by Pamela Grimaud
Sandra as a young lady
Sandra, who goes by her middle name Tatsuko professionally, has come a long way as a crafter since the gold-sprayed rigatoni Christmas wreath she presented to her Mum in kindergarten. Skilled in the art of jewellery making, stamp carving and in the use of chiyogami (Japanese paper) to create orizuru (cranes) and delicate, whimsical greeting cards, Sandra is what is known in show business as a "triple threat." Typically, this means someone who can sing, dance and act - think Shirley MacLaine or Hugh Jackman - but in Sandra's case she can do all of the above, and play the taiko, or Japanese drums. I'm suitably chastened, and henceforth will only ask questions, listen and learn...
Sandra, you may recall that I first encountered your work last autumn at the Villa Maria holiday craft sale in N.D.G, then followed you to yet another sale in the Town of Mount-Royal to pick up a greeting card you were creating for me. Immediately smitten with your work, I purchased earrings for my sister, and cards (one of Happy Doxie the datschund, and the other Pudgy Waiting Cat) for myself.
I am struck by the varied nature of your crafts as well as your dexterity with numerous materials; paper, stamp-making, stones, polymer clay among them. Can you tell me a bit about how and where you began as an artist and crafter? Were you immersed in one material or method before another, or were you experimenting and creating with various crafts from the start?
As a kid I was always drawing, painting and fiddling with paper, bombarding my parents with cards, pictures and whatever else I came up with. My mom kept a huge Morgan’s box (pre- The Bay days!) filled with my stuff, some of which I still have! Fast forward to 1999, when I made really wonky looking mini-sushi platter magnet as a funny little gift for my mom - when I made some improvements to that original rather primitive model, family and friends shockingly started ordering them from me! December 2001 I did my first couple of craft shows selling polymer clay jewellery and some holiday themed cards, and it just kind of grew from there. Because of the hoarding gene I inherited from my mom, whatever materials I like to work with become a bit of an obsession. In early 2002, all kinds of Japanese paper, card making supplies, polymer clay and tools started to overrun our office, turning it into what is now my little studio.
And yes, Pamela, I clearly remember you hiding behind a neighbouring vendor’s display, so that your sister wouldn’t see that you were buying earrings from me as a gift for her! So sneaky – what a sweet sister!
Pudgy Waiting Cat. Hand-carved stamp, printed and heat embossed in silver on burgundy cardstock, mounted on Japanese chiyogami.
What are some of the joys and challenges of working with the materials and processes you typically employ? Bingata washi and chiyogami (dyed and printed papers respectively), polymer clay, beads and stones?
The joys working with Japanese paper are many - mostly in that the paper on its own doesn’t have to do anything but just BE; whether it’s patterned chiyogami or bingata, or just subtly textured washi, it’s all so darn gorgeous to look at and wonderfully warm to touch. A major challenge is limited availability here in Montreal, so on the two trips I’ve made to Japan I’ve returned with wads of the stuff; I was terrified they would find a reason to confiscate it before boarding the plane! The few places you can buy Japanese paper here it is pricey, which is actually good otherwise I’d be buying it all the time.
Polymer clay is wonderful to work with - it’s remarkably strong yet very light-weight. I’ve done lots of reading on the subject, and learned how to work with it over the years through experimentation, trial and error, and lots of duds. Finding the right finish and glaze for my pieces has been a challenge – I’ve got a lot of full bottles of products that I’ve tried but once! Sworn enemies of anyone working with polymer clay: air bubbles and any kind of fuzz, fluff or lint… and furry cats that like to hang around the craft studio!
The problem with stones and beads is that there are so many great places online to make easy purchases (I buy a lot of my supplies from fellow Etsy sellers), hence my crazy stash of beads. I will attribute this bead weakness – or some call it a disease - once again to the dreaded hoarding gene, so it’s beyond my control.
Sushi combo 3. Necklace and earrings handcrafted out of polymer clay.
Your designs and subject matter are so varied and personal; from the hand-carved animal stamped cards I brought home - patiently waiting to be framed - to delicate bead and stone earrings and bracelets, and polymer sushi pendants. Cherry blossoms and even taiko drums - not one but two kinds - appear in your work. Besides being inspired by your Japanese heritage, which I'd love for you to elaborate on, what else infuses your work?
I love playing with colour – going for calming, harmonious blends, or zinging it up with sharp contrasts. Colour can completely change the mood of a piece, injecting a bit of drama and flair, or lightness and humour. Yup, I do like things with a sense of humour - I tend to gravitate towards quirky things that don’t take themselves too seriously.
