Inside the Dollhouse

April 3, 2013


Crude Things

I had the pleasure of sitting down with Lana Guerra of Crude Things. She’s a bona-fide workaholic, so the opportunity to keep her from her work for a couple hours is a rare one that I will appreciate for years to come.  Her infectious giggle and light heart appear, at best, via cameo in these pages.  For more information, to take her online classes, and to visit her online stores, visit www.crudethings.com.  To see her work on display locally, come to the The Burro Lifestyle Magazine First Thursday Gallery Hanging on April 4, 2013 at Fleeting States Gallery at 625 N.W. Everett St. #111.

CRUDE THINGS:  Crude Things started when I first moved to Portland the first time, maybe eight years ago, and I was only living here for like a year, but my hairdressing career really sucked. So in order to make money I started sewing dolls and making little things like that, and everything was all hand-stitched because I didn’t have a sewing machine, so it was very crude looking, so that’s how Crude Things got started.

THE BURRO: So that was an apparel line and the dolls running parallel?

CT: Yeah, I started a website, but at first I wasn’t using the website. I was just selling stuff on—at the time I used Live Journal and Myspace—so that’s all I used to sell things at the time. 

TB: And now it’s on Etsy?

CT: I have three Etsy shops. I have so much stuff that it’s too overwhelming for one shop.  So I have a website, crudethings.com, which has links to each Etsy shop. So whenever I do paintings or dolls or photographs, you can find that under my Etsy shop, Crude Art.  Clothes and wigs you can find on Crude Things. Jewelry and headpieces you can find at Black Lodge Jewelry. That’s total not Crude, that’s Black Lodge. And soon there’s gonna be another store.  I don’t know the name of it, but it’s going to be all doll clothes.

TB: So, clothes for your doll designs?

CT: Yes. For the blithe dolls.  The artsy, big head, big eye blithe dolls that people collect and retransform.  A friend and I are going to start making doll clothes for that.

TB: And you do doll making workshops?

CT: Yeah, I just started.  I made an online doll making class, because I was teaching for a while.  I was teaching and traveling, but to avoid having to leave my house, because I like to be home all the time, so to avoid having to go anywhere, I just made an online class for people to buy, and it’s a four or five day class with all video. So its just hours of video of me teaching you how to make dolls.

Crude Things

TB: So, you came to Portland about eight years ago?

CT: Yeah, I lived here for a year.  I was a hairdresser, and just making money here is just not the same as the East Coast. People have roofs, and they’d rather go hiking instead of look good. So I’d go to New York City the whole time I lived here.  Every six weeks I’d fly back to New York and work.

TB: So, it took you a solid year to be here full time?

CT: No, when I eventually moved back like two years later, I still worked in New York City for three years.  I’ve been here for six years now, but I still worked there for three years. I just traveled back and forth every six to eight weeks. And I started doing things on my Etsy and on Crude Things because I had a gallery over at Everett Station Lofts, so I was starting to make more wigs and make clothes a little bit.  I wasn’t too serious yet with that. It was just a way to make money—or try to make money—here, so I wouldn’t have to fly to New York.  It took me three years to change my career to get out of hair and to just make clothes enough to make a living.  So three years ago I completely stopped doing hair and now I’m doing full-time art by selling things online and local shops.

Crude Things

TB: Wow, for a lot of people I think that is a dream.

CT: It’s a scary dream!  Some months are very dreamy and you’re floating in clouds, and other months, it’s a nightmare. You’re like, “Am I going to pay rent this month?”

TB: For so many people, just the idea of being able to full-time pursue your artistic endeavors and be able to sustain yourself is a dream.

CT: Seriously, though, I don’t leave my house. I don’t have a life.  I work full on.  Yesterday I was going to have a day off.  I give myself one day off a week, but I don’t really take a day off.  I’ll like start to have a day off, but if I don’t go out with friends or do something, I’ll end up sitting around the house, but then I’ll just work.  I’ll be like, “Okay, it’s my day off, but I’m going to paint today.” When I go out to bellydance and perform, that’s a day off.

TB: Your stage name is Veena?

CT: Yeah. 

TB: And how often do you perform?

