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The Biography: Heather

By Lotuff Leather

One of Lotuff's newest and most adaptable artisans, Heather does more than a little bit of everything around the studio when it comes to our bags. Liz interviews her here about the trajectory of her art career and why she enjoys life in a smaller city.

You have a significant amount of experience in the artistic domain, as it’s something you’ve been involved with for years. How has that experience led you to where you are today?   

Well, in 2008 I started making little books, like zines and self-published stuff. They were one of my major interests for a long time, so I did those for a while, and through selling them at different bookstores and galleries, I got a bit of visibility. That snowballed into getting picked up for exhibitions and being professionally published, and ultimately became one of the reasons why I left RISD after my second year there. I wanted to be in New York because I felt like maybe I was starting to have some momentum with my work, and thinking, “maybe I’m going to start my trajectory this way”, by having a studio practice and getting my work out there. 

That worked out fairly well for me for the years I was in New York. I had a bunch of shows in the city and internationally; I did one in Spain, and then I went to Brazil for an exhibit a few years ago. I started doing a lot more commissioned illustration and editorial illustration projects for magazines, which was something I had been wanting to do. So self-published books were kind of my genesis for all of this- I still make them today. 

But I got to a point in my work where I felt like I was ready to get some new information to inform what I was doing. There were things I wanted to learn at school, like art history and animation, since as a result of having my own practice I realized I was really interested in growing some more informed roots… I just felt ready for a formal education where I never really had before. So I went back to RISD, and it worked out well. It was really rewarding. I felt like I came back at the right time; before, I felt like I wasn’t ready to be in college, so coming back and having really meaningful and awesome relationships with my teachers was so fulfilling. Once I graduated, I started looking for work, and that’s how I ended up here at Lotuff. Now that I’m done, though, I realize how great it was to be in that environment, and it’s making me think about going back for grad school, which is something I never really considered before.

Before coming to Rhode Island, you were living in New York- are there any perks to living in a smaller city like Providence? 

I initially moved here to go to RISD a year after I finished high school, but as I said, I left after my sophomore year because I just wanted to be in a big city. I ended up moving back after being in New York for five years, not just to finish school, but because I wanted to try my studio practice in a new city where I could actually afford a studio space. My thought was that maybe in a smaller place, I could afford a studio- in New York, that just wasn’t the case. The longer I was there… I felt like I was spending all my time working for other people just so I could stay afloat. 

After being back here in Providence for almost three years I definitely feel like I made the right decision, because I'm able to have a studio space, I can work and sustain myself, and I also just enjoy the vibe of a smaller city better- I like being able to easily leave the city and get into nature. It works out well, too, because since I lived in New York before, I know what opportunities are there that I can keep up with. It’s easier for me to live here than exist there full-time. There’s a nice sense of community here, and not that there wasn’t in New York, but I feel like I have more meaningful relationships in Providence.

Since starting at Lotuff, you’ve been genuinely good at everything you’ve been trained on, from splitting to turning and burning. Have you always picked things up easily, or has there ever been anything you’ve struggled with, artistically speaking?

I’ve always gravitated towards production jobs like this, because I fundamentally enjoy working with my hands. I would rather do that than almost anything else. I like that kind of work, and it comes pretty easily to me- especially working on small meticulous things, no matter what the medium is, because that’s what my work is, too: small and methodical. I’m just very used to that, I guess. In my own work, I’ve never gone large-scale or three-dimensional, but making bags is still easy for me because it’s small-scale and detail-oriented. 

I can imagine that if I tried to construct something much larger, I’d really struggle with that. My new studio space has really high ceilings, and I wanted to create a storage loft, so I’ve been having a friend build it while teaching me how to do it- and that’s something that actually has been difficult for me, building shelves and working with larger material. 

Of all those things you’ve tried your hand at while at Lotuff, which one do you enjoy doing most?

That’s tough. There’s a few I really like. I enjoy doing edge painting because it’s so similar to what I do in my own time; I use small brushes, I do line work and small painting, so it all feels very natural for me, and it’s very satisfying. I like turning and burning, too, because there’s a certain degree of precision. It’s almost meditative. I could do that all day and feel pretty good. 

Also, learning how to do cutting has been really interesting, just the whole process of inspecting each of the hides, finding the right areas that are really beautiful, and figuring out the puzzle of making all the pieces that work fit together. It’s harder doing that with the big pieces, but it’s so much more gratifying when you figure it out. 

Do you have anything special coming up in the future with regards to your own art?

I’ve been tabling at MoMA PS1’s NY Art Book Fair every year since 2010, so that’s going to be in September. In the same month, my work will be shown at this festival called Basilica SoundScape, in a renovated warehouse space on the Hudson. I’m working on a new body of work for that, some new larger paintings, which is all-new territory for me. I have a new studio, as well, which I’m liking a lot. It’s only my second studio ever, and it’s in a renovated mill, so it’s very “Providence” in that way.

Heather's art can be viewed and purchased here

The NY Art Book Fair, presented by Printed Matter, runs from September 16-18 at MoMA PS1. Basilica SoundScape will also be held on the same dates, September 16-18, at Basilica Hudson.