Fine Folks//Creative Callings: Kady MacFarlane, Craftswoman

Readers, for this edition of Fine Folks//Creative Callings, it is my privilege and pleasure to introduce my friend Kady MacFarlane, an amazing human being and artist. Kady and I grew up in the Glenn UMC youth group together, but have gotten to know each other even better in our twenties, and never fail to meet up for brunch when she's visiting from Savannah. Huge, exciting news: A piece of Kady's papercutting work is currently being featured in the Decatur Arts Alliance's Book As Art: Boundless juried show here in Decatur, GA. It's on display from now through September 30, and there's an opening reception this coming Friday night. If you're in town or nearby, be sure to head on over! You'll definitely want to after hearing and seeing more from this fantastic lady. Read on! (And check out Kady's Etsy shop!)

We've known each other for more than 15 years (!), and while I've always sensed you were an open and creative soul, I have been so amazed to discover (and benefit from) your stellar art and crafting skills over the last several years. What led you to making art in general, and when did you first start to discover this passion?

Both of my parents are artists--my mom tries her hand at just about everything and is amazing at it all and my father is a woodworker--so I grew up in a very creative house and was always encouraged to make art. My mom actively campaigned for me to go to art school, probably the only mom to ever say, "Screw liberal arts education, what you need is an art degree," but I didn't think I was actually good at anything so I never applied. 

Over the years I've cycled through just about everything artsy that doesn't require too much special equipment, mostly as a way to keep my hands busy during down time while riding the train or waiting for class to start. I was always moving while I was in school--working, classes, sports teams, volunteering--but once I finished my masters and started a regular 40 hr/week job, I suddenly had all of this free time. It was amazing, and very quickly boring. Making things is how I keep myself busy when I'm not at work, and what I like to daydream about when I am at work. 

You call yourself a self-taught artist. This is not your day job, and you didn't go to school for art. So did it take some time and experimenting for you to get really good at it? What was frustrating and rewarding about that process? And when did you start to realize, "Hey, I've got something here?"

I had, still have, an awful habit of comparing myself to other people and getting discouraged when my first try isn't as good as their ninetieth or 9,000th. Art, like anything worth doing, takes practice. It takes figuring out what your viewpoint is, what you want to say to the world, and finding the best medium to get your message across. For me, that meant finding something where I could camouflage my less-than-stellar technical drawing skills--everything looks better once it's been cut out of paper, it's a very forgiving medium. But still, it takes even more practice and refinement. There's a very clear progression from my earlier work, still hanging on display at my parents' house, to the pieces I make today. And every time I'm at my parents' house, I see something new that I would change if I had the chance to do it over again.

You've created many pieces, from quilts (like this one for me!) to papercuts (which we'll get to in a minute) Do you have a favorite project that you've done so far? 

Oh gosh. I love a lot of the things I've made. Basically every quilt I've ever made. Those take so much time and so much passion that I'd better love them, but particularly the one that's on my bed right now--a full size deep blue quilt with The Mountain Goats lyrics on it. I love my floral typewriter, I think it's probably the most impressive paper cut I've ever made, and more recently, I'm super stoked with how my small octopus turned out. It's always a crap shoot when I first cut something and pull away the template at the end, and that octopus was way better than I was expecting it to be.

Your papercutting work is being featured right now in Decatur Arts Alliance's Book as Art: Boundless juried show, which is fantastic. When I look at the incredible papercuts in your Etsy shop, I want to know what your creative process is like for projects like these. Do the idea and structure of a piece come to you in a flash, or does it come together piece by piece? Also: How the HECK are you able to make such intricate cuts? What is involved in the physical process of creating a papercut? About how long does it take?

Papercuts start as an idea. I carry a notebook with me everywhere I go. I use it for everything--work projects, grocery store lists, to do lists and sketches. I'm drawing all the time, most of it will hopefully never see the light of day, but every once in a while I'll stumble on an idea that I really like and that's when you'll see pages upon pages of the exact same typewriter, ginkgo leaf, or rib cage. Once I can reliably draw whatever I'm envisioning, I make a larger drawing of it and trace it in sharpie--any line or detail smaller than a bold tip sharpie is too small for me to cut. I usually make a copy of my template, so I can recreate it easily, and then I slap that down on top of a blank sheet of drawing paper and start cutting. Depending on how intricate and big a papercut, is it can take anywhere from 30 minutes to 10 hours of me hunched over my kitchen table and Netflix marathoning in the background. (On that note, I'm always looking for new shows to watch while I work--nothing too in-depth or twisty, lots of seasons, recommendations welcome!)

I also love commissions--I've done some work for friends and a few wedding invitations--because they mean I can skip the pesky inspiration part and get right to the designing/problem solving part that I love the most.

We said earlier that this is not your day job, but I think your day job is pretty cool, too: You're a children's librarian! And I feel like both your love of literature and your, as you put it on Etsy, "feminist sensibilities," shine through in your work. Tell us about how those passions of yours get incorporated into your art. 

The first papercut I ever made was of an ee cummings poem for my mom. A lot of my work involves words and language and trying to figure out new and interesting ways to present them. I'm not a writer myself, but a lot of the time I think of my papercuts in terms of picture book illustrations, as I ask myself what message they're conveying and what edits need to be made for it to speak more clearly. 

