Originally from Nigeria; Yetunde and her family moved to the United States when she was thirteen, landing in Morgantown, West Virginia. As a child of immigrant parents the only career options [in their minds] were doctor, engineer, or lawyer. Yetunde knew that wasn't going to be the life for her. She bounced around for a few years. She ended up attending Hampton University in Virginia, a Historically Black College. She was still unsure as to what she wanted to do, but she ended up studying Design.
Yetunde has a deep rooted love of home and an eye for naturalistic, homey, handmade design elements. Outside of some freelance work, she never ended up getting a job in graphic design. Thank goodness because her handmade elements are too lovely for digitalization.
Five-Dots: How long have you been in this studio?
Yetunde Rodriguez: I’ve been in this space since 2008, but it wasn’t always my studio; it used to be a t.v. room and I slowly started kicking my children out of the room and taking more and more of it as my own. It has transitioned a lot. My studio space has always been in the house but I have tried a lot of different locations and this ended up being the best. It probably became, finally, a studio about three years ago.
F-D: When you moved in here, did you have an idea for how you wanted to lay it out or did it develop organically?
YR: I'd say it evolved on it's own. I’ve always loved to make things, so I've always made a lot of different things, I've always had a lot of interests. In the last couple of years I’ve been waning down what I do professionally. You know, as creative people, we want to make everything under the sun— and I had supplies for everything under the sun— [laughs] but I’ve had to narrow it down to focusing on my textiles. Since I have done that, it’s kind of changed and dictated how my space has been arranged.
F-D: Has the location of the studio (i.e the neighborhood, city, building etc) influenced your work in any way?
YR: Yes, I believe so, I’ve grown to love it here in Dayton. There is so much opportunity here. As an artist, in my own world, it’s easy for me to think that everyone has a job like this, and everyone is familiar with textiles. But they aren’t. A good number of people don’t have a clue that there is this huge world [of handmade textiles]; and because of that I feel free to explore as much as I want. I think that if I were in a city like New York I would feel the pressure to compete—not that there is anything wrong with competing. I just think that over-competition kills creativity. My work feels appreciated here. Not everybody does it; it’s a little bit special. It’s easier to stand out.
F-D: Can you describe a typical day for yourself, inside the studio and out?
YR: My studio being at home, my personal and work life constantly flow into each other. Typically I wake up around 6:30 and I’ll let the kids get ready. I'll take the boys to school while my older daughter takes the city bus. Then I go for a walk. That usually takes me about forty-five minutes to an hour. I’ll come home, chit chat with my husband and eat breakfast. Then I have a block of time that ranges anywhere in between three and a half to five hours where I'll be working in the studio. That usually consists of printing, answering emails, filling out paperwork, whatever has priority that day, then right around three o’clock I’ll run out to pick up the boys. From three until five there’s all of the after school errands, so then around seven I have another block of time where I can come back in here. I usually go to bed anywhere in between midnight and one in the morning. Then start all over again.
Five-Dots: How would you describe your approach to design or design philosophy?
YR: First of all, the simplest route is usually better. When it comes to designing fabrics, I don’t really ever sketch. It just doesn’t really work for me. I don’t tend to work that way. I usually carve the motif and then figure out the pattern later. I might get an idea quickly, and if I dissect it I will lose it, so I've come to find that it's best to work from the gut initially and then clean up and work with those ideas as the images evolve. As far as design philosophy: I like things with a little roughness. I'm not drawn to things that are 'sophisticated' or graphically clean. I enjoy seeing the hand in the work.
F-D: Do you think that your use of color affects your ability to sketch?
YR: Yes, yes I do, sometimes sketching out color options doesn't translate for me. Sometimes I just stand there and see how I’m feeling today. So with that, you have to be careful because it could turn out to appear thoughtless; but you could also come across something really special. Play is important.
F-D: What mediums do you work with?
YR: About 99% fabric. Linen and canvas. Linen is my absolute favorite. There’s something about the surface— it retains the sheen, it works with metallics nicely, and it’s just wonderful. I utilize a lot of block printing, but I also screen print. I use a lot of Permaset. I hate to admit this but I also use a lot of latex house paint. It works. You don’t even need to heat set it! I do modify it to thin it out, but I’m sure you won’t guess what I modify it with: Barbosol, the shaving cream. It gives the paint a smoother foam due to the stearic acid, I think. The fabric just soaks it up and then it just sits there with a really beautiful matt finish.
I do a lot of different things with different material; and so it opens up some questions about where I fall within this textile community. I make home goods, but I also make wall tapestries, so am I a textile designer or am I an artist? I’m slowly opening up to the idea that I am an artist; I’ve had several exhibitions and at this point I’m starting to believe others when they refer to me as an artist. So, you know, I guess there is a difference of intention. With my work it feels a little bit different from textile goods. I like to leave the hand in there, and leave the errors, and that makes it different from other designed goods because it isn’t all going to come out the same every time.
F-D: I’d say you fit into the category of ‘printmaker’ pretty well. . .
