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Art & Life with Sylvia Tomayko-Peters

Today we’d like to introduce you to Sylvia Tomayko-Peters.

Sylvia, please kick things off for us by telling us about yourself and your journey so far.
I grew up on Cape Cod, raised by two visual artist parents, so art was always in my life. I can remember sitting on the floor of their studios, paintbrush in hand, making a total mess of my “canvas,” the walls, and myself. The basis of everything I’ve learned came from absorbing what was around me growing up. In college, I got into digital art and programming. As soon as I graduated and moved to Somerville, and no one was making me sit in front of a computer, I just naturally switched gears back to making things with my hands. I couldn’t stay away. Because I didn’t study art or design, I learned a lot through trial and error in the early days of Middle Dune, building off of the strong foundation in printmaking that I gained from my mother. I didn’t plan to end up where I am, I just followed the natural course of asking the questions, “What am I good at? What do I enjoy?”

Can you give our readers some background on your art?
I’m a printmaker, and I’m a bookbinder. I started making books because I wanted the perfect notebook to write and sketch in, but it was always such a hunt. Eventually, I figured, I could just make my own. The printmaking started in earnest because I wasn’t satisfied with the boring paper options I could find for my books. I wanted to take my design ideas and create my own book covers. The cards, prints, and other pieces followed from there. The designs for my paper goods are inspired by the natural world in New England, whether that be the ocean, forest, or sky, as well as the supernatural and mythological world that I often dream of living in.

The printmaking I do is primarily letterpress and screen printing. Both those processes allow me to take my original designs and produce them in multiples in a very hands-on way. When you get a Middle Dune card or print, you’re still getting a piece of artwork handmade by me from start to finish. I also think both printmakers and bookbinders have to love the process because the work is all about repetition and using your hands to make things. And the methods themselves sometimes haven’t changed in a hundred years (or in the case of some of the bindings I sew, a thousand).

Artists rarely, if ever pursue art for the money. Nonetheless, we all have bills and responsibilities and many aspiring artists are discouraged from pursuing art due to financial reasons. Any advice or thoughts you’d like to share with prospective artists?
Being an artist and a small business owner requires risk but it also can be so rewarding. One important bit of advice is that it doesn’t have to be all or nothing to start. Most artists piece their work lives together by taking on multiple jobs to support themselves. While the most important thing to me is my creative work at Middle Dune, over the years, I’ve also taught, worked with clients on custom projects, worked as a letterpress printer at another business, and worked in retail. Figure out what level of financial stability you’re comfortable with and build from there. It’s important to realize when you’re overworking yourself though. It’s not like every moment of being self-employed is going to be fun, but you do have to make hard choices on what’s more important – the money from a job you might not want to do, or the time you’d free up to work on your art if you said no. Eventually, I found that I could narrow down the additional work and only say yes to the things I actually wanted to do, and spend much more time on Middle Dune than I did at first.

What’s the best way for someone to check out your work and provide support?
You can find my work in a number of small local gift, stationery, and book stores in and around Boston. Some of my favorites include Magpie in Somerville, Albertine Press in Cambridge, and HausWitch in Salem. A full list of stores that carry Middle Dune (from California to Canada) can be found on my website, middledune.com. And no matter where you live, you can shop online from my website any time. I usually do a few craft shows throughout the year in the Boston area, so you can find me in person there! Check my website for up to date information on any events.

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Sylvia Tomayko-Peters

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