Posted on August 8, 2017
One fateful gathering three years ago brought us face to face with a number of amazing Perthites, people searching to share in their love of creativity and also forge meaningful connections. Many of these awesome folk have gone on to become good friends and I’m so so glad we got to meet Chiaki and her husband, Simon, that evening. I have never met anyone convey so much warmth and positivity simply by the strength of her presence and the way in which she expresses herself through her life and creative work.
Chiaki is the mother and maker of Toro e Toro, purveyor of individualistic creations and best known for her “kilim dolls”. You may also find her smiling face popping up at places such as Madam Bukeshla in Fremantle. Be sure to say hi!Tell us about Toro e Toro. What does the name mean and how did you start this venture?
I began my creative career studying graphic design at university. I initially worked as a designer and then worked a number of years as a fashion stylist in Tokyo, mostly on photo shoots and videos for Japanese musicians.
When I turned 40 I decided that I really wanted to start creating my own work. I had a deep desire to realise my own world, work at my own pace and fully enjoy what I was doing. This is when I came up with the idea for Toro e Toro, which means Bull and Bull in Italian. The name originates from my star sign – Taurus.
Toro e Toro represents my craft work, but another side passion I have is organising exhibitions for other artists.
Your kilim dolls are so unique and have so much personality. A lot of love goes into putting each one together, where does each part come from?
There is a great story behind each component of these dolls. The patterned main body of my kilim dolls is made from unique handcrafted kilim carpets. They are actually offcuts I receive directly from Turkey from a friend whose family have been involved in the kilim trade for many years. He remembers watching his mother making kilim when he was a child and thinking how much effort went into each rug, hence even small offcuts represent significant amounts of time! I’m so happy that my dolls can give these pieces new life.
The face and back of each doll is made from antique French linen that I hand dye using onion skins. It produces such a lovely colour. I then embroider the features of the face with linen thread, and sew on the hair which is made from the same wool used to weave kilims. I dye the hair a variety of colours, once again using natural dyes.
You always have an air of peace and happiness about you! Do you have a life philosophy or some words of advice for others?
There is a Japanese concept known as kotodama. Fundamentally, is the belief that words have power. Thus, when I speak I always endeavour to choose positive words as much as possible.
How do you balance being a parent with being a creative and having a career?
It can be hard sometimes, but I don’t really separate them. My home and creative lives are mixed and I switch back and forth many times a day.
What’s in store for Toro e Toro? Any exciting new directions?
This week I will be running a couple of workshops at Madam Bukeshla, a wonderful clothing store in Fremantle. On Thursday 10th August there will be a Kilim Doll workshop and on Friday 11th August a Yeti Doll workshop. If anyone is interested in more details they can email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Spaces are seriously limited to these small group workshops, so email Chiaki quick sticks!
Posted on July 11, 2017
After our obligatory Melbourne food-coffee-shop-art fest, the three of us bundled into the car and meandered our way to the Grampians via the picturesque Great Ocean Road, Australia’s answer to Big Sur.
I recently came across the Japanese term shinrin-yoku, literally “forest bathing”. It refers to the recommended practice of visiting the forest for health benefits, both physical and mental. Nothing could be truer and articulates so perfectly the effect even a short trip out of the city does to us. The sharp fresh air, the quiet punctuated by only the gentle sounds of nature, letting your eyes settle on wide open spaces and distant horizons. It’s interesting that out there, one can experience true silence and true darkness, perhaps giving our senses the natural rest they need.
Ironically I write this whilst staring at my laptop screen in a bustling cafe, bass-heavy Lauryn Hill blasting from a speaker into my left ear, cars whizzing by on my right, and the barista is doing that thing they do where they bash equipment together really loudly for some reason or other. (Someone help me out here – what are they doing?)
But this is the reality of our everyday. So maybe tree-hugging shouldn’t be a term reserved for altruistic environmentalists alone, it might do us all some good. I’m convinced it does.
