Petite Bleu with Kadie Salfi


Cyanotype Ballerinas by Kadie Salfi

Perhaps the best part of putting together our little online shop was the discoveries found, conversations had, and new friendships made. One morning last spring, through some research and general creative wanderings, I found myself on the website of Ithaca, NY artist and printmaker Kadie Salfi of Petite Blue, and knew immediately that this was a woman I wanted to learn more about. It might have been this image of her simple booth at the local farmers market that first caught my eye. After a few emails exchanged, Kadie gave me a call, and our hour of conversation quickly passed.  We chatted about baseball, California, a shared love of the color blue and experiments in gold leaf. Talking with her was familiar, comfortable. 

From that initial conversation, Kadie went on to create a few pieces for The Merchant Home, considering the dual themes I was working towards with the collection as a whole, Motion and Moment, interpreted in her own beautiful way. The end result: a grouping of 4 cyanotype ballerinas, accented with gold leaf; and a triptych of three oversized canvas tapestries strung like jewels on a chain, which hang in our studio,  and to me, evoke optimism and peace.  From across the country, we kept in touch, sending samples and photos back and forth, and even getting to properly meet for coffee with our kids on a foggy day during Kadie's west coast vacation. 

Now that we're finally settled in our new space, and surrounded by her work everyday, the time felt right to share more of Kadie's story here. Read on for a Q&A, and more about her work, printmaking process, and points of inspiration below.

Cyanotype Palm Wall Hangings at The Merchant Home

The Merchant Home: In putting this assortment together, we talked a bit about the concept of motion. Can you elaborate on how this relates to your art?

Kadie Salfi: Over the years I have made work about motion in many ways ranging from using imagery of race cars and horse racing in a series called “A Frozen Moment” to images of ballerinas and palm trees in my Petite Blue collection, that are at times blurred with large halftones, which can give them a feeling of motion. We are always moving, the planet is always moving and our universe is expanding. Motion is a constant and when I make a piece of art with an image, in essence it is a frozen moment, a snapshot that I believe tells a story. Weather it is my story or the viewers story, there is story, which provides movement in the imagination.

 We also spoke of the color blue as another connection point. It's prevalent in your work- what drives this?

Blue is peaceful, powerful, bold and royal all at the same time. I have spent much of my life by the sea, both the Pacific and Atlantic, spending hours playing in the blue, staring at the blue and getting lost in the blue. Both my mom and grandmother as well love blue and have always had blue objects around the house and wore turquoise or lapis lazuli jewelry. Making blue art feels calming and natural. Maybe this is my blue period. Now that I have combined the Petites with gold leaf, which reminds me of lapis and Egyptian art, I feel that I am just at the beginning.

What is an unexpected place (physical or digital) that you go to for inspiration?

Listening to really loud music while driving along the lake past vineyards and farms in Ithaca, NY is something I can do locally to get inspired. Whenever I travel to new places there is always a change in perspective that inspires my creativity in new ways and wakes up parts that may have been sleeping. We went to Saint Lucia a few years ago and the combination of the color of the sea and the colors of the houses and boats are still inspiring my work. I go to NYC a few times a year as well and naturally go to museums and galleries, but also to boutiques and specialty stores that are occupied by colors, materials, patterns and objects oozing with inspiration.

Cyanotype is process-driven. Do you follow a design process with your artwork, and if so, is there any artifacts of that in the finished work?

Because each cyanotype is unique due to how I paint the emulsion on the canvas, exposure time and how long it is rinsed in water, the design process is fairly organic. Only after each piece has dried do I decide if I will keep it as is, paint on it or apply gold leaf. When I paint or apply gold leaf to a Petite, the movement of the image on the canvas inspires each mark.

Cyanotypes by Kadie Salfi at The Merchant Home

 What led you to working with cyanotype?

 I learned how to make cyanotypes while getting my BFA at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago. Later, when I was working at Gemini GEL in Los Angeles printing art for some of my heroes: Robert Rauschenberg, Richard Serra and Jasper Johns to name a few, I needed to figure out a quick way to start making my own art and remembered cyanotypes. I made a number of them in LA and when I eventually moved back to San Francisco and set up my studio in the Mission, I started making ballerina cyanotypes and juxtaposed them with baseball players. The cyanotype process has continued to be part of how I make my art. The range of blues that I can produce from indigo to cyan is what attracts me the most to this process, but also the process itself and the magic moment of washing the canvas in water and seeing the blue image appear, unique every time.

 You work in a range of scales, both with Petite Blue and your fine art. For The Merchant Home, we did an oversized and a petite grouping.  I'd love to know more about if or how you utilize scale, and how you envision your art being integrated into someone else's home.

