabric surface design instead of buying commercially available fabrics
Let’s dive in.
CN: Hi Cheryl and welcome to the Clara Nartey Blog for this edition of Textile Art Business Interview
CR: Hi Clara. Thanks so much for having me!
The Journey to Becoming a Fabric Surface Design Artist
CN: Cheryl, here on the blog we always love to hear the story of an artist’s creative journey. So, can you briefly share your story with us? How did you get into fabric surface design?
CR: I kind of came into the world of textile art and fabric surface design through a back door. I really have two stories that came together about 18 years ago.
The first story is that straight out of high school and actually a year before I had even graduated I went to the school of the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston with a focus on painting and printmaking. I was there for their full 4-year diploma program.
In those days, art schools rarely prepared you for the world of making a living after graduation. So, like everyone else I was a bit stumped.
CN: Cheryl, sadly I don’t think that fact has changed very much. The “Starving Artist” meme prevails. There are still many artists (textile artists included) who don’t know how to make a living from their art. But I digress. Please continue….
CR: The second story begins when I was a little girl. I grew up with my Mom sewing on her little Singer Feather Light sewing machine on the dining room table every night after dinner.
She made elegant evening gowns, everyday dresses, fancy pillow cases and curtains as well as beautiful dresses for me. She also recovered shoes, handbags, and hats.
When I was in my early teens she became an interior designer. So, my world at home was filled with textiles of all kinds!
The Decision to Choose Textiles Over Other Art Mediums
She liked to say that I learned how to sew by watching the discarded pieces of fabric as they fell to the floor while she was cutting out her next project.
So, it was a natural for me to make my living after graduating from art school by sewing. I was a stitcher in a designer workhouse and much later developed my own business making custom clothing with a specialty in restoring antique wedding gowns. All this while still pursuing my own artwork.
Shortly after my oldest son was born, it became clear that I couldn’t do it all. With my husband’s support and some financial backing from my Dad, we decided to give me a year to focus on just child rearing and painting.
I moved all the sewing equipment out of my studio – the industrial sewing machines and even the thread – and actually sold most of it! I then had a really productive year putting together a great body of work and had a successful run with my paper collages getting into galleries etc.
There was only one problem.
I found that I missed fabric! I missed it simply running through my hands. And I missed sewing! I was really shocked.
About the same time, I discovered digital printing on fabric. I started printing images of my paper collages onto fabric. Then painting and embellishing them with thread, embroidery, and beads. From there I began employing all the skills I had developed as a painter/printmaker to fabric. The rest is history as they say.
Out of Many Fabric Surface Design Techniques, The Simplest Ones Endure
CN: Oh wow. What a story. For many people, once they work in textiles they find it hard not to return to this art medium. There’s something about the tactile nature of fabrics that appeals to fiber artists.
You talked about how you discovered digital printing on fabric. I know you employ a lot of different fabric surface design techniques. Which ones do you regularly use?
CR: You know, the truth is that in the end, I love the simplest ones the best.
Monotype printing with a Gelli plate, direct painting, stenciling, and stamping.
Don’t get me wrong, I’ll pull out a silk screen when need be and will love it when I finally haul out all the batik equipment for a week of batiking with soy wax and paint.
But it’s the immediate, simple things I love the best. A couple of years back I bought a Cameo Silhouette machine to cut my own stencil designs. It really transformed what I was doing.
Why Do You Need Fabric Surface Design When Commercial Fabrics Abound?
CN: So, for those who don’t know what a Silhouette Machine is. It’s an electronic cutting machine that you connect to your computer just like a printer. And then you can create anything on your computer and then cut it out on paper, fabric or vinyl.
The question some people will ask is why do you have to go to all the trouble to make you own fabric surface designs? After all, there are so many commercial fabric designs available for sale, why not purchase those?
CR: Clara, the answer to that question is different for everybody. Because my background and training is in fine art painting and print making I always see the beginning of an art piece (even a fiber one) as a blank canvas or a fresh piece of white paper.
I don’t use commercial imagery in my work simply because they aren’t mine. They don’t speak from my heart. Because they haven’t challenged what I see and how I see it. And because they don’t allow me to grow as an artist.
