march 21, 2019
Adele: Are you a cat or a dog?
Connie: Oh my gosh. I don’t know. I don’t really like cats, at all. I do feel like I have the attention span of a dog. I’m very extroverted but I also need time alone. I had to watch my roommate’s cat and it was like torture, even though the cat is really nice. It was like, I’d get home from work and she’d want to hang out and I’m like, yo, leave me alone. Once I get off from work I need to sit and stare at the wall for like an hour. And then I’m good to go.
Adele: I definitely get that, but that’s because I’m an introvert. I’m like an introvert with an extrovert superpower. It’s like, I can turn it on, but it really drains me and then I have to recharge.
Connie: Yeah. A lot of my friends get really confused that I don’t wanna hang out every day. I’m like, no, I need to be alone today, and they’re like why?! What’s wrong? I’m like, nothing’s wrong, I just don’t want to see anyone.
Adele: Yeah, yeah. I would just like to hear myself think… you know, whatever it is.
Connie: Just go in the studio and be by myself. My friends are like, do you need help with anything in the studio? And I’m like, I would love the help, but you wouldn’t know what to do, and it would just be me explaining what I need. I would love the help. An intern, you know. That would be tight. But also, I’m such a control freak. And a perfectionist.
Adele: Yeah. You just need to find a person who’s looking for an internship where they want to be controlled. I don’t know if that exists.
Connie: I like that I basically do everything by myself.
Adele: It’s really, really impressive.
Connie: A lot of people are surprised that I print everything by myself and mostly design everything by myself, when I’m not collaborating with Daniel Torraca. He’s the only person I really collaborate with at all.
Adele: How do you design your shirts? Where do you find inspiration? How do you start to develop your imagery and text?
Connie: I used to just write down random quotes and lyrics that I liked in my notebook. They would usually turn into the titles of some of my work in school, back when I was weaving more. I got into screenprinting on fabric in my last semester of school. It was just way more accessible than trying to find a loom, which—I do have one now, but it was a gift from a good friend, Patrick Carter. He got a new loom for free, and he was like, So I’m gonna give you this one! I was like, that’s awesome. But of course, screenprinting is a lot easier to do, to get a message across quickly, and to create a lot at one time. I can print like, forty shirts in an afternoon.
Adele: And you can burn a screen in like, twenty minutes.
Connie: Yeah. You coat the screen and then you let it sit for a day or so, and then Iexpose it for about 32 seconds and then you wash the emulsion off and then you dry it. Once it’s dry, you’re good to go.
Adele: Super fast. And then the materials are quite cheap, too.
Connie: Yeah, I’m lucky enough to get all of my shirts through wholesale, so they’re not too expensive for me. But then of course, you don’t want to buy like, twenty, you want to buy like, eighty shirts at a time. Like, 80-100 shirts, just because it’s cheaper. But yeah, I feel like a lot of my designs are very text-based, just because I cannot draw. [laughs] So that’s when my collaborations with Daniel come in handy.
Adele: Could you point out some collaborations?
Connie: Yeah, he drew this barbed wire for me. I got the text. He designed these patches. This is the last one I had, but I dyed the fabric. It’s avocado-dyed.
Adele: And that makes this pink? With the pits, right? Or the skins?
Connie: Yeah, we use the pits. I use a hundred or two hundred pits at a time in a giant stock pot I got from an old job. I just put them in one of those net bags, like the ones you put sweaters in to wash them. They’re like a giant tea bag, basically.
Adele: It’s so soft, the pink color, you know? It’s so sweet.
Connie: Yeah, it’s a very subtle pink-brown, it’s very earthy, which I really like. I know everyone likes soft pink right now, but — I do too.
Adele: So Daniel did this lettering?
