Artist Profile: Hillery Sproatt - Chicago
Hi Hillery! Tell us a little bit about yourself.
My name is Hillery Sproatt. I live and work in Chicago, IL. I make paintings on paper, which I translate into textiles.
What is your background (i.e. education, previous jobs, experiences that led you to create)?
I have a background in fine art from the Maryland Institute College of Art. I’ve worked part time for many years with my mom, Debra Weiss, who is a clothing designer and textile artist. Her clothing line is handmade in Los Angeles and is called Rebe by Debra Weiss. She sells her work exclusively at Specks & Keepings, an online shop that we launched together in 2011 and both continue to run.
When I first moved to Chicago, I worked for a short time at Unison, a family-owned home goods company. When I stopped working there, I began to collaborate with Robert Segal and
Alicia Rosauer, the husband and wife team behind Unison on a collection of textiles. Robert and Alicia were the first to take my paintings and turn them into functional linens for the home. It was a very exciting time!
What led you to turn your paintings into functional textiles?
I grew up with a deep appreciation for textiles in large part because of my Mom. Although my Mom had a degree in textile design, she had to put off pursuing a career in design until I was a teenager. She raised me and my two younger sister alone so she worked in the medical field for the first half of my life.
My sisters and I grew up with textiles all over our childhood home. Later, when my Mom began designing, we had stacks and stacks of vintage fabric and Japanese cottons around the house. The mix of colors and patterns were endlessly inspiring. Needless to say, when I began painting I always had a deep desire to design textiles. But I think it took my first collaboration with Unison for me to believe I could begin a collection of my own.
Do you currently create as full-time career? If so, how did you transition into creating your own business? If not, how do you balance different paths of work?
My business is my full time job. It was a long time dream to make my work for a living, but it didn’t happen entirely of my own choosing. I was too timid for years to not have a full time job alongside my art practice. I felt I needed the security of a pay check, however small the paycheck. I often found myself depleted after a days work and with little time to work on my own work.
Life changes required me to leave my job and make a move to Grand Rapids, Michigan to be near family. I knew I would be in Grand Rapids just a short time, so I was reluctant to get a new job there. I began treating my art practice like a job. Waking up each day to paint. By the time I returned to Chicago, I had some momentum, between my studio practice and my collaboration with Unison. This is when I began designing textiles.
How do you source the cotton that you use in your textiles?
I am fortunate to work with a wonderful family owned knitting mill here in the USA. They make it part of their mission to source recycled cotton yarns for the throws they knit on their Japanese industrial knitting machines.
What are some brands/makers that you are excited about that we should know of?
I have had the pleasure to meet and collaborate with some wonderful female artists since running my business. Some of my favorites include:
- Rebe by Debra Weiss - My Mom, Debra Weiss’ handmade clothing line based in Los Angeles. Each garment is thoughtfully hand cut and sewn from primarily Japanese cottons. She has a gift for melding beauty and function. All of her garments have pockets, they’re my favorite pieces to wear!
- Mt. Washington Pottery - My friend Beth Katz makes the most beautiful pottery for the home. She is also an incredibly talented stylist and has helped me style all of our photoshoots. Everything she touches is beautiful.
- Knotwork LA - My friend Linda Hsiao makes beautiful ceramics in her incredible hand-built studio in her backyard in Los Angeles. She is one of the most inspiring and innovative designers I know. She is always thinking up beautiful new ceramic collections all of which she makes by hand herself. We’ve collaborated on a few pieces over the last two years, which is fun.
- Katy Krantz - Katy Krantz is an incredible artist based in Los Angeles. She has magic hands, everything she touches is special. She primarily works in ceramic although she sometimes works on paper. Her works are some of my favorites.
- Renilde De Peuter - Renilde De Peuter lives and works in Antwerp, Belgium. She is an artist I’ve admired for years. I was overjoyed to find her on Instagram recently. Her work is incredible! After coveting them for years, I recently purchased two of her latch hook cushions which I adore.
- Love Oru - My friend Agnieszka Zoltowski makes some of my favorite jewelry. I wear her pieces nearly every day. Her work is delicate and thoughtful as is she.
- Calica Studio - Meghan Macdonald and Rebecca Horwitz are incredible women. They run a collaborative design studio in Canada where they make beautiful wearable textiles from their paintings.
- Rewilder - Lisa Siedlecki and Jennifer Silbert are a dynamic design duo based in Los Angeles. They make my favorite bags, all of which are handmade in LA from repurposed materials. They're amazing!
Where do you draw inspiration from?
My textiles are inspired by my paintings; they are a reimagining of small works on paper. My painting and drawing process is very intuitive. Perhaps it’s the surprise of seeing something into existence that excites me or quieting my mind a bit and letting my hands do the talking.
I draw inspiration from nearly everything I take in; places I’ve visited, conversations I’ve had, books I’m reading or a flower by the side of the road. All these things find their way into my work. At the moment, I find myself inspired by countless self taught artists, children’s drawings, Paul Klee, Picasso, Matisse as well as Scandinavian, Japanese and Eastern European design.
