Spring share artist Elizabeth Calcote prints colorful and historically rich textiles.  She was recently interviewed by co-founder Camela Guevara about her start in printmaking, her current collection at IBU, and where she wants to take her art in the future.  Read on to learn more about this fascinating artist.

CG: How did printmaking initially capture your attention?

EC: As a student at the College of Charleston, I was an biology major on a pre-medicine track.  To break up my heavy math and science schedule, I enrolled in a Drawing I class.  During the semester we created negative or subtractive drawings, where the artist uses black paper and white chalk, or charcoals a paper black and “draws” with an eraser.  I enjoyed these assignment most, and the professor suggested I take printmaking, as woodcuts, linocuts, and mezzotints are done through this same process.  I listened, enrolled in Print I, fell in love, and haven’t stopped printing since.

CG: You began printing products like stationery and fans. What lead you to begin printing on textiles?

EC: Textiles have always been a part of my creative passion.  I sewed my first quilt with my mother when I was seven.  When we were done, I embroidered the verse “Love one another” in the center with scarlet thread. We went on to sew more quilts, costumes, purses, dresses, and other things together throughout the years. Each piece we sewed had a story and lived a life of its own.  I was able to find a way to combine my two passions, printmaking and textiles, after watching a documentary on David Evans Co. Ltd. of Crayford, the last London silk house which closed in 2002.  After research and experimentation, I found a way to block-print silk with the resources I had available.  I think in a very nostalgic way, working with fabric reminds me of all the times my mother and I spent sewing together.

CG: Your scarves and pocket squares reference Goddesses and other historical figures through lively mandalas and graphic prints. Give us some insight into how you translate their legacies into pattern.

EC: I research the historical and mythological figures that inspire my designs.  This includes looking at architecture, artifacts, iconography, clothing, art, literature, and symbols from their lifetime.  I have a fascination with Egyptology, in particular, hieroglyphics.  The idea of a completely visual language is something I find magical and universal.  Using the same principle, I “tell” the story of my inspirational figure through symbols and pattern on a textile.  Also, I like to imagine that the design I create would be a design the figure would hypothetically wear, something true to their era and style.

CG: What do you normally listen to in your studio?

EC: Right now it’s Mapei, Tuxedo, and a lot of Robyn.  Usually I keep my guitar in the studio and take mental vacations by playing a Fleetwood song or two.  When I am printing large editions for extended periods, I put my Queen albums on repeat.

CG: We enjoyed seeing your work in the beautiful IBU store on King Street. What have you taken away from the experience of having your scarves beside other female artisans all over the world?

EC: Being beside other female artisans is motivating and inspiring.  Their work is something I am working toward.  Someday, I want to experience the women felting in Kazakhstan for generations, weaving intricate and stunning shoe patterns in Guatemala, dying silks in India with centuries of skill and precision.  The colors, designs, technique, and stories fill me with duende or the spirit of art that moves the soul.  And I feel included in a part of something larger, as we all have something in common; a love of telling a story, creating a textile that unites us over water and land.  I feel honored and inspired.

CG: What was the best meal you’ve had recently?

EC: The last lunch I had with my wife at Park Cafe was amazing— starting with the crusty baguette and fresh ricotta followed by a vegetable plate with braised cabbage, citrus glazed beets, creamed kale, and sun-chokes in a garlic aioli.  For dessert, we shared Danish Abelskiver with strawberry preserves.

CG: How does your job at Artizom framing enrich your artistic practice?

EC: Artizom has been a integral part on my journey to becoming a textile designer.  We are a work family and each employee is also an artist or craftsperson.  We are supportive of each other’s creative endeavors, but we also offer critique and advice.  Helping clients choose frames, design presentations, and making connections with collectors in the Charleston community enriches my everyday artistic life.  Building the shadowboxes, mattes, stretchers, and frames has strengthened my craft and skills. Seeing the work of other artist and designers has influenced my work and inspired me to create more.

CG: If you could travel to any location to learn their local textile tradition, where would you go?

EC: I would love to go and learn Rogan Printing in Gujarat, India.  The process is more direct than block-printing, but requires much more precision and concentration.  It has been practiced by the same family for ten generations, and the designs are floral or geometric patterns painted freehand on the fabric using thick paste and a rod.

CG: What dreams do you have for your brand, Sistersgrimm Design?

EC: My dear friend, Marty Perlmutter, advised me to, “Do what you can with what you have.”  So right now, I am creating a second pocket square collection and that will be followed by a block-printed wallpaper collection. The long-term plan for Sistersgrimm Design is to become a block-printing atelier in Charleston.



Elizabeth Calcote is one of the 2015 Spring season artists.