Connie: Yeah, we worked on this together. I told him basically what I wanted and we talked about what we felt would be cool. I just love his style so much. Like, the comic-book kind of drawing that he does. It’s kind of simple, usually black and white. This is based off a song that I really like called Papa Was A Rodeo by The Magnetic Fields. It’s just a funny song. It’s on this album called 69 Love Songs and they’re all basically jokes, but this one’s about gay truckers, and I just love that. We basically described the bar scene that they have, because it’s kind of like a country song, so we have the western-style doors. They talk about a disco ball. Drinking beer. The song’s kind of sad, even though they do say they have the romance of the century. So we have the upside-down horseshoe. It’s all bad luck. And Daniel did draw my logo for me. That was one of the first things we worked on. My It’s Not That Serious shirt was the first I designed before ConnieTroversial was even a thing. It was a shirt that I wanted. The summer after graduating from college, I wasn’t stressed out with school anymore so I could finally focus on myself, and I was realizing I’m trans, or like, coming to terms with it, really.
So, “it’s not that serious”—I needed to hear that a lot, because I would put a lot of pressure on myself to present a certain way. I feel like that’s an issue with a lot of people—how to be the right queer person, how to be the right trans person.
“It’s not that serious”—I just needed to see that all the time, every day. So I was like, I want to print a shirt that says that. And it’s my most popular one and still one of my favorites.
Adele: Yeah, it’s kind of monumental.
Connie: Because it’s true. I have a friend who teaches spin classes in Church Hill and she was like, that’s also our motto there. It’s not that serious—like, we have the lights off. You can pedal however you want to and if you can’t keep up it’s fine, it’s not that serious. Like, really, do what you can. Do your best.
Adele: Yeah, do your best, we’re here to laugh, we’re here to enjoy. That’s so true. It’s not that serious.
Connie: It’s just a good thing to keep reminding yourself. Don’t be so hard on yourself.
Adele: Oh my gosh. Good words of wisdom. Can you talk more about what made you go towards apparel?
Connie: I’ve always been interested in clothing. My mother taught me how to sew when I was in like, seventh grade. I was using her machines to make stuffed animals and button-up shirts for myself. She always made my Halloween costumes growing up.
Adele: Wow! You are so lucky.
Connie: Yeah, I’m very lucky. And it’s fun because in the past few years, she’s gotten back into sewing her own clothes, I think because she has more time. I was a handful, growing up. My mom had breast cancer when she was in her twenties and she had lymphoma, so she has a compression sleeve that she wears on her left arm to pump the blood back out, because it can’t pump out, it can only pump back in. She always has had a hard time finding clothes that fit her body. She used to not like sleeveless shirts at all, because you could see the end of the sleeve, and immediately, that’s the first thing everyone talks to her about. She’s gotten really into making her own clothes, so it’s fun to talk about clothing with her now. She’s like, showing me all the fabric that she has. It’s fun for us to talk about.
For a lot of my work near the end of school, I was repeat printing on fabric and sewing clothing out of that, and also weaving a lot of clothing. So clothing has always been very important to me, even if it’s like, art clothes or just a fun shirt. I feel like it’s hard for me to have a day where I don’t wear one of my shirts.
I don’t want to be that person who just wears my own name across my chest every day, but—I love my designs! I design them for me and I hope other people like them. It’s nice that people respond positively.
Adele: I think that’s really important to remember, too, that it’s not a bad thing to be like, I love the work that I make! And I make it because I love it! And then hopefully other people will love it too, but like, it’s about me.
Connie: I wore my Brokeback Mountain shirt last night, because I think it’s hilarious. It gets them every time.
Adele: What does the text say?
Connie: Yeah, so the image is from near the end of the movie, just after he says, “I wish I knew how to quit you.” Jake Gyllenhaal’s character is like, “tell you what, we could’ve had a good life together, a fuckin’ real good life, had us a place of our own, but you didn’t want it Ennis, so what we got now is Brokeback Mountain.” And then they start crying. And I start crying too, every time.
Adele: I mean, Brokeback Mountain is a great mountain. I’d kill for that view.
Connie: Honestly, yeah. All of my samplers in my screenprinting class in school were Brokeback Mountain themed. My teacher was like, why did you have to make a series out of your samples? And I was like, that’s the kind of person that I am.
Adele: Uh, yeah. ‘Cuz Brokeback Mountain is great. Do you have any other shirts you want to talk about? Oh my god, the mirror text on the Don’t Text Him shirt is fucking genius.
Connie: I’m proud of that one. Don’t Text Him is printed in reverse on the front so when you are looking in a mirror—you’re like, in the bar bathroom, you’ve had four shots of tequila, and you’re like, right. I’m not gonna text him. He doesn’t deserve it.
