Alli Stocco is the artist behind our Book Club poster of the month for Joyful. I fell in love with her work when I got my hands on her beautiful zine, Of Things Real and Imagined, a bi-annual publication devoted to the art of print design.  Over her career, she has worked as a designer for Whole Foods Market and Martha Stewart, and she holds an M.F.A. in textile design from Rhode Island School of Design (RISD).  A native of Minnesota, she currently resides with her husband in Beaverton, Oregon. fell in love with her beautiful color usage and handmade touch. I can’t wait for you to get to know her more!

Interview with Alli Stocco

What do you usually call yourself? Artist? Creative? 

I am a designer. I have worked in variety of positions, including graphic design and textiles, and am now starting a zine called Of Things Real & Imagined, a publication about print design.

Did you always have an ultimate plan for your career? 

I always wanted to be a designer, but that role has changed over time.  As a result, my path has always been a bit meandering.  But, all of my experiences in design led to Of Things Real & Imagined.  I never expected to make a zine, but I love the variety of work it requires.

I love storytelling.  And, more than anything, I love creating a platform that is for experimenting, exclusively in print.  Print is everywhere—literally everywhere—but there are so few periodicals that are devoted to it.  I wanted a place where print could reign, both in 2-D and 3-D, in a most wild, and imaginative way and, hopefully, be a source of cheer in other people’s lives.

Do you think you have to go to school to become an artist?

No, you don’t.  With that said, one of the best decisions I ever made was to attend art school.  I went well after I had already entered the working world.  At 27, I decided I wanted to become a textile designer, but I didn’t know anything about textiles.  I was incredibly fortunate to be accepted into Rhode Island School of Design’s graduate textile design program, and it was one of the best (and most terrifying) experiences of my life.  It was a grueling two years, but it forced me to answer: who are you?  And, most importantly: what do you have to say?  It also instilled in me the importance of maintaining a studio practice, which I continue today.  It also taught me how to talk about my work, critique other people’s work (a very valuable skill), and cracked open my brain to a much bigger and more meaningful world than I had known before school.

It was a very special time—I was completely immersed in textiles and absorbed everything I could from wonderfully passionate and talented people.  It introduced me to screen printing, color, and the history of textiles in a way that changed my life forever. 

Did you have anyone along the way that was instrumental in the trajectory of your life? 

Oh, yes.  Many.  My family was very influential, both in how I work today as a designer and in their support of my career.  We made a lot of things together when I was young: costumes, go-carts, tree houses, home furnishings, and clothes.  I learned to creatively problem solve with materials through these projects, which still influences how I concept, and even how I approach Of Things.  We also had a magical wardrobe in our attic that was home to a collection of costumes.  At the time, it didn’t seem like a big deal that they were in regular use (by both adults and children), but now I recognize how much that sense of play and whimsy has influenced my work.

I have also been very fortunate to have had many female mentors throughout my life, including close family friends, teachers, colleagues, and bosses.  These women modeled creative lives for me, introduced me to new art forms, and gave me the encouragement and support I needed to try new ideas and grow.  Had it not been for these women, I never would have discovered things like silkscreen printing, trusted my abilities, or even become a designer.

What’s your work area like?

Neatly chaotic.  I am a tidy person, but I love a more lived-in workspace—it invites meandering thoughts and experimentation.  Sometimes, you just have to stare at your work for a while to make any sense of it, rearrange things, find new relationships, and come back with fresh eyes.  My printing table dominates most of the room, as well as a wall that is dedicated to work in progress.  It is helpful to have this space, where I can make and leave things, and then shut the door when I need to. In my last apartment, my work area was just a quarantined zone of the living room, which was very chaotic.  But, I’m a firm believer in carving out a space however you can, wherever you can, to keep your art practice alive.

What’s a piece of advice that you’ve carried with you and who is it from?

When I was trying to decide whether to go to grad school, I agonized over the decision.  It was going to be a lot of money for just two years of school and put me into significant debt.  In addition, it meant being apart from my fiancé with no guarantee of a job, or even a life together, on the other side of it.  (Don’t worry, we made it!) But he said something that will always stay with me: going to school would be an investment in myself, and my future, and an experience that would enrich my life for years to come.  And, he was right.  Now, when friends tell me they are considering going back to school, or steering their career in another direction, but the numbers are terrifying, I try to remind them of what he reminded me: it is worth it to invest in yourself.Alli Stocco Of Things REal and Imagined

What’s coming up for you in 2019? 

Issue 2, due this fall!

What artists/designers/creatives do you look up to? Both historical or present

I thought about Josef Frank a lot this past year.  It’s funny (serendipitous, even) that the book club topic this month is joy, as it is a motivation behind my work that has taken me time to accept.  I started Of Things because I needed more cheer in my life, and I hoped it would be uplifting for others, too.  Many times, however, I questioned its relevance because it felt superficial, especially considering the enormity of our growing humanitarian and environmental crises. But, then, I thought about how Frank’s birds, plants, and fish made me laugh and how comforting it was to look at his work.  His wild, imaginative world stirred something deep in me and I continued because of him.  What’s more, Frank had the spirit to breathe whimsy into people’s homes, even after making enormous sacrifices in his own life.  His work is a gift to people; a reminder that there is value in inspiring wonder and lightening the heart.Alli Stocco Of Things REal and Imagined

What piece of advice would you give to someone starting out in a creative field? 

I made a list of advice, but it sounded so corny, I thought I would just be honest about my experience instead:

I used to think that there was a golden answer to my career.  If I talked to enough people, and did all the right things, an answer would just suddenly present itself, and I would be very merry and set for the rest of my years.  But, many junctures in my life were really blind leaps of faith and I had no idea where they would lead.  Some of them worked out and some of them did not.  Some were surprisingly fulfilling and educational, others soul-crushing and maddening.  I stumbled a lot along the way, made very bad and strange work, and got discouraged and despondent.  But, in the end, I just kept trying.  And, that’s all you can do: just keep making work.  If you’re discouraged, make work about it! (That’s how/why I started making animations.  I was going nuts.  FYI, it also helps to have a sense of humor.)  Now, I try to pay attention to things that make my heart flutter and make time for them.  No matter how silly or nonsensical, they are the things that sustain me.  I advise anyone to do the same.

You can find Alli:

Instagram @OfThingsRealAndImagined

Website Of Things Real and Imagined

Photography by Kate Ames

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