Thursday, April 14, 2011

Christel Highland's facets

This month, I'm writing a profile of fashion designer, Christel Highland for Artist INC...

Christel Highland presently focuses upon her emerging line of fashion which she has been developing over the past year. What’s interesting about this artist is her many talents; facets which often overlap and support one another. She writes prose and poetry, designs and styles fashion shoots (a theatre-like art form), creates visual art pieces, curates art, assists artists to sell their art (even features art as part of her fashion line website), models professionally, designs clothing, and constructs it as well.

Check out her fashion line at Pistol Threads / Christel Highland

When discussing this interview, I sent Christel the guideline questions for review. As a writer, she dove right in and crafted the answers below. Enjoy…

Mapping your career
· What should an artist consider when creating plans for his/her art practice?

That everything you do is a business and reflects on you as a brand. It shouldn't enter into your thought process while creating, however, everything before and everything after that creative birthing is business. Try to learn as much as you can from every situation- whether it's what to do, or what not to do, all the time. If you pay attention all the time, everything you put energy towards will benefit.

· What key strategies have you used to learn about areas where you possess weakness?

I've learned to focus less on my weaknesses and trust that opportune situations will present themselves for collaboration. I read once in a business book that it's better to focus on your strengths, and find people who are strong where you are weak rather than spending energy beating yourself up over any perceived weaknesses or trying to strengthen those areas. I try to remember that whenever I'm stressed out about my weak points.

· What resources in your network or the community have you found to be the most useful to further your art/business practice?

Kansas City is an amazing place to be creative. At every turn I've found resources. Mostly in the wealth of people who have knowledge beyond my experience. I love talking to people who have lived more than me, or found more success than I have. There certainly is no shortage of those sorts of artists and people in general to learn from.

· What strategies have you used to successfully sell your work?

I can't say that I've found huge success yet. I think that I'm learning how to sell right now. Mostly, I think that my job presently is to elevate my presence in order to attract respect for my art, and the brands that I've created. There's this strange balance of mystery and simultaneous lack of self consciousness that has to be found in order for an artist to become successful, I believe. There are times where you cloister up in preparation for creativity, there are times where you are being creative (I've found that I enjoy creating alongside someone else- in all areas. I have trouble creating when only my own energy is stagnating.), and there are times when you are public and you present what you've done. For me, at the end it's as if I've given birth to something that now (hopefully) stands on its' own and finds a new home or life apart from me- whether its' an art piece or an article of clothing.

· What one thing would you differently in regards to your art/business practice, you had it to do over again?

I try not to think that I've made mistakes. In the grand scheme of things, I hope that my perceived mistakes in the short term will benefit me in the long run when the stakes are higher. I've learned a lot in a relatively short period of time with regard to my business and art becoming a single unified force.

· How do you balance family with your art practice?

I don't know. I'm learning. I've struggled with guilt- guilt when I'm with my family because I'm not in the studio, and guilt when I'm in the studio that maybe I'm not the best Mommy I can be. It's hard, but I don't think that it's a situation exclusive to artists. I learning to maintain focus on my children and those with whom I have close relationships when I'm with them. That said, it's hard. I get frustrated when I'm not working, and not moving toward my goals. I know that causes my relationships to suffer. I think because of that, I've kept my close circle relatively small because I value those people so much because I know what it takes to be close to me. I am extremely driven and focused, but I try to exert a similar energy toward those that I love in order to maintain harmony when I'm accepting of "down time." Most of what I do centers around my work in one way or another. I'm grateful for the people who by choice, or by chance, are stuck with me. I'm a lot to handle, and I hope to make it worthwhile for all of us.

· Discuss your perspective on the pros and cons of a day job?

I'm no expert in this arena, either. I've really only had a handful of day jobs: One was at a drycleaners when I was sixteen or so. I like clothes, and I like being around people that don't know me. I think it's fascinating to see how people act toward others- especially when they don't know you. Another was cleaning rooms at a hotel. I was obsessed with John Irving at the time (I still have a bit of a crush on him.) and I loved getting a peek into the lives of others. Plus, I love cleaning. It's a satisfying process to see progress in a short period of time. During college I worked a few short term jobs- at a health food store, a fabric store, and a pizza joint. Then, when I finally left theatre and film work, I worked for a clothing manufacturer. I enjoy hard work, and I can think of specific instances with each "day job" where I had joy and pride and where I learned something.