The discovery of image making and developing, and the anguish and struggle that go with the process of discovery aren’t there.
But to get at the meat of who I am as an artist, nothing beats making my own imagery.
A Place for Commercially Designed Fabrics
CN: What do you do with the fabrics you create? Do you sell them or use them to make decorative items for sale or they’re just for teaching purposes?
CR: I make art quilts. Quilts that hang on the wall as fine art.
CN: In addition to teaching your fabric surface design techniques, you’ve also written a book on fabric surface design. Why did you decide to write a book on the topic?
CR: I actually didn’t decide. I had the great fortune in that my publisher came to me.
The Unlikely Story Behind Cheryl’s Fabric Surface Design Book Deal
I had just opened up a studio in the town near my home. It had a large classroom space and became my foray into teaching surface design.
I had a group of eight students who stayed with me through the first 22 weeks I was open. We met every Tuesday evening.
One of the students later became my editor at Storey Publishing. Apparently, they had already had the idea that they wanted to publish a book on surface design.
One of their authors, Gail Callahan also took the class and had encouraged them to get to know me. Of course, if I had known they were auditioning me for the part, I would have totally stumbled.
CN: That’s wonderful. Your teaching led to you writing a book. Not too many people get book deals this way. What information did you need to provide to the publishers for your book? I figure you needed a book concept, and maybe an outline. Can you elaborate a little more on what you need to present to a publisher for a book deal?
CR: Well, even though they asked me to consider writing the book, I still had to go through the proper channels of having my concept accepted by the president and the financial department of the publishing company.
What You Need to Present to a Publisher for a Book Deal
So, I had to write a sample chapter and the table of contents. I had to write a detailed review of all the other books on the market that were in my category including what I liked and disliked about each book and what mine would offer to the market that was different than the others.
Because you see, they don’t want to publish a book on a subject that is brand spanking new. It needs to be part of a well proven and sought-after subject but with something new to offer.
CN: That’s a very important point, Cheryl. A lot of people are afraid of competition. But the presence of competition shows that there’s a market for your product or service which is important for the success of any business venture. If there aren’t enough people interested in what you’re doing the likelihood of success is slim. Please continue …
CR: Absolutely!… I also had to have photos to illustrate the sample chapter as well as other aspects of the book.
And then the editor had to consider the table of contents and my sample chapter to come up with a schedule of what it would cost to produce the book.
Then the financial department runs their numbers to figure out what it would have to sell for and how viable that retail cost would be in the area of its subject and of course how long it would take for them to make back their production costs.
So, it really takes a lot of time, thought and energy even before your manuscript is accepted.
The Exacting Demands of Writing a Book
CN: Can you delve a little deeper into what exactly it takes to write a book?
CR: It takes a great deal of time and stamina. The book took a total of three years from signing the contract to publishing. Six months of those three years it sat on my editor’s desk waiting for review and for the editing process to begin.
CN: Who would have thought it took that long to publish a book!!! Let’s step back for a moment. So, after you signed the contract for your fabric surface design book, what were the publisher’s specific expectations of you?
CR: It was kind of crazy actually. I had had other writing gigs. I had a weekly art column in my local newspaper for seven years along with some freelance writing for a few other fiber art magazines.
So, I was used to working closely with my editor. But in this case, I signed a contract that I would have the first draft of the manuscript on my editor’s desk one year to date.
Then they said goodbye – see you in a year! I was aghast.
About a month into the project I panicked and asked my editor to take a look at what I had done so far. I had questions – Was the format understandable? Did she like my written voice? I had thought what if after a year’s worth of hard work and research they took a look at everything and said, “Nah, that’s not what we had in mind. Maybe you should try again.” Yikes!
But she was happy and said to just keep going. I now know that these editors are super busy – working on several books at a time that include editing and photo shoots. They just can’t hold your hand along the way. If they like your table of contents and your sample chapter they figure you are good to go. Any problems they’ll tackle when the editing process begins.
Cheryl, I must say, panic and self-doubt plagues us all, especially when we’re working on something that’s “important” to us. I know it too well because I experience it often.
