Artist Spotlight is a series focusing on artists, both local and from afar, that share a passion for art and in some way work with video games or nerd culture.
Instagram is a wonderful place. We’ve connected with so many amazing and talented people that work in all types of fields, and that’s how I discovered Allison. Through scrolling relevant hashtags to my interests like #art, #salem, and #videogames, I stumbled upon a series of bright and colorful patches depicting 8-bit versions of Mario and Link, as well as unique designs and other pop-culture influenced pieces.
As an artists myself (well sort of) I like to support local art. I understand the talent, the hard work, and sometimes the self-deprecation and over-analyzation that goes into pouring your soul into a creation. So I reached out to Allison to have an 8-bit Link patch made for my bag, and what spawned from that was the idea for this series of articles showcasing talented individuals who share some form of a passion for gaming or nerd culture.
After connecting with Allison, we ended up chatting about some relevant topics and decided to share those for you here. Below are some excerpts from our conversation.
Pass The Controller: Everyone has passions, some people choose to do them as hobbies or in their spare time, and few people choose to pursue them as a career. Was there a defining moment that made you want to pursue art outside of a passion or hobby?
AllisonWhtArtist: There was never really a defining moment to when I decided I wanted to be an artist. Ever since I was a kid I only ever wanted to be an artist or a writer when I grew up. I remember watching Bob Ross when I was probably five years old and being fascinated at what he was able to do. I was always drawing and making decorations for our house, and I just always loved it. When I was a junior in high school and starting to look at colleges I was so excited to discover that not only can you major in art, but there are whole schools dedicated to it as well.
I would say a more defining moment for me was when I realized I wanted to use needlepoint as my primary medium. I majored in photography at Montserrat, but by my senior year I was just so burnt out on it. My mom had taught me how to sew when I was about eight years old, and I remember how much I loved it. It had been probably ten years since I stitched anything at that point, but I started doing it again during class, and was surprised by how much the teachers embraced it. I ended up basing my whole senior thesis project on creating large line stitch pieces of X-Ray and MRI imagery; I was going through a hip reconstruction at the time as well, and I think this was a way that helped me cope with getting through the physical therapy and being stuck at home a majority of the time. My pieces really stood out in the gallery, and the feedback I got was so positive it just encouraged me to embrace needlepoint again.
PTC: That’s pretty amazing, it really shows the healing powers of art, the un-tangible properties. Do you share the same passions for photography that you do for needlepoint? Any interest in pursuing photography or are you still burnt out from college?
AW: Photography for me has always been a career, while needlepoint has been my passion. Because I work full time in photography, I don’t tend to do much personal photography anymore beyond using my phone. At the end of the day I usually don’t want to be in front a computer anymore. I do love my job, and consider myself very fortunate to have a full time job in what I majored in, but I also love having a side business that is completely my own.
PTC: Yeah, I completely understand that sentiment of working on something your passion about that you are in full control over (ahem, Pass The Controller). Switching gears then, looking at what you create, needlepoint being your preferred medium, what made you choose to create 8-bit characters? Was it because the style fit your medium? Did someone request it and it grew from that? Are you a gamer?
AW: I love video games, especially retro arcade games! I would say at this point I’m a “casual gamer.” I don’t have as much time as I used to to play games, but occasionally I will still get sucked up into a game every once in awhile, and I always love replaying my favorites. Again, a lot of my favorite childhood moments involve video games. I’ll always remember the Christmas when my sister and I got our Sega Genesis, and loving rainy days during trips to New Hampshire because that meant we got to go to Funspot for the day. [Also] every year on Valentine’s Day my fiancé and I go out for dinner then head up to Pinball Wizard in New Hampshire for a night of retro gaming.
PTC: That’s so important, I have so many important memories and milestones in my life tied to video games, so I love hearing how games relate to other people’s lives outside of actually playing. What games do you like to play, consoles do you own, and what’s your favorite game or series of all time?
AW: As I said, arcade games hold a special place in my heart, in particular Pac-Man and Galaga. Right now I just have an Xbox One, but growing up I played a little bit of everything. We had a Sega Genesis so I always loved the original Sonic the Hedgehog games, my friends always had various Nintendo systems so going to their houses to play Mario was always great. My dad used to put games on our computer too, so I was exposed to FPS games like Wolfenstein and Doom at a pretty young age; I loved playing them even though they usually scared the hell out of me and definitely caused a few nightmares! I still love all the games I grew up with, I was so excited to have the original Sonic game on my Xbox, and FPS games are still high on my list. The BioShock series is hands down my favorite, and I fell in love with American McGee’s Alice in high school and thought the sequel on the 360 was amazing. I know a lot of people aren’t fans of the Fable series but I adored the first two games in the series. There was something about the goofiness of it that kept me playing, and of course, replaying it as a bad guy is always a good time.
PTC: Wow, I wasn’t expecting such a wide swath of games. I’m a big Nintendo guy, though I still love Sega, Nintendo is where I plant my flag if I had to. One of our very own, Todd, ranks the Bioshock series in his all-time games list as well. Well now that we know what games you love from the past and present, are there any upcoming games that you are excited about?
AW: One game that I was excited for was the new Resident Evil. I haven’t had a chance to play it yet, but I’ve been watching a few YouTubers play it, and I can’t wait to get my hands on it! I’ve heard rumors of an Evil Within 2 which I’m definitely hoping happens. The first game was intense and totally sucked me in, so I hope they make a sequel. It was the first game in years that I legit could not play if I was home alone. I tried and I had to turn it off after about 20 minutes of creepy noises. I’m a huge horror movie fan, and that definitely spills over into video games as well.