Cats, albeit indirectly, affect my work, or at least how I feel throughout the work day. I live with two of the finest specimens, Chibi and Ebi, and I’ve never met a cat I didn’t like. There is something about feline grace and their take-it-or-leave-it demeanor that makes me happy. If my husband goes before I do, I can totally see myself as a wacky old cat lady sharing the dinner table with a whole slew of cats eating at their assigned places. They make their way into my work as well – my logo is a stamp I carved, inspired by my late, great cat, Jerzy.
Being born and raised here in Montreal, I wasn’t exposed to a whole lot of “Japaneseness” at home besides food. Like many third generation Japanese Canadians, I don’t speak Japanese and finding some kind of a connection to my heritage became really important to me once I was in my 20’s. After becoming involved in the community newspaper and then in taiko, or Japanese drumming, I guess my creative side was shaken up a bit! I think my artistic and aesthetic choices are a reflection of my Japanese roots that are firmly planted here in my birthplace, my home, Montréal.
My mom, who passed away in 2006, was one of my biggest fans and supporters. She always said, “I don’t know where you got the talent from, certainly not from me or dad!” which was her way to say she was proud of me. I think of her often when I’m feeling lazy or unproductive to give me the boot I need.
Kingyo earrings. Chiyogami paper is sealed onto layers of polymer clay.
In reading up on taiko, or Japanese drum playing, and kumi-daiko, the group playing of the instrument, I was struck by the sense of community that is such an important part of learning and performing with this instrument. To quote directly from your groups' website (www.arashidaiko.org):
"The practice of taiko can be seen as a metaphor for life; Arashi Daiko encourages its members to experience and share taiko through the practice of self-challenge and striving for personal growth. Each member must overcome their own obstacles and face life’s many confrontations. It is only through the development of each individual, both within and outside of Arashi Daiko, that the group may evolve as a collective."
Can you describe the connection and influence of performing taiko on you as an artist and crafter?
Hmmm, neat question… One of Arashi Daiko’s main goals in performing is sharing with the audience, which is a very rewarding part of playing taiko for both the giver and the receiver; similarly, I get a thrill every time someone looks at and chooses to buy something I’ve created. I feel really honoured that they actually want to wear this thing I made, or share it with someone else – if you think about it, it is pretty amazing! There is also the element of giving your best at every moment, which we strive to do as taiko performers, and which I also do as an artisan – some pieces take forever to come together! In my mind, there is no sense in putting something out there with your name on it that is not a true reflection of you or your creative self.Momiji Orange set. Beaded necklace with chiyogami & polymer pendant.
How do you balance the demands of being an artist, managing your Etsy site and a blog? Are you able to take advantage of quieter seasons, assuming there are any, to create in anticipation or more demanding periods such as the holiday season?
I still have to discipline myself to work regular hours in the day and try to keep at least some evenings free, which is a major problem when you’re self-employed; and especially if you’re doing something you love, it doesn’t feel like work, so you end up working all the time. Summer is less busy craft-wise, but it’s our taiko group’s busiest time, with performances every week-end along with rehearsals, so it’s not really a quiet time, schedule-wise.
I’ve tried to map out my creation and production plans, to work on new designs well before busy periods, but I’ve got no control over ideas that pop into my head at the least convenient moments! I have a couple of new items in production now for a festival I’m doing in Vancouver at the beginning of August, and I’d like to have new Christmas card designs ready for September so that I can then concentrate on production for my fall and holiday craft events. But we’ll see how good I am at actually keeping this schedule! In the fall I’ll be teaching some craft classes too, which are always fun, but I have to keep some time aside to plan for those too. My intentions and planning skills are good – following through, not always so great! I usually have to call in my trusty craft assistant, my husband Jean-François, for help during the holiday season since I inevitably run into times when I’m in “panic mode” with too much to do and not enough time to get it done.
My blog and my web shop on Etsy both suffer from my “all or nothing” tendency, which isn’t always good for business. I miss blogging when I’m not doing it, but it takes up a lot of my time – finding stuff to write about, writing it up, reading other people’s blogs, commenting… And I’ve been falling behind on my photo-taking – I have to take pics of some of the new pieces I’ve been making and post them in my Etsy shop. It gets a little overwhelming at times, but I really feel lucky to be able to do what I love.
Orizuru. Folded paper card.
:::::::::::::: After thirteen years in the United States and one brutally expensive master's degree from New York University, Pamela Grimaud returned to her beloved Montreal, where she works as a costume historian, college instructor, researcher, independent lecturer and writer. She is currently reading everything she can get her hands on regarding the field of ethical fashion, is a fervent admirer of all things crafty and considers herself a junior knitter. She blogs about all kinds of things at Oh, Little Bird!