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Noticing Neighbors Paulina Otero


In the space above Foxtrot Studio, a local artist has created a limited-time art collection using scrap leather pieces from the shop. Everyone, meet the talented Paulina Otero. Paulina’s decision to collaborate with Foxtrot Studio on this sustainable project gave her the chance to use a new material, and she boldly stepped out of her comfort zone to create these leather wall hangings. In her own art business, Paulina primarily uses yarn, felt, wood and plexiglass, and so she now brings a fresh take on how to express using leather. In this sit down conversation, Paulina Otero discusses the process that went into this collaboration.

Hayley:

As a lead in for our readers, could you tell them about this latest collaboration that you have showing and how that came to be?


Paulina:

Yeah. So this collaboration is with Jordan, the owner of Foxtrot Studio, and it just happened very naturally. We both would see each other all the time at small business events, and we just really liked each other. So we kept talking and were both like, we need to do something together. We always said that! Then I finally came and met with Jordan at his shop downstairs, and we were talking about possibly making jewelry. Hayley: That’s so interesting. Paulina: Well then at the same time, maybe like five months ago, I didn't really have a studio space because I was transitioning from one space to the other. So I didn't really have all my tools and equipment. It was hard to create, because I didn't have the facilities and my laser cut to make things happen. But then as I was meeting with Jordan, I remember he asked, “Have you seen the space upstairs? I have a space that maybe you'd be interested in renting.” And I was like, oh, no I haven’t! I had no idea that there was this space up here. So I came upstairs, and he showed me these two rooms that were empty. But I told him, this is perfect! I am able to fit my machines, and I can fit my jewelry making stuff. It just kind of worked out. Hayley: Was this the first studio space you were looking at? Paulina: Maybe it's just meant to be that I moved here because originally I was going to have a space in the West Bottoms, but it was taking a long time to be ready, and I couldn't wait anymore. I needed space to work on my business and my art. So while I was waiting for my space to be ready, this opportunity came. I moved my studio up here in November and started installing my machines, but then there was so much going on! Holiday season came and so our collaboration didn't really get to move forward until this year.

I had it in my mind, I was like, I want to make this happen. Then Jordan told me: I'm going to close the store, and then reopen to transform the space. He asked me: Would it be possible to have something that we show that first opening night?


So I ended up laser cutting. At first, I thought I was going to make jewelry, but then it ended up being like, some of my compositions that I use for my wall hanging pieces. Hayley: What does that creating process look like? Paulina: I usually create a graphic representation of my compositions on Illustrator. Then I take them, and turn them into wall hanging using fiber pieces. Let me show you, I actually have a piece that I'm finishing up!

Hayley:

Oh, that's beautiful. It's a textile!


Paulina:

It looks soft, and it's tufted. So when I turn it around, there's actually a wood backing on it so that it lays flat. Then I usually put a wire or a hook, so that it can hang on the wall. But these tufted pieces take me a long time, and it's also a higher price. I usually make this type of work for an exhibition or gallery show with a specific purpose.

But then Foxtrot had all these leather scraps, and Jordan was like, do you just want to use all these scraps of leather? And I was like, sure, why not! I took all these leather pieces, and started cutting them and piecing them together. Hayley: What about that felt different than your normal work? Paulina: Well, I'm so used to working with bright colors and graphic shapes. The leather was a very different material for me, in the way that it was only three colors: two browns, one black. I could create very graphic shapes just by the way I was layering them and putting them together. So I thought, why not make some smaller artworks with the leather? It all comes from Foxtrot Studio, which that's how Jordan uses his brand in all leather goods. But then taking the material for my compositions, which represents who I am and the work that I do. Hayley: How do you decide where to place the shapes in each piece? Paulina: I feel like it has all been intuitive, and I come up with it by responding to the material itself and what is available.

Then I decided to make these wood backing pieces for them, which let me show you. I'm actually working on them right now because I have to send out all these orders. The leather goes on the front side, and then in the back, I'm putting a hook and engraving both of our logos. It's like a signature!


Hayley: That's beautiful. I love how you’re responding to the material that’s in front of you.


Paulina:

I think for me, it's very common to sketch, experiment, sample, and respond to the material that I have available. Then from there, the compositions come to life.

We made four different designs, and my goal was to have one of each for the Foxtrot Studio opening event that night when you were there and saw them. So everyone who bought a piece was a pre-order, and that gave me time to make them. Now it's all made to order, and I only have so much material, so once I run out, it's done.

Hayley:

So these are pretty exclusive.


Paulina:

Exactly, it's like a limited edition. Once I use all the scraps that Jordan has given me, then it's done.


Hayley:

Wow. I love your technique of laser cutting the leather, in all these different colors, and it all goes on the wood backing so it fits nicely together. It’s a real contrast since you usually use tufted, colorful, very expressive material. Did you find your creativity took you somewhere different because it was leather?


Paulina:

Yes. I think that by using leather my designs needed to simplify, and then I decided what compositions and shapes felt right. It was hard at first. It took me a long time to figure out which shape should be what color, and is this too much brown, or too much dark? Then as I put them together, and I could still see the separation of the lines in between, I could see how this still looks really nice. Because you can still tell how it came together and fits like a puzzle piece. Some people have actually suggested: would you make puzzles for kids? And that would be fun. It would be a whole other thing, but it's possible.


