** Sharon Ehman is a Toronto, Canada-based clothing designer and sole proprietor of Toxic Vision, a unique label creating one-of-a-kind designs. New collections, based off her interest in and love for metal as well as the supernatural, are available every month at the Toxic Vision website. Ehman's work has been seen on members of Watain, Turisas, Dimmu Borgir, Dave Ellefson, Behemoth, and more. When did you start to take an interest in garments and garment making? Sharon Ehman: It has always been this way---I grew up in a very creative environment. There isn't really a defining moment when this all came to be, I have always loved to get my hands dirty even as a small child. There was no 'what should I do with my life?' It was just natural instinctive progression - the path was always very clear to me, the hunger was always there. It just so happens that construction of garments is the medium I have chosen to focus on…
Do you have formal training? Sharon Ehman: I am completely self-taught. I have always believed that there is no right and wrong way of creating, it is whatever way works best for you. To be honest, I can't imagine this beast existing in the way that it does had I gone to school, or had I been taught by someone else. To any artist who develops their skill-set on their own - it seems to be more pure, more distinguished, it is something that is instinctive---it cannot be taught, it comes from within. There is a certain strength in doing things in a more primal matter, and you develop a very strong sense of being in the process.
What were the early days like? I’m sure a lot of trial and error, figuring out your, uh, vision. Sharon Ehman: Sure, of course. Everything is a learning process, and I am still learning new techniques and skills every day. I have looked back on some of my older designs and I am surprised that they are still holding together, but it is quite empowering to see how far along things have come. There is a starting point for everything, and I would encourage everyone to explore whatever it is they desire to do. You don't need a blueprint, you just need a spark. If you keep that flame burning, soon you will have an inferno on your hands...
At what point did it go from hobby to profession? Sharon Ehman: Thinking of this as a hobby would be presuming that at one point, Toxic Vision was a side project and other things were focused on and this was never the case. This has always been my path. I started Toxic Vision when I was seventeen years old and it has always been all-in or nothing. When you don't have a backup plan, you fight that much harder. It becomes who you are, not what you do.
Where did the name Toxic Vision come from? Sharon Ehman: There is no massive story behind the name 'Toxic Vision' At 17-years old, after some time of thinking about what words should come together to represent what I wanted to do... This is what was decided.
And you’re able to live off of your work, at this point? Sharon Ehman: Yes, I have been completely self-sustaining and self-sufficient since day one, and every dime earned and invested has been from my own hand. Toxic Vision has always been a singular entity and always will be. However, let's get one thing clear. Toxic Vision is not FOR profit. Yes, I make a profit but that is quite irrelevant to the bigger picture. To me, there is a much more important reason to all of this madness. This is the biggest middle finger I can give to the world we live in, and the life we are expected to lead. We are taught to follow the herd, we are told to take the most simplistic route through life. Every stadium has thousands of spectator seats and only a few engage in battle. This is my war and this is the fortress I have built.
Are your pieces or collections meant to be worn? I’m curious about function over form here. Sharon Ehman: Absolutely. With everything I create, I approach it with function in mind. Through careful material selection and a good cut---everything is actually quite comfortable and practical. The ultimate challenge is creating stage gear because there are always many different elements to take in to consideration. For example, finding the right materials that will dry quickly in between stage shows, and can take a beating night after night on stage. Sometimes it is tricky but definitely achievable. Personally, I dislike anything that I wear to feel restricting or uncomfortable, so this carries through to all my designs.
And the pieces you sell are sized to your specifications not, say, a customer’s. I’m talking more general public than musicians who commission work. Sharon Ehman: For the most part---yes. Since Toxic Vision is formatted into a very fast-paced environment, it only makes sense to do things this way. On occasion I create collections offering all sizes, and as mentioned above- most everything I make has some amount of stretch---which allows for various sizes and body shapes to be able to wear my designs.
Is there a tipping point between your art and commerce? Sharon Ehman: No. I have had many offers by larger companies to do large scale collections and other various cash-grab projects, all of which I have refused. I am well aware that I could just cash in my chips but money and fame are not what I am looking to achieve. I would rather take my dagger and thrust it into the earth, carving out a gash so deep that anyone who dare come near the edge will certainly fall in...
