Friday, August 1, 2008

Indie Artist Spotlight: Janyce Boynton of Sojourn Quilts

This week, I interviewed Janyce Boynton for my own blog, the fabric artist behind Sojourn Quilts. Janyce shared the ups and downs of her artistry, and what lobsters have to do with her journey.

I'm a fan of quilting in general - from the traditional ones my grandmother made to the more modern art quilts. Janyce's work is especially wonderful, familiar, and inviting. Her shop,, features a wide range of quilted works and fabric collages including fabric art cards as low as $5, intricate wall hangings as fit for a fine gallery as for your home, and of course, lobsters. Wait - lobsters??

Tell us about your work. What is it that you create?
I make quilted art wall hangings, fabric collages, and NotYerAverage Lobsters. When I can, I use recycled materials. I love haunting the local thrift stores. There are great treasures to be found and, when I make my purchase, I’m helping people in my community.

How long have you been doing this? How did you get started?
Officially, I started business in November of 2000, though I’d started making quilted wall hangings before then. I never really intended to be a quilter. I was in a craft store with a friend. She held up a quilting magazine and said, "I bet you could do this!" About the same time, I received a box of fabric from my grandmother. I said, "Sure! Why not!" I got frustrated trying to make everything straight with traditional patterns. I remember sewing, taking apart, sewing, and taking apart a square—I can’t remember the name of the pattern—and getting so frustrated. I threw the square in the garbage and, really quickly, drew an abstract pattern of a mountain I like to climb in Acadia National Park. Practically nothing was straight in it. I dug furiously through my pile of fabrics, grabbing whatever looked interesting and started cutting. I had so much fun putting that wall hanging together! I realized I like the flaws and "happy accidents" that happen with this type of free form quilt making. I haven’t looked back since!
I opened my Etsy shop in February 2006. It’s been a great way to learn about on-line selling (and buying!), meet some awesome people with similar interests and show my fabric art to an international audience.

How did you learn to quilt?
I’m pretty much self-taught. I’ve read a lot of quilting and art books. I’ve worked with miles of thread and oodles of fabric. Lots of experimenting and trial and error.

You make and sell three different lines of quilted lobsters art dolls. So really.... why lobsters?
I love my lobsters. It didn’t start out that way, though. Lobsters are kind of a Maine cliché. All the locals roll their eyes at the idea of a stuffed toy lobsters found in tourist shops on the coast. I did one lobster originally—reluctantly--at the request of a customer. Then, I figured since I’d spent all that time figuring out a pattern, I’d do a few more. I started making the lobsters from flannel shirts (also very "Maine") in all kinds of crazy colors—not just "traditional" red and, over time, started seeing them as canvases--jumping off points for some fairly crazy ideas. Though some of the lobsters can take 6-8 hours, they’re also a nice break from longer quilted projects. Some of them (like my pirate lobstarrr or my mermaid-wannabe lobster) make me laugh when I’m making them. It gives me a chance to play and explore with techniques and to lighten up my day. Really…who can take a lobster all that seriously? And, in a strange way, I’m starting to feel like my lobsters honor how I feel about growing up in Maine. In integral ways, this place has influenced the way I think, learn, grow and interact with the world.
Above, right: Mr. Red and NotYerAverage Goth Lobster both by Janyce Boynton. Available at

Are you able to work your art full time?
I recently made the decision to focus on my shop and artwork full time. I was sewing for someone and doing my Etsy shop on the side. While I loved working with handmade textiles to create beautiful clothing, I found didn’t have a lot of energy to put into my own work at the end of the day. Because of the ebb and flow of the clothing business, I also went weeks sometimes without updating my shop or producing anything new. After struggling with trying to find some balance, I decided to leave that job in April, 2008. I still may need to pick up a part-time job for practical reasons, but it won’t be sewing for anyone else. My intention is to focus as much time on my own artwork as I possibly can.

Describe your creative process.
A spark of an idea. An image. A color. A word or phrase that strikes me as odd or new or unusual. Any tidbit that sticks in my brain is worth pursuing to me. I don’t always have an exact idea of what I’m doing or how the finished product is going to look when I start out. Often, I do a life-sized sketch—an impression--to use as a guide. I’m totally comfortable with making changes, though, if the fabric or design dictates it. My best pieces seem to have a mind and flow of their own. I swear I could just throw all the pieces of fabric in the middle of the floor and the quilt would make itself. If I’m struggling, I know there’s something about the piece that isn’t true—I’m forcing the design or fabric or concept or process in some way. That’s when I need to step back and take a breather. Solutions to design problems usually come when I’m doing something else—walking or baking or playing music.

