The fifth interview of our 5 Questions Series is with Chelsea Heffner. Chelsea is the mastermind behind Wildcraft Studio School in White Salmon, WA. She is a force of nature and we encourage you all to check out her school! We want to take every class being offered! We're also lucky enough to be teaching there as well. Hope to see you there. In this series we are posing a set of 5 Questions to healers and makers that we love and admire. They are two different sets of questions accordingly, but both have in common an exploration of plants, intention and creative/healing practice. Do comment below to participate in the conversation and please share this interview!
1. What motivates you to do the work that you do?
Since I was a young person, I’ve been drawing, collecting plants, painting, digging up clay, experimenting in the kitchen and rambling through the forests. These activities went un-labeled, neither existing as art nor as play; one thing flowed to the next, existing in the simple harmony of childhood. 6 years as a student of fine art in academic institutions made the divide between life and art; the body and mind---deep, wide and clear. Another 5 years as a faculty member in such an institution has motivated me to again seek artmaking and creativity outside the white walls, and miles from the critique-centered model of higher education. Creating WildCraft has fulfilled my desire to continue a creative practice, one where the forest and fields are classrooms, and students and teachers learn through full-sensory experiences. I’m continually motivated to bridge the gap between art, life and work.
2. Do you use plants in your work and if so, how?
Flowers, herbs and weeds are always the starting point for my personal drawings, textile designs and screenprints: they always have been, despite the dedicated efforts of classmates and teachers to break me of this habit. I can now happily say, “YES! I DRAW FLOWERS!!”
At WildCraft, plants are the learning material for so many of our classes. Both our Herbal Medicine & Natural Dye classes have students foraging for wild things, learning about growth cycles and sustainable harvesting practices. All of our classes demand interaction with the wild landscape, whether as a source of inspiration, as in Wilderness Writing, or as a site of engagement like in Bow-Making or Primitive Pottery.
We have a big garden at the studio, from which I desperately attempt to coax veggies, flowers and dye plants, all the while pretending that we DON’T live in a gopher-infested, wind tunnel. In the late summer months, the smell of the herbs, the happy buzzing of bees and the full-floral-surround is just about the best thing in the world.
3. What are the tools of your trade that you couldn't live without?
Determination. Optimism. Energy.
4. What do you turn towards for inspiration? If you include books, artists, other makers, music, etc can you include some links?
My greatest sources of inspiration are businesses and individuals who are making a living, while living their dreams. Though the instagram feeds surely don’t document the dull points like doing taxes, cleaning up the shop and packing orders, its so inspiring to see the joy in pursuing a passion where work becomes life, and life is beautiful. As I scroll through images of my friends at Grain Design (http://www.graindesign.com/ ) working with weavers in Guatemala, or Rebecca Burgess (http://www.rebeccarburgess.com/) cooking up toyon and sagebrush dyes on the beaches of Marin….the dudes at Juniper Ridge (http://juniperridge.com/ )making perfumes on the trails of Sierra Nevada, or my Grandmother, A.Louise, sitting quietly at her potters wheel for the millionth time, I am INSPIRED to continue down a path where incredible experiences fuel creative fire, and (hopefully) fund a simple life.
5. Please include 1 instructional for a quick project someone reading this could incorporate into their own lives. This can be a creative exercise, visualization, recipe, or a literal how to.
An Exercise in Seeing: Contour Drawing
Drawing is a wonderful, meditative practice that can cultivate patience, awareness and appreciation in the world around us. One of my favorite zone-out activities is contour drawing, a practice where you trace your eyes along the outer edges of a form, attempting to link the speed of your eye with the speed of your hand. Plants make wonderful subjects, especially those with rough or uneven edges. Whatever your subject, arrange it so you can see the details clearly. Pick a point on the outer edge of your subject and begin slowly tracing your eyes around the contour. Your hand follows at the same speed, taking note of every bump and jagged edge. Try not to look back at your page until you have completed the shape. Contour drawing is such a wonderful practice in releasing expectation and embracing the messy, imperfection of life.
Chelsea Heffner is a multi-disciplinary artist, designer and teacher residing in White Salmon, WA and Portland, OR. Early years were occupied with painting and printmaking, developing into a current practice tangled in the world of textiles, teaching, business and creative consulting. Regardless of the medium or objective, her work reflects a commitment to observation. Nature’s patterns of light & weather, cycles of death and rebirth share equal inspiration with fundamental questions about female identity, habits of dress and objects of personal representation. Heffner’s images, objects and products, often exalt, sometimes question, and frequently become seamlessly integrated as pieces of everyday life. She is the founder of WildCraft Studio School.