Home & Living Interviews

Textile Designer Sue Henry on Starting Before You’re Ready and Believing in Yourself

Photography of Sue Henry.

Sue Henry is a textile designer and block printer who owns Tulusa. The studio produces hand-printed textiles, table linens and accessories. Additionally, you can commission Tulusa to create a custom look for your home via a block-print wall. The studio also creates unique corporate gifts and custom pouches for new product launches and other occasions.

We chatted with Sue to hear more about her design studio.

A place setting with a cloth napkin printed with one of Tulusa's designs.

Artisan Joy: How did you get started creating your art?

Sue Henry: I’ve been making art for as long as I can remember. I have a degree in ceramics and sculpture. I made life-sized figurative and larger sculptures for years. I took a break when we had our boys, but slowly the itch started coming back in. So, I began carving linoleum blocks instead of large pieces of clay; after a while, Tulusa was born.

AJ: When did you realize that you could turn your craft into a side business or full-time occupation?

SH: It was six years ago. I held a pop-up shop and sold out of clutches and pillows I made from my embroidered prints.

AJ: Where do you find inspiration for your creations?

SH: The natural world, animals, pattern and color inspire me.

AJ: How do you apply that inspiration to your work?

SH: I change the scale of things and combine colors found in nature with patterns that they don’t necessarily belong with.

AJ: What’s something our audience would be surprised to learn about you?

SH: I work more than I should, I love to see live music, and I once spent two weeks on a tribal island off the coast of Indonesia hanging out with shamans deep in the rainforest. Also, I consider myself to be a late bloomer. At age 52, I finally have laser focus and direction and refuse to give up my dream.

AJ: As creatives, we can be continuously creating and refining our art. How do you handle perfectionism?

SH: I am far from perfect, and so is my work. I’m a start-before-you’re-ready kind of gal. Everything evolves, and my work continues to reach new heights of “perfection.” I’m good with that.

AJ: What advice would you give to someone interested in putting their art out into the world but feels vulnerable about it?

SH: If you are serious about selling your work, then you have to find a way to have a little toughness about you. There are critics everywhere and lessons to be had from listening to them. That said, be sure to listen to your gut the most. I had important people to me say things like, “I just don’t see how you’ll make a business out of this” and “so when are you going to stop?” So I say, turn those naysayers off at the beginning of your journey. It’s hard, and it took me about 46 years to finally realize my business isn’t about them. I can do whatever I want as long as I believe in myself.

AJ: Has someone ever criticized your artwork? How did you handle it?

SH: You can see some of that in my previous answer, but I would also add that getting critiqued is part of being an artist. Art school was helpful for me because every day was a critique, and you learn to take the hard ones with the accolades. It’s just part of what happens when you put your work and, therefore, yourself out there.

AJ: Creatives are often very in tune with what’s happening in the world. Sometimes it can feel overwhelming. If this happens to you, how do you cope?

SH: Honestly, for better or for worse, I can listen to the news and then lock myself in my sweet bubble of a studio and get back to work. Sometimes my feelings come out in my work, but often I escape from the chaos here in my space.

Throw pillows designed by Sue Henry of Tulusa

AJ: Is there a cause or non-profit organization that you’re passionate about?

SH: Yes, the Ah Haa School for the Arts Telluride, CO. Ah Haa serves as the community center for arts and culture in the town and surrounding communities. You can learn more about it at www.ahhaa.org.

AJ: What brings you joy?

SH: Kids, working, live music, cooking, setting a beautiful table for dinner, travel, friends and family bring me joy.

Thanks, Sue! Tulusa’s products are available for purchase at tulusa.com, and you can follow the brand on Instagram and Facebook.

This interview has been edited slightly for clarity.

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