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October 21, 2015

Dyeing to Know PD Packard

About the Author
Elizabeth Roan

See the exhibition here

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I got lost on my way to finding PD Packard’s Itajime Shibori workshop at HBHQ. While retracing my steps, I found another wanderer on her way, and together we managed to locate the massive building covered in mosaics, while simultaneously covering our embarrassment on missing it the first time. A short hike to the third floor spaces, and we found PD tucked snugly in a corner with tubs of dye and dye-stained children and adults.

After folding fabric squares into triangular pockets, and pressing their folds with geometrical flakes of wood, the least intrepid of the students would dive into the tubs, fingers clenched around creative tension. Remnants of other students’ work stretched across walls and tables, drying in silent shouts of color.

Veterans with indigo hands filed past, seeking out PD’s exhibition of insect paintings, Insects Too Lovely to Repel. Beetles and butterflies winged their way across the space, previewing PD’s upcoming exhibition at River’s Edge Gallery at Bridgeton House, where they’ll nestle in the quaint and cozy corners of a boutique hotel.

The meditative state induced by repetitively dyeing and folding scraps of paper acted as a perfect receptacle for viewing PD’s pieces on display. Her insects exist in a world packed with punch, understated beauty underscored by deep pockets of color.

In between learning the artist’s technique, I took a few minutes to question her about her background and upcoming projects.

Can you tell me a bit about your background?

My mother tongue with art and design is color. I was born with the natural love and ability to express color.
Growing up in Washington DC, I was always exposed to art and design. As a child, I attended Saturday art classes at the Corcoran Art gallery, and also at the Smithsonian. My mother loved to visit the small galleries of Georgetown and in particular, the Torpedo Factory in Old Town Alexandria and would take my siblings and I along. All through school I always took art as an elective and in high school studied Lapidary Arts and Jewelry Design.

You studied in London. What experiences did you have there that shaped your art in a way you would not have experienced had you studied elsewhere?

Going to University = How to have an income with this love of color?
I initially studied Fashion Design at Parsons School of Design in NYC with the desire to study Textile Design. Parson’s at the time did not offer textile design but did have an exchange program with Saint Martins School of Art (AKA Central Saint Martins), London. Saint Martins had a textile program within the Fashion Department. Awarded a full scholarship, I studied at Saint Martin’s learning about textile design, dyeing and printing fabrics that I would then incorporate into my fashion designs. I obtained my BFA from Saint Martins.

Can you tell me about your work in the cosmetic industry and how that led to the transition into printmaking?

Returning to the states from England (late 80s) with this knowledge of textile design, I worked briefly for the company and designer, Katja of Sweden. I worked directly with Katja, designing home furnishings. At Katja’s, every aspect of design was thought about originating from custom colorways, textile and surface designs, packaging, everything to insure a beautiful product. That resonated in me and I try to apply that principle to my artwork today.

In the early 90s I began independently designing and producing travel and cosmetic bags using my original fabric designs that I printed in my Brooklyn studio. At the beginning I sold to boutique stores in Manhattan, later selling to larger department stores while working with their cosmetic buyers; Barneys, Bergdorf’s, Bendels, Neiman Marcus.

There’s real money to be made in production. The problem was that I felt I was always squeezed like a lemon, always asked to produce cheaper, faster, and to make it happen yesterday. I grew to dislike the work and one day decided to stop.

When my son, Niko, was born in 1996 I continued to do freelance work, but in 2002 I gave birth to my twin daughters, Faye and Martine, and decided to be a stay at home mom.

In 2008, with my daughters in school, I began studying Chinese calligraphy with the local artist Kwok Kay Choey.

In 2009, I transitioned into fine art printmaking. I met and began working on my printing ideas with master printer, Marina Ancona at her studio in Brooklyn, 10 Grand Press. Eventually I bought my own etching press and began printing on my own in my studio.

The phrase “unconditional love – not conditional romance” in your artist statement – that really stuck out to me. Can you explain that a bit further and how it comes out in your work?

Unconditional love means that I will remain committed to my work even if the condition seems unfavorable.

I work alone in my studio and that can sometimes feel very isolated. So when others support, include or buy my work – yes, it really does make a difference! But regardless of the circumstance or outcome, I am self-motivated to continue my work.

In the essay, “The Untroubled Mind (1972),” by the painter Agnes Martin, she speaks of art as beauty, and states that this beauty is unattached, that it’s in your Mind; it’s inspirational.

I believe that this inspiration is free and available to all, beyond person, place or thing; it’s unconditional.

You’ve taught in Brooklyn. Why do you think it’s important for elementary children to learn techniques like Chinese brush painting?

From 2008 to 2013, I studied Chinese calligraphy with the local artist Kwok Kay Choey. To help promote a better understanding of the Chinese culture, I have taught Chinese calligraphy and brush painting workshops to third graders during the Chinese New Year for their Asian curriculum studies in PS 261 elementary school, in the Boerum Hill neighborhood of Brooklyn.

I have noted that when teaching children art, even problematic children become calm and self-assured. I hope to encourage expression, creativity, innovative thinking, and create cooperative learning experiences for the students. I believe this will contribute to students’ overall personal identity, appreciation for culture, and connection with the community.

Why are insects a common theme in your work?

My Chinese calligraphy teacher, Kwok Kay Choey, introduced me to the idea of painting insects. Attracted to their many patterns and colors, my children and I began collecting insects near my home at Prospect Park’s Long Meadow in Brooklyn, New York. With the casual study of entomology and the works of Thomas Eisner, the German-American entomologist and ecologist, I have become intrigued to know more about their world that parallels our own.

For your workshop during POST weekend – did you have any takeaway stories from that?

One of the gentlemen who was watching the setup came the next day and stayed for three hours. The owner brought her daughter – it was interesting because they were watching me set up and had the natural desire or interest to learn more. A lot of people came and stayed for several hours, which is really a lot. Someone would commit to that much time. It was well received by everyone. And artists from the other floors told me that they had come up because people were coming down with dyed hands. I brought gloves because I thought somebody maybe wouldn’t want to have dyed hands, but people were happy because it was a real experience. They got their hands dirty, and then other artists would come up and participate too because it was really fun.

I personally loved having that leftover memory on my hands when I came home.

That’s the interesting thing is that people do want to experience it. They want to do things with their hands. It is really time consuming.

It was also a very soothing experience too. That’s probably why you could get people there for three hours.

There wasn’t any rush. You have to let go and just allow the circumstances to unfold. Heavy Bubble set up a Ticketleap for people to register. The idea was to get a sense of how many supplies we should have. I could count on my hand how many people signed up. But I went prepared thinking I’ll just go for it. And I used up all my materials, it was perfect. You really just have to go forward and give everything and expect – even if only one person comes – it’ll be great. But it was continual flow so it was perfect.

You have an exhibition coming up with us at River’s Edge Gallery. How did that come into place and what are you planning on doing with that in terms of working with the space?

I had posted another exhibition on my website, called Insects Too Lovely to Repel and [Curator] Mat Tomezsko said he’d love it to be at River’s Edge. So I went and visited it, and I thought it was great. It’s a beautiful place. I’ll have 15-20 insects through their restaurant area, and perhaps in some of their bed and breakfast rooms. 15 – 20 insect paintings.

No bugs in the hotel.

Exactly. Only pretty paintings of them.

You can see PD Packard‘s work on display at River’s Edge Gallery October 27 – February 26. Shout-out to Heavy Bubble Portfolio Websites for Artists and PysankyUSA for sponsoring a great workshop experience

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