An Interview with Fem Foundry

We caught up with Brooklyn-based collective Fem Foundry over beers and french fries at SoHo Park, touching on everything from "friendship origin stories" (or lack thereof) and tattoo revelations, to the (many) ways they've collaborated to support causes even bigger than themselves.

Exclusively for Canvas & Cassette's second issue, each of the founding members illustrated themselves as a superhero—an endeavor that in and of itself reflects the individuality, ferocity, and camaraderie of this immensely talented band of women.

Canvas & Cassette: I love friend origin stories; I feel like in the movies it's always "boy meets girl" and there's a "meet cute" or whatever, but I feel like that can happen for friends, too...

Grace Robinson: I actually don't have a conscious memory of meeting any of you (all laugh).

Maeve Norton: I feel like we all have separate friendship stories, but for Fem Foundry as a whole, we were all in studio together in college.

Baily Crawford: And because we were all females in illustration, it was a bond we wanted to keep alive beyond school.

Julie Finn: Yeah, I was nervous because in school you always hear that once you start working it's so hard to continue creating work on your own. Fem Foundry was a way for us to motivate each other.

BC: To have a group of people that all know your style and watched it build is such a rare thing to have, so it was important as a resource. What inspired us initially was having a way to make content. At the beginning we were really adamant about creating zines once a month, and that format was a direct result of just really wanting to keep producing work. Since then it's definitely built up into something else.

JF: It's been a learning experience, too. No one knew what this was going to be. We consider May 15, the day we graduated, to be the birthdate of Fem Foundry because it literally happened afterwards, we were like, "let's continue. It doesn't stop here."

GR: It was also five times bigger. We had twenty plus people involved, and it was exciting because it was all female-identifying illustrators. But obviously it's really hard to have a collective and make decisions—

MN: Picking a name!

GR: Oh, it took forever, we had to come up with one for MoMA PS1.

C&C: It's like picking a band name.

JF: Yeah, like how do you identify twenty women together?

MN: Twenty strongly independent, fiercely opinionated women (laughs).

JF: All a variety of styles and medium, all over the place.

GR: It's interesting to be part of a collective, especially outside of school because you don't have that kind of authority or hierarchal structure, we were working amongst ourselves for the first time and trying to make decisions. So it's been really nuanced in that way, but interesting! The group that we have now, we work well together.

JF: And we always try to promote that we want other people to be part of this as well, it's not just us. This is a group to inspire one another and make work and just have fun, that's the main thing.

BC: The theme that ties it all together is being a group of women that support each other, and that's all it has to be. Women supporting women is powerful enough, and that can take on so many different materializations.

Emily Ringel: It's about building each other up and trying to support each other as a group.

GR: This is my only social outlet, also... (all laugh). I mean, you guys know that I'm not joking. Always good to see you...

C&C: It seems that each of you are working in different creative fields in some sort of way. Is being in Fem Foundry something that, for each of you personally, helps to stoke the fire of your own individual creativity?

GR: Maeve, Baily, and Julie are actually creating artwork day to day—

MN: But it's for someone else, it's not yours.

JF: It's for the paycheck (all laugh).

GR: Emily and I are both around art a lot, we both work in museums. So I think it's inspiring to absorb all of that, and then try to find time to put that into my own practice.

MN: And if one person is doing so much of one thing and says, "I want to do this" or, "I have this project I want to do," then we'll just be like, "alright, let's do your project. Let's run with it."

JF: Especially if things are slow in my own work, it's been a good way to identify, "I want to work on this, this is what motivates me, this helps me want to make stuff." It can get intimidating, looking at a blank sheet—just me in my head and this blank piece of paper, me and my ideas. A prompt or a project helps me, and having a base of people who are into it. And if it's for a meaning—we've had projects benefiting Planned Parenthood, and designed a workshop for young girls to collaborate— things that’ve been for a greater cause and not just making something pretty. It’s been really exciting, working on something bigger than just what I can make.

C&C: That's right! You had an event where all proceeds went to Planned Parenthood, right?

JF: Yeah, it was called Make Your Mark. We raised $1,500 in one night!

