We had the great privilege to head on up to Zak Foster's studio/apartment in Brooklyn. We've admired his work for quite some time & wanted to know more about his process. He and his partner, Travis, are true Southern gentlemen. Leading us through holiday markets, French bakeries, and a decadent modern donut house we felt totally and utterly taken care of. The greatest treat of all was being able to see and sleep under a quilt or two of Zaks.
1. How long have you been in this current space and how has your arts practice affected it?
My partner and I just moved into our new home less than a year ago, and in a lot of ways it still feels like we’re getting settled in. We still have a corner filled with stubborn boxes that have been sitting there since we’ve moved in, little odds and ends that we can’t bear to part with, but have no other place for. But I got my workspace unpacked and set up pretty quickly after we moved in. I was eager to see how things could be made to work in the new space. I was coming from working in the dining room (a makeshift sewing area that I had to pack up every night) to an extension off our eat-in kitchen, which gives me plenty of room to sew. The biggest change for me has been the luxury of perspective. In my old workspace, the farthest back I could get from my design wall would have been about eight feet. Here in the new place I can back all the up out of the kitchen and into the dining room, a good twenty feet, which gives me the ability to better see the entire composition at once. Because of this I find myself working on larger scale designs.
2. What do you require logistically to create a usable space?
A design wall! Number one. The ability to slap a piece of fabric up on the wall and step back is vital to my process. I have a horrible visual imagination. I have to actually see things to know how they’re going to work, and the design wall helps do that. I also have a cutting table (usually covered in piles of fabric, so maybe I should call it my stacking table instead.) I wish I had a ironing table… I’m still working off my old half-size ironing board from the college dorm days. There’s a chest of drawers where I have fabrics sorted in four drawers: warm colors, cool colors, white/neutrals, and dark/neutrals. I also keep a small collection of mementos (postcards, notes, sketches, scraps of fabric, etc.) to inspire me and keep me grounded.
3. What are some of the reasons why you have a space dedicated to your making practice?
First off I need a dedicated space because I have so much stuff! Piles of fabric, piles of books, piles of tools, and needles, and measuring tapes, all the bits and bobbins you need to create. It would drive both my partner and me crazy if it weren’t centralized somehow. But deeper than that, I like having a set purpose for each space. The bed’s for sleeping and the bathroom for bathing, and the kitchen for cooking, and so on. By having a work area set apart, it helps me get into the flow of things easier. Just entering the space makes it easier to get in sync with the creative energy. I sit and drink my coffee at my worktable every morning while I watch the sky lighten, and I can still feel the residual creative energy from the day before. It’s totally different than drinking coffee on the couch in the living room.
4. What kind of sacred space(s) do you have in your studio?
I have a couple places in my apartment where I feel more connected to the bigger things: my design wall and my meditation bench. I didn’t realize how important my design wall was to me until about six months ago. I’d been out of town for a few days and had just gotten back to Brooklyn. I’d been home for a couple hours, unpacking, getting a bite to eat, watching a little TV, and all that. But it wasn’t until I happened to walk by my design wall and-- without even thinking about it-- smoothed out a little wrinkle in the fabric, that it felt like I was really home. There was something almost tactily warm in that encounter between that fabric and the palm of my hand that still radiates.
I started meditating about five or six years ago and at that time I created a little space in the corner in our bedroom where I could sit and be quiet. I put several meaningful things in place to help ground the time I spent there: family photos, flowers, statues of the Buddha and Avalokitesvara. The statue of Avalokitesvara is especially meaningful for me because she embodies so much of what I want to do with my quilting. She’s usually represented with many arms, sometimes four, sometimes as many as a thousand. And in each hand she has a different tool to help her bring compassion and an end to suffering. One of my goals for the work that I do to create similar tools for doing good in the world. Among the statues and photos, I also keep rocks and sticks and bones I’ve found in different places, along with horn shed by a young buck that I found hiking recently in Utah. I find they help keep me grounded to the natural world while living here in the city. Underneath all this is my library of favorite books. I like keeping kindred spirits close. I usually read poetry at night before going to bed; Rilke is one of my current favorites, along with Mary Oliver and Sharon Olds, and though she’s not a poet, the journaling of Anne Truitt.
5. What is the greatest feat that you overcame in this space?
Space! Aside from my work area with my sewing machine and cutting table, I recently acquired a longarm quilting machine. I’d wanted one for a while, but never thought we’d have room for it in our apartment (let alone get my partner to agree to it!) But I drew up some a floor plan for how we could rearrange the bedroom and I was able to get him on board. It stinks having my workspace split in two between the kitchen and the bedroom, but in Brooklyn it’s about the best I can do right now. I feel like I’m always walking back and forth to get a pair of scissors I left in the other room, or a measuring tape, or a needle. I’m getting used to it though. Slowly, I’m lining up doubles of all those odd bits you need to sew so I can have one in each room. One day when I have my own quilting mega-studio, I’ll look back at all this and laugh.
With love & light & beauty,
Ashton & Claire
Posted on a Waxing Gibbous