Julie Kornblum: Knitting Activist

From the moment you arrive at Julie Kornblum's home/studio you know a creative individual lives there.  A beautifully large tree graces her front yard and slowly encapsulating it is dozens and dozens of knitted swatches that make the viewer want to give it a giant hug.
Walking into her home there are creations everywhere from the walls to the spare bedrooms but all with purpose and organization.  Kornblum emits the mother vibe.  You know the feeling, the one you get when you are with your mom.  And it's no surprise that with that nurturing nature she has turned her passion into using materials that normally get thrown away.  Mothers were some of the first Environmentalists you know.  Kornblum is reusing to not just make art but to make a statement.  The environment, the community it all has a symbiotic relationship that becomes a little more beautiful when you introduce the art of knitting.  Making with one's hands and learning from others who know the craft can create a bond that Kornblum has worked towards for years.  Her work with YBLA (Yarn Bombing Los Angeles) has elevated her connection to the community and allowed her to share her creations with an audience that would not normally walk into a gallery.  And let's be honest seeking a bench or large planter covered in yarn would put a smile on anyone's face.

To see Julie Kornblum's work in person check out her upcoming shows.
April 17-19, 2015: She'll have an artist exhibition booth at Vogue Knitting LIVE at the Pasadena Convention Center where she will be yarn bombing the booth.
April 25, 2015: She'll be creating a yarn bomb installation in a pop-up canopy at Topanga Vintage Market, at Pierce College in Woodland Hills
May 29-31, 2015:  YBLA (Yarn Bombing Los Angeles) will be doing a similar installation at Dwell on Design at the Los Angeles Convention Center. 
June 27, 2015: Loft at Liz's Diverted Destruction 8 - Unraveled: The Fabric Edition

Julie Kornblum creates a sculpture utilizing her basket weaving skills in her studio in Woodland Hills surrounded by fabric, found objects and non-traditional textile materials.  Photo © Aimee Santos

Julie Kornblum creates a sculpture utilizing her basket weaving skills in her studio in Woodland Hills surrounded by fabric, found objects and non-traditional textile materials.  Photo © Aimee Santos

 When did you first realize that your craft was leading you into a life as an artist?
I was pretty young, like in elementary school. Of course there was an assumption that being an artist meant painting and drawing, but I was never attracted enough to those medias. I had these “how to draw a dog or a horse” books, I remember looking through them repeatedly, but I never felt compelled to grab a pencil and paper. On the other hand, I always grabbed random stuff that was around the house to make things out of. I couldn’t keep my hands off of the scissors, fabric scraps, and stuff like that.

A section of Kornblum's tree that is slowly being covered with knitting creations in her front yard of Woodland Hills, CA.  Photo © Aimee Santos

A section of Kornblum's tree that is slowly being covered with knitting creations in her front yard of Woodland Hills, CA.  Photo © Aimee Santos

'Plastic in the Trees' 42"x43",  Overshot Weaving; Surplus yarn with used plastic bags.  Photo courtesy of the artist.

'Plastic in the Trees' 42"x43",  Overshot Weaving; Surplus yarn with used plastic bags.  Photo courtesy of the artist.

Is the emotional act of creation on a public object like a tree or bike rack different than when creating a functional craft piece?  Does it feel different?
I don’t think the emotional aspect of creating is different if it’s my own work as an individual. If it’s a functional or sellable piece, there are different practical considerations, such as how the clasp on a bracelet works, how the ends of yarn are tucked in on a scarf. But these are also part of the design challenges along with choosing the color and texture palette, and working out the composition.
There are practical considerations in the creative process of all work. When you make a woven wall piece, you have to figure out how to hang it, unless you attach a textile piece to stretcher bars with a hanging wire, like a painting.  I’ve learned to consider the practical along with the artistic. Early on, I would make a piece, and then find I had problems with hanging when it got to the gallery.

Hubcaps, some of which her son finds, are not immune to the creative creations that Kornblum imagines.  Photo © Aimee Santos

Hubcaps, some of which her son finds, are not immune to the creative creations that Kornblum imagines.  Photo © Aimee Santos

But it does feel like I’m shifting gears mentally. I’ll be thinking about the composition, colors, materials, how the elements relate to the meaning or message then, at a certain point, I’ll make the shift to how to construct the piece for shipping and hanging. For a coiled basket/sculptural piece, I need to consider the structural practical aspects almost at the same time as the aesthetic. It’s like, “ok, it will stand without falling over, now I have to step back and make sure it looks good,” or the reverse, “I like how this looks, I’d better set it down to make sure it will not fall over.”  
The tree cover or bike rack have some similarities with the shawl or bracelet, its mostly a question of scale. I have to take measurements, calculate how much to subtract for stretch – this goes back to my garment design experience. Its essentially the same process, one must consider how the piece will look (sometimes from all angles) and how it will be attached. 