PTC: You’re much braver than I. I had nightmares of Resident Evil 2 for years when I was younger. Everyone else here at Pass The Controller is stoked for Resident Evil 7, but it doesn’t look like my cup of tea. I also lost interest in the Resident Evil series after RE 5. You’re going to PAX East this year, is this your first time going? What’s your favorite thing about PAX or the thing you’re most looking forward to?
AW: I’ve gone to PAX East for the past four years. Mostly I like going to learn about games I haven’t heard of yet, and also I just like to go to people watch and check out all the amazing costumes people create for the event; it’s an admiral level of dedication. To me, my favorite thing about PAX is just being a part of this huge crowd that shares the same love of games, and being around people who understand that level of excitement when talking about your favorite game, or a game you’re really looking forward to. It’s just awesome to be a part of that community.
PTC: Oh, you’re a PAX veteran! It really is a special place, being around thousands of people that share your interests and being able to make new connections and experiences. I look forward to it every year. Well I hope you get the chance to experience some stellar games and cosplay this year, and hey, hopefully Resident Evil 7 will be there for you to get you hands on (it wasn’t). But back to the art, what’s the piece you’re most proud of or hated parting ways with?
AW: I wouldn’t say I’m not proud of them, but the first few pieces I sold I just have a hard time looking at them at this point. My skill level wasn’t where it’s at now, so things are crooked, or the stitches go in different directions, and it just irks me now to look at them. I can be a bit of a perfectionist when I comes to my work, so a part of me looks at my early work and just cringes. I’m sure no one else even sees the mistakes, but they drive me crazy.
PTC: Yeah, I think most artists struggle with the constant battle of perfecting work and almost feeling like things are never fully completed, at least I do. I saw that you posted earlier this year, that you were going to try and create a new piece each week, are there any other plans you have for this year? Festivals or fairs you will be attending?
AW: I’ve been so busy this year with back orders, at the moment I don’t have any plans for festivals or fairs. Last year I had a booth at the Salem Arts Festival and had a table set up at Silver Moon Comics and Collectibles in October, and my popularity just exploded. It’s a bit overwhelming, but at the same time, I love it and appreciated it so much. I’ve been working hard on this business since 2012, and to have it get to the point where it’s at, I feel incredibly grateful. A lot of people work at what they love and it never amounts to anything so to even just be where I am right now has been such an amazing feeling. Sometimes I wish I could go back in time to my high school or college self who was usually a little down on herself and discouraged and just tell myself “Keep going, someday it’s going to start working out.” Like most artists, I’m my own worst critic, so for me to be able to look at what I’ve accomplished, and where I’ve got myself in four years, it’s nice to be able say I’m proud of myself. I am hoping that in October I can have a table set up at Silver Moon again, those guys have been so helpful getting my name out there, and working with them has been a pleasure.
PTC: That’s such a fantastic feeling, I myself have always been creating in some form and I absolutely understand the struggle. I had a booth at the Salem Arts Festival as well! Working with other local businesses is always a smart business move too. That being said, Salem is an artist colony, at least in my mind, is there an energy about the city that you think helps stimulate your creative side?
AW: Being a horror fan and working in Salem every day has definitely helped stimulate my creativity. Two Octobers ago, I started making the horror character portraits and they’ve been embraced mostly by the Salem community. I don’t know if I ever would have thought to start making them if I wasn’t in an environment like Salem every day. Working at PEM also helps keep me creative; it’s nice to come to work every day to work with other artists and be surrounded by art. Everyone at PEM has a secret side talent so it’s a very encouraging place to be. I can’t wait for the Kirk Hammett show in August, I’ve already got ideas for Creature Feature type needlepoints in the near future. I’ve already made a Count Orlok but I can’t wait to make Frankenstein’s Monster and the Creature from Black Lagoon.
PTC: Salem really is an inspirational place to be for creatives. I spend so much time downtown, writing in Front Street, or just taking in the sights around. I can only imagine the creative energy that circulates working in a place like the Peabody Essex Museum and being surrounded by passionate people. I see that you create all types of needlework pieces pulling from different areas of interest, but your bio says you’re known for your sugar skulls. Why are you known for your sugar skulls? Was it the first thing you sold or sold the most of?
AW: Wow, I wrote that bio so long ago I forgot I said that. A sugar skull was the first detailed needlepoint (as in non-line) I made, and the response people had to it was so positive, that I started making the small ones to sell, which is pretty much what kick-started my business. For a while, they were all I was making and selling. Now I would say my horror portraits are probably the most popular, which is good because there’s more of a variety so I don’t get bored with making them, and they are more challenging for me to stitch as drawing faces has never been easy for me. I’m really happy for that too; after a few months of making just sugar skulls I started worrying that those were all I would be known for, and all I would make, so when I started branching out with other designs, it was relieving that they were embraced just as much as the skulls were.
PTC: We all have to start somewhere, thanks for taking the time to answer all of these questions!
AW: Thanks again for doing this. Hope to see you at PAX tomorrow!
Allison is an uber talented needlepoint artist who we can’t wait to get more patches from, as well as beat her high score in Pac-Man at some point at Bit Bar. We were lucky to have the opportunity to meet her and look forward to seeing the great things she continues to do in her medium. If you are looking for a sick patch made up she loves doing commissions. Plus, you should be supporting your local artists anyways!
Allison White is a Massachusetts based artist who’s preferred medium is needlepoint, to see more of her work or to contact her about commissions, check out her website here or check out her Instagram.