Artist Vanessa Andrew creates outside the lines
Local artist Vanessa Devaki Andrew has her hand in so many things at any one time that it's hard to sum up what she does, or who she is in a few simple words.
But Andrew, a 29-year-old whirring ball of energy barely confined inside her human frame, offers up at least one word that fits, "conflicted".
"I look at my Flickr and I have seven or eight collections of different areas of work," said Andrew, "I just think it's confusing for people because they don't know how to contain that in a branding sense."
Andrew, who helped champion the explosion of handmade and one-of-a-kind fashion and craft making in Milwaukee years ago with the defunct Fasten Fashion Collective and her ongoing fashion line Madam Chino, finds herself not only conflicted about how to divvy up attention between her many artistic pursuits-- fashion, illustration, writing, music-- but also at odds with the changing culture in D.I.Y craft.
"I've been kind of cranky about it because I got started out with one-of-a-kind handmade, and that was the big buzz word when back like 8 years ago," said Andrew, "And I've just been watching independent design go corporate in a way where if you want to get bigger and reach a larger audience you have to start doing these things that the larger businesses are doing like streamlining, and making more of one thing which would require you to use brand new materials."
Despite the fact that she runs her own vintage clothing shop on Etsy, Andrew said she was depressed to see other crafters and designers abandon their own work because it became easier and more lucrative to flip vintage clothing online.
"I feel the problem: You make money doing that and you don't have time to make your own stuff," said Andrew, "It's robbing me of my artistic creative time to do stuff."
Rather than withdraw from the handmade community, Andrew has combatted her distaste by tackling other projects. She recently helped put together the inaugural Hover Craft craft fair in Bay View for emerging artists, and is in the process of launching her own small publishing house Penny $pencer.
Andrew, who has taught classes classes for the UWM Craft Center, Boys and Girls Clubs, and the non-profit Waukesha Community Arts project, decided to start publishing some of her comic book-style how-to- manuals she calls "Youtorials".
The simple numbered drawings make things like pattern making, threading a sewing machine, or learning to crochet with re-claimed T-shirts easy for anyone.
"That was the thing with using the comic book format. There are pictures and there are words and some people are either one of the other kind of a learner so it's best to have them both available for you," Andrew said.
Her book binding machine sits in a corner of The Look Nook, Andrew's colorful multi-purpose studio and retail space in the Fortress Building, 100 E. Pleasant, that is brimming with projects new and old.
"I feel like people can only really know you for one thing and everyone is like 'Oh, she makes clothes and that's it'," said Andrew of her new venture.
But while some of her contemporaries become further specialized, streamlining their creations to maximize profits, Andrew said she will continue to create whatever makes her happiest.
"When posed with making difficult decisions about what I really want to do with my life, I think it's wrong to have to decide between doing x number of really awesome things. I want to do it all, whether or not it catches on," Andrew said.
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