Jess Pillmore can not simply be defined as a Fiber Artist as she is skilled in various, eclectic endeavors including Teaching Performance Art and playing music of her own. Although A Second Chance is based out of Austinville, Virginia, Jess herself claims “we’re on the road so much, a lot of the time I’m creating in hotels and in the car”. When a business in Fiber Arts is based 100% on reclaimed yarn it is easy to imagine acquiring material to create those pieces in a car! Jess has a real focus on the planet not only through her Fiber Arts but in many aspects of her life and she was excited to share her experiences with us.
Describe a day in your personal or professional life.
When I’m home (which is rare but glorious), I enjoy the benefits of freelancing and being my own boss… aka I stay in my pj’s while I correspond, send out contracts, research new pieces, write new songs, create new designs and enjoy the quiet of rural Virginia. I’m obsessed with a whistlepig (groundhog) that eats from our apple tree. He’s a riot and huge! Then, when I’m on the road, I have to focus more on meeting new people (audiences, students, staff, artists), the ever-changing views from our car, NPR, creating a “home” where we are right at that moment so my husband and I never lose our footing, lose our roots. Kind of general, but we have to do all that in a day when we’re touring/teaching/performing.
How do you balance your life in music with your other endeavors?
Well, I have to keep reminding myself (’cause sometimes it doesn’t feel this way) that the common thread to all these “different” occupations – theatre, music, dance, fiber arts, producing and running a business – is me. So, the balance has to come from me. I have to focus on the moment and what inspires me in that moment. I move back and forth from all these occupations constantly, sometimes within the same day, depending on the situation. But I love it and that’s what helps. If it was stress or a chore, then I wouldn’t do it. Life’s too short to be bummed out. I try and exercise a lot, eat well and appreciate all that’s around me… the rest is play.
What type of actions do you take while touring to reduce your carbon footprint?
I tour in a Prius (love it!). I’m an electronic girl, so that means electronic press kits, contracts, etc. It helps lessen all the paper and plastic in my business on and off the road. I’m uber conscious of my tour routing – making the most of every stop and trying not to back track or travel out of the way. I combine a lot of my other occupations with my touring in order to do that better – teaching workshops in neighboring cities when playing a gig, etc. I try and travel light and buy local wherever we are.
What suggestions do you have for touring musicians to lessen their own environmental impact while on the road?
I’ve found that choices that help the environment help you too (and vice versa)… being smart and economical about your tour routing is better for everyone, including your wallet (which is really important as in indie on the road). Pack your own food (in bulk), be self contained to lessen your trash across the country. And with everything, the more research and pre-production work you do, the more you save in the long run – save for yourself and save the environment.
What drew you to fiber arts?
My great-grandmother, grandmother and mom were/are big time crafters – cross stitch, embroidery, knitting, crocheting, quilting, sewing, you name it. I picked it up from them when I was little and loved the quiet feeling of community sitting and creating with them. And there’s a great feeling of accomplishment, for me, seeing a piece I made from scratch. Plus, the colors and textures are a ton of fun to play with.
Who or what inspired you to pursue creation of fashion?
See above, it’s a family thing!
Where do you acquire material to create your wearable art?
Thrift stores all across the country. I hunt out the “I can’t believe someone tossed this!” pieces of clothing to deconstruct and then re-craft into something new. It was hard, at first, to take a part some of these pieces, but I started researching thrift stores more and found that they are up to their eyeballs in clothing. Most destroy them completely if they don’t sell within a certain time period. And the act of deconstructing helps me to understand each piece/material better, understand where it’s coming from. Just like listening to a person and finding out what makes them tick. Plus, shopping at thrift stores lessens post-consumer trash and donates funds to local charities.
When did you begin teaching and what do you teach?
