Sloppy Craft Disciple Olivia Mae Sinclair Processes Her Trauma—She Wants You To Do the Same [Q+Art Interview] cover

Sloppy Craft Disciple Olivia Mae Sinclair Processes Her Trauma—She Wants You To Do the Same [Q+Art Interview]

Olivia Mae Sinclair answers the video phone in a black and white gingham blouse. Her jet-black hair falls over her shoulders and onto the blouse’s puff sleeves like a bottle of spilled ink. “Everything I do is black and white,” says the Toronto artist, confirming my suspicions about her screen-printed cloth books. “Minus my pink lipstick today,” she adds, pausing as her cat, patiently waiting for his close-up, pops around the corner of my screen to say hello.

Olivia—who signs every email with a glorious reminder to “stay sloppy”—is a disciple of the sloppy craft movement, described by writer Glenn Adamson as the “unkempt” product of a “post-disciplinary craft education.” Distinguished by raw edges and unrefined surfaces, sloppy craft emerged from the DIY movement as a distinctly Millennial aesthetic with ties to social media. With their undone edges, scribbled poetry, and fraying seams, Olivia’s black-and-white confessionals fit the aesthetic to a tee.

“The way that my hands work is not neat and trim and proper,” says Olivia, who treks to her studio in downtown Toronto nearly every day. “My partner is always going, ‘Oh my God, Olivia, you spilled another drink,’ she says with a giggle before adding, “It's just the way that I am, and embracing it has really changed my life for the better. I'm sloppy; it's fine.”

Toronto-based crafter Olivia Mae Sinclair discusses her ‘sloppy’ cloth-book confessionals and their ability to transform past traumas into shared catharsis.

Olivia’s preference for loose threads pairs seamlessly with the naked messiness of her prose. “The first book that I made was this pseudo-religious experience,” she tells me. “When I finished printing it, I looked up and zoomed out of my body, and I just started sobbing. The stuff that came up from my subconscious was really shocking to me—it was based on an abusive relationship that I had just ended.”

While making books and filling them with stream-of-conscious prose helped Olivia process the trauma of sexual violence, sharing that work with others became integral to her emotional growth. “The reaction is wild,” she says, explaining what happens when viewers encounter her touchable works, cleverly titled with double entendres like “Walk All Over Me” and “Please Just Fucking Touch Me.” Sometimes, people cry and walk away without speaking. Other times, they’ll “trauma dump” on Olivia, “which is fine.”

“I have heard everything at this point, and nothing fazes me anymore,” she says, describing her interactive books as a two-way conversation between maker and viewer. Or between survivor and survivor: “I think it’s important for people to know they’re not alone.”

In Today's Q+Art Interview…

Olivia Mae Sinclair discusses the close-knit nature of the Toronto crafting community, author Melissa Border’s electrifying, anxiety-ridden prose, and the messiness involved in exorcising past traumas.

‘Soft Sloppy Stories’; photo: Theresa Brereton
‘Time and Memory’ (detail); photo: Nicole Drennan

What’s your experience with the Toronto arts community?

Olivia Mae Sinclair: I love the Toronto arts community, and I love the Toronto crafts community, maybe more. It's a really close-knit community. Our resources, unfortunately, are starting to dwindle a little bit. Some of the larger institutions, namely Artscape, went under recently, which was a huge resource for Toronto Canadian artists. But with that being said, I do love the community. People show up for everything. It's tight.

You’ve studied memoirs and poetry, which shows up in your work. Can you tell us about the last couple of books that you read? Your favorites?

OMS: I grew up a reader. I grew up at the same time as the internet. I'm 26, so I remember my life before the internet, and I remember getting high-speed internet being a big deal. But I grew up reading Stephen King, and I read the NeverEnding Story a million times.

Recently, I read Julia Fox's autobiography. I also read Britney’s autobiography. It's just so interesting because I feel like Britney Spears really wrote that thing. It was in her voice. But Julia Fox, I don't know of her other than just reading her memoir and seeing stuff about her online. I'm curious if she actually wrote it or not because it's pretty well written.