GR: The New Women Space is really awesome, we definitely want to do more things there. It was really nice, we branded it as "Fem Foundry and Friends," so even though we're all female-identifying and that's part of Fem Foundry's mission, we can still invite whoever we want, regardless of who they are, to participate in projects with us.

MN: It was a huge success. We're going to do another one, hopefully in spring, for the Joyful Heart Foundation, for domestic abuse survivors. Generally those have been the strongest things we've done, and our favorite things we've done. We also did an event with Curious Jane where we designed a workshop with all these young girls, who were generally between the ages of seven and ten. The girls drew their favorite memory, and then we drew our favorite childhood memory, and a lot of them overlapped. It was just really cool. Then we made a big zine together, teaching them about collaborating. Often when you're a girl there's this idea that you're in constant competition, and we're all about collaboration and building each other up, and it was cool to teach these girls that.

BC: We had an opening, too, and all their parents came. It was a huge gallery, and so many people were there! It was a part of Gowanus Open Studios. Very diverse, that show.

C&C: I love that the collaboration was intergenerational in that way! That's so wonderful to promote that idea of partnering and collaborating, not just with people or women your own age. It seems you've found a way to keep the momentum since your founding, have there ever been times—

GR: —that we felt Fem Foundry was dead, yes (all laugh).

MN: It changes seasonally (laughs). I think at this point, we're good. It's not going anywhere.

JF: As we were forming we had this big group, and it's not that those people didn't want to be a part of it, it just wasn't right for them.

GR: Or they moved physically.

MN: And everyone has different things they want out of it. We try to do a lot, and make a lot, and it can be taxing on someone, which is understandable, you know? It's hard, it's hard work.

BC: But it’s a really big payoff. I feel like for a long time there were people that were a part of it that were looking for the reward but couldn't put the time in, but we were waiting for them, so it was like a shedding of skin kind of thing. Once we got the people who really wanted to put the time in, it became much easier to have meetings. We couldn't have meetings if no one would commit, if half of the group wasn't coming.

JF: One thing I never expected was how much of a learning experience this would be. It's been an interesting experience to mix friendship with business and finance.

MN: And I think you see everyone's strong suits—figuring out what each of us are best at and utilizing that without feeling like people are stepping over each other. Because at the end of the day it's a collective, and everything is equal and we're doing it together no matter what, and no one's in charge. There's no one person who is Fem Foundry, Fem Foundry is all of us. It's been cool to see you guys grow, to see everyone grow.

C&C: The idea of being friends and then also business partners, is it hard or is that an exciting part of it? That you could be getting a drink with each other and it could turn into a business meeting? Or the opposite, where you're there to meet but then your personal lives need to be discussed?

MN: There's definitely a mix of both. We try to have meetings sometimes and then realize, "oh... we're all drunk. We're not talking straight right now" (all laugh).

GR: And sometimes when we're all so busy with work and personal stuff, it's still good and important to have meetings, even if we're not working actively on some bigger project, just to chat and talk about ideas for the future.

C&C: What was the experience like, coming from an academic perspective and then getting involved in the New York creative scene?

MN: I feel like we were well prepared to be freelance illustrators, but what we do isn't that, and questions like, "do we get an LLC? Do we have to make our thing a copyright? If we get a separate bank account for this are we going to have to pay taxes on it?” Shit like that where you're not a freelance illustrator but you're like a business almost. That, we still don't know (all laugh).

JF: It's a very old school put the money in the hat type of thing. So far, I mean hopefully eventually we'll have the big bucks (all laugh). No, it's a passion project, we aren't trying to do this for money.

MN: It wasn't until recently that we actually started bringing in more of what we've produced. Tabling has been an experiment in social consumption, seeing what sells and what doesn't sell, and how if we set up our table in a certain way things will sell, and if we set it up in a different way things won't sell. It's fucking weird.

