The Sewcialists Interview: Laura Volpintesta

Editor Becky Jo here: I stumbled upon Laura Volpintesta on what was then Craftsy years ago. I’ve long been a technical illustrator, but my hand drawing has always been my weakest point, and after a custom croquis investment, I wanted to up my game. From there I found Laura on YouTube and her private courses. Her fresh, all-ethnicities, and real-body take on fashion flats is everything. Laura is an artist first, that happens to dabble in fashion flats, water color, singing, work at Parsons… but oh, what an artist. While Ebi was a temp Editor, we found a common adoration for Laura, and I was thrilled to hand off this interview. Our hope is that if you’re already a fan, or this is your first introduction, that you enjoy this conversation between Ebi and Laura as much as we do.

Laura's art for sale, showing her earth-mother-goddess aesthetic

It was a wet, grey Saturday when I dialed Laura Volpintesta’s number. I’d been a huge fan of hers for awhile, and didn’t want to waste her time or drown her in nervous yet adoring babble. Well, as usual, there was no reason to worry. Laura was compassionate, appreciative, and generous with the spiritual lessons she’d learned during the ups and downs of her very real life. Speaking with Laura was like talking with a real Earth Mother – someone who made you feel nurtured and satisfied from the inside out, and who brought to life the art in the world around you. We talked for two hours about everything and anything; below is just a snippet of that nourishing conversation.

Ebi (E): I’m finding that some things and people that I’m really familiar with, some of the other guests editors aren’t. And vice versa. And some things that I’m familiar with, they are, too. So I don’t know; certain people are really big to you, and other people just don’t know about them?

Laura (L): Oh, totally!

E: For me, anytime anyone talks about drawing or sketching, I ask, have you heard of Laura Volpintesta? Some people are like, yeah! Some people are like, who? And I’m like, how do you not know about her? She’s huge, you know!

L: Thank you! Aw!

screen shot of Laura's class on craftsy/bluprint

E: I found your class on Craftsy some years ago, and you showed a technique about a curve in the wrist. It was gold. It was the most amazing thing ever. When I’m drafting patterns, I use a million rulers. But then I started to say, well, if there’s a curve in my wrist and I’m designing necklines or armholes or whatever, why don’t I experiment with using this curve to make these necklines and armholes? And I started doing that. And it was like, huge. Watching the class helped me understand what was happening in the process of drawing. That’s why, any time anyone talks about drawing and sewing or fashion, I think of you. But I don’t know if everybody knows you. So I wanted to give you a chance to talk about your various offerings: you’ve got the online drawing course, a book, and some products in a store now. I wanted to give you a chance to wax poetic about these in your own words, because you do a lot of good things!

L: Thank you so much! I’m so excited to hear your personal experience. For some weird reason yesterday, I stumbled upon the testimonials page of the Craftsy class, and I hadn’t read through them. Reading through them, one person was like, ‘The wrist! The compass in my wrist! I can’t believe it! I showed it to my mother, she’s an artist, she was amazed!’ It was such great feedback for me.

The interesting thing is that I’ve taught everything. First I taught draping at the university. Drawing was my favorite part: illustration and design. Having to teach the technical classes and bringing the two together, they kept bleeding over into each other. Drawing, patternmaking, illustration, draping, sewing, all felt different because they were presented separately, but the longer you live with them, they all start becoming the same thing. And the same problems turn up in all those different realms. Like, people who love to sew have a sort of a perfectionist tendency, because they love beauty. Their biggest challenge is to stop criticizing themselves. I love leading students back to: actually, you have this. You know. Because we tend to think that someone outside has all the answers, that we can’t possibly have it. It’s born in you already. We just gotta bring it out and kind of guide you. And that’s why I created all these classes, watching people step into their power. As soon as we take the pressure off, we start doing our better work. Beautiful!

E: I have lots of questions for you! The next one is how you manage working in one state and living in another state – it sounds like a lot.

L: It does, actually! Well, it’s getting worse in about a week because I’ll be working two days in New York per week. Right now, I’m only working one day in New York. It takes me about two hours to get there. And actually, the whole reason I have my own business is because I never worked more than two days in New York.

After I had my youngest, who is nine now, the university told me I had to come in every single day. She was like 10 months old. And I was like no way, that wasn’t even conceivable. That was a full time faculty position, but I only had to be in the city two days a week. So when they changed that, my whole life changed drastically. But if that hadn’t happened, I wouldn’t even be here interacting with people like you, I wouldn’t have written my book, I wouldn’t have made courses. I wouldn’t be doing any of this. Because I was so safe, hidden in the university. So it’s exciting how life decides these things for you.

screenshot of one of Laura's youtube tutorials on drawing faces

E: And you also went to art school in New York City?

