Babettopolis, On the Side

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In my eyes, Maria, creator of ‘Babettopolis’ is one of those ‘How does she do it?’ kind of women. She describes herself as a ‘verging on 25 workaholic who needs to sleep more but wishes to sleep less.’ When she says she is a workaholic, I believe her, because Maria’s always onto something new. I was first interested in Maria’s hand made jewellery that featured religious figures and ceramic doll parts. I remember going to ‘Patches‘ a Maltese hand-made market (now curated by Maria and 2 other girls) specifically to buy something from Babettopolis. Eventually, the market started to welcome a variety of jewelers, but Maria seemed to have her mindset somewhere else; particularly tailoring and hat making. To me, Maria is not just a crafty gal who’s taking advantage of the DIY boom, and one look at her Facebook page would quickly tell you why. Her tailored clothes are classic with a twist, her hats are sophisticated and elegant, and her new ceramic pieces are beautifully decorated with intricate illustrations. Most of all however, Maria is inventive with her work. She doesn’t simply modify items, but she comes up with new shapes, combines different tailoring methods together and thus obtains fresh results.

Ok so what’s this post about already? Lately Maria has been posting a couple of fashion-illustrations on Facebook, and these have instantly caught my eye. I’ve always known that Maria could paint and draw but I also knew that it was always something that she did ‘on the side’. Now it seemed as though she was willing to put a bit of a spotlight on her drawings as well, so, being an illustrator myself, and wanting an excuse to get to know Maria a little better, I decided that this was precisely the topic I should pester Maria about.

“I enjoy sketching more than I enjoy running but definitely not as much as I enjoy cooking. That should give you an idea of how I feel about this pass time. It ranks somewhere in between taking holiday photos/baking/watching comedy series AND sweeping/getting my accounts in order/phoning people.”

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One of Maria’s latest sketches

Right after finishing her degree in English, Maria wanted to learn how to sew, make shoes and hats amongst other things. I just really wanted to create things“.” I used to sketch things in the hope of finding enough time in between assignments to see a couple of them through. But creating always seems to require more time than originally predicted. Not only time, but also space and dedication and hours at a stretch, a luxury I certainly couldn’t afford at the time. Painting and reading about it and sketching were my only creative outlets when I couldn’t find enough time and space to spread my felt and take out the glues and pliers.”

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One of Maria’s latest ink sketches: Carla

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As what happens with most creatives at heart, Maria decided to turn her hobby into something more serious. She expressed that after taking up a series of unrewarding jobs, she tried to cumulate as many skills as possible and embark on a “lifelong project.” Although Maria owns quite a nice pile of sketchbooks, she asserts that she does not sketch often, finding words a better medium to express herself. However she does admit that she finds comfort in knowing that she can always resort to pen and paper whenever necessary. “It’s a skill that constantly feeds into my craft.”

My new functional ceramic items are a case in point, every item is a vehicle for a playful sketch and pictorial idea; and for this reason, I do not consider myself to be a ceramist per se. I love the craft, I’ve grown up surrounded by it and I’ll do well in a quiz about ceramics should that ever be required of me but I only took elements from that craft which suited me and served what I had in mind. Last but not least, self proclaimed artistry is unwise as it is embarrassing. I believe in doing things as best you can and in enjoying the process of creating as much as possible even when it fails miserably. An artist is someone I am not and am unable to define.”

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Maria’s sketchbooks all seem to serve specific purposes. Her fullest sketchbooks are two A5 cheap ones that she found in her dad’s studio. These were Maria’s companions when she got her first summer job in Valletta at 16 years of age. “They’re full of quirky sketches for clothes and shoes interspersed with landscape sketches of the grand harbour and the balconies overlooking St. Barbara’s bastions.” There’s another sketchbook for the holidays, and she has just purchased two new sketchbooks for their the paper quality (I think we can all relate to this).

“My favourite sketchbook is a red one with a magnetic clasp which a friend gave to me as a birthday gift – I’m down to its last two empty pages and that, in itself, is a feat for someone who picks up and abandons sketchbooks left right and centre. More often than not I find myself scribbling alongside small sketches, supposedly as a memory aide for future inspection, but when I do leaf through my sketchbooks again I almost never understand what I was on about at the time. I enjoy having a sketchbook close but I’m not one to carry it with me wherever I go; more often than not, if I’m out, I end up sketching on whatever piece of paper I happen upon and if something decent comes of it I’ll take it back home and glue it in a sketchbook instead. Piling them on top of each other for this photo is the closest I’ve ever come to organizing the lot.”

Picture111Maria finds it essential to sketch before sewing for people, however she states that most of these drawings get thrown out along with left over material when the dress is ready. The drawings get more interesting when Maria sketches clothes that she would “love” to sew. In this case, her sketches are more enthusiastically created and have a different style to the “cartoonish” quick sketches that she does when working for clients. “I even go so far as to introduce a figure/face/pose/personality, elements I tend to sacrifice on other occasions when I’m sketching on the spot.”

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A sketch & the actual flamenco dress

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“sketches of dresses glued on to my favourite sketch book for safekeeping”

“I plan to take this renewed interest in sketching day by day; if I try to milk it it’ll die out quicker than ever before. It’s the most fleeting love I have and perhaps it’d be wise for me to take it easy and not pine too much for its stay or return. To be quite honest, I’m always really surprised when the urge to sketch hits me since these occurrences are so rare and far between.”

And so my last question to Maria was whether or not she has ever attempted a self portrait, to which she replied that she had painted two self portraits around 6/7 years ago. After this attempt, she had given up trying to paint her face, not due to the fact that she dislikes the portraits, but rather because of time constraints and  lack of incentive to paint / draw.

“I still do not feel that painting is my calling, it’s just an important element backing every decision I take in this all-encompassing calling I’ve come to call my job.”

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Self Portrait in Ink and Tempera

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Self portrait in collage & acrylic

More of Maria’s drawings, sketches and paintings:

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“another still from a film in washes of indian ink”

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“a still of Anna Magnani in a film I must have liked”

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“pencil sketches of things I saw in real life and in books”

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Maria’s earlier sketches; covering Michelangelo during History of Art lectures

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“my only surviving sketch for a Brikkuni lino print poster I had made some 3 or 4 years ago”

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“one of many sketches in coloured ink pen and wash which I did in another bout of
sketching some 3 summers ago”

Visit Maria’s blog on Babettopolis.blogspot.com

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