A Dozen Questions with May's Artist of the Month!

What with all the goings on of moving to Santa Fe, I seem to have left my Artist of the Month for May to the last! But never fear, for hear I am with this month's fabulous Seattle-area artist... Christine Phillips of Azula by Design!

I first met Christie at the Ballard Farmer's Market in the crafter's Annex and was immediately drawn to her beautiful spirit and stunning work. After getting to know her and her partner Scott over many months, I have come to love being in her creative presence as much as I love her creations, and I hope you all will love them as much as I do!

Betty the Beta Tester: Who are you and what do you make?

Christine Phillips: I am a guest on planet Earth, I create headdresses and hairpieces oftentimes known as "fasincators".

BB: How/why did you get started as an artist/crafter?

CP: My Grandmother and my Mother encouraged my creations...I designed my own clothes as a child, they sewed them for me. Eventually I started sewing for myself. But I was always making something. I would make all kinds of little cities out in the backyard, fairy castles decorated with flowers, all that good stuff. I was one of those kids who had to be dragged in the house during the summers....our backyard was filled with beautiful trees, plants, flowers, bugs, birds...it was my little universe. 

I regret I never really learned how to knit and crochet. While I was in graduate school in Chicago, IL, I worked at a gallery and eventually they put me in charge of the exotic jewelry and bead department and I started designing jewelry for people and got really good at it. Sometimes I'd create custom pieces, and sometimes I'd hire other people to do components of my final creations. I wish I had documented my work! 


CD: Why did you start Azula by Design?

CP: I was in transition from a couple of major art projects, and working for a friend's spa and salon and started making headpieces and earrings to sell in the shop to supplement living expenses.


CD: How long have you been working on Azula by Design? 

CP: Azula by Design has existed with a website and a presence at the Annex at the Ballard Market in Seattle for a little over a year. It took a while to get the displays right, signs, etc, all of that, it all takes time and money. But I love being around people who have taken all that on as well, who are owners of their own creative worlds, who have an area in their lives that they are responsible for, with no one to answer to but themselves.


CD: Do you create full time or part time? If part time, how do you make time for your crafting? 

CP: Part time. I have to be very disciplined about my time; it has to be in my day-planner and I almost have to shut the rest of the world out. I literally have to meditate before I start, to get really quiet so I can listen to the creative force within.


CD: Where do you get your inspiration?

CP: Patterns in nature, fine textiles, weavings, fabrics, the arts and crafts of the Orient, Persia, Headdresses of all Indigenous Cultures all over the world, as well as whatever gets channeled through all that and beyond. Of course homage to Deco, Cartier, all the fine artisan jewelers of the 20's and 30's, Erte, Coco, Else Shiaparelli, then there's India! A whole other world. 

I learned a lot and was exposed to a lot of incredible art during my years traveling abroad in college. I spent a year in Vienna and a year in Paris, and traveled all over. I was amazed at the way European women dressed artistically, it was all about how comfortable they were in expressing themselves with little charming details, odd, interesting pairings of texture, design, color. 

Actually, it's all a continuum...and what I create is put through my own filters of understanding of the human condition and how and why it aspires to express itself, in all circumstances. It's fascinating to me that the possibility of a creation is always there. "Fashion" is such a co-opted word right now and exploitative word, and has been for a while. I used to read Vogue voraciously when I was younger, I suppose that is actually where I got a lot of inspiration as a young girl. I still sometimes pick one up, but right now I am fascinated by the explosion of original creativity and manifestation that Etsy and other sites have given rise to! So much beauty and inspiration sincerely from the heart, and extremely skilled and talented. It actually gives me hope that one day the word "sweatshop" will no longer exist.


CD: Do you have a signature or favorite piece you have created?

CP: All of my pieces are pretty much 100% one of a kind. It's so so hard to say!

And I enjoy that. One day I might have a signature piece...but probably not...unless there's a cooperative of women somewhere who can help me create some pieces that are similar, while at the same time having creative license in bringing their own artistic skill to their creation.  I'd love to find a group to work with to bring that to fruition.


CD: What direction do you see your work going in the future?

CP: Something I aspire to: art created as medicine; creating beauty and telling ones story to work through trauma and/or sadness. When you have time and space to create, it lets something in you play again, it's a form of deep freedom within us that we all need in order to heal, and/or stay balanced. Some people might call it being tapped into Spirit. There are many efforts happening around the world like this.... I could create a list that would go on and on, here's one I love.

Creating special very personal totem headresses for people; in the sense of honoring their inner work, outwardly in a very beautiful graceful way. Ceremonial pieces, for weddings, deeply personal transformative ritual ceremony, coming of age, etc.


CD:What is your workspace like?

CP: Probably nothing I could have dreamed of a while a go, and I'm extremely grateful for the time I'm able to look up from creating and see a vast expanse of water, seagulls, passing boats and ships. I live at the end of a road on Vashon Island, very quiet with incredible birdsong, and quite a few hummingbirds that love to fly around at close range around humans and chase each other around the deck. It's a once in a lifetime opportunity. There are a few critters around, but they seem to be under control. Part of the trade off of having a multi-million dollar view from a rented old 1950's beach house with a few cracks in the foundation :)


CD: What has been your biggest challenge (creatively or otherwise) with Azula by Design?

CP: Putting a price to my time and effort and standing for that time, effort, when someone asks "how long does it take you to make these?" That question always baffles me. I always want to ask "how long do you think it would take YOU! ?" :) It's also been a challenge finding the right market for my work in terms of other shops, groups, demographics for whom these headpieces really important.


CD: What has been your greatest reward?

CP: Seeing women of all ages, put on a headpiece and watching them instantly transform and become more of who they really are. It's humbling and amazing.


CD: What hobbies or other interests do you have? How do you find balance in your life?

CP: In one of my other lives, I am a professional singer, you can find me at "Avaaza" on Facebook. We'll be opening for Manooghi Hi on Vashon Island for the Garden Tour, June 23rd. I am also a project manager and organizer. My background is in food and farming issues. 

Balance is sort of like learning to surf-- you just have to get a feel for it. To me balance means creating a weekly schedule, planning and setting intentions 5,10, 20 years out, eating well and locally, cooking my own food, deep breathing, singing, work, dance, maintaining friendships and setting time limits on FB time. And meditating. Making sure I spend time slowing way way way down. 


You guys will have to check her out either at her website: www.azulabydesign.com or come by her favorite place to show her work, The Annex located by the Veraci Pizza Oven at The Ballard Farmer's Market on Sundays! I highly recommend her beautiful fascinators and earrings. I own two pair of her fabulous earrings myself and get copious compliments on them every time I wear them.

As you all may or may not know, I am now in the stunning mountain desert of Santa Fe, New Mexico for the summer (a road-trip I will be posting about very soon)! I will be blogging from here and hope to be able to include some fabulous southwestern-themed posts! As always, I would love to hear your thoughts and comments and particularly your suggestions for next month's Artist of the Month!