Even as a director/choreographer, I was teaching and didn’t call it that. But I would cast artists that were amazingly capable but needed to be challenged…that’s where the teaching came in. I started officially teaching at 20 and haven’t stopped since (I’m 32 now). I teach theatre (mask, commedia, ensemble work, team building, contact improvisation, musical theatre, stage combat), dance (all types and choreography skills) and music (songwriting and music appreciation). My theatre company, Creatively Independent
, also teaches artists how to become independent in their work and their business, as well as teach people how to boost their creativity within their work (even if they’re not professional or amateur artists). My husband, Chris Beaulieu, and I teach all ages and skill levels (pre-K to professional adults). That might sound wild, but we teach to the student, so it’s no sweat for us to alter our approach depending on the age, intent or skill level. That’s part of what allows us to do so many things and be Creatively Independent.
When teaching, do you place any emphasis on green concepts?
Yes, but not in a preachy way. I feel that, with anything, if a person can’t find the benefit of it within themselves then the change isn’t going to happen. We’re all selfish people (because our self is all we have), so I don’t think it’s a bad thing for me to say this. So, when I teach or perform, I try and show how it works for me. I try and question, promote and educate so it might spark something inside them.
Were you influenced by the Green Movement?
Yes, the momentum and availability of information definitely fueled me. And I personally made a connection to my grandparents and great-grandparents’ way of life (which was very green)… use it until it breaks down, then fix it, then use the parts that work for something else, keep going until it’s practically scraps. Compost, grow/buy locally, run a lot of errands at once or the “while you’re in town” list, lessen chemicals in the body and the home, natural cleaners, work with nature not against it…
What have you incorporated into your lifestyle to facilitate going green and conserving energy?
Natural cleaners, energy efficient appliances, less paper products (doing most things electronically), washing with cold water, hanging the wash on the line, opening windows (hardly used the a/c this year), putting a sweater on in the house (helps with the heat bill), conserving water, using my dish cloths to wash the dishes instead of disposable ones.
Tell me about your home renovation. What are some of the green products you used while remodeling?
We’re working on our 100 year old farmhouse using repurposed materials as much as possible, as well as insulating more to help with heat and air issues. It’s a blast to work with recycled glass (I’m getting into cutting old wine and beer bottles to use for stain glass installations). I think the main thing for us, is to use what we can (not just gut it and start over) as well as make sure what we have is energy efficient. We also repurpose what we’ve had to take out of the house for either craft projects (I build frames for my hand embroidered pieces with the old stairs) or for our new theater. We’re in the process of designing a black box theatre/studio, focusing on using what’s already there – shade, wind, the rise and set of the sun to heat and cool the studio. It’s exciting and challenging… but that’s where all that pre-production work comes in handy.
What is important to you about conservation and preserving our environment?
I think the earth is trying to balance itself (as all things do) and as humans we’ve tipped it onto one side pretty hard. I’m just trying to do what I can to balance – give back what I’ve taken. Also, I feel that the instantaneous, “gotta have it now” feeling that’s in most of our culture presently is without depth. A lot is lost by jumping right to the prize without experiencing the process of attaining the prize. For example, we don’t have a microwave anymore because we realized it was important for us to make ourselves stop working for 30-60 minutes and cook. Enjoy the smells, the act of creating the meal, cleaning up, sitting down to eat and talk about the day. We were missing all that because a microwave allowed us to zap our meal in 3 minutes and eat it practically standing up. We’ve noticed a huge improvement in our physical and mental health because of this choice and others like it. So, I guess that all goes back to what I was saying earlier, I had to find a reason why it benefited me to be able to benefit the environment.
What challenges have you had to bring eco-consciousness into your work?
Me. The challenge was my “easy outs”. I had to change, slowly but surely, my schedule, my time line, my wants/needs. Let’s put it this way… it’s easier and faster for me to buy yarn all ready to be knitted. It takes more time to find the sweater, clean it, take a part the pieces, unravel the yarn, wind it up and then knit it…. but it’s much more fun. The impact for others is greater and the impact is greater for myself. The challenge is to embrace being unique. When we do things ourselves for ourselves, each moment is unique, no one else can do exactly what you do. But we lose ourselves and our creativity when we grab the easy, the quick and the brainless… aka the pre-packaged, millions like it, the same in any city product. The challenge is to be me.
