Getting to know you – Jesse Breytenbach

Phew, it’s still hot hot hot here! But that won’t stop me posting this week’s interview. With Jesse from South Africa. And boy, if ever there was a talented lady, she is one! She prints on cloth and paper, does transfers on porcelain and other lovely things. She also set in motion the swatch swap I mentioned a little while ago. Enjoy the interview!

Your name
Jesse Breytenbach :: blog :: shop (textile) :: shop (print)

Where in the world are you?
Cape Town, South Africa

Briefly describe yourself and what you make
I’m an illustrator, working free-lance and from home. I illustrate school books and draw comics. I print, on cloth and on paper, using linoleum blocks, but I also knit dolls and bags, and have started sewing.

Who or what inspires you?
I’m not sure where inspiration comes from… it’s often only obvious weeks after I’ve finished something. I have my best ideas when I’m doing something with my hands, like washing the dishes or cutting printing blocks – similar activities, in that I can let my mind wander!

When / how did you learn?
I studied Fine Art printmaking, where I learnt just about every known printmaking method. The training was very focused on technique, something I’m grateful for now.

Why do you ‘bother’ to make things by hand?
Lots of reasons: to see if I can, to find out how things are made, to save money, to make something unique that only I could have made, and often because I can’t find exactly what I want or work out how to get someone else to make it for me. I do try not to make things that would be better done by machine or industrial process; it’s not about being a luddite. But there are some things that can only be done well by hand.

And I just love the way knitting or carving feels, and the mild trance you can get into while doing it – very relaxing.

What is your craft ”philosophy”?
”There has to be a way – think harder.”

Fondest craft-related memory?
My mother giving me a kids’ craft book when I was about 7 or 8. I’d learnt how to knit garter stitch, but not how to cast on or off. Realising that I could teach myself from a book – wow!

Can you reveal a little about your creative process?
The hardest part is starting. I generally draw little plans or sketches, very roughly. I don’t stick to them or have everything worked out before I start, but it’s a way to get going. Blank sheets of paper are intimidating. If I’m drawing, or designing a pattern, I scribble some lines on the page before I even start thinking about what I want to draw, just to have something there.

For complicated things, I write an instruction list for myself. If it’s something step-by-step, like sewing, I’m bound to forget something vital, something that needs to be done before something else.

How do you deal with crafty mistakes?
Curse, cry (sometimes), have a cup of tea, and figure out how to fix it. Sometimes things lie in the cupboard for months before I get to the fixing part, though.

Favourite book(s) or craftbook(s)?
Neal Stephenson’s The Diamond Age – it’s a science-fiction novel. I love the steam punk aesthetic (I read science-fiction for the gadgets) but this book is extra intriguing. In it, a little girl is given a book that teaches her how to do things….

Do you have a designated craft space? What does it mean to you?
I’m lucky enough to have my illustration work space, a whole room with lots of cupboards. But I print in the kitchen, I knit wherever there’s sun. The most important thing about my room is that there’s lots of storage space, so that unfinished things don’t lie around depressing me, and I’ve got space to stash supplies, including ones that I might use one day, but I’m not sure yet how. Having all this space means that I feel more organised than I actually am.

Do you use a sketchbook or journal?
Not really. I have a sketchbook that I should draw in to keep my eye in, and it’s full of little scraps of paper that I’ve sketched ideas on. Drawing on paper that’s not for drawing is less intimidating and easier.

Why is crafting good for you?
This isn’t a very well-formulated answer, but here goes: making things gives you a sense of being in control of your world, not just a passive consumer. It teaches you to be critical and to make choices; you get to know yourself and your own tastes. It’s an encouraging feeling to be able to take an idea and make it a real thing, and to concretely change your environment (by making curtains, or soup, or clothing etc) Making things teaches you how to fix things, as well, which makes you feel smart.

Is your craft a business as well? Any advice on running a crafty business?
Not really. Or not yet! While I do try to price things to reflect the time that’s gone into them, I don’t have enough time to make enough things to live off the sales. Most of my time is spent illustrating – which, while it does pay better, means that I can’t spend enough time making. I’m a bit stuck in the middle of this one, still trying to work out a balance.

What impact (if any) has the internet had on your craft?
A huge impact! I’ve knitted for years, and pottered around making bits and pieces, but one day I was bored and googled ’free knitting patterns’. I discovered getcrafty , and craftster , and loads of knitting sites (this was before blogs took off) and got so excited. The internet is the ultimate craft book. If there’s anything you want to do, someone somewhere will have done it, or at least something like it, and published instructions.

Then knitting blogs started, and I thought ”I want one too”. I had a blog on getcrafty for a bit, and posted finished projects on craftster, so I made the leap to my own blog. It’s wonderful being able to show my stuff to other people, and get feedback straight away, and really inspiring to find so many other people who do the same sorts of things I do. A blog is a good motivator, too; it helps me keep track of what I’ve done.

Do you make art or craft? Is there a difference?
Um… yes, there is a difference, and there’s a blurry crossover point. Sometimes I make art, and sometimes I make craft. There’s also a difference between art and illustration, but that’s an even trickier distinction to make.

If you could make any project without limits to cost, materials or even skill, what would it be?
This isn’t exactly a project, more of a project to make more projects, but I’d really like to figure out how to make a small table-top letterpress press… something between a gocco and an etch-a-sketch, that will hold the paper and the block, and burnish the print evenly with one swipe…. a press that you can make yourself, at home, with minimal tools. (There’s probably something like it in existence already, right?)

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