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Meet Linda Illumanardi of Studio Good Stuff in Altadena

Today we’d like to introduce you to Linda Illumanardi.

Thanks for sharing your story with us Linda. So, let’s start at the beginning and we can move on from there.
As a young teen growing up in Vermont, I only wanted to grow up to teach and paint. In 1987, I graduated with a BS in Education/Psychology; in 1996, I completed both a Master’s thesis and a solo exhibition of 25 paintings on Modernism/Painting. In 1999, I accepted a teaching position in Los Angeles, packed up seven boxes of art materials, and flew west. I never looked back. I love Los Angeles. I love the city, the ocean, and especially the San Gabriel Mountains where I live and play and make art.

I resisted botanical printing for years. A dear friend in Arizona had been bundling away sharing proudly her beautiful results from local sumac, both on paper and fabric. She even quilted them and stitched them beautifully. Her husband framed them and floated them on metal structures.

I thought she was nuts.

I saw all the practice pieces leading up to what qualified as a “perfect print.” Many were unidentified globs of browns and blacks on cotton. Why was this talented artist doing this?

Fast forward to 2015: a friend here in Los Angeles talked me into an “eco-print on paper” day. “YOU HAVE TO TRY THIS,” she exclaimed, “You’re a book binder!” I succumbed. It was a day of scavenging the hills for eucalyptus, unknown rusty objects, and marigolds, using too much vinegar, black walnut, and iron in the water. Some of them were interesting. Some of them were beautiful.

Some of them reminded me of my youth.

I was born and raised in the mountains of Vermont, toddling behind my grandmother reciting the names of local weeds, flowers, and trees. “Lady slipper.” “Sugar Maple.” “Sweet peas.” “Peonies.” I knew the symbiotic purpose of the ants covering the peonies when I was 5. I wandered the forest picking wild blackberries and strawberries.
At age 38, I moved to Los Angeles. “What is that tree?” I asked on a regular basis. Los Angelenos looked at me with a blank stare. I learned that most trees and plants here are either imported, “invasive species,” or both. No one seemed to know what is actually native.

SO the little girl inside of me led the way. With a short (& successful) dose of chemotherapy forcing me to look outside myself for a creative distraction, the leaves became the focus. I stuck with paper for about a year. I don’t know a thing about textiles, weaves, jersey… I can only sew 2-dimensional objects that my grandsons appreciate. Pillows, crooked blankets, sometimes a draw-string bag for marbles or rocks.

I saw India Flint’s books and imagery. I joined groups online. I wanted that messy, dark process. I wanted to be outside with blackened hands, and a soot-covered kettle. And so I did it. I shouldn’t have started cellulose with men’s underwear. That’s where my own unidentified globs of brown and black began. My friend said, “I think you just designed geriatric undergarments that won’t show the stains…” Camouflage. I gave them to my son-in-law. Unfortunately, he had a few beers that evening and wore them on his head at a party. I should’ve given up in shame.

There is something about this craft that drew me in, draws thousands of us in. Crawls inside our hearts and brains and takes over our lives, and thoughts, and every storage space in our homes. Don’t look under my rugs, or drink from a container in the refrigerator without asking first. DON’T disturb that paper plate in the freezer. I am preserving that gum blossom. And please don’t use a wine glass without washing it extremely well.

Having been cited as a troubleshooter on the etching press, I engaged with the dance of the leaves, the fabrics, the mordants, the modifiers, the natural dyes, the design (“Stop with the compositions,” said my first instructor. I ignored her. I’m a painter for god’s sake.) Before I knew it, I had hundreds of fabric swatches six inches thick on the west wall in the studio. I called it “insulation.”

This craft took over my life. My grown children looked at me oddly. They were worried. “Mom, you hate sewing. Go back to clay, or paint, or assemblages. Or handmade books.” I ignored them, also.

As I look back at the past three years, I see assets. I see a grandmother who can walk the foothills of the Angeles National Forest and identify most all the trees and bushes confidently. I see an aging Linda, surviving the hardships of a body well-lived, combining and embracing the love of nature; recording it; documenting her travels, property; sometimes confident that living her Truth is the contribution to the world that matters, sometimes confident that the grandsons are absorbing love of the earth (and names of the trees), more than the screens of technology. But not always.