Street Bench, Newhall, CA. July 2014. Photo courtesy of the artist.

Street Bench, Newhall, CA. July 2014. Photo courtesy of the artist.

How has your work with YBLA (Yarn Bombing Los Angeles) changed your overall art practice?
Working with YBLA has taken my work into whole new areas for me. I was always content to be a solitary artist in my own studio. Now I work with a team, and it’s a very satisfying collaboration. We can accomplish much larger scale works than I would have done on my own; and that’s really fun. I have enjoyed doing larger and larger works.

With all the materials in Kornblum's home there is a sense of organization to it all.  Photo © Aimee Santos

With all the materials in Kornblum's home there is a sense of organization to it all.  Photo © Aimee Santos

'Pacific Rim' 20" x 24" x 24" Coiling with used and discarded plastic objects and packaging.  Photo courtesy of the artist.

'Pacific Rim' 20" x 24" x 24" Coiling with used and discarded plastic objects and packaging.  Photo courtesy of the artist.

When did you start knitting with various materials such as wire and plastic grocery bags?  And what challenges have you come across?
It started when I was in school working on my degree in Art, with a concentration in fiber and textile art. I was learning things like weaving and basketry, and I started using “non-traditional” materials that were around. There were lots of unusual surplus materials that had been donated to the art department for students to use. I wove and made baskets with wire and plastic bags. Then, when I revived my knitting and crocheting practice, I just kept using the surplus, non-traditional materials.

One of the biggest challenges is that these things are difficult to work with. They don’t stretch and give like nice, new yarn does. I have to be careful to protect my hands, take breaks, do stretches and exercises. The worst thing about surplus, discarded, and found materials is they are often dirty. I got my stock of colored plastic bags from an artist who had used them for outdoor installations. They’re dirty just from the air outside. The wire is dirty from being in a recycling yard. The hubcaps are black with road soot on the inside. I wash things and I wear scruffy clothes when I’m working I also wash my hands a lot. 

A macro detail of standard vinyl tubing that Kornblum stuffed fabric into which shows how detailed she can get with incorporating textiles and her sewing skills into any piece.  Photo © Aimee Santos

A macro detail of standard vinyl tubing that Kornblum stuffed fabric into which shows how detailed she can get with incorporating textiles and her sewing skills into any piece.  Photo © Aimee Santos

In addition to knitting Kornblum makes jewelry utilizing the same method just using different materials.  Photo © Aimee Santos

In addition to knitting Kornblum makes jewelry utilizing the same method just using different materials.  Photo © Aimee Santos

Crochet Wire Jewelry.  Photo courtesy of the artist.

Crochet Wire Jewelry.  Photo courtesy of the artist.

One of Kornblum's largest pieces  'Don’t Disappear My Habitat' hangs in her living room.  Photo © Aimee Santos

One of Kornblum's largest pieces 'Don’t Disappear My Habitat' hangs in her living room.  Photo © Aimee Santos

The interior of one of her front rooms shows a method to the madness of multiple rooms dedicated to creating.  The room above not only holds her industrial sewing machine but other items that can be worn all knitted and created by Kornblum's own hand.  Photo © Aimee Santos

The interior of one of her front rooms shows a method to the madness of multiple rooms dedicated to creating.  The room above not only holds her industrial sewing machine but other items that can be worn all knitted and created by Kornblum's own hand.  Photo © Aimee Santos

You have multiple rooms in your home set up as studios.  Does each room represent a different project as well as an emotional feeling that is represented by their environment?
I have tried to place the different types of work in the different rooms: all the yarn, weaving, knitting & crochet in one room; and the wire, coiling and jewelry in the other. But when I get to working, the organization breaks down rather quickly. The practical considerations like lighting and storage space are really what determines where I work, and I actually work all over the house. Each room really just represents what is happening at that moment. 

Continental Art Supplies; 7044 Reseda Blvd, Reseda, Los Angeles, CA. Oct 31, 2014.  Photo courtesy of the artist.