Posted on July 7, 2017
I’ve long been a fan of the beautiful tactile grace that is letterpress. In fact, Jinn and I sourced our wedding stationery from Melbourne almost ten years ago (Eeks!) because we loved it that much. These days you don’t have to look quite as far as a number of good folk in Perth now specialise in the old art form.
One of those people is Ann from Whiteman Park Print Shop. The print shop has been operating since 1988 and houses a beautiful collection of operational vintage printing presses, the largest in Western Australia, making it a place that not only produces great work but is also of historical significance. Ann took us for a tour and introduced us to the art of letterpress in a hands-on workshop which saw us creating a piece of our very own from beginning to end using Ann’s impressive array of letterpress blocks and equipment.
Ann is clearly so passionate about the preservation of this creative trade and is keen to share this interest with others. This month, Ann is holding “Introduction to Letterpress” workshops to fundraise for the National Breast Cancer Foundation so read on to find out more.
Back in the late 1980s, a Trade Village showcasing traditional and professional manual crafts was established. These trades included a blacksmith, leather smith, carpenter and pottery shop, but sadly only the Print Shop remains.
Here at the Print Shop we continue to value the craftsmanship and beauty of traditional letterpress printing, and carry out unique projects such as custom wedding invitations and personalised stationery. In addition, we also rejuvenate and restore printing equipment. Visitors are welcome to pop in during business hours (Wednesday to Sunday, 10am to 4pm) to watch us in action, working on the presses, and learn about the history of printing.
What exactly is letterpress?
Letterpress is a variety of relief printing – the combination of type plus ink, paper and pressure. The artwork itself can be made by using individual printing blocks of letters and characters (this is known as “movable type”) or printing plates that are a bit like a premade stamp that has been digitally created by a graphic designer.
How did you personally become interested in letterpress?
I have a background in languages and project coordination but have always been utterly obsessed with stationery and design. My search for more led me to a number of design blogs through which I discovered letterpress, and I was hooked. The more I learned and read about it, the more I fell in love with this form of printing. In a world where things are easily reproducible and everything is increasingly online and electronic, I find the process of letterpress creates something so unique and personal every single time. Also, perhaps due to my love of languages, seeing the way words come to life on a press is completely captivating to me.
What excites you about letterpress and what kind of jobs do you enjoy doing the most?
Letterpress printing is both challenging and meditative. Every single project is different and requires a fair deal of careful strategising to perfect. This always keeps me on my toes and I’m constantly learning new things about printing. I’m particularly fond of creating work that utilises movable type because it is so much more customisable (right down to the letter and spacing materials used) and requires a great deal of thought and flair.
So – workshops! Tell us more!
We hold regular group workshops, and this month we will be donating 50% of profits from these workshops to the National Breast Cancer Foundation.
Our “Introduction to Letterpress” workshops let you discover the rich history of traditional letterpress printing, learn the basics of hand typesetting and create a print of your very own from beginning to end! The workshop is ideal for those who wish to print simple text-based projects such as a short quote or greeting card. Groups are limited to 4 participants and run for 3 and a half hours. Hot drinks and snacks are provided to keep you and your creative juices going! (Participants must be 18 years and over)
We have two workshops coming up soon on Saturday July 15th and Sunday July 16th, and more to come later this year! To find out more, email me at email@example.com!
Posted on June 27, 2017
I gotta admit, I got onto that plane kicking and screaming on the inside, thinking that this was a very very bad idea. Why would I want to be a sleepless, frazzled new parent somewhere other than in the comfort of my own home.
Insane levels of sleep deprivation and the sudden transition from full-time professional to mother of a tiny being was wreaking havoc on my brain and sense of self. Well-meaning people, parenting websites, numerous books urged me to try all sorts of “fixes” and “routines” resulting in additional stress, making my nerves even more ragged and the tears fall faster.