C&C: In a creative field it seems like everybody is in a position of having to be a Jack of all trades in that way, you have to be the creator, the designer, and the marketer—

GR: I think Pratt did a good job of pushing that, because they were like, “okay you have to go out and do it,” though the other half of the coin was, "we're going to fail" (all laugh). So it was, it's all on you, and also you're going to fail. The amount of times professors were like, "half of you won't be drawing in a year—"

MN: "—or two of you will be doing this professionally." It kind of motivates you.

BC: But I think there's also something to be said for the different ways creativity manifests itself; it doesn't have to be becoming a professional illustrator. Things like this, like Fem Foundry, I feel are just as valid.

C&C: Have you found yourselves working in different media? Of the different things you've done with Fem Foundry what would you say were some of the more unexpected things you’ve done?

GR: I think we surprised ourselves with all of the products we made for the Make Your Mark party, because we had so much; we just kept brainstorming and brainstorming and coming up with different content, and then the spread we had in the basement of that show was humongous.

MN: Also, working with a tattoo artist and having the artist tattoo our designs on people was a whole new world.

GR: That was awesome and also really scary to watch.

JF: And we weren't sure who would do it, but then we were tabling at Pioneer Works and we started talking to this woman and she was like, "my wife is a tattoo artist, she'd be interested in this." Which is why we table, we meet people and it expands our network, it's amazing.

C&C: It's interesting to get more insight into the way you function as a collective, because there's this aspect of anonymity, partially because of how much you produce as a group, where you never know exactly how many people are behind your events or products.

GR: I think that also is partly because we all have our own artistic practices, we're all illustrators with our own accounts and are pushing our own work separately, and while we put that work on the main account too, we don't want any one person to stand out too much.

MN: And I think it's like what Julie said, we're always looking to collaborate, we're always looking for new people to do stuff with. But I feel like that's why we have the anonymity, because it's not just the people at this table right now.

C&C: It feels sort of like a secret society, but one that's inclusive, you know? There's a cool balance you've achieved where I don't know if there are three or thirty people behind the name. It also feels like a friend too; there's a lot that's relatable about the content, where it's encouraging to come to your events because it doesn’t feel like walking into a stuffy exhibition opening.

BC: We were yelling at people on the street to come into Make Your Mark.

JF: Cheap beer for a cause, come in! (all laugh)

C&C: Did any of you get a tattoo that night?

MN: Me and Baily got them after.

BC: We wanted as many people as possible who weren't from Fem Foundry to get tattoos, and Katie was busy from the beginning to the very end.

MN: She did eleven tattoos that night.

JF: Which is crazy! In the span of six to eleven o’clock, and even at eleven we had a friend playing music and she was still going until twelve, tattooing.

MN: See, I got mine—

C&C: There it is! And is that one of your illustrations?

MN: This is by Thomas Colligan, he was one of the featured artists. BC: And Grace did mine.

GF: Wait! Wait, you got it? What?! I didn't know!

MN: That’s what was cool at the event, at Make Your Mark, the artists were there, and they were seeing their work tattooed on people that they didn't know. There was just such a good energy at that party, and it was for a good cause. I'm excited to do Make Your Mark II, it's going to be awesome.

BC: Me too. To have that on the horizon, that builds the energy. And it was crazy how after that event happened, we had the Cooler Gallery approach us—

MN: Things blew up after that.

JF: We worked on that for so long, too. We worked on that for about a year. Then the day after it happened it was like—what do we do now? What do I talk about? (laughs) For months it was only Make Your Mark.

ER: I was really excited that we got to donate so much, though, especially now. It was just a really meaningful thing to be able to do.

MN: It's crazy. It's just cool that people supported it and believed in it and were excited about it.

C&C: I bet it was cathartic for everybody, even just being there.

BC: This might be depressing, but at this age, for me at least, I feel like so much of my life is going towards trying to feel good and "treat myself" and stuff. But Fem Foundry and what we do has really given a sense of purpose that is so much more beneficial than any of these little—I guess being in New York, you're just distracted, constantly consuming, taking everything in and just seeing how much you can get, you know? To give back, and also to put all this stimulation to good use, feels so much better than anything else I'm doing right now. So I guess that's one of the biggest things, one of the things I'm most thankful for, is this group of women.

- Marissa Passi