In this series of interviews about the creative process, I’ll be talking to artists in all fields to discover the common traits of creativity and what, if anything, is different in each art form. I’d also like to discover what creative practices could be used by people who don’t consider themselves artists (in the traditional sense) and how creative thinking is fundamental to growth and creation in all aspects of life.
Born in Brazil but raised in the United States, Patricia Silva received a BFA in Art History/Studio Arts from the Massachusetts College of Art in Boston. After graduation, she worked for 10 years as a graphic designer and art director in the publication industry before her interests led her to pursue further studies overseas. She traveled to Italy to study in Syracuse University’s graduate program in Italian Renaissance Art History and while completing her research in the historical archives of Florence, she became enamoured with bookbinding and the art of the book.
She began her studies of bookbinding with a local Florentine artisan and, eventually, returned to the US to complete an MFA in Book Arts and Printmaking at the University of the Arts in Philadelphia. She interned in the book conservation labs of the American Philosophical Society in Philadelphia and of the Library Company in Philadelphia. She has also worked as a book conservation technician at the Conservation Center for Art and Historic Artifact in Philadelphia.
Currently, Patricia lives and works in Florence, Italy where she runs a private studio specializing in custom bookworks and limited edition artist’s books. Her work may be found in private and institutional collections in The US, Italy and Brazil. For the past 20 years, she has taught courses in Book Arts, Printmaking and the History of the Book with several universities and institutions. Patricia also organizes and leads private bespoke workshops for individuals and small groups.
What about your craft motivates you and what would you say is your forte? What do you think makes you good at /curious about this forte? Do you admire this aspect in others?
One of the reasons I gravitated to the field of Book Arts is that it allowed for the exploration of a variety of techniques and media. I think it is this “license to explore” that truly motivates me in my craft and, within that, my forte is my sense of curiosity and desire to try new things. If I feel an artist’s book I am projecting would benefit from the inclusion of gilding or embroidery or beading, then I will joyfully research and immerse myself in learning those techniques.
When the creative well is dry, how do you fill it? Do you have techniques you return to?
All creative people go through the highs and lows of creative inspiration. What helps me most to get through the drier moments is to be in contact with other creative minds. Even if these others work in completely different fields, the below the surface hum of the flow of their creative thought is often enough to nudge me to new endeavours.
How do you maintain your authentic self/voice? Does the constant comparison on and/or influence of social media help or stifle this?
I find that social media is a two-edged sword. Though it can be a wonderful resource for connecting with other artists and creators, viewing innovative work which otherwise would be inaccessible and dialoguing with like-(or not)-minded people, to me it is also at times a source of anxiety because of the subtle game of one-upmanship that often suffuses social media. There are moments when I just need to unplug and focus on what is on my workbench.
When did you know that you had to use/explore your creativity in some way? Were you encouraged and supported by your family? Does your national identity influence you?
I don’t think I can point to a single moment or period of my life when I was suddenly aware that I would pursue a creative life’s work. From a very young age, art was my chosen road and, fortunately, I was raised in a family which supported that choice.
Though this might date me a bit, I do recall the moment when I entered an MFA program in the US and for the first time I was asked to address my professors by their first names. The sudden realization that with that small gesture they were essentially acknowledging my right to dialogue as an “equal” with them was liberating and empowering. To this day, in all the classes I teach, no matter the age of my students, I insist they address me by my first name.
What happens if you ignore your creative impulses e.g. if you don’t practice for a while?
Considering that I juggle my own artistic work with my teaching practices, it does not often happen that I find myself ignoring my creative impulses. There may be moments when I spend less time on my own art, but at those times I am usually funneling my creativity into my university classes, private classes or commissioned work. I find that each type of work feeds the others and, I often receive inspiration from one that leads to exploration in another.
How do you keep positive when an idea fails or when you get negative feedback?
I guess I never really consider an idea as failed. If it is not working, or I receive negative feedback, I return to the drawing board (literally) and try to re-work the idea. Ultimately, if it does not come together to my satisfaction, I pack it up, label it and tuck it away in my “work in progress” cabinet. I have faith that its moment will eventually come.
Have you collaborated with an artist in your field and/or in another art form? Was the experience worthwhile?
From 2014 to 2016, I worked on a series of collaborative artists’ book projects with the artist and writer, Lyall Harris. The projects began as exercises to motivate one another to explore a variety of avenues of expression. By the end, we had produced a series of 12 artists’ books (each in an edition of 2) dealing with topics as diverse as women’s identity, motherhood, loss, organ transplantation and the immigration crisis in Europe. For both of us, I believe, the experience was extremely fulfilling, challenging, revelatory and highly satisfying. For myself, I was pushed to explore new uses of language and media as well as to delve into topics outside my comfort zone. I feel the experience allowed me to grow greatly as an artist. Lyall and I have been so satisfied with the collaborative process that we have continued working together on newer works which have been exhibited in various venues in Italy and the US.
Committing to creative work, given the often-meagre financial rewards, can make it a struggle. What have you done to overcome this? What advice would you have for someone starting out?
Like many other artists, I too have a “day job” to help with financial needs. I am a professor with several American university programs in Florence. I began teaching after my daughter was born thinking that teaching a class once or twice a week would be manageable. Little did I expect that I would truly enjoy teaching and the exchange of ideas and viewpoints with my students. My advice to my students who are just starting out in their artistic endeavors is to work on their art as much as feasibly possible and, if they need to get a “day job,” to try to find something that enriches them creatively and not just monetarily. A job in the arts is the obvious choice, but any work undertaken with a sense of curiosity and engagement can add to your creative reserve.
What is the best thing about being a person who uses her/his creative skills? How does it enrich your life and help you in other areas?
I guess that best thing about working creatively is that one quickly learns that there is always more than one way to look at things. In a painting or an artist’s book or a sculpture, there is never the ONE correct solution to how it should look or be resolved. The same can be said for many of life’s problems.
How do you view the role of the arts in society: the role of the artist? Do you have a “responsibility” as an artist?
That is a loaded question, especially in the current times we live in. In my opinion, the role of the arts/artist in society is to question. To focus a light on an issue, a moment, a situation or an object, which causes the viewer to pause, if only for a second, and to consider. I am not an artist with answers, I do not feel that is my responsibility or my gift, I am an artist with many, many questions.