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Handmade Change with CJ Gomez

In person events have been real touch-and-go during these last couple years of the Plague. In December, however, I was lucky enough to have the opportunity to show my work at a small holiday pop-up event. One of the things I missed about these in-person events is the chance to get to know all the other vendors. You get a solid 6 hours of mingling with the artists at booths next to yours- which almost always means new friends.

This is how I made the acquaintance of CJ of Boxcutter Rebellion. As she spread fluffy poly-fill snowdrifts across the table next to mine, and hung plushie, sequined pickles from a mini Christmas tree, I eyed her quirky and imaginative handmade creations. Over the following two days, we had plenty of time to get to know one another. I got to pick her brain about voodoo dolls, doughnuts, and her business.

group of artist vendors holding paper smiles on stick in from of their masked-faces.
Our (very small) holiday pop-up group of vendors/new best friends.

Two days at a holiday market, however, just wasn't enough time to get all my nosy questions answered. CJ was kind enough to continue our conversation here on the blog to share with you, too!

What were you like as a kid? Have you always been artistic?

"As long as I can remember, I have loved to create," CJ says. Growing up as an only child, she had plenty of time alone to find ways to entertain herself. "I created imaginary friends, mud pies, colored walls, and used anything I could to keep myself busy. Anything could be used for a project!" Needless to say, she made plenty of creative messes.

"I was also pretty wild with energy, so I was always running around screaming like a chicken with its head cut off." Being a high energy and chaotically creative, CJ says she often found herself getting into trouble. But even when things got tumultuous, art was always a refuge. As she got older, CJ began to use her creative energy as part of an intentional relaxation and meditation process.

As a teenager CJ excelled in art classes. "I learned to sew when I was in high school. I made shirts and dresses for fellow classmates and used the money from that to pay for the art classes. I really loved mixed media art, but I think my woodworking class in middle school started the whole thing. I used my hands to create something and that really excited me. I moved onto painting and got stuck on acrylics, then 'found' art, and then sculpting. I kind of just try it all out." Her enthusiasm paid off and she graduated with honors in art, and was accepted to art school.

"I can't stick with one for too long though, I always find myself getting burnt out and trying something new. No repeats!" This attitude has led her to try anything she can do with her hands. "I'm also a bicycle mechanic and have worked on a car here and there. Basically if I can make something with my hands, I wanna try it out."

How did Boxcutter Rebellion Start? (and why do you call it that?)

"Boxcutter actually started forming when I was working at Book Bin in downtown Salem." CJ worked alongside other artists, and began talking with a coworker about creating an art collective. They based the name "Boxcutter Rebellion" on the Boxer Rebellion in China in 1899. (CJ is half Korean and her coworker was Vietnamese. While neither was Chinese, they chose to reference the Boxer Rebellion as both a nod to rebellious independent spirit... and the blanket perception of Asian-ness the two often laughed about.) They took a break from the collective after a while, and then CJ was the only one who later returned to it. "It was a really casual set up. I'm actually really in awe of where Boxcutter is now!!! It was just something we were doing for mental health."

The slogan for Boxcutter is "the revolution will be handmade." CJ explains that it comes from the belief that "if we are to change anything it will be by the hands of the people. The makers, the workers, the laborers. By our own hands can we make the change."

Growing up, she says she experienced a lot of disappointment when adults would make promises they couldn't keep. These experiences helped to form her belief that actions speak louder than words.

"By our hands can we make our words the change we want to see."

Ooh, yes. We love walkin' the walk.

What inspires your work? What helps you through a creative block?

"I'm inspired by everything!" Though, if she had to narrow it down, "there's a part of me that really loves to recycle. I like to find things around town, on the

streets, or maybe it's something I've collected from my past. It would have been garbage, right? This plastic bead or toy there." She uses that as inspiration to make something from it. "I like being able to rescue that little bead or toy and give it new life."

When she finds herself experiencing creative block, CJ says she simply dives into trying something new. "I usually just try out a new media. Can't sew anything? I stare at my treasures and see if something sparks an idea. Or I look around at my community. I like that store, can I make something that represents that store? If it's a reeeeeally bad block, then I just tell myself I deserve a break. Treat yo self."

Between running a local business (CJ is a co-owner of The Bike Peddler), and doing events for Boxcutter, how to you make time and space for your creations?

"My creative space is everywhere." Rather than carving out a dedicated studio space, CJ sets up shop wherever is necessary. When I met her, she was toting around a bin of felt and thread, sewing plushies on the go. "I'm hoping to create an actual space some day and an actual 'to go' kit. But in the meantime I'll just work with what I can."

I asked her about how she kkeps organized, when she works in so many mediums. CJ confided, "I'm a messy, but clean freak person (trust me, I have no idea how that works either!)"

Here's her strategy:

"So I spread out and get really messy. I make as much as I can and when I feel the creativity start to wind down, I start to clean it all up!"

Much gratitude to CJ for squeezing my questions into her busy, busy life!

If you'd like a peek at what CJ has in the works, you can keep up with Boxcutter Rebellion on Instagram.

And if you're in the Salem Oregon area, you might just catch CJ's latest plushie creation at Ernie and Gray fine art and craft gallery at 329 State Street.

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