Continental Art Supplies; 7044 Reseda Blvd, Reseda, Los Angeles, CA. Oct 31, 2014.  Photo courtesy of the artist.

You do a lot of work with the community.  Do you see your work as part social practice and/or participatory?

I see my work with YBLA that way. When I think of myself as an individual artist, I’m still solitary in my studio. I enjoy both. I like doing things that are all my own, and I enjoy the crowd sourced, networked, collaborative pieces. 

A detail of a piece hanging in Kornblum's dining room shows there is not object too strange or nonconforming that she won't use in her sculptures.  Photo © Aimee Santos

A detail of a piece hanging in Kornblum's dining room shows there is not object too strange or nonconforming that she won't use in her sculptures.  Photo © Aimee Santos

Among your experiences working with people and yarn have you noticed that the practice of knitting brings people out of their emotional shells and can be used as a cathartic act for people of all ages?

Oh, yes. This is well documented. In our monthly community workshops at the Craft and Folk Art Museum, we see this happening all the time. It’s kind of a magical thing, all kinds of people make connections with one another. 

A piece in it's inception involves bottle caps, plastic bags and wire as well as time punching holes into the larger pieces to allow for a smooth transition in the weaving process.  Photo © Aimee Santos

A piece in it's inception involves bottle caps, plastic bags and wire as well as time punching holes into the larger pieces to allow for a smooth transition in the weaving process.  Photo © Aimee Santos

Kornblum works on a piece in one of her many project rooms dedicated to the creation of fiber arts.  Photo © Aimee Santos

Kornblum works on a piece in one of her many project rooms dedicated to the creation of fiber arts.  Photo © Aimee Santos

Your front yard has a beautiful tree that is currently being covered by you and your yarn creations.  When did you get the idea to start doing this and how has your neighborhood reacted to it?
The neighbors love it. I’ve gotten only positive comments. I’ve seen people in cars slow down to look at it. Some people from up the street were out walking and their little kids ran up to touch the tree. I did that tree because I had gone through a phase of doing yarnbombs in the Valley, and they were disappearing rather quickly. When I put something up in public, uninvited, I know it’s a possibility it will getting taken down. One has to be prepared for this. I was invited to do a yarnbomb on the street in front of a store, on some planters that belonged to the store. Those only stayed up two weeks, and it was pretty disappointing. So I decided to do something that I knew wouldn’t get taken down. I had been eyeballing that tree for months, and I went ahead and covered it. 

Kornblum had been eyeing the tree in her front yard for awhile and finally started covering it with her knitted creations.  Photo © Aimee Santos

Kornblum had been eyeing the tree in her front yard for awhile and finally started covering it with her knitted creations.  Photo © Aimee Santos

Deborah Lynn Irmas: Pictorial Seamstress

Glitter! The word itself incites a smile and is synonymous with laughter and fun.  All these things are felt when looking at the art of Deborah Lynn Irmas, an artist based at the Santa Monica Art Studios in Santa Monica, CA.  Her trajectory has had many turns but she always found herself drawn towards art in more ways than one.  

After graduating from UCLA with a degree in Fine Art Irmas began her art career as a Graphic Designer but when the profession moved towards computers she decided to go back to school to keep up with the change.  However, the environment of new technology and a new generation of graphic designers who learned graphics and not really design became unappealing to Irmas.  After taking classes in printmaking and painting Irmas found a figure drawing class which gave rise to a suggestion that she might look into a part time profession as a personal trainer and so we are at the present day. 

It makes sense though, for anyone who has taken a drawing class and been around art that the human proportions are the hardest to draw and studying the muscle structure and manipulating it on paper would, in a way, lead to manipulating it in the gym.  Fascinating trajectory really!  

Day job aside Irmas describes some of her pieces has having a masculine and feminine balance to them with the clean painted canvas surrounding the glitter covered pins at the center.  One can see there is a balance to her work, one that speaks in both color palette and composition.  However an off shoot of her work developed one day while working on the glitter pins, through the wiping off of excess glitter from her fingers to a canvas.  This element of chaos, in opposition to her ordered pieces, was seen as a compliment to her existing body of work.  The smears now grace sections of her paintings and at times can become a piece on their own.  If one looks closely at her piece 'My Heart Can Stay' they will notice the presence of the glitter smears gliding up and off the canvas, as if they are running off to another job.