L: When I went to college in New York, it was like the whole world opened up. I’m so thankful for that time. It was art, it was design, it was music, it was people. I mean, New York City was nothing like my hometown, which was very small town Connecticut. And I was learning to see in new ways, I was learning to make things with my hands, express myself and have all these new freedoms.

E: Another thing I want to ask you is the difference for you – and maybe even the difference in the type of students that you get – between teaching at Parsons in person, and teaching your online classes digitally. Do you learn different things?

L: At Parsons, I started teaching in a BFA, which is a four year program with kids straight out of high school, and they’re still in that mentality of ‘tell me what to do’. They’ve never had a chance to breathe or be out in the world. And then I became an AAF teacher, which was a two year program for career changers. They’ve been out in the world, they have jobs, they had degrees from other industries. They were stopping by and sucking it all up. I was like, ooh, I like this better. And now Parsons has me in continuing ed. I don’t even have to grade them. Which is so liberating! There’s no pressure that I can’t be too friendly with this person and then they get an A, and someone else gets a C who wasn’t my friend. And then of course, with my online courses, there’s none of that either: that I love. I love that the people I can teach digitally are people with jobs and kids and all kinds of backgrounds and locations. I love being with people who are more empowered, where they’re like, how can you support what I want to accomplish?

The only thing about the university that is so much better is that they find the students. If it’s my business, it’s like, ugh, my god, how will I find them? How do I reach them? I would like someone to sell for me, but then I realize teaching can be selling. I could be like, hi, guys, did you know that when you do this, this happen? Try it! That’s selling.

E: Nice! Speaking of selling, you have a store with your drawings of garments?

L: I started making all this new art recently, there’s all this divine feminine kinda art that’s been coming out of me, and it’s all done on the iPad. The digital art is so brilliant and bright on social. So I started developing that a lot and enjoying it. And because they’re digital, all I have to do is resize the images and set them up, and they can be printed on all kinds of merchandise and clothing. It feels ethical because I don’t need to order 75 shirts and hope I sell them. You order a shirt, they print it. Ding! There’s no waste, there’s no leftover. And I’m very excited about that because I get to express a different part of myself that’s been a long time bottled up, and just pour it out.

art by Laura

E: Nice! So your book, what was it like writing a book? How did that book come to be?

L: For this book, a publisher came to me. I guess maybe they found me through the university. They had a theory, like the language of exterior design, the language of typography, and so on. And this was, can you write the language of fashion science? This is the title, this is the gist. Here’s your budget, here’s your editor.

That was an interesting experience, because the budget was super tiny for images. So I contacted a lot of former students for illustrations, and put a lot of my own in, and then I got to purchase a few. Most of what I had to get was from Shutterstock, so I really had to work with what they had. But I was very clear that I didn’t want it to be too Eurocentric only, or too not-diverse with bodies or races. It was such a challenge to feel balanced in all of that.

When I first started to write it, I realized the late 80s is when I was really paying attention. I was like, wait, this book is being written in 2013 – I had to get into the present moment, get aware of what was out there. You’ll notice there are still a lot of parts back from people in the late 80s, like, Alaïa and Gaultier because I can’t help it. It was definitely like, we need the 26 principles of fashion design, like an alphabet, and then you have 26 science designer biographies. Deciding who to pick and who to write about and why, that was a lot of fun to learn more about all those different designers. So I’m proud of that part.

E: That’s awesome.

L: And I did all of that while breastfeeding! I wanted to say no a thousand times when they offered me the book, I was too scared. This time when they came for me, I had been praying ardently for work I could do from home. And then when an offer comes, what are you going to do, say no when you’ve been praying for something? Okay! So there we went. You know, I’m glad now because I feel like that helped with credibility, my business. That was a journey. It really was. I think it was six months I had to write it?

E: Oh my goodness! Wow.

L: I remember being like, couldn’t it be longer? Now I’m so glad that they said no. Because if they give you longer, it takes longer! Write the freaking book and be done with it. So if I ever write another book, I swear I’ll give myself a week.

E: Is there anything you wanted to add?

L: It amazes me the challenges that life can throw at you. You think that you can’t get through them, and then you realize that there’s nothing but good comes from them later. Losing the full time teaching position right when I had the baby – I pretty much had the baby then because I thought that I had a great job. So I was like, oh my god! And wow, I’m still here, so I guess I’m supported. I have got to take the worry down a notch. I’m supported right now, in this moment, so don’t worry about three weeks from now. When we’re not worried we become clearer channels for inspiration and intuition. So if I had to put any positive message out there, it’s try to notice where you’re supported right now, and feel into it.

art by Laura

Ebi Poweigha is a former Sewcialists guest editor who recommends that you check out Laura’s drawing classes and Instagram account!

All images owned by and courtesy of Laura Volpintesta.