CT: It depends.  This year, I have ten shows already booked. It just depends.

TB: Do you have any fashion shows coming up?

CT: I have nothing at all like that, but I probably won’t because I’m so determined on trying to stay focused.  I’m an Aquarius, and I think its an Aquarius trait that I want to do a million things.  If I were able to just stay focused on one thing I think life would be easier and I would get somewhere. But I’m like, “Oh, I wanna make these jewelry things, I wanna do these dolls, I wanna do this, I wanna paint.” So, for me to stay focused on one project and actually do it is so hard.  So, hard.  So, I’m trying to not have that much of a life or do any other projects. I’m vending once this year and I think that’s all I’m going to vend all year.  And that’s at Saqra’s bellydance festival, and I think that’s in April, because I am trying to stay on track for once, because I don’t.  I fall off the tracks!

Crude Things

TB: As far as the diversity of the things that you’ve done, we’re still scratching the surface here, right?

CT: Yeah, I guess so.  What else have I done before? Used to do a lot of music.  I keep thinking about it, but I don’t.  I used to do Power Circus, and we used to be just straight up noise, which was just me. And then I turned it into Meghan Rose.  She used to sing for me and do music, too.  It got really fun, like crazy. And then Giuseppe did cello for a while on it, and then Jesse Reno started the guitar on it, and then we had a couple more people and it became crazy.  We had Mike Fields on some kind of horn instrument, and we had a drummer, too.  I mean, it got like crazy!        And anytime I would do performance, I would always try to do a big show—more circusy. So I would always have belly dancers or bhuto dancers.

TB: As far as the diversity of the things that you’ve done, we’re still scratching the surface here, right?

CT: Yeah, I guess so.  What else have I done before? Used to do a lot of music.  I keep thinking about it, but I don’t.  I used to do Power Circus, and we used to be just straight up noise, which was just me. And then I turned it into Meghan Rose.  She used to sing for me and do music, too.  It got really fun, like crazy. And then Giuseppe did cello for a while on it, and then Jesse Reno started the guitar on it, and then we had a couple more people and it became crazy.  We had Mike Fields on some kind of horn instrument, and we had a drummer, too.  I mean, it got like crazy!        And anytime I would do performance, I would always try to do a big show—more circusy. So I would always have belly dancers or bhuto dancers.

TB: When was the last time Power Circus did something?

CT: It was not this past Halloween but the Halloween before with Nagasita—she danced for Power Circus—at Plan B. But Meghan, she moved away to Olympia again, and then, so we just broke up. It was so fun. And then, like everyone in Portland, I’ve dabbled with circus performance.

Crude Things

TB: You were with Societas Insomina?

CT: Yes, I used to do music with them, do the hair and makeup, and do the marionette puppet with the hook suspension. That was fun.  We’d go on tour sometimes with the other circus people. I was also playing music with Enrique [Ugalde of Soriah] at the time, and that was part of that circusy core. Enrique and I used to do a lot of music together and go tour.  We had  this one crazy tour right after Hurricane Katrina.  The tour was called Dead by Tuesday.  It was [named after] some graffiti we saw on the side of the highway, and it was perfect because the tour ended on a Tuesday, and it was like the two weeks around Halloween and the Day of the Dead.  And at all the places we went on the East Coast we went to all these haunted places and performed in these crazy places late at night and on the streets of New Orleans.  We used to do a lot of fun things.  We used to perform in the Shanghai Tunnels here—guerrilla performances—sneaking everyone underground.  One time, maybe the owner of the club was bartending, and we had to try to get all our gear down there without him seeing us.  Luckily, Portland rains, and luckily People like to smoke cigarettes.  So, we had a couple girls smoking cigarettes with umbrellas hiding the view of people with the van quickly loading in, and trying to get all these people in there really fast. 

TB: There’s all these tunnels down in OldTown, right, when downtown was a whole story below before they built the seawall and all that stuff.

CT: It’s really beautiful down there, and at the time they still had the opium rooms where they had these crazy mattresses down there.  Who knows what the hell went down there.  The ladies—I guess—were forced to stay down there. So, they’d take their shoes and had all this broken glass was all over the floor. So there was this big pile of shoes.