What inspires you and influences your work? So many things inspire me—nature, music, literature, great art. As for people, I’d say my grandmother, who always had crafts for us to do when we went to visit, and some friends who taught me how to do Ukrainian-style eggs (pysanky). I vividly remember how slow the process was—the sweet smell of the beeswax—the food we ate and the conversations we had throughout a long weekend of egg decorating. Once the wax goes down on the egg, there really isn’t any way to change it. Through this process, I became more comfortable living with my mistakes…incorporating them somehow into the design of the piece. It planted a seed somewhere in my consciousness that art was more than just slapping some paint on paper (I wasn’t quilting back then). It was a life-style: a way of being. The deeper I get into the artistic process, the more introspective and aware I become of my own processes and how those effect what I produce, the closer I feel to living what I am creating. A "sojourn" is a "resting place along life’s journey" I try (with varying degrees of success) to bring a piece of that sentiment into every piece I make.

What do you do when you're not quilting?
I love taking walks in my neighborhood and in Acadia National and Baxter State Parks in Maine. Walking gives me a sensory understanding of the world that doesn’t come from whizzing by the trees and mountains and ocean in a car. I also play guitar (a bit) and sing. I’m into cooking, too, especially breads and cookies. I’m getting fresh vegetables from a local food guild this summer…and love trying to find new ways to prepare the vegetables. I even found a great recipe for turnip! Imagine that!

What craft or art form do you wish you could do?
Spinning wool, pottery and metal work. I think because they’re all tactile and alive somehow. I love what people can do with bits of hair, mud and metal. Done well—so inspiring.

What is your favorite handmade possession?
A hand-carved, primitive owl some friends gave me when I graduated from college. They were the coolest, oldest people I knew at the time—always looking for ways to keep their minds and bodies alive and well. They were probably the first people in my life who really saw me for who I was or could be. I think about how important that is every time I look at the owl.

How do you promote your business?
Ah, marketing! It’s my weakest area. I tried doing shows for a while and hated them. So, I’m putting my focus on building a stronger on-line presence. I’ve got my Etsy shop and Flickr account. I’ve also joined two street teams: Visual Artists Street Team and Etsy Guild for Art Dolls and Such. I’ve just had some professional pictures done of my lobsters and am in the process of applying to several online advertising sites. I’ve spoken locally to groups about my experience as a woman starting out in business. I also have a blog called What Shoes I Wear where I interview other artisans about how they use creativity to understand and rise above life’s more challenging moments. It’s been a great way to meet people from around the world, learn some new and interesting things and stay inspired.

Do you have any advice for other indie artists?
Learn the business end of things. It’s easy to become absorbed in creating and let the paperwork and other boring administrative stuff go by the wayside. I think most artists starting out (me included) undervalue their work. Learning pricing formulas and basic accounting skills helps de-mystify how money moves through a business. It’s the only way I know of to actually make sure I’m making a profit. After that, focus on what you love to do. Listen to your own natural rhythms. Hear what your eyes and hands and heart is telling you. Be sensitive enough to honor those feelings, courageous enough to put those feelings into action, and strong enough to move beyond the naysayers and self-doubts. After all that…laugh…have fun…take risks…don’t take life too seriously.

Who are some of your favorite Etsysellers or indie artists?
Oh, so many talented people to pick from! Jewelry maker Farafield, Fiber Artist Ontheround --who just started on Etsy , painter Rukshanahooda from India and many of the VAST artists, the art doll makers from EGADS (, potter Dayle Tognoni Ward. Really, I could go on and on. I’ve got a favorites list available to view in my shop on Etsy.

What do you want to be when you grow up?
Oh, gosh. I haven’t decided yet. I’m soon to be 46 and am just finding my stride in life. I want to be young at heart, happy, always curious, always learning new things…and open to whatever shapes and forms that takes. It’s about the process for me…I’m not sure I care to actually reach the point where I’m grown up! I’m having way too much fun!

Orange Flower and Me by Janyce Boynton

by Monique Phillips


Marionette said...

Beautiful interview! I love the lobsters. They are so unique! Congratulations to Janyce for becoming a full-time artist!


Andrea Kobayashi 小林アンドレア said...

I enjoyed this interview very much. Some excellent advice for VAST artists. The quilts and textile works are beautiful. Interviews are a great idea on this blog.

Annie said...

Janyce, I really enjoyed not just your art, but your wonderful and thoughtful commentary. Very thought-provoking and very appreciated. Keep up the good work! Peace and many blessings, Annie

artbylmr said...

Janyce interviewed me for her site and now she shows me what a thoughtful interview should be.

Janyce said...

Weird to be on this side of an interview! LOL. I'm much more comfortable doing the interviewing. Thanks so much for opportunity to share some of my artwork and to be a recipient of such kind words! I love this VAST group! Cheers!--Janyce