Do you feel that the Internet has a positive or negative influence on art? How does the Internet affect your work?
I’m a positive gal, so I’m gonna say positive influences! More access, more information, larger audience for someone’s work…love it. I’m able to have fans all over the world for my music, theatre and fiber arts. That’s amazing to me. I just have to balance within my self, how much time I spend on the Internet. I get overwhelmed with all the possibilities and then discover I haven’t created anything…ha ha ha, so I have to balance the research/inspiration with the actual creation. The Internet also allowed me to work with incredible musicians on my last album, Reveal: Viktor Krauss (Lyle Lovett, Bill Frisell), Matt Chamberlain (Tori Amos, Fiona Apple, David Bowie), Craig Barnette (Mofro, Donavon Frankenreiter) and Dan Phelps (Tori Amos). I was able to have Viktor create stunning bass and keyboard parts in his home studio in Nashville, while we were recording in Seattle with Matt in his home studio for percussion. My producer, Dan, was able to work with me via the internet, sending ideas and prodding me artistically. I could send lyric changes, and new tune ideas via my home studio. It was thrilling and an honor that they wanted to create in such an intimate way using a normally disconnected format (the internet). But it also made it possible for me to afford them as well, since I banked my own project with my alt. americana label, RoadWorm Music. I co-created it with my father, Bill Pillmore, and we have fab artists on there… please check them out.
What are you currently working on? Can you tell us about it?
With fiber arts, I’m combining knitting and crocheting right now – just finished a Rainbow baby blanket that I love and a funky tea cozy made from the edges of sweater sleeves. I’m also working on holiday fun with my sweater pieces… maybe stockings that I embroider on, ornaments… that’s later on today. In theatre, Chris and I are researching/writing a clown ensemble piece to start producing/directing this year for the festival circuit… it’s about family dynamics shown through the raw honesty and absurdity of the clown’s point of view. I’m also writing a folk rock musical with fellow label mate, Ron Morris. It’s about living in the moment and how we all struggle to own and then let go of our stories. The music is new – audio pointillism – with each song broken up into different character’s point of view to show that each moment has many variations of grey in the meaning. With teaching, Chris and I are starting to teach internationally this year, so that’s a thrill! And at home, Chris just started up a vegan/gluten free baking adventure on Etsy. So, I’ve been helping him with that, working on the repurposed cookie tins that I cover in reclaimed fabric. The house smells great!
What advice would you give a young artist just getting started?
Do your research. Be prepared. Create because you love to not because you want someone’s approval or sales. Know your needs (rent, food, bills, etc.) and reduce them if you can to allow you to work as an artist full time. Don’t be afraid to promote yourself. Put a price on your time and creativity – artists can be good at math! Don’t buy the hype that you have to suffer to be an artist. You have to be open to all emotions and opportunities without judgment to be an artist – that includes happiness, joy and success. You, not others, must define your success… and I promise that definition will constantly change. Be patient, breathe and smile.
What Green Product would you recommend to our readers?
Prius, big time.
What is your best going green tip?
Baking soda can be your best friend from absorbing odors in your fridge, trash can, rugs – cleaning a clogged drain – to healing an icky boil (yucky, but true). Seriously, natural products are rad, look around/ask around and find out about baking soda, vinegar and lemon juice.
How would your friends describe you?
Busy. hahaha, okay, I had to ask my friends on this one ’cause I describe myself as shy and quiet… they said collectively “silly, caring, compassionate, dedicated, busy, cute, funny, giving…” there was more but I find it hard to type without laughing uncomfortably!
Do you have a website or online presence that showcases your work?
Yes, ma’am! Here’s the list… hee hee hee
A Second Chance – Fiber Arts – Recycled Knitwear
Smart Energy Technology: www.OrganicMechanic.com