TB: These were all old relics?

CT: Yeah, it’s pretty crazy down there.  The energy is weird.  We used to be locked down there for a couple hours straight.

TB: So, you guys would load in. Somebody would have the key to the gate—

CT: And they’d lock us in.  We’d build our shrine. And we couldn’t get out, because we were locked in and were waiting for people to get back.

TB: When was the last time you did something like that?

Crude Things

CT: You know, I was trying to bug Enrique this Day of the Dead.  I was like, “Come on Enrique, we haven’t done it for years.” He goes to some other event now in some other state, but he was like, maybe next year.  We want to do it again because it’s been so long. It’s been far too long.  I’ve lived here for six years, and I think it was when I just moved back here, and we did it again.  It was six years ago.   I haven’t done too much of anything in the last five years.  I was still doing Power Circus, but I think once I started belly dancing I dedicated all my time to belly dancing.  When you’re first starting to learn, it’s just so hard to learn.

TB: It’s hard to try to do so many things at once, right?

CT: Right.  I do have to work! That does sorta pay the bills.  But I still have to play, too, to balance it out. I’m going to be doing a wig class coming up soon.  I did a small one at my house, but I’m going to be doing an online dread wig class.  I don’t really make dreadlock wigs anymore.  People ask me, but after doing hair for so many years, my wrists got shot after doing extensions and dreadlocks.TB: It’s hard to try to do so many things at once, right?

TB: How does that affect your wrists?

CT: I would do these tiny things called pinch braids for 12 or 13 hours a day on people’s hair.  It would stress out my hands.  So my wrists got so enflamed and messed up.  I couldn’t even cut hair for a while. It got excruciating.  My whole hands got so messed up from that. So, I don’t make dread wigs because it will take me anywhere from 6 to 12 hours to make a wig.  They’re very expensive but awesome!  I’m going to make an online class to show people how to do it because people always want them, so I figure I’ll make a class for it.  I’ll make one! And then people can buy my class and have fun making them.  And then they’ll know that they’d rather pay all that money by the time their wrists are killing them and it takes about a week.

TB: The work sounds really time intensive.

CT: Like my dolls, they’re not very—they’re small—but it takes—sometimes I can do one in a day, but it’s a whole day—a whole 8-hour days, but usually it takes me 2 or 3 days to finish 2 of them or 3 of them or 4 days.  It just depends on how elaborate I get.

Crude ThingsTB: Can you walk me through the process of making one of your dolls, and the mediums that are involved?

CT: I use a lot of different clays.  I start from the inside-out.  I build bones, and put the guts in, and make flesh patties.

CT: You’ll have to take the doll class to know!TB: What do you mean, you build bones?

TB: So, there’s actually a skeleton?

CT: Yes, you have to make a structure. So you build from the inside out, and then eventually you paint them, and dress them up and add the hair!

TB: So, there’s all sorts of structure and a skeleton within the dolls, and then you’re making the flesh around it?

CT: Mmmm-hmmm.

TB: Wow, so there’s a lot more than meets the eye at first glance.

CT: It takes a while, for sure.

TB: How did you get in to doll making?

CT: That’s what I started doing when I first started sewing.  It was someone’s birthday party.  Some relative had a kid.  I don’t even remember, but I had to give a birthday present. And I had no money at all, but I had some fabric. And at that time I didn’t sew anything.  Not even a button.  I would just safety pin things together.  But I was like, “Alright, I’m just gonna sit down and try to make a stuffed animal.” So, I sewed a stuffed animal.  And I loved it.  It looked so good and horrible at the same time, that that’s how I started making dolls.  They were all soft and Day of the Dead looking and all hand stitched.  And then I started playing with clay.  It just kind of grew over the years.  I guess it’s about 10 to 12 years that I’ve been making dolls.

Crude Things

TB: It sounds like that’s the one thing that’s stuck.  You’ve gone through a lot of different things, and this is the one thing that you keep on coming back to.

CT: Just because it’s more like playing, which is fun!  You don’t have to worry about measurements and things being exact.  It just kinda happens.

TB: To me, when I think of your designs, there’s a certain raw element that shines in Crude Things.

