We call this section of our blog “Businesses We Love,” and it couldn’t be truer when talking about Paris Woodhull. We LOVE Paris! A local artist, a Knoxvillian through to the core, and Queen of the Instagram story dance party, this cool gal is one of our dear friends and a shining star in the maker community in Knoxville. We teamed up with Paris for our monthly Instagram and newsletter giveaways and spent some time chatting about art inspirations, life as a busy boss-babe, and how her latest work has inspired us.
Alaina and Paris go wayyyy back. Both got their start working for Rala in downtown Knoxville, TN and learned a little something from their boss and Rala’s owner, Nanci Solomon, about building their dream job. Paris is known in the community for her playful, unmistakable illustration style, and in particular, her sweet, hand-drawn maps of the Knoxville area - Not to mention her funky, hand-printed t-shirts and sassy stickers, all finished with a dash of feminist flair. More recently, though, she's taken on some bigger projects -literally- most notably in the form of a huge, bright and cheery mural at Printshop Beer Co. in South Knoxville.
Painted as part of the Walls for Women initiative and sponsored by Visit Knoxville, Paris’ mural sprawls out across one side of the brewery, depicting a collection of colorful characters and organic shapes painted in playful pinks, bold blues, and opulent oranges. Each of these characters is entirely unique, and each one interacts in some way to the character next to it. Some hugging, some leaning on one another for support, some captured mid dance move - this image really resonated with us. When we look at this mural, we feel a connection between the imagery and the current climate (in many ways) of coming together in uncertainty and discomfort. A group of entirely unique humans connecting and collaborating to fill and improve the space with their own amazing qualities, abilities, and perspectives? *Chef’s Kiss,* we love it. What about our own differences, unique qualities, strengths, and weaknesses? What are we bringing that builds others up and creates support? What if our weaknesses are superpowers? What if our differences make us stronger together? What if the things we’ve been shamed for are the things that make us powerful? With such a strong statement emanating naturally to us from this piece, we were really excited to chat with Paris about her work and life as an artist in Knoxville.
CG: What’s the best part about being a maker with your own small business?
PW: Honestly? The satisfaction of reaching a point where my business feels stable, and I'm paying the bills with art. What. More. Could. I. Want. *Insert heart emoji* Coming from a fine art background, I was definitely taught the "starving artist" mentality. I was taught that creating for money made the art "dirty" or "less pure." That's just never been my jam. I create my best work when I feel mentally stable and financially safe. Why the F is anyone taught to crave the opposite?!
My second answer is when I can help build up another small maker. I think resources are loaves/fishes and karma is real. I had so many sweet folks that lent me a hand when I was first starting, and I'll forever be grateful to them.
CG: Can you share a little bit about what inspires your process and your products?
PW: Everything from my own inner dialogue to world events to folks that I look up to. I don't think one thing inspires my process or products, it's a culmination of current interests and using my art as a tool for my own therapy (hello 2020 you stink lol.) More specifically, I love fashion (Molly Goddard makes me straight drool), bold pattern/color (Lisa Congdon you are an icon), pop culture, textile design, people that stand up for themselves/others, and when different genres mingle (the reason I call myself an illustrator and not a designer.)
CG: What are the challenges/rewards of working on a large scale mural in comparison to your more typical smaller-scale work?
PW: It's a challenge/reward all wrapped up into one. It forced me way, way, wayyyy out of my comfort zone. It all felt so outside of myself and honestly, I still can't totally believe that I did it.
CG: What was the inspiration for this mural and what does it mean to you?
PW: The project was sponsored by Visit Knoxville and called "Walls for Women". It was started by non-profit organization, Do More Art, to celebrate the 19th amendment centennial and to give women artists the opportunity to create large scale works of art. That being said, we were allowed to create anything. I took it as an opportunity to create something loud, funky and just plain...FUN! The piece doesn't have a direct meaning or story line. I wanted to take this as an opportunity to expand my portfolio beyond illustrating maps and take a risk. All of the mural figures came from drawings that I did as part of my sketchbook practice last year. I pieced them together, then added/subtracted so that they would fit the wall. I wanted some of the bodies to interact with the space...like the girl with her foot over the door and the man with his arms over the window. All of the colors are sort of a compilation of inspirations: other illustrators' that I look up to + fashion + textile/pattern design. I took these inspirations and then put my own spin on them by adding/subtracting color.
The mural is titled “Victoria” after my relative Victoria Claflin Woodhull, who was the first female to run for U.S. president in 1872. Even though the piece is not depicting her, I feel that it depicts her energy as I carry on the legacy of women's rights by doing exactly what I want to do...create art! More specifically, the piece is inspired by modern dance, bodies interacting, textile design and an array of other influences. It's basically an assemblage of all of my favorite things.
CG: What do you love about living and working as an artist in Knoxville?
PW: All of it. But mostly I love the people and the strong sense of community. I love that we are big, but small in so many ways. We are humble and hard working as heck. Like most folks that grew up here, I definitely went through a phase where I thought I was going to move and "get outta here!" But I stayed, and I'm dang glad. The real truth is, I wouldn't be happy anywhere else. Knoxville is home for sure.
CG: Who inspires you?
PW: Funny, I think most people would be like "Gwen Stefani! Omg Dolly Parton! Beyonce!" I do have inspirations like this...I mean it's a total sin to not love Dolly...but my first reaction is folks near me. My family, my friends, my fella...my grandma (she was such a force to be reckoned with.)
CG: When did you know you wanted to own your own business?
PW: Nanci (freaking badass) Solomon! Similar to Alaina, I was brought up in what we fondly refer to as "Nanci" School. She's the owner of Rala, and has taught me everything I know about business. Over the 11 years of working for her she has instilled so much confidence and drive in me and also just a general problem-solver business savve. I love her dearly, and I love Rala dearly. I'm still learning things from her, and I wouldn't be where I am today without her, period.
CG: Do you have a mantra? Will you share it with us?
PW: I'm all about some positive manifestations. I had a friend once tell me that she was always hearing me talk about the possibility of things not working out...but what if they did? What if I started with assuming they would work out and trust my work ethic? And if it wasn't meant to be that it wasn't meant to be. I think the point she was trying to make was the energy I was putting out was negative when I could easily switch it to positive. This has helped me so much...I think it has also stopped some premeditated gray hairs from growing in!
Also "not everyone will like me, and that's ok." I can be a people-pleaser, and that comes with a heavy dose of insecurity. It's helped me a lot to own who I am and just remember that I won't be everyone’s cup of tea, and that's ok :-)
While that’s definitely true, Paris is for sure our cup of tea. If you haven’t seen her mural IRL, we highly recommend a visit to Printshop Beer Co. to witness the beauty in person - it contains multitudes. If you have seen it, sound off in the comments to tell us what this mural says to you. A million thank you’s to our awesome friend Paris Woodhull for being amazing, for making Knoxville brighter and more beautiful, and for collaborating with us! We love Paris’ work so much, and we know you will too. Learn more about Paris and her work on Instagram @ParisWoodhull and on her website at ParisWoodhull.com.