This trip was in fact the antidote I needed. Every day was different by necessity, routine was out the window as we literally strapped Alexa to our bodies and got outside. We loved it and she loved it! It didn’t matter what we did, there wasn’t any secret magic except for enjoying nature, the act of exploring and simply connecting with one another. Taking the time to notice and drink in the trees rustling in the wind, waves crashing on sandy beaches, the changing colours only sunset can bring, the warmth of my beautiful baby in my arms, the gentle rise and fall of her tummy as she sleeps, placing a little kiss on her tiny lips.
Posted on April 16, 2017
So – after a long hiatus due to work, then pregnancy, then parenthood – we’re up and running! Oh, and by “up” I mean up at multiple and random times of the night for feeds, and by “running” I mean staggering back into bed.
Welcome to the new normal. We’re still passionate about this blog as ever. It’s a place we come to write, express, explore and create. But a new entity has burst in on our scene and changed up our game plan more than we ever imagined.
So things will continue here, perhaps in fits and starts, and it must evolve and move with us on this new adventure that is scarier but more fulfilling than anything we’ve ever done before! I’m not sure where exactly we’re going but I’m sure it’s going to be pretty damn awesome. Yes, there will probably be many many more photos of home and family and musings about the ups and downs of having a baby in and amongst interviews and travels, but I’m cool with that.
Posted on July 17, 2016
Whilst I’m sitting here listening to the rain fall against my window, heater on, cup of tea in hand, dreams of the desert call to me.
One of the most highly anticipated stops along our road trip was none other than the iconic Joshua Tree National Park. We said a reluctant goodbye to our beautiful room at Ace Hotel Palm Springs, vowing to return one day, and sprang into our car, heading on to our next destination. We had a carefully laid out plan. Since we were travelling light(ish), we were going to check out the town, grab some supplies and hire a tent from Joshua Tree Outfitters before heading into the park to bags a campsite and squeeze in a quick hike.
One unforeseen problem – it was Wednesday. And why was that a biiiiiiig problem? Joshua Tree Outfitters don’t open on Wednesdays. And no one else in the tiny town hired out camp equipment. Stride-broken and crestfallen we commiserated our sad fate together in the car. We were contemplating sleeping out in the open (in rattle snake country) or at least in our car, when we went and did what non-delirious totally sensible people would do.
We bought a tent. That’s right, we bought a tent.
Cue carefree, jangly guitar road trip music again!
Driving into the park is like entering another world. Being from Australia, we’re no strangers to desert landscapes but we’d never seen anything like this. I distinctly remember letting out an involuntary, “Woooooah…” when we first caught sight of it. Dry, hulking mountains look down upon you and the numerous oddly shaped Joshua trees dominate your view for miles and miles.
Just a quick look at the nitty gritty for those keen to visit. Joshua Tree National Park is an extremely well-tended and well-loved park with great facilities for campers. You can traverse it with a regular car as all the necessary access roads are sealed and the campsites are pristinely clean. There are plenty of drop toilets, but no running water or electricity (I think there are one or two specific sites that do have these if you need them).
We found our perfect spot at the Jumbo Rocks Campground and pitched our tent quick smart in order to have enough time to embark on a hike up Ryan Mountain. Ryan Mountain is a 3 mile there-and-back hike that ascends 1070 feet (325 metres). Being crazy and highly excited noobs we set out in the middle of the afternoon whilst the sun baked down on us but we made do with plenty of water and in that heat even the ridiculously smallest of shrubs shed the most luxurious shade. The hike is not too long in terms of distance but it does ascend quite rapidly with very few flat spots for respite.
We were rewarded above and beyond our expectations and efforts. Due to the elevation, you get the most incredible views of the park from above, its mountains and unusual rock formations. Enduring the afternoon sun meant that we made it to the peak as the sun was beginning to set behind distant mountains – we were speechless for a while. I think it was just that beautiful and we were just that pooped. The golden hour in this part of the world during Fall lasts a long time but be sure to bring torches to ensure that your descent is safe.