YR: Yes, but even with that, I imagine either having a print shop or making metal etchings, lithographs, or something. I don’t do those things either.
F-D: It’s a pretty broad term.
YR: Eh! I make stuff, the title will figure itself out.
F-D: Can you tell us about your process and how it has evolved?
YR: When I first became interested in designing textiles I was under the impression that screen printing was the only way to go. At the time I felt that it was the most immediate way to get designs onto fabrics. I taught myself how to screen print. So, I did that for a while, ended up driving myself crazy with the planning and I was just miserable with its turnout. When I had access to a large format printer I attempted to do prints directly onto the fabric, and I immediately realized it wasn’t going to be cost effective. Then I kind of rediscovered block printing. That’s pretty exclusively what I do now because I enjoy its instant gratification. I like the imperfections. I generally block print or hand paint directly onto fabric.
F-D: This next question I had actually scratched out because I wasn't certain if it was appropriate, but I’m actually curious if you believe that it’s something that is applicable to you: Do you work with narratives, plot, or any general progressing ideas in your work? The reason I ask lies in that you’re using iconography from Nigeria; and I’m curious if you feel like there is an identity narrative there.
YR: Yes, actually when you put it that way, yes. Everything that I do has to have an ethnic or African perspective to it. That’s why I don’t do a lot of representational imagery— because that isn’t as prevalent over there. I do always consider my heritage. Perhaps this is me trying to connect back to that; because I have been here most of my life and I’ve never travelled back. So, I feel like this is my way of forming a connection back to Africa.
F-D: Do you consider your work to be autobiographical at all; does personal history work its way into your making?
YR: Yes, most definitely.
F-D: What influences outside the visual arts inspire and impact your approach to making work?
YR: My love of home. Again, coming back to this concept of coming home— it’s very important to me. I’m always drawn to things for the interior. I’ve been approached several times about designing textiles for clothing and it just doesn’t have the same feel for me.
F-D: Do you think that interest in the idea of 'home' links back to your travel over to the U.S.?
YR: Yea, for sure. To add, my mother died when I was very young. It was just tumultuous after that. We were basically yanked to go live with my aunt and uncle, then the next thing we know our father yanked us out again, and then all of the sudden we were in America. So, I think that everything links back to that and wanting something concrete.
F-D: What does having a physical space to make art in mean for your process, and how do you make your space work for you?
YR: It’s very important to me. I need to have my stuff where it’s gonna stay and live. I’m almost always having to step away in the middle of making something. I need to be able to have a mess.
F-D: Do you see your work as relating to any current movement or direction in visual art or culture?
YR: I feel like African imagery is having a moment. I have noticed that visual arts coming out of the African and African American community is really booming right now. Even though I don’t think my work is exactly like what I’m seeing, I still feel like there is something there connecting the two. To contradict myself, I typically avoid trends. I was not too thrilled with Target carrying a Mudcloth design. It will just become over used and everywhere and watered down. On the same side of that coin, it's interesting to notice that your work is running parallel to what popular culture is deeming 'interesting' at any given time.
F-D: Do you have a motto or creed that as an artist you live by?
YR: No, not really. I did used to tell my students that it was alright to make mistakes. Just do it. Just don’t overthink everything. What's the worst thing that will happen, it’ll be ‘wrong’? Who cares? What does that even mean, anyway?! So, just take the chance and do it.
F-D: When asked; what do you tell people you do for a living?
YR: I tell them that I’m a textile designer.
F-D: What risks have you taken in your work, or for your work?
YR: Leaving my teaching job when I felt like I wasn’t happy. It was killing me. It was something that I’d always considered to be a good standing ‘adult job’. It just wasn’t for me once I got there.
F-D: Words of wisdom?
YR: Just, you know, just create. Just do it even if it isn’t perfect. You're going to be learning for a long time anyway. Coming from a person who wants to always be immediately gratified, that's a lot. If you wanna have a practice in something, you have to stick with it. You have to. That’s probably the hardest part.
I hear a lot of people encouraging emerging artists to just quit their day job and dive right into their passion. I think my biggest piece of advice would be that it can’t always be like that and you have to accept that. In reality, you'll have periods of employment and periods of being able to be in your studio all of the time. It’s an ebb and flow and that’s ok.
F-D: Is there something you are currently working on, or are excited about starting that you can tell us about?
YR: I’m looking for different ways to make my work without it always being about making and then turning around and selling. I'm hoping to get involved in more long term projects and more workshops. I’m going to be doing a trunk show here soon. I’m also trying to get this place to the point where I feel alright about hosting printing workshops.
F-D: Are you involved in any upcoming shows or events? Where and when?
YR: I do have my trunk show coming up this weekend on October 28 from 4-6 pm. I will also be involved in the following shows: Dayton Visual Arts Guild Holiday Gift Gallery (November 16th-Dec. 23rd), Yellow Springs Art and Soul (November 18th), Preble County Arts Association Holiday Gift Gallery (December 1st - 23rd).