Why do you think it’s important to shop small and support local?
Supporting small artists and local shops is a beautiful thing. It’s a gift to you and the artist/shop you have chosen to support. It affords the artist/shop the opportunity to continue putting beautiful things into the world for you to use and enjoy and it allows us access to wonderful things which enrich our lives.
What makes you passionate about the work that you do?
I travel three months a year doing craft shows all over the country where I sell my knit blankets. It’s at these shows that I get to meet many of my wonderful customers. It makes me so happy to hear that they love using their blankets. I’m touched every time I see photographs of families curled up together in their throws. Making functional goods for the home is so gratifying because you indirectly get to be a part of the lives of others, bringing them comfort and joy.
What are some of the setbacks or challenges you face with running your business?
I find being a business of one requires patience and understanding for yourself. I often can’t get as much done in a short time as I’d like because it’s just me. So I am constantly reminding myself that all I can do is my best. It’s a small reminder, but it proves very helpful. My newest challenge is that I work out of my home so my home/work balance is a bit off. This sometimes leaves me feeling a bit lonely and isolated. I often find myself busy with chores around the house when I need to be working. I would love to eventually find a shared studio space or some sort of community around an office space.
At The Glossary, we believe in women working together and helping one another. Why do you think it is important for women to support each other?
I think it’s important for everyone to support each other whenever possible, but I think it’s especially powerful when women empower one another. I’ve watched my Mom pursue her dreams throughout the years, even during tough times. She’s been a wonderful example to me. She’s also been a continuous source of encouragement and support for me over the years. Sometimes we need a little extra push from those we love and respect in order to try something new and dear to our hearts.
What tools or resources have been most helpful for you in creating/running your business?
This is an interesting question. I would say my knitter has been a fantastic resource for me. I couldn’t do what I do without him. Not only does he produce my throws in an ethical fashion, from quality materials here in the USA but he’s provided me with invaluable guidance and advice regarding business over the last three years. I’ve learned so much working with him - I am very grateful.
How do you manage your time?
My daily practice is rather quiet. I work from home so my morning routine often involves stretching, walking the dog, getting dressed and sitting down to a bowl of museli or oats before beginning work. I try to be as intentional as possible with my daily tasks. Sitting down to the computer is the first thing I do and often the last. A good day consists of getting computer tasks out of the way and making time to paint- for me, these are the more rewarding moments. I try to do yoga a few times a week and take as many walks as possible. The more I move, the better I feel.
How do you deal with moments of self doubt?
Self doubt is interesting. I think I experience it far more in my personal life than I do with my work. I trust that if I make work with with love and joy, that will come through. Sometimes I follow my difficult thoughts, which have more to do with loneliness or restlessness than doubts about my actual process, all the way through to the end. My partner Harry is always prompting me to do this exercise and I find it helpful. He asks me to follow my fear, doubt or pain all the way to the worst case scenario. This sounds bleak, but it can be really helpful. You begin with what’s bothering you and you ask yourself “ And then what” until you reach an end. The end usually isn’t as bad or painful as the feelings that caused you to do the exercise in the first place. This process often helps me better locate and understand the actual feelings or fears that caused the initial idea to grow in my imagination.
What are you trying to learn right now?
This is such a good question and I feel a bit vulnerable saying I am not sure. The last few years I was enjoying taking ceramics and learning an entirely new process. But this year I’ve felt a bit lost. Learning is so gratifying and I think I could benefit from a new hobby, but I am just not sure what that is just now. I’d love a hobby that is separate from my art practice. I hope if I remain open, something will come. Thank you for the reminder.
What are some of your favorite places in your Chicago?
I currently live and work in Chicago, but I grew up in Los Angeles. I spend about three months a year in Los Angeles working and staying with family.
Here are some of my favorite places in Chicago:
- We love getting Indian Food just north of us on Devon. Our favorite spot is Annapurna.
- I love Garfield Park Conservatory
- Lincoln Park Conservatory is small and lovely
- Spacca Napoli in our neighborhood, Ravenswood, has my favorite pizza
- Cellar Door Provisions is a real treat to eat at in Logan Square
- Lake Michigan is beautiful as is the lakeshore trail, especially in Spring and Summer
- Love taking walks through the quaint neighborhood of Ravenswood Manor
- The Art Institute always has wonderful things to see. It’s huge!
- Moth, a beautiful shop on Damen that carries Japanese and Scandinavian goods
Some favorites in Los Angeles:
- The Hollywood Farmers Market
- Pine and Crane, a delicious Taiwanese-Chinese restaurant
- The Hammer Museum and Shop are both are excellent
- So many amazing museums including MOCA and Geffen
- Little Tokyo- great place for pens and noodles
- Cookbook, a tiny but beautifully curated market (there’s two locations)
- Tortoise General Store in Abbot Kinney
- There’s really too much good food! My Mom is always taking me to wonderful places when I’m in