Enjoy this interview with the fabulous, Juanita Tortilla, maker of art to accessorise the eco-conscious – and cat lover! Being eco-conscious does make us more self-and-surroundings aware, and happier too, I think! Click through with the links at the end to learn more of Juanita online. Good is being done in the world. M x o
Q. Why did you first decide to make useful things from discarded fabrics? Tell us how living in alignment with your values relates to living a happy/satisfying life?
A. Since young, I have always enjoyed tinkering with hand-me-downs, and with very little pocket money as a kid, one is forced to be creative and try to reuse and revamp old things.
This up-cycling / re-purposing hobby was at its peak when my husband and I moved to the United States — I wanted to make gifts for friends and nice things for myself, but it was tricky when living on a student’s stipend, scrimping from pay cheque to pay cheque.
I also try to be conscious of my footprint with whatever I create or buy. The greatest satisfaction comes from extending the life of something that most would not have given a second thought, transforming it into something pretty and/or useful, and eventually bringing happiness to someone else!
Q. What is your creative process like? What do you do when you feel stuck creatively?
A. I avoid looking at trends and would like to think that I rely on my own random ideas. These ideas come to me either right before falling asleep or when I’ve had my morning caffeine kick. (That first good cup of morning coffee is very important to me!) I then decide in the morning if it was going to be a Sewing Day, Printing Day, Paperwork Day, or Do Nothing Day. The creative process involves hitting the workroom by 9AM, cranking up the radio and be undisturbed until I re-emerge again at 3PM to don on the other apron of being a cook / housekeeper.
I love playing with colours and textures, letting material speak and decide what they deem themselves to be fit for: a featured piece on a bag? Collage? To be jazzed-up with Pickle prints, etc. It is all unplanned, adhoc and mood-dependent, which makes each piece eclectic and unique.
When stuck creatively, I declutter the workspace. In doing so, it lets me revisit forgotten material, bringing it out and making it useful in a whole different manner I had originally intended for it. Alternatively, I declutter my mind in a Do Nothing Day by visiting somewhere new or catch up with a friend to vent / brainstorm.
Q. Do you make your living – help pay the bills – from your creative business?
A. No, sad to say. On a positive note, it is becoming self-sustaining; monies slowly collected are starting to pay for fees associated with it. I would LOVE to contribute to the household, eventually, and have been fortunate to have a very supportive partner over these years.
Q. Do you feel as though you could live anywhere, or is it important that you are located in South Australia?
A. My husband and I, along with our cat(s), have adapted ourselves to being able to live anywhere. I personally find it important to be surrounded by like-minded and/or creative folks to learn from and exchange ideas with. South Australia, as I have discovered, has a lovely artistic community and I am grateful for that!
Tell us 5 key lessons of adulthood that you’ve come to live by.
1. Do what you love, love what you do.
2. It’s alright to be a misfit and dance to your own beat.
3. Recognise good opportunities and seize them but it is also perfectly fine to say ‘no’.
4. Sometimes, you need to treat yourself.
5. Let things go.
Bonus Question: Tell us a story about your wonderful cat Pickle and how/why she appears printed on your items.
Pickle entered our lives in 2010 at the age of 7. Our paths crossed when we were living in Switzerland — her former mummy was a British expat living in Switzerland and had to give Pickle up. Pickle took to us really quickly and has been the sweetheart in our lives! We love Ragdoll and Birman cats, Pickle is the PERFECT combination of both. Pickle travelled with us from Switzerland to the United States and now South Australia. She is now a senior cat enjoying the life in Adelaide Hills.
One day, in January 2015, I enjoyed a stenciling workshop with Simone Tippett of the Union St Printmakers. Pickle is always on my mind, naturally my stencil is that of Pickle’s face. I stencilled the Pickle image on fabric I had intended to make a dress with. Also, as a personal preference, I usually add pockets to dresses I make… A simple equation to a new creative idea evolved: Pickle + Pockets = Pickled Pockets. (I also like the play of “pickled pockets” to mean having little or no money like a starving artist!)
Pickled Pockets became an entity on its own when I also went on to do a screen printing workshop at Tooth And Nail and therefore started screen-printing totes (an idea suggested by an online friend!) and repurposed fabric as tea towels. Meanwhile, I took to stamping and carved out Pickle stamps. I have since started merging my interests in upcycling and printmaking — inking vintage fabrics by literally putting a Pickle on it and spreading the crazy cat lady love!
Juanita Tortilla – “Art to accessorise the eco-conscious”
Now based in the lovely Adelaide Hills in South Australia, I create by hand unique, bold and practical objects from otherwise unloved material, sourcing responsibly from my surroundings.
My ethos is to reduce, re-use and re-create. Everything old is new again, each product is an individual piece of heart.
Merging my interests in printmaking and upcycling, I also hand-print images of Pickle, our world-travelling Ragdoll-Birman cat.
‘Pickled Pockets’ is my cat-inspired collection that occasionally includes hand-sewn dresses with pockets.
As an independent maker each creation is hand made by myself — alongside several cups of tea — journeying from my home to yours.
Born and raised in Singapore I have gathered experiences from Europe, America, and now Australia, since 2004. I am on most social media sites and would enjoy having a chat with you!
Hope you’ve enjoyed this, bold soul, and are inspired to live a little more creatively and eco-consciously! Love Meg x o
PS Juanita and I will both have our art stalls at the National Cat Show at St Clair Recreation Centre, Woodville, this very next weekend. Maybe see you there … it’s a good family day out!