I can say that now I don't think I'm suited to work for someone else, but if I had to, I think that I could find a positive aspect of the work that I could learn from and take pride in. I think as long as you can have that thought behind what you're doing, there's no con to any experience- including a day job.

· What type of day job do you feel is the best compliment to a successful art practice? Why?

I think that depends entirely on the artist's personality.

Finding money
· What strategy do you use to keep up on potential grant opportunities?

I have only applied for a few grants. I look for opportunity all the time.

· How do you balance the time needed to apply for grants with time for your art practice?

Hmm, I guess I'll answer this as it relates to my business. I seek and deal with money as the need arises, then making my clothing is a reward for taking care of business, and then making my art is the ultimate reward for the making of the clothing.

· What techniques have you found beneficial in successfully applying for grants?

Finding the right people to help me.

· What strategies to you use to keep good financial records?

I'm learning. I keep all of my receipts. I do what everyone else has to do when tax time comes.

· Why is important to maintain good financial records?

Dealing with money, in the past, has probably been my least favorite thing. The prospect of it doesn't even drive my work- which is why it's so pure, in a way. That said, I do like having a nice studio, a nice apartment, a decent car, and money to buy socks and shoes for my kids. I don't believe it's evil, by any means. Now, after starting my business, I realize that by maintaining a record of where things are going I can see how I can make my products better and my business grow in an unemotional way. Looking at the numbers takes all of the guesswork away so that you can progress by looking at the past impartially.

Promoting your work

· As an artist who was new to Kansas City, how did you navigate the Kansas City Arts Scene?

I threw myself on the scene with confidence. I had been through a creatively dry period, and an emotionally difficult time when I decided to devote my self to something that I think I'm really good at. I don't know if that was the right thing to do, but that's what I did. I felt like I had to impress people, in a way, because I didn't attend the arts institute, and I didn't have years on the scene. So, I diligently took every business dealing very seriously as well as every creative endeavor. I think that even though my personality might not appeal to everyone, no one can criticize my devotion to doing good work or to treating creative people with respect in any business dealing.

· How have you developed a network of peers?

I moved around a lot as a kid, and through that I learned that you follow a breadcrumb trail every time you move- all of the time, in fact. It's never the first people you meet that become your lifelong friends and collaborators, and KC was certainly no exception. The good people are already there and have been for years (I had a few long time friends in place in KC), or they're sitting back watching and observing. My first peers on the KC scene aren't a part of my life anymore, but they did introduce me to important people intrinsic to the development of my current network. I think that people come in and out of our lives and we don't have a clear picture of what their purpose is until they leave our lives sometimes. It's really amazing to think about how our little worlds of people are constantly in flux- all benefiting our individual goals and dreams. Right now, I'm focused on continually growing my network outside of this market in a constant effort to gain the exposure that I believe my work deserves.


a bit about Christel Highland...

Christel was born in St. Joseph, Missouri, the infamous cowtown, and home of Jesse James. Her Dad, a country veterinarian, pawned his shotgun to settle the score with the hospital. Her nickname, “Christel the Pistol,” (pistol had a better ring than shotgun) stuck. Mom, a farm girl with a Masters in Home Economics, taught “the Pistol” to sew at a young age.

After studying theatre, dance, and creative writing in college, Christel carved out a career in the performing arts. She worked steadily in theatre and film as a costuming professional for over a decade, continuing to design for projects that feed her passion. As a costumer and wigmaster, she created for the world premiere of Stand By Your Man: The Tammy Wynette Story performed at Ryman Auditorium in Nashville, Tennessee as well as the film About Schmidt starring Jack Nicholson.

In addition to designing and creating clothing in her River Market studio on Delware Street, Christel curates for artists in the Crossroads Art District in Kansas City, writes prose and poetry, makes sculptural fine art, and raises her two little Pistols; Otto and Clive.

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