The Blessings are too many to count. I sit on my studio floor, listening to coyotes howling and yipping after a big kill, unfolding and folding dozens of printed fabrics: charmeuse, noil, habotai, chiffon, bamboo jersey, rayon, linen, cotton…and now, leather. I know them by design, by the leaves, by the discussions among online friends who share similar stories, by my travels. I love these fabrics. I even love the uneven pieces of hacked garments that will never be functional attire again. I love these women who share the same joy and frustrations, with blackened fingernails. I love that I was given a mind and intuition that digs in and takes risks and uses time to experiment and make big messes to unbundle beauty. And yes, I gave up soy milk for alum, and sometimes titanium, even tin. I’m an artist. I utilize materials to gain clarity and beauty. I have befriended every eucalyptus on the property, I have made dye and tannin water, and found uses for the invasive paulownia and chinese tallow trees.

I learned that the white scum on the lovely opuntia is not a fungus, but the scale insect Cochineal. I love those bugs. They sacrifice their parasitic lives to saturate my fabrics with colors that I love. The Tree of Heaven suddenly appears on the west side of the property, a hidden walnut tree reveals itself by dangling a bird’s nest made of horse hair from a long, dead branch extending from behind the pomegranate tree. Ah. The pomegranate tree. (I loved receiving a pomegranate as a treat from the market as a child. Better than any candy.) And now, two trees give generously to me every fall. And that silver dollar eucalyptus west of the horse corral…? Who knew there was a hidden path behind the saddle shed, that the house was unoccupied, and someone left a ladder against the shed where the eucalyptus laid down and rested its branches? SSSHHHH. Don’t tell anyone. At this moment, the gods are not jealous. They are on my team.

Has it been a smooth road?
No. Every day is a challenge. Every season. Every variable nature has to offer poses new opportunities. I struggle most with my heat factor needed to coax the secrets from my flora. I have a light carbon footprint, and burning through propane is unsettling. Electricity felt worse, and burning wood is out of the question in the foothills. My giant kettles have come from yard sales, thrift stores, one found on the sidewalk, and gifts from friends. My pipes on which I bundle are scraps from a construction site. My string and strips of old sheets are used repeatedly. But the heat factor is unsettling, and I’m not willing to depend on solar which would change the quality of my work, and lengthen the process to months instead of days.

So let’s switch gears a bit and go into the Studio Good Stuff story. Tell us more about the business.
Studio Good Stuff is a converted two vehicle carport. After teaching in public, charter, and private schools for thirty years, it was time to take a risk. I needed to trust my intuition and address what I loved the most: teaching and making beautiful things. I have had students ranging from ages 3-83. Some need a portfolio for HS or college entry, others are home schooled, some people want a quiet, 1:1 experience, or to hone a craft or a skill. When I’m not teaching, I’m gathering leaves, experimenting with my own work, and designing commissions.

How do you think the industry will change over the next decade?
That’s an interesting question, and one I was much better at answering ten years ago than I am today. As I slowly approach 60, I rarely come from the inner driven taskmaster that I have been my entire adult life. I listen to my students, my colleagues, my family, but most of all my own body and intuition. I didn’t start Studio GS with a botanical print option. I was focused on ceramics (I have two wheels, two kilns, an extruder, and a slab roller), painting, printing (etching press), handmade books, and assemblages. Now that I have spent the past few years working obsessively on the entire process of making prints from nature, I not only provide those services here at the studio, but travel locally, around the country, and even internationally to share with this magic with others. Occasionally, I miss the hustle and bustle of a classroom experience and work 1-2 days a week with inner city kids in public schools as an artist resident. They are a grateful, enthusiastic bunch, and I love their sparkling eyes and generosity of spirit.

Pricing:

  • As a rule, the fees at the studio are $30/hour with affordable materials fees, depending on the medium.
  • Commissions are based on the project, and include fees for time and materials. 50% deposit is required.

Contact Info:

  • Phone: (626) 319-5434
  • Email: lindaroars@yahoo.com


Image Credit:
All photos shot by the artist, Linda Illumanardi
Victor Froglia – last photo

Getting in touch: VoyageLA is built on recommendations from the community; it’s how we uncover hidden gems, so if you know someone who deserves recognition please let us know here.

3 Comments

  1. Nadia

    May 24, 2019 at 18:23

    Wow, Linda! What a story and what beautiful fabrics you create! Wish I was closer and we could meet! Maybe one day!
    -Nadia

  2. Butch

    May 26, 2019 at 15:49

    Great story on an amazing woman!

  3. Chris

    September 2, 2019 at 14:49

    Love your story and I appreciated the opportunity to attend one of your classes in WI. Thank you for sharing.

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