Today we’d like to introduce you to Sophia Dixon Dillo.
Sophia, can you briefly walk us through your story – how you started and how you got to where you are today.
Sometimes my husband and I joke that I made a profession out of “playing in the dirt”… I’m an artist. Maybe all artists are just continuing what children do – play! My story is one of having fun sticking my fingers in the “mud” and seeing what I can make of it.
My story is also a story of falling in love. I grew up making art, but I felt I wasn’t “good enough” to be an art major in college. I studied philosophy at Colorado College. After my required credits were completed in my last semester, I stumbled into a couple of art classes. There I realized how much I missed playing in the dirt. So, I applied to do a semester at the Lacoste Ecole des Arts in France after graduating. I took every hands-on class – painting, photography, drawing, and printmaking. And I fell in love with it all. Looking back, I see how my detour into philosophy helped me find my voice. It allowed me to articulate myself more clearly when I returned to visual art.
And it’s a story of quiet rebellion. In graduate school at Colorado State University, I veered “off course” (if one can call following your interests that) while getting a degree in painting. I did an independent study where I explored light as a medium by making large-scale installations out of monofilament. I became captivated with light and space. Light was intangible yet dynamic. It was ephemeral, transient, always changing. Space allowed me to engage people’s bodies in ways that I could not do two-dimensionally. I did not feel there was a satisfying way to bring light as a medium into painting, so I started playing around with translucent, transparent, reflective materials… anything that incorporated light in an interesting way. I somehow scraped out of there with a degree in painting with only a little white gesso on my thesis work.
Ever since I left graduate school in 2009, I’ve been exploring the subtleties of light and the way it shifts and changes our perception of materials.
We’re always bombarded by how great it is to pursue your passion, etc – but we’ve spoken with enough people to know that it’s not always easy. Overall, would you say things have been easy for you?
I make life difficult for myself. Working with light in the way I do makes my work delicate, quiet, and subtle. It does not shout out for attention. I choose to make, say, a white on a white cut paper piece that you can’t truly see unless you are within a few feet of it. It needs to be lit properly otherwise the shadows don’t contrast with the incised marks, and so on. The dynamic quality of my work in relationship to light makes it challenging to portray in a photograph. It demands to be seen in person. This is challenging in our digital age as more and more of the art world moves online.
As an artist going to the studio every day I commit to running into myself every day – my limitations, doubts, insecurities. The daily practice of sitting in front of a blank page, creating something new without getting influenced by others, without getting bored, without giving in to fear, is a constant challenge. It’s not what people think. It’s not what I used to think. It’s not all inspiration. There isn’t a muse. Only when I do the work when I really work, then the activity begins to feed itself, and I find myself making something new. And, it is so satisfying. I feel whole when I have been in my studio. I am meant to make things. And, curiously, it’s easy because it is where I am most myself. I can be pretty shy out in the world, but in my studio, I am just me.
We’d love to hear more about your work.
I’m known for creating subtle, obsessive works of pattern that integrate light in one way or another. The kind of work that people look at, hesitate as they eye me, and then say, “You’re crazy!” “How many miles of thread?” (83) “How many dots?” (461,000). I like to create works that repeat a singular form until that singular form becomes part of a larger whole taking on a life of its own. Creating this work is a kind of meditation. I often work with tools that have very particular limitations, like an X-acto knife or a calligraphy pen (a nib dipped in ink) that can only be moved in certain ways. These limitations create a structure to the approach. Then I try to find as much variety and freedom as I can within that structure. I enjoy becoming a vehicle for the material to actualize itself. The activity is demanding, repetitive, and dare I say, monotonous. But I continue because I find the results entirely satisfying to look at.
I also recently started a company called SOKA Design focused on making artistic wearable goods. Loving all things shiny, I make jewelry from hand-drawn forms in silver, gold, and brass. I have always had an interest in “democratizing” my aesthetic so that more people can interact with it in their everyday lives. I love that people can wear my work and feel beautiful in it to boot!
What were you like growing up?
I was a pretty shy kid, and a real tomboy. I preferred a hammer to a princess dress. I grew up watching my father, artist Willard Dixon, paint in his studio. I would sit in his big armchair while he painted. My father was my main teacher, though I don’t remember him overtly teaching me. I learned through observing. He provided materials and set an example through his own activity.
In the 80s we had a VW Westfalia, and we would take long road trips in the summers around the Western States so my father, a landscape painter, could take photos. When I was young he made a wooden stool so I could sit between the two front seats, rather than alone in the back of the van. My mother would take my Gund teddy bear (particularly well-loved and malleable) and put it in different positions on the dashboard for me to draw.
So, I got this early training in seeing and observing, which as a quiet kid, came pretty naturally to me. I was always playing with my hands and making things, be it drawing, painting, or cooking and gardening with my mother. Otherwise, I’d be outside climbing trees and building forts or digging in the dirt. I still do all of these things today… with the exception of the forts, though I have recently re-discovered my love of climbing trees.
- Website: www.sophiadillo.com
- Instagram: @sophiadixondillo and @soka_designs
- Other: www.sokadesigns.etsy.com