Adele: Exactly! I love it!
Connie: I had it as my phone background for a while and it just stopped having an effect so I had to change it.
Adele: Oh yeah, making the mantra your phone background will really destroy it. But it is helpful when it’s fresh.
Could you talk a little bit about your involvement in Studio Two Three and the community here?
Connie: Yeah. When I graduated from school, I started interning here that fall.
Adele: When did you graduate?
Connie: In May of 2016. Sewing and printing on fabric was still a big part of my process. I went to Japan right when I graduated from school, with my family, which was life-changing. It was amazing. I got all these really cool Japanese sewing books. Well, this one I got off of Etsy, but they have all these different illustrated clothing designs. Such detailed instructions. The Google Translate app actually does wonders. You can take a picture of the text and highlight it and it will translate it for you, which is sick.
Adele: Wow, what an age we live in. Thank god.
Connie: I was so interested in all of these designs and sewing all of these clothes which are very geometric and simple. They were clothes that I would sew for myself that I felt comfortable in because they hid my body away a little bit when I wasn’t comfortable with it. Anyway, I got involved at Studio Two Three because I was in the Crafts department at VCU. I didn’t take any classes in painting and printmaking. I didn’t know anyone in that department. I kind of knew Brooke Inman. I met Daniel Torraca a few times. All the people that’d been working here, Mike Collier, people like that — I’d seen them and I’ve always loved their work but I didn’t know any printmakers and I didn’t know the ins and outs of it. I knew the very basics from what I learned at school. So I was like, I want to meet people in this community. I don’t know people in this community at all, so it would be nice. That’s why I got involved here and at the time, I didn’t have anything else going on. I’m from Durham, NC and there’s not a big art scene there. I didn’t have the means to move to LA or New York like a lot of people that I know. A lot of my friends did. They hustled to get out there, but I’m like, I can’t. I’m too anxious. I wouldn’t want to do it, I wouldn’t know where to start. I was like, I want to stay here. I like it here.
Adele: Yeah, I totally get that. It can be really intimidating to try and move to a big city and not have much connection. It’s easy to feel adrift in the sea of people and opportunities and a landscape that’s unfamiliar. That’s why I moved back to Virginia. I graduated from undergrad and I was like, I can’t live in LA! I don’t know anything here! I’ll go back to what I know.
Connie: Did you go to school out there?
Adele: Yeah. The central Virginia community felt small and accessible and approachable enough for me to stay and I’ve just been here ever since.
Connie: Definitely. It’s nice. VCU does dominate most of the art scene but it’s nice that it’s not just VCU and the opportunities aren’t just for students. You can graduate and stay here and make a living.
Adele: Was Studio Two Three in this building in 2016? I can’t remember.
Connie: Yeah, they moved over here I think in 2013 from their space on Main Street. They moved here and they expanded into this area where we are in the fall of 2017. I was an intern starting in late 2016. I would come and volunteer ten hours a week. It was a one-for-one studio exchange, so I could use the studio for ten hours a week. Some interns will stick around and become community members and some of them just want to do an internship at this space to see what it’s about. I get to meet all these people and it’s nice to be friends with all these people. I started here at a time in my life when everything was insane, so it was nice to be able to have stable people that are kind of at the same level as you are—if not your age, then like, where you are as an artist.
There’s a lot of people that come here to print every once in a while when they have the time off from their service industry job. It’s nice to have met all these people. I got this space when we expanded over here in 2017. This is the only space that I’ve had here, so it’s been… a year and a half? Almost two years? I feel like I haven’t made that much, but then I think about it and I’m like, you started this less than two years ago. I think I first printed It’s Not That Serious in 2017. It’s been less than two years and I have fourteen shirt designs and a good loyal following of people. I have a lot of friends that own most of my shirts, and friends that I don’t know that well that like, live in New York. This guy in DC buys my stuff all the time. His name’s Charlie, he’s a nice guy.
Adele: Do you think that having access to the space and being part of this community helped you get your shop on its feet and helps to sustain it?
