Friday, May 25, 2007

Skinny LaMinx ... South Africa

Artist: Heather Moore
Business: Skinny laMinx
Web site:
Location: Cape Town, South Africa

What do you create?
I make a variety of things, really – from book and magazine illustrations, to silkscreened cushions, purses, tshirts, to stencilled wooden or cut vinyl artworks... Lots of stuff. Most of the things I make tend to include cutting with my NT cutter (Japanese version of Exacto knife). The things I love making most of all right now are one-off handcut decorative magnets cut from magnetic sheeting.

Where and when do you do your creative work?
I have a studio just a short bike ride away from home in the centre of town, which I share with three painters. They are so nice and neat, but my space is a lot messier, with explosions of fabric and shreds of cut paper and vinyl everywhere. It’s great to have somewhere to make a mess – very enabling. I try to get into my studio in the afternoons after finishing work and on weekends.

Do you have another “day job”?
Funnily enough, I took on a day job in order to pursue my love of making things. I had been doing freelance illustration, writing and editing of schoolbooks for about 10 years, getting more and more frustrated with this work. It did teach me a great deal and got me to do a Masters degree on the topic, but it almost drove me mad because crazy deadlines and conflicting market demands meant that most of the books I worked on were pretty uninspiring. That said, I did have a couple of amazing opportunities to illustrate and write some really fantastic books, working with some truly terrific people.

Anyway, in order to give myself the luxury of working on things I want to make without having to consider their economic viability, I took on a part-time job at Strika Entertainment. Now I spend every morning writing scripts for comics that get distributed all over the world. It’s an amazing job with all the variety I need to keep me interested, and I’m very, very lucky that my employers are willing to accommodate my lack of desire to work full-time.

Where and what did you study?
My undergrad degree was in Drama and English, and I went on to do a teaching diploma, but never did any teaching. After working in various areas of schoolbook creation for a number of years, I decided to investigate the subject further by doing a Masters degree at the University of Cape Town. So now I have an MPhil behind me, as well as a valiant but failed attempt to turn educational publishing into something I can participate happily in.

What inspires you and what motivates you?
Well, I have a greatly inspiring friend called Jesse Breytenbach who is even more obsessed with making things than I am. She’s also an illustrator and an incredibly accomplished knitter and crafter, for whom nothing is impossible. She’s also marvellously interested in doing things, not for their commercial potential, but just because she likes them. Jesse and I run a monthly Craft group and also have a stall at a fantastic Saturday market in Woodstock once a month (see her blog at

My husband, Paul Edmunds, who is an artist, is similarly inspiring, particularly in the way he’s able to go into his studio every day and face that metaphorical blank canvas head on. He makes amazing work that is extremely time-consuming, and his willingness to take on massive projects from start to finish, despite being fully aware of the months and months of repetitive slog is just awesome.

My blog is a real motivator. I started it just to use as an evolving portfolio because I had none of my work on the web, but it soon had me in its grip, as I began to feel the need to feed it with things. It feels like one of those Tamagochi toys, but at least it has a point! I love the kindness, generosity with praise and general friendliness I experience through my blog and through reading others’. Having a market stall and keeping the Etsy shop stocked keeps my output high too.

I also love looking at plants and grasses and light filtering through leaves.

When did you start doing this?
When I did my illustration and writing work from home I tried to make things, but never got really far because I always had to tidy up soon enough to make space for “real” (ie: money-making) work. Getting a studio about 3 years ago was the real moment of lift-off. I started sewing, screenprinting, and making funny things with paint samples that got me onto my first group exhibition – Drawing Room I in 2005.

Since then I’ve been exhibiting my illustration work regularly, as well as making and selling various things in shops, at our market stall and, more recently, in my Etsy shop.

What memories to you have of getting into art as a kid?
I didn’t do art at school, and I was always worst in the craft classes. A favourite memory is of the last day of school one year where I got to unravel the cursed knitted “doll” (voodoo doll?) that I’d been fruitlessly slaving over all year. Unravelling all that boredom was just delicious!

On my own, I used to love making vast 3-D houses that I made up of strips of paper with all the furniture drawn onto them. I would fold these to make up a room, and attach them to other rooms in rambling wonky constructions. I’d really like to make one of these again one day.

