In honor of Women's History Month, we're hosting a series of pop-up events at the store every Saturday in March to showcase some of Richmond’s tremendous women makers.
Shannon Brady creates one of a kind naturally dyed textile pieces to wear and decorate with using local plant and insect-based dyes and raw materials. We were eager to know more about her process and inspiration, so we asked Shannon a few questions to learn more about all that goes into the unique textiles from Shannon Studio.
Come by the store on Saturday, March 12th to shop Shannon Studio in person!
You began Shannon Studio in Oakland, California and moved to Richmond a few years ago. What brought you eastward, and how did you get started with your natural dying studio?
I am initially from the East Coast, I was born just outside of Philadelphia and raised in Virginia. When I graduated from college, I made my way west to make a home in the Bay Area. I found the space that I needed in order to hone my artistic practice there, and I learned a lot about myself as an artist and my need for deep connection to the land. During the pandemic, I found that I was really missing my family. A loved one passed, and I had no access to the people I was closest to. I felt pulled back to Richmond for that reason, and so, here I am a couple of years later.
My work with natural dyes began through my work as an art educator. As an artist, I had always considered myself a painter, but that changed during my time on the west coast. In the Bay, I had the privilege of working in a school setting that placed significant importance on respect for and understanding of nature. Working with my co-teacher, as well as some of our visiting artists allowed me to learn a lot about how to create color from the things that already exist around us in nature, while being mindful in what we take or grow to use in the process. A component of my job was processing plants that we grew or purchased to use dyestuff, and I was able to explore these materials in large quantities. When we were sent home during quarantine, I found that sensorially, I was missing the process of using my fingers to break down plant matter and using minerals to create alchemic color. I began experimenting with using plant leftovers and food scraps as dyestuff in my Oakland kitchen, and regained my sense of connection to the environment. Shannon Studio has evolved through my play in this process and my desire to share this knowledge and continue the stories of the plants through the wear of the garments that I create.
What are your favorite materials to work with? Are there any standout challenges or triumphs in working with natural dye?
Since returning to Virginia, my favorite materials to work with are those that are grown by local farmers. We are fortunate to be in such close proximity to farmers who grow incredible dye plants. From marigolds to eucalyptus, during the warm months, I am able to create dye that is grown in the land around us here in Richmond, and that has become an incredibly important component of my process. I love looking each week to see what is offered at the farmers market or the flower exchange and basing my dye baths intuitively on what is available.
I launched Shannon Studio in the winter, but I was living in California at the time and my access to plants was a lot different. I have learned through practice that the availability of high quality local plant matter dwindles as the weather changes. This year I had to really consider whether to ramp up production before it gets cold or to allow the practice to reflect what is happening outside. I am choosing the latter. Allowing myself that time and space to rest and explore has given me the ability to create dyes with more depth, and get back to my roots as a painter, using the remnants of my Spring exhaust baths as an ink medium.
How do you go about creating a collection? What drives your inspiration?
My collections are inspired by the season, my memories of California or my time in nature here in Virginia. When I am not working, I spend a lot of my time running, hiking, surfing and playing outside --those experiences really inform the work that I decide to make. During autumn this year, my collection was neutral and orange, reflecting the leaves changing but also the rust and decomposition of the old buildings I'd run past here in Richmond. The garments I choose to dye are usually a reflection of what I feel like I might need in that moment of time. A pair of sweatpants to throw on after an early spring swim, a scarf for an icy winter day, a pair of shorts to lay around in when I am needing rest--I generally select items that are versatile and can be worn year round. I want the wearer to feel like they are pieces that can be moved in or played in, but to also understand the process that was involved in the creation of the color as they continue the story of that plant.
As we move into another Spring and Summer, my inspiration has really come through painting and color mixing. This season, you will see a lot more works on paper and canvas in addition to the dyed soft goods, and things will be released at a much slower pace. Sometimes as artists, we can lose our purpose in production and I am trying to be intentional and really put joy and care into the process of making each individual object. I have been interested in using layering and time as mediums, so I am looking forward to seeing where experimenting with that will take my work.