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Inside the studio

Carolyn Hazel Drake

Carolyn Hazel Drake

Carolyn Hazel Drake is a Portland-based sculptor and third-generation Oregonian. Her work integrates textiles, ceramics, and domestic objects that are meticulously assembled and layered using traditional craft techniques and collage. Drake has taught workshops on personal iconography at Sitka each summer for the last several years and has participated in the Sitka Invitational since 2018.

I have just moved into a new studio -- a detached single-car garage conversion. The remodel happened over the last year, coinciding with the pandemic and with my becoming engaged. I had a wonderful, if rather small, studio in SE Portland for the last few years, but it felt fitting that as part of the full commitment of marriage I needed to also bring myself as an artist fully into our home -- or at least onto the property! In our vows, my husband spoke specifically to his love for my creativity and his commitment to supporting and protecting space for that part of my identity. I am a very fortunate woman.

Moving into a new studio is a marvelous and also traumatic thing, because it means packing up the old studio! For many years while I was raising my daughter, “studio” meant “corner of the living room,” so I have lots of practice with organization. There are also constants that ground my creative practice and that have followed me from place to place: lighting incense, clocking in and out in a notebook to track my hours, making tea, putting on music, and then sitting down to start by either doing a bit of reading or working on the stitching for an in-progress piece, so I can get a rhythm going. I find that there are all kinds of mental and psychological trickery necessary to get me settled into my work.

Reading is central to my practice. My best ideas come at a slant -- I find through reading and writing that I’m able to creep up on them from the side and disarm them so they don’t escape. With a new body of work, at first, I often think something like “this is terrible and meaningless -- why am I cutting out these stupid shapes?” But if I just keep moving forwards, and reading and writing, and paying attention to what’s around me, whether that be the people in my life, or my environment, I start to notice connections. This is what Elizabeth Gilbert calls “big magic.” But trusting that those connections will be found is the real challenge. Actually, No -- the real challenge is to keep showing up in the studio even when doubt crowds in. The evidence of trust is to not give up. I guess you could call that faith.

I love art supplies, and sewing notions are just marvelous. There is something about the nature of working with textiles that feels, as a process, deeply connected to making sense of the world. I end up spending so much time handling the materials that go into a finished piece: washing and hand-dyeing the cotton and wool, cutting, reassembling, and stitching the pieces and quilting the layers together. Therefore, I feel a strong personal connection to everything I make, and I love to know the people that my work ends up finding a home with. I have some pieces of cloth that are precious to me, and small bits of them have appeared in many works, so they are connected to each other, too.

I have always had a full-time job in addition to my art practice. I taught high school art, art history, and language arts for a decade before moving into district arts leadership for Portland Public Schools. Therefore, maintaining a studio is one way that I insist to the world, and to myself, that I mean serious business as an artist. Each studio space I’ve had in my life has altered something about my work -- be it scale, materials, complexity, or color palette. Having a studio at home, I find that I’m able to steal away for small slices of time throughout the day and week as well as for longer blocks of time. This is a different way of using my creative muscle and I wouldn’t say it feels great so much as strange. It’s only a matter of time before that change manifests somehow in my work. I can’t wait to see how.

Images of studio

Sunlit corner with the book where I clock my studio hours, plus a few favorite objects: my incense; a polaroid from a trip to Joseph, OR; a small turned canister by Tom Willing that was made from the chestnut tree that used to stand in front of the Portland Art Museum; a small statue of St Teresa of Avila, patron saint of lacemakers, that I brought home from a visit to my sister in the Netherlands.
Organized chaos. Keeping my supplies in clear bins is a longstanding practice that makes it easier for me to find what I’m looking for and also to prepare for and pack up for workshops.
Dynamic light is one of my favorite aspects of the new studio, with french doors, a skylight, three banks of recessed lights on a dimmer, and my stalwart companions for many years, adjustable Anglepoise task lights.
A few of my favorite notions: a black ruler from Kinokuniya, Sajou needles & needle box from my sister’s webshop Handcraeft, and Valdani perle cotton thread from my mom’s webshop The Quilting B.
Choosing the right palette of hand-dyed wool for a new piece.
Portrait of a studio dog in training -- this is our pup Rasheed Wallace, a Brittany. He’s a good boy but he does love to get into my yarn.

Images of Work

Tokens of Invisibility (2019)
Song for Safe Shelter (2020)
Nothing but Light (2020)
The Stage at Which No More of a Substance Can Be Absorbed (2019)

If you want to learn more about the notions mentioned in the fifth studio image please visit these links:

Handcraeft -- https://handcraeft.com/

Kinokuniya -- https://usa.kinokuniya.com/

The Quilting B - https://www.etsy.com/shop/thequiltingbshop

To learn more:

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