In addition to her 2D work Irmas also sews on fabric, a fascination inspired at a young age while watching her Salvadorian mother sew elaborate dresses on a fixed income.  The beauty of textile can be understated or glamorous depending on the creator and with Irmas she combined the two using her minimalistic aesthetics of painting and the glamor of textile glitter.  

In conversation with Irmas it was discovered that throughout one's life we learn lessons and it's not always clear as to their purpose.  But as one lives and works the answers become clear, almost as if M. Night Shyamalan wrote it, that the skills we learn can be applied with greater purpose later in life.

To commission your own glitter pin piece contact Deborah Lynn Irmas via her website at www.deborahlynnirmas.com  and follow her on instagram

To see Deborah Lynn Irmas' work in person visit the following locations here in Southern California!

MOLAA (Museum of Latin American Art) Auction Exhibition- April 29th

SMMOA (Santa Monica Museum of Art) Incognito 2015 - May 2nd

Venice Art Walk - May 17th

A detail of glitter smears that Irmas wiped off during the application process of glitter on pins, the cleansing palette soon became an artwork of it's own.  Photo © Aimee Santos

A detail of glitter smears that Irmas wiped off during the application process of glitter on pins, the cleansing palette soon became an artwork of it's own.  Photo © Aimee Santos

It feels like there is this sense of control within your work.  Do you feel there is a sense of visual control happening in some of your pieces?

Yes, there is definitely a sense of control in my work.  The funny thing is, I don't plan that.  I always start loosely and I try not to have any sense of what direction I am going in, but somehow my pieces end up very controlled and often times very minimal.   I would have to say that this is my art identity.  It is nothing planned.  If I were to plan my pieces out, I don't think they would read the same way to the viewer.  I believe in "just doing".  No thinking beforehand and let the creative process take its course. It is very difficult to work this way sometimes. I have learned this invaluable lesson from my teacher Tom Wudl.  

'My Heart Can Stay' by Deborah Lynn Irmas.  Photo courtesy of the artist.

'My Heart Can Stay' by Deborah Lynn Irmas.  Photo courtesy of the artist.

Multiple canvas' around Irmas' studio lean up agains the wall prepped and ready for paint yet a solo piece smaller than the rest stands out as if ready to be hung.  Photo © Aimee Santos

Multiple canvas' around Irmas' studio lean up agains the wall prepped and ready for paint yet a solo piece smaller than the rest stands out as if ready to be hung.  Photo © Aimee Santos

A detail of a piece show exactly how detail oriented Irmas' work is.  As a true artist would Irmas follows a strict color palette and applies glitter to the heads of pins using only her fingers to make sure even the bottom of the pins have been covered.  Photo © Aimee Santos

A detail of a piece show exactly how detail oriented Irmas' work is.  As a true artist would Irmas follows a strict color palette and applies glitter to the heads of pins using only her fingers to make sure even the bottom of the pins have been covered.  Photo © Aimee Santos

'Pins 1' by Deborah Lynn Irmas.  Photo courtesy of the artist.

'Pins 1' by Deborah Lynn Irmas.  Photo courtesy of the artist.

You mentioned that some of your pieces have a masculine and feminine balance to them.  Which elements do you see them as and what makes you think that about your own work?

Yes, I do feel that my pieces have a feminine and masculine balance to them.  My panels with the squares cut out of the center are heavy and they are 3" deep. This makes me feel that they are masculine.  I often add glitter in some way because I think it has a feminine quality and the two give my work balance.  I'm not really sure why I think that about my work. I have always felt the balance between masculine and feminine makes my work interesting.  If a piece is too heavy and strong, I feel it's masculine and if it's too light and soft, it's feminine. I try to combine these two to balance my work.  Maybe it's because I was a figurative artist to start and as I became an abstract artist, I have kept the feeling of both sexes working together, like a sort of love story that the viewer probably does not see.

From above Irmas stacks out finely bottled glitter, a process she has found through trial and error.  Photo © Aimee Santos

From above Irmas stacks out finely bottled glitter, a process she has found through trial and error.  Photo © Aimee Santos

You work as a personal trainer, which is a 180 to the world you are surrounded by.  How did this life choice come about and do you see either world influencing the other, meaning do you get inspired at the gym to create in the studio or vice versa?

