This is part of an occasional series of interviews with interesting artists and craftsmen.
Listening to Melissa Averinos talk about escaping into her art as a teenager, it’s easy to imagine her as the quiet girl with paint on her jeans and a sketchbook perpetually in tow.
“I was always doing art, ever since I was little,” she says. “In my early years, it started with just drawing and doodling, then I started doing more paintings.”
She fondly recalls the support her father gave her burgeoning hobby, from buying supplies and books to keeping her work. “My dad had stacks of my drawings that he kept, and that was great,” she says.
Averinos began exploring fine art painting in high school, including a period of self portraits. She describes those four years as a creative experiment, which also included collages. “It was kind of a form of therapy,” she recalls.
The Cape Cod, Mass., native says her work has always provided an emotional outlet for her, particularly through a medium called visual journaling.
“I would take a blank book and just write some but mostly putting down color, scraps — anything,” she says. “I would spend hours at it a day to keep myself breathing and focused. It was very therapeutic and necessary. It doesn’t always come out pretty but that’s not the point.”
Averinos admits her art journal is not a part of her daily creative life right now but “when times are tough, I know it’s a good tool for me. It’s like a playground, a place where I can just go and be kind of unfettered and not worry whether it’s marketable or it’s pretty.
“It can just be whatever it needs to be.”
For many years, Averinos pursued art solely as a hobby. She describes herself in those days as “an artist on the inside,” while her days were spent operating an embroidery machine, stitching logos and the like on apparel. The solitary nature of her work forced her to take action and admit to her boss that she needed to do something else within the company — or find another job. The move paid off: the company had been considering adding an in-house art department instead of outsourcing its screenprinting and embroidery work. The only problem? The job required working with vector graphics programs on the computer.
“All I knew how to do on a computer was check email and maybe look online a little bit,” she says. “They said, ‘we think you can do this.’ I didn’t know I could learn anything new but they believed in me and I trusted them.”
Averinos’ employer gave her the tools and support to learn Adobe Illustrator, and soon found that she had a new medium for creating artwork. As her skillset grew, so did her confidence — as well as her portfolio.
Her first forays into commercial artwork involved the tabletop industry, and one of her designs was purchased for use on a vase. “It was a lot of work and a lot of pounding doors, and little payoff.”
Averinos struggled to make an income from her design work while she held a string of day jobs. A Craigslist ad seeking a vector artist caught her eye one day and soon led to selling some designs to a print house for use in the apparel industry.
“Victoria’s Secret ended up buying some of my designs and made pajamas out of two prints,” she says.
Each minor success, however, was trumped by other rejections. By early 2007, Averinos admits she began contemplating giving up her artistic dreams. She decided to take another chance and submit her work to FreeSpirit Fabric.
“I had looked into FreeSpirit when I was looking into tabletop stuff,” she says. “I liked how they promote their artists, liked the other artists with them and I liked that they take chances.”
The gamble paid off and FreeSpirit licensed what now is known as Sugar Snap. Cinnamon, pink, aqua, yellow and cream play together in bold swirls, strips and squiggles. The line debuted at the International Quilt Market in October, which included an appearance by Averinos on the streaming podcast aired from Market by Boutique Cafe.
The line began shipping soon after Market’s close, and Averinos says she’s enjoying seeing how her work inspires others.
“It’s the best!” she says. “Fabric isn’t cheap, so to know that someone saw it and spent money on it is really exciting to me and really gratifying. I take it as a huge compliment.”
Averinos appreciates the chance to become part of someone’s childhood memories, as well.
“I remember stuff my mom made for me when I as little,” she says. “My heart kind of does jumping jacks when I think about it, to think someone who’s a little girl now has my fabric in a jumper her mom made for her is really exciting.”
Read a little more about Melissa Averinos, her artistic inspiration and her sewing endeavors on the Trendy Textiles blog.