 When I started thinking about making my ballerinas into a brand, Petite Blue, I knew I wanted to make small pieces of art that were elegant and bold, small and easy to transport and matched a price point that could accommodate a range of buyers from a new mom decorating her nursery and looking for sophisticated decor to an art collector adding a Kadie Salfi to their collection. I love them small and think of the Petites as little gems that can stand alone, but also look wonderful in clusters. These pieces can fit in a small space but as well, can hang on a large wall and hold the attention needed.

 Over the years I have always played with scale and perspective so naturally with Petite Blue I had to do the same. The original Petites are large ranging from 22” x 30” to 30” x 40”. Because of the size, you can see the halftone dot is much larger and the image at times is harder to see when close up but as you get farther away, you can see it as crisp and sharp.

 The palm tapestries have this same quality. They are even larger: 30” x 60” and do need a bigger, more open space. I can see them hanging in bright modern living rooms, entryways or bedrooms as well as hotels and restaurants. They are from photos I took while in Kauai and naturally have a tropical feeling about them that I find captivating.

Kadie Salfi  Petite Blue Studio

How does your history with California play into your work? And, Ithaca?

 I have lived in California, New York and Vermont and all have had their own ways of influencing my work. While I was at SAIC I made a body of work called “Vermont 1972-1993” About twenty pieces with images or subject matter from or about Vermont. I still use some of these images in my work today: cows and roosters, the farm inspired work. All of the sea imagery and palm tapestries are inspired from all my years by the sea on both coasts. The palm tapestries remind me of LA and the modern yet 1960’s vibe that I love from the architecture to the décor. Bright rooms, large walls, open space, bougainvillea, banana trees, palm tress and the sweet sweet smell of star jasmine.

What is the biggest risk you've taken as an artist?

 Making a brand out of a body of work. Jess Brown is an old friend and collector and contacted me a few years ago to buy new ballerina art to add to her collection. At the time, I was struggling as an artist in the sense that I was not working with a gallery, and honestly was feeling disenchanted with having to find someone (a gallerist) that loved what I created and could see my passion and dedication and wanted to represent me. But whenever I spoke with Jess, she always made me feel like I was a gift, a treasure and an important contributor to the world. I wanted to work with people like Jess.  I have always loved what Jess has created with her dolls and clothes and recognized that there is a similar aesthetic and started thinking that maybe she would sell my ballerinas through Jess Brown Designs. When I mentioned this to Jess, she was excited by the idea and suggested I make ten ballerinas and we have an opening at her store in Petaluma. I immediately made large and small ballerinas, which were shipped out for the opening in May of 2013.

At some point I recognized that although some of my art needs to be shown in more traditional art settings, the ballerinas could be branded in such a way that they could do both: be shown in galleries and as well sell in boutiques, home décor and life style stores. This eventually led me to start Petite Blue, which I opened in January 2014. I am taking my time with finding stores to work with and am thrilled to be part of the Merchant Home collection. I sell on Etsy and am creating a website with ecommerce, but other than Jess Brown and now The Merchant Home, I will continue to be very selective about who I work with. It is empowering to take control over something that feels out of control and try a new direction that I had never thought of doing. So far it has been a sweet journey.

Petite Blue by Kadie Salfi
Kadie Salfi

Name one (or several!) crazy things you hope to do someday (either personally or professionally).

 I would like to make a life size cyanotype of a blue whale, which is one hundred feet long. This would be made with small pieces of canvas that I would sew together and apply gold leaf to. As I mentioned above, scale has been a focus in my work and I have always wanted to make a body of work about animals, each to scale: a blue whale next to a butterfly. I would love to swim with dolphins, spend time near African Elephants and ride an Arabian camel in Morocco to the sea. 

What other artists or makers do you find inspiration from?

 Degas and his ballerinas and ancient Egyptian art. Many other artists ranging from Vija Celmins and Kiki Smith to Gerhard Richter, Sigmar Polke and John Baldessari. Since I come from a fine art background I tend to go to the artists that I have used for inspiration for years. With that said I follow stores, makers and creative’s on Instagram as well from all over the planet. 

Ballerina Cyanotypes

Many, many thanks to Kadie for her partnership with The Merchant Home, and for so openly sharing her art with our community. Please visit her website, instagram, and shop to learn more about Kadie and her art. 

We're so pleased to be one of a select few shops and galleries representing Kadie's work, listed below. For purchasing information on the large Palm tapestries (or to come see them in person!), please send us an email to hello@merchanthome.com. 

Cyanotype Tapestry by Kadie Salfi at The Merchant Home

PS: Sharing more interviews and inspiring art here and here, and monthly here