I work as a fitness trainer. Well I began as a graphic artist after I graduated from art school.  After years of graphic design, the field became all computerized.  Once the people element was taken out of my work, I lost some interest.  I have always needed a balance of the real world and the art world.  Art can be very isolating and I love it.  But I also need energy and people to be part of my life so I can stay happy in my isolation.  I have always loved the body, and as I said earlier, I was doing a lot of figurative work, mainly monotypes.  The combination of drawing or painting a model and doing fitness training seemed to make perfect sense.  They were both about the body.  Both art and fitness require the skill of mindfulness. I decided at some point to quit graphic design, get an art studio and eventually get certified as a personal fitness trainer.  It is an unusual combination, but it works well for me.   I definitely have a creative influence in my training style.   And vice versa, some of the organizational principles in training have helped me with my art.  But I have to be careful not to carry my training world (my rational self) into my art world (my irrational self). That can be a constant struggle as an artist.

A finished art piece shows just how many details are involved, from the heads of the pins to the placement to the canvas they stand in.  Photo © Aimee Santos

A finished art piece shows just how many details are involved, from the heads of the pins to the placement to the canvas they stand in.  Photo © Aimee Santos

'Starburst 2' by Deborah Lynn Irmas.  Photo courtesy of the artist.

'Starburst 2' by Deborah Lynn Irmas.  Photo courtesy of the artist.

Hand stitching gave Irmas the freedom she needed for a different textile piece that was obviously inspired by the pins.  Photo © Aimee Santos

Hand stitching gave Irmas the freedom she needed for a different textile piece that was obviously inspired by the pins.  Photo © Aimee Santos

For each pin Irmas applies glue to the head of the pin and dips it in a jar of glitter but it is only with the precision of her fingers that she can attain the look she wants in the end.  Photo © Aimee Santos

For each pin Irmas applies glue to the head of the pin and dips it in a jar of glitter but it is only with the precision of her fingers that she can attain the look she wants in the end.  Photo © Aimee Santos

Glitter is an important material that you use in your pieces.  And when you say or hear the word ‘glitter’ it almost inspires a smile.  Do you think your inclusion of such a ‘happy’ material is inspiring the viewer to smile on some level?  And what does glitter mean to you?  Why did you start using it?

Yes! Glitter is happy!  It's an interesting material because of its "crafty" like quality.  Because of that, I have to fight with it and take it out of its natural element.  I like glitter because it's simply pretty.  I grew up with very little so as I got older, pretty, beautiful and elegant things made me happy.  Although, I don't think of glitter as elegant, I think the way I use it in my pieces allows them to feel that way.  I always have loved anything that sparkles.  I use a lot of house paint in my work and because of its minimal and flat quality, I am then drawn to glitter to give my pieces the opposite effect.  It's the opposites attract principle.  I definitely respond to that.  I would hope the viewer does too.  

Irmas drapes a section of fabric she has been working on.  It's evident the two mediums have similar aesthetics with circular shapes standing in for the glitter pins.  Photo © Aimee Santos

Irmas drapes a section of fabric she has been working on.  It's evident the two mediums have similar aesthetics with circular shapes standing in for the glitter pins.  Photo © Aimee Santos

Your mother was El Salvadorian and an avid seamstress.  What was your exposure to her sewing and how do you think it has overlapped into the art you now make?

My mother made a lot of my clothes.  But not everyday wear.  She always made me beautiful clothes...like a beautiful coat or an elegant long dress.  When I would come home from school, my mom would always be doing one of two things, either painting or sewing. So I was exposed to this every week, almost everyday.  If she was not sewing for me, then she was sewing for herself.  I loved being with her and watching how she did everything.  She would show me, but I was never interested in sewing from a pattern.  I think I finally found my outlet in sewing with my art.  I feel free when I sew..when I am in the creative process.  Making a dress or a skirt required skill and patience, but sewing my art pieces allowed me to be free of all that.  My mom absolutely inspired me and helped me find this path.  I've named many of my pieces "Violetta" in honor of her.

Photo © Aimee Santos

Photo © Aimee Santos

How important do you feel it is that art remains in schools and inspires the next generation of potential artists?

As an artist, I would have to say it is very important, so important that without it, it would almost be considered criminal.  Every one of us is creative.  Every one of us should have a chance to express his or her creativity.  Even for those who don't aspire to become an artist, art in schools is important.  Art is about creativity.  It is about mindfulness.  It is about personal expression.  And that is important for all people in all fields.   Learning how to tap into your own personal creativity is a very important thing in life. It will keep you happy whether you are a practicing artist, a hobbyist artist or in an all-together different field.  I can only hope that art is put back into any program that it has been taken out of.   All young people deserve a chance for personal expression.