CT: I try to get my models to look like dolls…

TB: Can you think of any time as a performer, as a designer, that any of your materials were censored, suppress, or made people uncomfortable to where they asked you to change what you were doing?

CT: My dolls—I don’t think they’re weird looking—or my clothes—I think they’re pretty normal looking.  But I have to say on Facebook, because I teach these art classes, and I was going to these art events, there were all types of people, and I pushed their buttons for sure.  When I was teaching, a lot of them wouldn’t sign up for my class because of how I looked, first of all.  They were just kind freaked out by me.  And then my dolls—some of them really loved them—but they either loved them or hated them because they were scared by them.  They don’t like clowns.

Crude Things

TB: It makes me curious about how dolls have been invoked in other cultures, such as Voodoo dolls.hey’re weird looking—or my clothes—I think they’re pretty normal looking.  But I have to say on Facebook, because I teach these art classes, and I was going to these art events, there were all types of people, and I pushed their buttons for sure.  When I was teaching, a lot of them wouldn’t sign up for my class because of how I looked, first of all.  They were just kind freaked out by me.  And then my dolls—some of them really loved them—but they either loved them or hated them because they were scared by them.  They don’t like clowns.

CT: Actually, you know, before I ever did hand sew dolls, I used to make Voodoo dolls when I was in my 20s when I lived in North Carolina.  I used to paint a lot more.  I was a hairdresser. I would spend my nights making Voodoo dolls and paintings.  All of my dolls were a lot more primitive.  They were made out of everything raw. They were made out of sticks, twine, grass, dry grass, and a lot of leather and pins, and build these boxes for them and put nails in the boxes.  They were all like really weird.  Like really creepy weird.  They were awesome. I made some of them to try to look like my friends. This one time I was using these dried up spiky pods, and mailed it to my friends because she was going through a hard time and just moved, and she was about to start a new job, and it was like a good luck Voodoo doll.  I swear everything was dead in it.  It was just like dried dead things, but it was really cool looking.  She hung it on her wall. So, she got this job and then became manager.  But this fucking doll just grew.  It started sprouting.  She never watered it or anything.  It like totally started sprouting and growing.  It became alive.

TB: What about your clothes?  What kind of reactions have you gotten from people?

CT: When I lived in New York City the first time, my first apartment was in Astoria.  It was kind of a conservative.  It was like a more Greek community, but there was a Russian guy that lived there because there must have been a Russian neighborhood somewhere.  But he would see me.  I would be walking home from work, and I’d be smiling, and I dress crazy and look crazy, and I’d be going home from work, and he’d stop me. He’d like seriously, stop me. And then yell at me.  He would hold me and grab my shoulders.  He’d start off with, “You’re so pretty.  You’re so beautiful.  Why do you do this to yourself? You do look like that?” I would push his buttons all the time just because how I dressed and how I looked.  And I would think I looked really cute that day.  I had stripes on, and everything was mismatched, and I would push his buttons so far that he would have to yell at me.

TB: He was so convinced that people are supposed to look one way.

CT: And it was very uncomfortable. It was kind of nice and funny the first couple times, but then very uncomfortable and weird.  It was very weird.  So, yeah, I guess I can push buttons for sure.  I don’t think about it.  I always think I look fun.

TB: Who do you see?  Who do you see when you look at yourself with your eyes closed?

CT: I think I see like a cartoon character or something. I don’t think of myself as creepy or scary, but people always say, “I’m really surprised you’re really nice.” I get that all the time. My clothes definitely get to people.

Crude Things

TB: Which is funny, because it’s not like they’re dark clothes.

CT: I think that’s the problem.  People do like to wear dark clothes.  They like to wear all black.  They like to wear all grey.  They like to wear all browns. You know, like very muted. To me, that’s extremely depressing and boring. People don’t like bright colors and mismatched patterns.

TB: People spend their whole lives living one way, expecting life to be a certain way.  But that doesn’t help anyone to grow.  It doesn’t help an individual to grow.  It doesn’t help a society to grow.  It almost feels like it’s the duty of the artists to push people.

CT: But I think the artists don’t even try to.  It’s just how they are.

www.crudethings.com

 

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