Posted on June 20, 2016
Last long weekend we contemplated two choices. Spend the time doing some much needed home DIY and tidying? Or go coastal exploring? You can see which option won out – the irresponsible but equally necessary choice! We took the opportunity to have a much needed break from the daily grind and wound our way around Dunsborough and the rocky coastline that surrounds the South-West.
The sunny weather and crisp ocean air cleared the stress and drear from our minds as we scrambled intrepidly across coastal paths and up rocky ways. The cool nights were spent hunkering down with mugs of warm tea, too many Snickers bars and a good read. The highlights? Climbing Castle Rock and watching the sun set over Sugarloaf from atop a rocky perch.
Posted on June 8, 2016
About a month ago now, I went adventuring – with my parents! And I left poor Jinn at home. Yes, I know I know, most of you are wondering what on earth possessed me and there were indeed some moments I asked myself the same. Being of the incredibly strong, stoic and self-sacrificing species that is commonly known as “the migrant parent” (holler if you know what I mean), my folks have never travelled a great deal, choosing to pour all their money and resources into funding my and my brothers’ education. I’d long promised to take them somewhere different, somewhere exciting, and these were a couple of our favourite stops.
The Grand Canyon is one of those places of such vastness and great age that you can’t help but see yourself and your place in this gigantic world with renewed perspective. Discovering that the beautiful natural phenomenon was created out of countless layers of soil laid over millions of years and then eroded and carved away by the Colorado River for millions more makes me realise that I’m barely a twinkle, a flash of a shooting star, across the face of this earth. And if that wasn’t enough self-contemplation to make me burst, we arrived to be welcomed by some rather inclement weather, causing me to bitterly rail against our tough luck. I was convinced that our trip was “ruined”! However the upshot was that mist, rain and unseasonal snow shrouded the iconic crags and knolls to create some truly spectacular sunrises, silencing my selfish complaints to a simple, awed “thank you”. (Props to Dad for getting up with me everyday in the subzero temperatures and pitch black dawn!)
Zipping down a few very picturesque highways to the border of Arizona and Utah into the heart of Navajo country, we made our way to the very different but equally striking Monument Valley, which was equal parts cultural experience as it was visual adventure. It’s no surprise that every western movie ever (plus probably every Jeep ad ever) was filmed right here. As we wound through the strangely shaped mesas and buttes, past herds of mustangs grazing and hear the unmistakable sound of coyotes howling in the distance you truly feel like you’re deep in another land. We spent the evening watching sunset’s dying light play shadow puppets with the unusual rock formations, and listening to the songs and stories of our local Navajo guide, Will Cowboy. (His real name, I kid you not.)
There was so much more I wish I could have seen and done, and after seeing these photos Jinn made me swear to return. There are worse promises I could make.
Posted on April 12, 2016
Meet a local love of ours. Okay, when we say local, we mean local to the gorgeous Californian town of Ojai. Whilst researching our road trip route, Jinn fell hard for the vibe and creative spirit of the place which is also home to the insta-perfect store, Summer Camp, and the cooler than cool Ojai Rancho Inn. Subsequently discovering Jack’s work for Four Leaf Wood Shop made a visit to Ojai an absolute certainty.
Welcoming us into his home and studio, Jack, is an absolute dude. When we dropped by, his business was still in its infancy but his knack and affinity for woodwork was already apparent, the start of something big. He had recently escaped life in the fast lanes of Los Angeles for the slower pace of Ojai Valley and swapped a very different job for the creative and tactile work of a craftsman.
Jack’s work stands out from many and I think it’s because he approaches the object’s function with the eye of a fine artist or sculptor, creating very unique shapes whilst respecting the natural knots and lines of the natural wood. His pieces make the everyday work of cutting, scooping, stirring, tasting, a ritual and a pleasure.
See more of Jack’s masterpieces here. My personal favourite? His cake knives are surpassed by none in beauty, form and function – you’ll be baking cakes just so you can cut them.
Product photos by Jack Gerard.