Making Time for a Creative Life & Writing a Book
CN: How did you juggle writing a book with creating new fabric surface designs? I bet you had to make some sacrifices and rearrange your life to focus on completing the manuscript. Can you speak to that?
CR: Not just writing a book and handling the other aspects of my art business but family life as well.
You know, all that is involved with the roles of being a Mom, wife, and daughter. There were many sacrifices for the whole family and lots of writing in the middle of the night.
I even had to write through our summer vacation in Maine. It was kind of funny because we always had a family rule that there were no computers or devices allowed during this precious week by the ocean.
And there I sat at a rickety old card table on the patio that faced the ocean and wrote the color chapter. It took the whole week!
The Rewards of Becoming a Published Author
CN: I imagine the sacrifice was all worth it, though. What effect did becoming a published author of a fabric surface design book have on your business?
CR: Plain and simple, it gave me credibility as a professional artist and as a teacher.
CN: If you had to do it all over again would you write a book? And why?
CR: Yup. There is nothing like it. I learned so much about myself and about the subject I was writing about.
Truth be told, some of the techniques in my book I had actually never even tried before.
So, I had to research them. Talk with other artists about them, talk with the manufacturers about the materials used to create those techniques and practice, practice, practice.
I am inherently a shy person. The whole process propelled me forward. I had to break free.
CN: I am too (a shy person). But the process was definitely a positive experience for you as I’d imagined, which is fantastic.
On behalf of my readers, what are your five favorite things? Readers love to experiment with the same things their favorite artists use.
Cheryl’s Five Favorites
- Living in the woods and thus being surrounded by nature 24/7.
- My art journals
- My camera for recording all that I see
- Spray bottles from the Container Store for spraying paint on fabric. I couldn’t live without them!
- My Cameo Silhouette (along with Photoshop to clean up my hand drawings and of course my computer, because the Silhouette doesn’t work without one.)
Cheryl’s Tips for Successfully Writing a Textile Art (Fabric Surface Design) Book
- Understand from the beginning that it is really hard work and that you will be very tired for a long time.
- You must schedule time every week to work on your book, whether it is writing or research or you will not meet your deadline.
- You absolutely cannot leave the writing to the last minute. There just won’t be enough time.
- Once your manuscript is handed in, you have to be available to the editor’s and photographer’s busy schedules for editing, rewriting and the photo shoot.
- Be flexible but don’t be afraid to stick to your principles because if time is running out they may try to skimp on photos, the index or any other thing left to the end.
- Have fun!! And be proud of yourself.
Final Thoughts From Cheryl
CN: Even though art school didn’t prepare you to make a living from your art, you’ve obviously made it work for you. How did you do it?
CR: I cobbled together a living with teaching, selling art and wearable one of kind clothing and scarves through galleries and high-end shows. Such as the paradise city art shows and the Baltimore wholesale craft show.
CN: Cheryl, so sorry to hear about the health issues in your family. It’s been proven that art is good for therapy. And I’m glad you’re still finding time to make your art. As you rightly said, “Art is Life“.
I know you’ve started a new series of art pieces that reflect this stage in your life and that is keeping you “focused, grounded and sane” in the midst of all these life changes.
Keep being the awesome person you are.
Thanks for appearing on the blog and talking to us about how you wrote and published your fabric surface design book
CR: My pleasure indeed!
To learn more about Cheryl’s business offerings, art journals and blog visit her online at her website.
Interview Quotes and Highlights
- To get to the meat of who you are as an artist, nothing beats making your own imagery – The discovery of image making and developing, and the anguish and struggle that go with the process of discovery.
- There were many sacrifices for the whole family and lots of writing in the middle of the night. You must schedule time every week to work on your book.
- I am inherently a shy person. The whole process (of writing a book) propelled me forward. I had to break free.
- I love the simplest (fabric surface design techniques) the best
- Writing a book gave me credibility as a professional artist and as a teacher.
What did you find most interesting about this interview? Share your comments below.
PS: You may be interested in some more great Textile Art Business Interviews