When and why did you decide to start your own business?
When I started to put my screenprinted and stitched cushions into shops I needed to design a swingtag for them. I guess that was the start of the business, really. It’s still pretty small, and I like it that way. My horror is that Skinny laMinx will grow too big and become all about supplying and admin and not about making things any more. That’s why selling on Etsy is so brilliant – things have to be handmade, and that is necessarily limiting!

How did you choose the name for your business?
Our little Siamese cat is called Monkey, which often morphs into Minx, and she’s such a skinny little thing that she turns into Skinny laMinxy Longlegs, as she skitters around, making us chuckle.

What do you love most about creating your art?
Working towards illustration exhibitions have been incredibly exciting, and have allowed me to do things that I’ve never done before.

I love trusting myself to make something, and then assessing afterwards how much I like it, rather than trying to be certain that I will like it before I start. I suppose I like the way things change as you go along – the way you need to make new decisions about what you’re doing based on the limitations you encounter along the way.

That said, I’m really hoping that I learn some patience soon. I tend to want to work super maniacally fast (mostly because time’s always limited). I think some projects that are about “process” need to be set…

What's the most fascinating place you've been?
Thailand, no doubt about it. Paul and I went there on holiday in 2005 and still can’t stop talking about our three week holiday. Apart from the beauty and craftsmanship we saw, the contrast between the daily interactions between people here in South Africa (aggressive, angry, explosive) and the calmness even in the busiest traffic that we saw over there was quite, quite extraordinary. I loved it there and can’t wait to return.

A book you love:
I read very greedily and the result is I forget much of what I’ve read, but at the moment I am absolutely awestruck by David Mitchell’s work. I’ve just read Ghostwritten and am amazed by the scope of his imagination. Extraordinary.

I love Geoff Dyer’s writing too – the way many his books are neither novels nor autobiographies is quite marvellous. I’ve also just read Lesley Jackson’s book about Robin and Lucienne Day, which was a wonderful insight into the evolution of those designers.

What's the most interesting thing about you
Well, I’m just a suburban gal who grew up in a State of Emergency in a country run by fascists, with news censorship allowing me to remain blissfully ignorant of the burning townships while I enjoyed my swimming pool and tennis lessons. I suppose that is kind of interesting, although I suspect it falls into the weird/sick category rather.

What achievement are you most proud of?
There’s a series of reading books called the Kagiso Readers that I co-wrote and illustrated about five years ago. They have been translated into all 11 of our country’s official languages, and the series is making a huge difference to young South African readers. When I hear about how kids and teachers are using and loving these books, I feel very, very proud.

What advice would you give women starting their own business?
Gosh, I’ve really bumbled along with this, but one thing really seems to work, and that’s making lists of what you want to do. I’d been saying I wanted an Etsy shop for ages, but just wasn’t getting around to it. It was semi-difficult because of problems with payment and postage associated with selling from South Africa. But when I made a list of everything I needed to think about and do, it really moved me along. So, my advice is: Make A List. I should make another one soon too.

What's the biggest challenge you face in your work?
Time. I wish there were two of me. Also, I can be a bit mean with putting money into things, especially when I’m not sure that it will end up selling. Recently I vaulted over this hurdle by putting a substantial tax rebate into an account to exclusively be used for making things! It’s been hugely liberating to just have this money on tap!

What do you love to do in your free time?
I’ve got a band called the Sunday Family that I’ve been playing with for about six years. It’s gone a bit limp at the moment because one of the members quit, but we’re working at reviving it again. I play the fiddle and our music is quite country-pop in style. Singing in harmony must be one of the nicest possible things in the world – if not the entire known universe.

I also like riding my bicycle with my husband, lying on the sofa with the cats and dripping with righteous sweat in a Bikram Yoga class.

What are you working on right now?
Far too much. I’m really running three careers concurrently, so I’ll summarise for each one separately:

Writing – I’m writing some interesting comics and get to direct my first photo comic this week!

Illustration – I have a regular three illustrations for a monthly magazine called FairLady, and I’m also working with a team of illustrators on doing the 3D title graphics for the annual South African Advertising awards in August. I’m also in the process of making a new screenprint.

Skinny laMinx – I’m desperate to print a new teatowel design, but in the meantime, I’m making more magnets and cushions and purses for my shop. I’m also investigating getting some magnet designs laser cut, and also a tourist-orientated laser cut greeting card too.

What do you hope to achieve next?
Balance in all things and, ideally, a marvellously breezy, devil-may-care approach to any obstacle that is put in my way.