The personal is political, and since I am a feminist, that shapes how I view and interact with the world, which in turn shapes my art.  I'm working every day to make my feminism more intersectional and to recognize both my limitations and privilege as a young, cis, able bodied white woman in the world, and I hope that as I continue to grow, my art does too.

Your papercuts have a unique voice, and a certain "edginess"--which I love, because I know you, but also because papercutting seems like it could be written off as dainty or feminine simply in terms of look. But you tackle ideas and subject matter that take away that stereotype. I know you've done quilts with curse words, and other inversions of the craft... How do you subvert expectations for what these typically feminized art forms are "supposed" to be?

One of the biggest lies the patriarchy ever told me is that the feminine is worth less than the masculine. For a long time I tried to play like I was a Cool Girl (thanks for the shortcut, Gillian Flynn!) and that girly interests or pursuits were below me. But I really love twirly dresses and romance novels and baking and sewing and delicate handwork. Most of the important relationships in my life are with women--mentors, friends and family alike--and those are the places where I draw my strength from. 

Part of my subversion of the patriarchy is to reclaim and practice traditional art forms, ones usually practiced by women or considered more feminine and delicate, that aren't always given the same credit as being "art" the way that painting, drawing or sculpture is. I think about this more consciously when I'm sewing or doing embroidery, but I think it applies to my papercuts as well. Of course, I am still me--a big, messy, broad strokes kind of gal with less patience for exactness and detail than I would like, so I have to adapt the form to my needs and skills. And that's how you end up with floral heart or the seamstress using herself as thread to sew.

If you could make any piece or type of art, what would it be?

As previously mentioned, my father is an amazing woodworker and carpenter. I kick myself constantly for not paying attention when he tried to do projects with me when I was a kid. I'd love to learn how to do what he does, I think a well made joint is just about the most beautiful thing in the world. 

If you could have dinner with any artist and/or author, who would it be?

Okay, do I go with some whose work is really cool, or someone who I want to spend an hour plus with? Because a lot of people who make really cool art are also garbage people who I would probably want to punch in the face very quickly, case in point, Diego Rivera. I meet a fair amount of authors through my day job--my library system is home to the largest children's book festival in the United States--and I can tell you without hesitation that Nick Bruel, who writes the Bad Kitty series, is the nicest man on the planet. 

All that being said, I think I'd like to have dinner with Oliver Jeffers. His picture books make me laugh and his work as a visual artist is usually pretty compelling. I think he's probably a little pretentious, but he's also very nice to look at and all the pictures of his studio that I've seen make me want to go to there. 

What would you like others to know about being a self-taught artist, or an artist in general? What would you say to adults (perhaps like me) who say, "I can't learn something new and complicated like this!"

What do you say to your writing students on the first week? Of course they can learn how to do it; just because something is new and uncomfortable now doesn't mean it'll always be new and uncomfortable. 

It drives me bonkers when people tell me I'm talented*--I'm not seven, I don't need to feel good about myself to keep making art. Talent is the biggest lie we tell ourselves. So few people are actually talented, I'm certainly not. What we call talent is usually just hard work, repetition and prioritization. If I spent as much time with Rosetta Stone as I do cutting up bits of paper, I'd be fluent in Spanish. And probably Romanian. But I choose to spend my time and energy on making things and right now I'm really lucky to be in a position where I can make that my priority, dirty dishes in the sink be damned. 

*I recognize the sentiment behind the words when people tell me I'm talented, and I really appreciate that. I'm not a monster.

Most importantly: Tell us about your papercut piece, "Simone," being featured in the Decatur show! What was the inspiration?

Simone is an art book. It's pretty sculptural, both in the atypical accordion fold I used, and in the way the paper cut itself plays with light and shadow. I've been wanting to make a paper cut book using this fold for a long time, and just never found the right project for it before now. 

The backbone of the book is an original poem, my first since, like, a 10th grade poetry unit. It's inspired by the life of Simone Melchoir Cousteau, the first wife of oceanographer Jacques Cousteau. She was an amazing woman, who worked closely with her husband and helped pioneer a lot of the scuba and underwater techniques that he's credited with. She was also the de facto medic, cook and fund raiser for her husband's work. Her oldest child died tragically in a sea plane crash and less than a year after she died, Jacques married a much younger woman, with whom he already had two pre-teen children. So the poem is kind of an exploration of women who get forgotten and the sacrifices they make in the name of men. It's accompanied by illustrations, which are more in line with my usual paper cut work. 


I dove down into the belly of a whale
to cook you dinner. Later, after the dishes
I kicked my way back to the surface
and slept alone in our narrow bed. 
To make the sea my home, I had to make you
my world. And so I spent my life treading through water, 
willing you to look behind and recognize me. 
This girl was never meant to be a string of pearls, 
a delicate gesture, a winking smile.
But when you asked, how could I refuse? A swallow of sharp edges
turned shepherd by your strange alchemy. 
I dove down into the belly of a whale
to see the depths through your eyes. A clear vision
in dark water and a path you could never walk alone. 
Even when you insisted that you had. 


Wow. I love this.

Finally, a very important question: You and I often frequent our beloved original Flying Biscuit, but our friends who have stayed with you in Savannah say you make a mean homemade brunch. What's on your menu? 

Fancy brunch is my specialty! My go to is poached egg sandwiches with all the fixings- good bagels, roasted red peppers, crispy kale, cheese etc... I also make a mean zucchini waffle. And obviously, there are always mimosas.