My favorite book of all time is So Sad Today by Melissa Broder. I read her newest book, which is called Death Valley. There’s another book called literally show me a healthy person, and the author of that is Darcie Wilder.

‘Archive of Affirmations’
Toronto-based crafter Olivia Mae Sinclair discusses her ‘sloppy’ cloth-book confessionals and their ability to transform past traumas into shared catharsis.
‘It Takes Two’

Your art has a confessional aspect; what other confessional works of art do you enjoy or that inform your work?

OMS: I've mentioned Melissa Broder twice now, so I'll make it a third time.

She had a Twitter page or still has one, and for many years it was anonymous. It was called @sosadtoday, and it felt meme-ish, if you will, but there's truth to it and confession about the sadness and emptiness that she felt. And so, for many years, the page was anonymous. She is a poet and a writer, did her MFA, and has written many things, but her identity was never attached to it. Then she published the book So Sad Today. It's short essays and follows the format of her Twitter. That's when she came out with her identity at the release of this book.

She was really worried that the Twitter account was going to hinder her seriousness as a writer and as a poet. But it turned out, in my opinion, to really skyrocket her career. There's this anonymous aspect of it that I really appreciate, but it is so confessional and shares one's deepest, darkest thoughts. And I think attaching your name to it is really powerful and empowering.

You’ve spoken about deconstructing power and sex between men and women in the past. Can you tell us more about how that manifests in your work?

OM: Initially, I think my work talked a lot about the power dynamics between men and women, and I was looking specifically at sexual violence. My work has shifted as my life has shifted. I was in a really abusive relationship for many years—I got out of it. And then, as it happens, I met somebody that completely changed my life, and now I'm deeply, madly in love. We've been together for five years. The way that my work has changed is it was really in a dark place, and it was coming from a place of suicidality. Now the work has changed. It changes from victim to survivor, and I feel like I've gotten my power back, and I'm able to explore these dynamics in a safe way, not only in my art but also in my personal life.

Toronto-based crafter Olivia Mae Sinclair discusses her ‘sloppy’ cloth-book confessionals and their ability to transform past traumas into shared catharsis.
‘Sugar-Free Dopamine’

How does the concept of “sloppiness” relate to your work?

OMS: The act of making, for me, is therapeutic—it is processing trauma. The act of making is like a political stance. I am a craftsperson, I'm an artist, and this is what I do. Sloppiness comes from when I was in undergrad. The feedback I would get every single critique was, "The work is great, the concept is great. I can see that this is process-based, but the finishing is just not there. You need to spend more time trimming threads, finishing seams. Try a little harder next time."

Making my first book, this spiritual moment that I referenced earlier, was the first time that I really let myself be sloppy. It's like smooshing it together with pain and love at the same time and just letting it be the way that it is going to be.

Can you tell me about some of your favorite creative or self-care rituals?

OMS: I'm a bath person. I'm also a tattoo person, and it's funny because those two self-care things go together like orange juice and brushing your teeth. You can't have a hot bath after you get a fresh tattoo.

I'm all about letting myself be unhinged, drinking a couple of Red Bulls, putting on a metal playlist, zoning in, and getting to that flow state.

‘Walk All Over Me’; photo: Nicole Drennan
Toronto-based crafter Olivia Mae Sinclair discusses her ‘sloppy’ cloth-book confessionals and their ability to transform past traumas into shared catharsis.
‘But I Still Hope You See This’; photo: Rainer Oktovianus

Olivia Mae Sinclair: Website | Instagram | Tik-Tok | Purchase Work

This interview has been edited for length and clarity; featured photo: Rebecca Tisdelle-Macias. All photos published with permission of Olivia Mae Sinclair

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Morgan Laurens

Morgan Laurens (she/her/hers) is NOT REAL ART’s editor in chief. Morgan is an arts writer from the Midwest who enjoys saying “excuse me” when no actual pardon is needed. She specializes in grant writing and narrative-based storytelling for mission-driven artists and arts organizations. With a background in printmaking, pop culture, and classic literature, Morgan believes a girl’s best friend is the pile of books on her bedside table.