Connie: Definitely. Every year I do the Winter Print Fair along with the other print fairs and flea markets that we have here. I think the first one was the Winter Print Fair in 2017, and I’ve done a few since then. Social media has definitely helped me a lot, as well as being in the space at those events. Even just working in the studio, I’ve met a lot of people that do commission print work for like, bands or events or something, so meeting those people and just talking is important. I’ll come in and if someone’s using the press, I’m like, oh, what are you working on? You’re printing this, that’s cool. And everyone’s pretty willing to talk and just chill. Or I’ll come in and be like, do you guys like this color ink, or should I do this? And they’re like, you should do this, and I’m like, ok thanks! That’s what I wanted to hear. It’s a communal space but definitely a big collaborative space as well.
Adele: That is really nice. I’m glad that exists outside of VCU in Richmond. What are you excited about? Besides maybe your birthday.
Connie: In general? Well, The OA season two comes out tomorrow!
Adele: Ooo! On your birthday?!
Connie: Or, no—on Friday. It’s the day after my birthday. Whatever.
Adele: It’s officially spring.
Connie: It’s officially spring, that’s gonna be great. I use rain sounds to lull myself to sleep and it’s been such a rainy year, it’s so hard to get out of bed before 3. I close when I bartend, so I’m not getting home until like 3 in the morning. It’s hard to get up and go be productive, but now that spring is here… and daylight savings time just happened! The other day I was in here folding shirts and printing and packaging stuff and I was like, damn, the sun is still out, it’s 7. I was like, I can’t go home yet, I have to keep working! And that’s the first time I’ve felt like that in months. Oh, I’m getting a tattoo on Wednesday.
Adele: Ooh, what are you getting?
Connie: I’m getting my It’s Not That Serious design.
Connie: I’m getting it right here, with a heart of chains around it, and I think that’ll be cute.
Adele: Yeah, like a traditional bicep tattoo, but yeah, just like, romancing yourself with your own message. That’s really good. I’m really curious about romance because on the one hand it can feel like there’s this Hallmark interpretation of it and then on the other hand there’s this whole mindful community of self-care. We’ve asked a lot of different artists questions about romance and heard some really interesting feedback. But we also ask about it because our issue next year will be about romance. Ava and I were really interested in romance when we started Corner Office because we both felt like Richmond was this beautiful, almost movie set romantic place—
Connie: But everyone was like, not here to date.
Adele: Yeah, exactly! I mean, I’m still frustrated by this. It feels like my life is a series of rejections.
Connie: I feel like I’d like to be a romantic person but I can’t find anyone in this town to date. Maybe I’m just too picky, I don’t know. I’m not too picky. Now that it’s going to be nice outside,
I like to go to the farmers market and get veggies. I buy sunflowers for myself, because I love them.
Adele: Yes! Oh my god, they’re my favorite flower!
Connie: Yeah, it’s just nice. I come home with all my produce and sunflowers for the next week. I’m so tired, and like I said, if I’m not doing three things at a time, I’m wasting my time, but then that also leads to me like, getting a sandwich from Lamplighter every day, which is not good. Now that things are settling down, I’ll try to be more mindful of what I’m eating and making. I feel like cooking for yourself is a very intimate experience.
Adele: It’s like creative work that you are actually embodying in a literal sense. It’s going into your body. I also find that I’ve been going on these walks in this early spring, just me and my dog going for the morning walk. My dog has a lot of energy so that needs to happen, but for me, it’s like, I don’t have any creative output necessarily besides like, Instagram stories. I feel like it’s a very romantic daily gesture to just be like, wow, look at that growing thing.
Connie: Yeah, to go walk around. See things. I feel like so often I’m just going from point A to point B with my headphones in that I don’t usually do that, but I’ve been thinking about that a lot. I have friends who are like, I just went on a walk this morning. I’m like, why? You don’t have a dog. And they’re like, oh, because I wanted to see the neighborhood. And I’m like ugh, fine. And of course it’s like, me wanting to walk to Shields Market because I live near there. If I have a destination, it’s a lot easier. But maybe I should just make up destinations. Honestly though, I say that, but I don’t know if I’m going to go on a walk.
Adele: Yeah, it’s not the thing for everyone. Maybe you just need your sunflowers.
Connie: Yeah, that sounds good. I think I just need to leave my blinds open.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
To read Connie’s thoughts on HOME, check out issue 02!