Interview: Ellen Bruxvoort, Fiber Artist

In recent months I’ve become fascinated by the routines and day-to-day practices of creative people, in an effort to understand how they actually get things done. Hence, a new series of interviews where creators talk about how they accomplish anything at all in this busy life.  

A self-taught weaver, Austin, TX based fiber artist Ellen Bruxvoort began making wall hangings in 2014, and immediately fell in love with fiber art. Since then, she's gained a devoted online following not only for her work but also for her personable and engaging writing about both weaving and her life. Additionally she's studied textiles and fiber arts in Peru, and taught online weaving classes for Skillshare.com. Her tenacity to simply "keep showing up" is both remarkable and motivating. 

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How do you deal with the continual ebb and flow of “success” as an artist?

This is something that I struggled with in a BIG way in the early summer of 2016. I ebbed so hard that I thought I wouldn't come out of it. But my mantra during that time was to "keep showing up." Sometimes I just needed to sit at my desk and be in the presence of my creative space to remind myself what it meant to me. Whether I was re-organizing, or de-cluttering or scribbling in my sketchbook, any sort of intention invested in the space was something I found to be helpful. One day in the midst of that practice, I began to weave a necklace for myself and the flow came back. I still have that necklace as a reminder- just keep showing up.

When is a time you felt really successful? Or a time you felt like you failed?

I remember the first time I got a really big wholesale order from a total stranger on the other side of the country. I was basically in disbelief but I also felt so proud of myself and reassured that I'M ACTUALLY DOING THIS. As for failure, I have a weird relationship with that word because I think there are inevitable failures along the way that make us human. I'm not a machine and sometimes stuff takes a long time or accidents happen, but I think transparency, communication and compassion are good remedies for those speed bumps. 

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What is your biggest struggle as an artist?

There is a weird pressure that I feel often to be relevant or trendy and I wonder how it plays into my creative subconscious. Like how much of what I'm making is influenced by what I know people will buy vs. what I truly resonate with as a human being and artist. I think that there is a balance to both, but I feel like I am constantly taking strides to check in with myself and make sure my focus is still primarily on what brings me joy.

What is your daily routine? Your weekend routine? 

This is an ever-evolving puzzle, but I have a couple of different methods for getting things done that I found work for me. The first is to just have a huge "laundry list" of things to do. I think most people can resonate with lists because it feels good to get it all on paper and out of your head. When the list is formed I try to complete two or three tasks from it each day. I used to make lists daily but then I would feel bummed if I didn't get it all done in the allotted amount of time, which is sort of ridiculous considering the usual length of my lists. So in an effort to avoid feeling discouraged, I decided to write it all together and celebrate what I DID accomplish instead of focusing on what was left. Progress! The other method is delegating certain days for certain types of tasks. For example, I often need to update my website and add new Etsy listings and do a bunch of other random computer shit. Instead of feeling gross about sitting in front a screen all the time, it helps to consolidate similar tasks like these and designate a whole day for each category. So when the whole "laundry list" is written, I can break it up into sections and whack at it one day at a time and that's basically the method to my madness. WEEKENDS? LOL. Sometimes I take a breath and go swimming. Water is my relaxation therapy. 

How do you motivate yourself to actually get things done? 

I can often make excuses for why not to be working (especially when cat cuddles are involved). But then I remember how good it feels to be productive that the excuses usually don't last very long. 

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Especially given that it’s usually expensive to make things, how do you afford to be a creative person financially? Do you have a day job? 

I have not always been good about this. I'm generally good with my finances but I JUST RECENTLY made the switch to keeping business funds separate from everyday life. I work a few nights a week at a coffee shop and have a bank account for that paycheck and any other income that I make from non-FIBROUS related endeavors. I use that to pay rent, eat and live, but I've decided that any and all money I make from the business should go back into the business or be saved. So far that's going well. Plus it keeps things organized, which is nice. 

How do you manage the stress/anxiety that’s inevitable with putting yourself out there? 

I try to keep a smart balance of being vulnerable and protecting my work. Honestly, being part of a community plays a HUGE roll in that. Most of my stress/anxiety in exposure comes from being copied. I could talk about this from all angles from feeling unoriginal to angry to self conscious. But at the end of the day, I have my community at my back and I just conduct business in the most level-headed and genuine way that I can. The rest is out of my control. For the most part when other artists copy me, I'm like "yeah ok you'll figure it out." But it sucks when big corporations like World Market are selling my design and there's not a whole lot I can do about it but keep swimming. 

How do you know when it’s time to rest? 

I try to check in with myself on a daily basis. There are so many factors that could be taking a toll on me emotionally, physically or even subconsciously that impede the work flow. I think that rest is truly beneficial when I take care of myself both in and outside of the studio. Anything from stopping to stretch and breathe to having healthy communication with my close relationships. A clear conscious and an open heart are usually my first steps to staying balanced. When all of that is in order AND I get to dip in Barton Springs, tickle me pink I'm a new woman. 

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How do you manage the internet/social media? 

Sometimes my phone feels like an alien invasion on my brain and sometimes it feels like an extension of my own body. That is to say, sometimes it's toxic and sometimes it's natural. There have definitely been times when I felt the weight of comparison come crashing down on me or when I let my "voice" slip and became too much of an advertisement. But for the most part I find the balance of being a genuine goofball while also running a business. Thankfully I don't have many reservations about transparency or being vulnerable to strangers. In my experience, externalizing my thoughts and ideas is weirdly therapeutic and usually paves the opportunity for connection and understanding between strangers of all backgrounds. I think social media is the most unique and powerful tool of our generation. I try to use it to the best of my ability to create positive waves in my community. 

What’s your big dream? Do you have one? How do you set goals/set yourself up to achieve?

I want to quit my day job! I want to have a storefront! I want to move out of Texas! I want to make furniture! I want to collaborate! I want to travel for work! I want to go back to school! I want to explore the vast world of functional fiber art! In a lot of ways I'm taking steps towards these goals everyday. Sometimes I set a goal, get closer to it, and it changes. I think it's all about staying open to the flow of your timeline. I probably could have quit my day job a long time ago, but it's only just now feeling like the right time. I think being patient, working with consistency, and intently focusing on growth have been the most invaluable ways to accomplish my goals so far. 

 

Find more of Ellen's work here or follow her on Instagram