I have such a fun treat for you today – my second interview in my new series: Women Who Inspire! I’m chatting with artist and innovator, Windy Chien, about giving yourself permission to take big risks, and making space for a creative life on your own terms.
After long careers at Apple, and as the owner of legendary music shop Aquarius Records, Windy launched her creative studio in 2015. Artistically, she is best known for her work, and book, The Year of Knots, in which she challenged herself to learn a new knot every day for a year.
I’m so excited to introduce you to Windy. Let’s go!
Q. The most valuable career advice you would tell someone else?
Give yourself permission. I used this mantra to quit my job and to focus on making art my life. Your boss is never going to invite you to quit your job, and your family and friends are never going to encourage you to give up that steady paycheck. Nor is anyone going to tell you that becoming an artist is a formula for security (although it can be! If you’re smart about it.) So, if no one else is ever going to give you permission, you have to give it yourself.
Q. A risk you took that paid off?
In 2012, I quit an almost-decade long tenure at Apple in order to focus, for the first time in my life, on my own creativity, rather than supporting other people’s creativity, which I had done in my two previous careers at Apple and in the music industry. I was very careful with my exit strategy and made a plan to cover basic living expenses for one year, so that I would not have the pressure to earn money immediately; I knew that finding my artistic voice would take time.
Another risk I took was in 2016, when I decided to give myself an assignment to learn one new knot every day of the calendar year. I did not consider this project art nor did I consider myself an artist; for me, it was simply a learning exercise to become fluent in the language of knots. But a few months into it, as I nailed each daily knot to the wall of my living room, I realized that by the end of the year I’d have a massive installation of 366 knots and that it would hold together as a work of art. That was the beginning of finding my voice and my language . . . and my new life.
Q. Proudest accomplishment?
I’m really pleased that the thing I love to do most in the world—make my art—is also the way that I earn my living. It took risk and courage to go on the journey that’s led to this. I’m proud of myself for getting here.
Q. The thing you like most about yourself?
I am unafraid to take big career leaps and that has rewarded me with three interesting lives so far. We’re all only here for a short time; there’s no reason not to live omnivorously.
Q. How do you fuel your creativity?
The best way to stay creative is to adopt a beginner’s mind. In the beginner’s mind, anything is possible and I’m not weighed down by the expert’s self-limitations about what’s practical or smart. In order to enter the beginner’s mind, I get to my studio, open up one of my dusty old sailor’s knotting books, and learn a new knot. It plunges me right into the flow state. Beginner’s mind is also a humble place to be, the mindset of a student ready to learn.
Q. Go-to daily uniform?
Issey Miyake Pleats Please. Flattering, timeless, packs down to nothing (I travel a lot for work.)
Q. Actual morning routine?
I wake at 6am naturally, make a butter coffee, walk my greyhound, and then work out for 90 minutes in the VR world, which is as gloriously nerdy as it sounds and has become a huge part of my life; cardio is finally fun, even during a pandemic. (For fellow nerds reading this, I use the Supernatural app; check it out!)
Q. Early bird or night owl?
Q. How do you recharge when it’s all too much?
Making my art puts me into flow, which is the most blissful place to be. It’s when you are working at the limits of your ability, in a state of blissful productivity, where external rewards do not matter—the reward is in the doing of the thing, the process.
Q. Can’t live without beauty product?
Q. Favorite or most used app on your phone?
My best tip for photo editing is TouchRetouch. It will magically remove objects in the photo that you don’t want there. As a minimalist, Shira, I am guessing you will appreciate this 🙂
Q. Digital or physical planner?
I may not work at Apple anymore, but I’m still fully enmeshed in its ecosystem, which is beautifully designed with users in mind. I run my entire art practice/business on my iPad and phone. But with that said, I use the Apple Pencil often to sketch and write on my iPad, so I have the best of both worlds.
Q. Favorite gift to give?
Every person who comes for a studio visit gets a small piece of art as a thank you for taking the time — typically a 5-Strand Star Knot. In 2020, I made a commitment to reduce waste in my art practice, so my short ends go to great use knotted into gifts.
Q. Guilty Pleasure?
I don’t feel guilty at all about this pleasure, actually: I consider video games and virtual reality some of the most exciting art forms of the moment, and I consume them religiously. I usually play on my iPad or on the Oculus. There’s a whole new world of games that are designed with beauty, emotion, and art in mind. Examples: Gris, Manifold Garden, Journey (all on iOS).
Q. Your favorite spot to retreat to in your home?
Even though it’s where I work, I’ve designed my studio to be the most calming, happy-making environment. It’s 1300’ of white shag carpeting, soaring ceilings, gigantic windows for natural light. I spend most of my time barefoot sitting on the floor making the work, and the carpet ensures that when I throw rope on the floor, it stays clean.
Q. What’s coming up next?
I am collaborating on a fine jewelry collection launching in 2022, and this September I’ll travel to the Cheongju Craft Biennale in South Korea to install two large works.
Thank you, Windy! I visited Windy’s San Francisco studio recently, and left inspired and energized. It was a magical creative wonderland filled with color, texture, and energy, where she takes the mundane – a knot – and makes it divine. Windy gifted me a simple knot to take home which I keep in my workspace as a reminder to dream big and take creative risks.
Photography Credit: Windy Chien, Molly DeCoudreaux