Hayley:

People are getting inspired by what you're doing. I mean, that's so cool.


Paulina:

Yeah, I just like to see how people respond to it.

I also try to share a lot of the process on social media so that people can appreciate the work and see why it costs what it costs. Because a lot of people will question: why is this so expensive? Well, I'm making all of the work, there’s the cost of materials, plus the time and the testing. Hayley: What does that look like? That testing stage? Paulina: I would be testing how the leather could be cut in the perfect way, and it took me a long time. It’s like troubleshooting how to treat the material, how to protect it from getting burned with the laser cutting process, and all these things that I feel like don't come to your mind unless you're familiar with the process.


Hayley:

Right. I like that you share it on social media so people can see that, because it's such a good point. I am curious. This whole series is about Noticing Neighbors and how neat it is to really see each other out in the community. How have you been inspired or encouraged by this collaboration with Jordan?


Paulina:

I honestly have just loved being able to go talk to him. He's literally right downstairs, and we're both always here. So it’s just a constant conversation where I was doing something, and then I would go downstairs and show it to him and then he would tell me what he thought. We documented the process together, and he helped me with the photography of the products. We put them up, and then I saw how he was painting the walls and redecorating the studio, so I even made a sign for him to use in the store for the re-opening. It’s all been very sweet and rewarding, regardless of the outcome—if people like them or not, or if I make a bunch of sales or not. I feel like the relationship of us getting to know each other by doing this project together, and having those real conversations, is something that I value a lot. Having ongoing conversations with other creative people makes you think in very different ways. I even sat down with him and talked about pricing, because Jordan is more experienced with that area than I am. So I'm also learning from him and listening to what he has to say.


He also has a completely different customer base and audience than I have, because my audience is mostly women. So it’s rewarding to put my work into a new audience, because a lot of my guy friends are so interested in these leather pieces. I think that is so interesting. It's the same shape that I could make into an earring or a tufted piece, but because of the material, it draws more of the male attention to them. So in a way, it's like I'm always trying something new. For me, it was all about this opportunity to work with another creative, build our friendship and try something together.


Hayley:

Completely new, and actually out of your comfort zone. Completely. That's so admirable.


Paulina:

Yes.


Hayley:

These pieces are made using scraps. You're doing something so sustainable and good, in terms of impact on the environment. Have you been positively impacted by that part of it?


Paulina:

Yeah, definitely. This is a conversation that I was having with Jordan. I'm a person that cares very much about the environment, but I also know I produce a lot of waste as an artist from constantly making things. A lot of my work involves acrylic plastic or even yarn. I try to use a combination of wool, natural fibers, and some non-natural fibers. So I try to balance it out. If I had all the money in the world, I would love to have all natural fibers, but that's also not affordable for the size of my business. It's really only me.

Using the leather scrap has really made me think about how you can repurpose other people's, I guess “trash” or what they think is not usable. You can turn it into something precious, like art pieces that someone will love, cherish, and pass on generation to generation.


The wood also made sense to add in because it was another natural material, just like the leather. The grain of the wood and the smooth texture of the leather, those two together made sense.


Also looking at Jordan's aesthetic and Foxtrot Studio, I was conscious about creating pieces that feel like they represent both of our brands and who we are. He has a lot of wood and leather and metal in his store, but then I have these playful, organic shapes. How can there be a balance for both sides? And we both identify with this collaboration.


Hayley:

Oh, my gosh. That’s a beautiful balance you have created. So the last question would be the people that come in to see it, how do you hope that they'll be inspired by something this out of the box? What do you hope that they'll get from viewing it?


Paulina:

To me, I always hope people wonder about: What's the inspiration here? Or oh, how is it made? A lot of these compositions are very inspired by underwater creatures, and I looked at a lot of fish, shells, and oysters because I grew up in Cancun, Mexico. I would swim in the ocean all the time! It's always been a very special place for me. So I am always going back to childhood memories, and am very curious about exploring the little details. I would love to be at the beach, collecting shells. Even now as an adult, I go to the aquarium and I'm just looking at the fish tanks for hours. I'm just so curious about all the shapes, and patterns, and colors of sea life in general. It's where a lot of my inspiration comes from.

Hayley:

Now that you’ve shared that, I can’t unsee it. It’s so beautifully shown in your work. Thank you for sharing that layer. Paulina:

I spend time looking at a lot of Mexican modern architecture. The history and impact of that, the way they use more angular shapes versus organic shapes, and a lot of the traditional patterns that repeat themselves. It’s either in archeological sites that are specific to the region where I'm from, or that are printed in textiles and woven things. A lot of my work is inspired by all of these facets of the culture where I come from, and also my memories as a child while experiencing these things. When I think back, it's almost like revisiting those things and connecting the dots in my work. I hope people see it.

Keep up with the latest pieces from Paulina Otero through the website and Instagram. All media originally published by Paulina Otero and Foxtrot Studio via their online platforms.


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