Speaking of commerce, a lot of your designs include album art or t-shirt art. Do you work with officially licensed merchandise or are you re-drawing things? Sharon Ehman: All album art/band logos are officially licensed merchandise, purchased directly from the artist whenever possible. The band artwork/logos that I use are all bands that I listen to personally, and in many ways- these bands play a very large part in the inspiration process of Toxic Vision. Through doing this, I am able to use Toxic Vision as a platform to expose people to good music. I know it is just a small drop in the sea, but it pleases me to know that I am turning people on to the music that means so much to me - and in turn, I am hoping that it will inspire them just as it has for me. It brings a huge smile to my face when I receive letters from Toxic Vision supporters who are excited about a band they have discovered through my designs---and now they bought the band's CD and went out to their shows and told all their friends. As they say, you just have to plant one small seed.
Tell me how you got into making garments for musicians. Sharon Ehman: I am not really sure there is a 'how'. It just happened that way. My work is very inspired by the music I listen to, so it only seemed inevitable for it to end up on stage. My work is pretty obtrusive, an element very prevalent in rock 'n' roll---making it a good fit for the musicians who I am involved with.
Do musicians tell you specifics? What they want, look, feel, etc.? Sharon Ehman: Every interaction is different, some projects have been more collaborative than others, but I will usually only choose to work with people who trust and respect my work as an artist - allowing for creative freedom. I am not simply a seamstress for hire - I feel nothing inspiring or exciting about just re-creating someone's design or idea and will not take on that kind of project. I have had some very powerful interactions with some of the musicians I have worked with. Some visions just match up, not much really needs to be said or discussed..the creativity just flows freely and this often leads to the best result in the end.
What was the most rewarding musician-based project? Sharon Ehman: Ah. This question is quite personal to me---possibly even too personal to fully shed light on.. there are some very powerful creative forces---that if joined together in a certain way, it can become very explosive and wreak some very terrible havoc on the rest of the world… take heed as this story unfolds.
I understand you’re fairly selective on which musicians you work with. Why is that? Sharon Ehman: My work is incredibly personal to me, and the careful selection of musicians I choose to work with rests on a feeling that another torch along my path will be lit. I have to feel something, I have to be able to close my eyes and feel that explosive energy needed to manifest something that did not previously exist---something that will elevate and define, for both parties involved…
You also do collections. Tell me about your latest collection and the inspiration behind it. Sharon Ehman: As I write this, I am halfway through a fifteen day journey for Toxic Vision - an idea that has been brewing for quite some time. I have spent many months collecting shirts from each of Iron Maiden's studio albums and I have been sewing one design a day---chronologically starting with their self-titled release and ending with The Final Frontier. While sewing each design, that particular album is played on repeat until the design is finished. Each day I photograph the piece and invite people to share their stories , memories and favorite songs attached to that particular album via Facebook. So far, the response has been overwhelming---over a thousand stories have been told and I have read each and every one, every morning before starting on the design for the day. At the end I will choose one person who has shared their Iron Maiden story and they will get to keep one of the designs and the rest of the collection will be released to the public on the same day. I have received emails from people who are following along the journey by also playing the same album throughout the day, and have been starting up discussions with their friends about Iron Maiden, revisiting old favorite tunes and digging deeper into the discography and finding something new. It has become quite a powerful project and a very inspiring journey, it is amazing to see such a bond that can be created from this band!
Your inspiration. Where does it come from? Sharon Ehman: By now, it is pretty clear that the music I listen to plays a very important role in the inspiration process for Toxic Vision. But it is in a much more abstract way that you might think. The music I listen to pushes me into a creative trance, it makes the dull world around me become quite colorful. There are a handful of albums from various artists that are very defining to what I do. It is hard to fully explain so we will just leave it at that. There are also a lot of natural elements around all of us that I draw inspiration from and always a fascination with history, lore, ancient cultures and morbid curiosities.
You’re also fairly dedicated to your craft. How many hours in a week do you spend on Toxic Vision? Sharon Ehman: The lines separating 'work' from whatever people do otherwise were erased a long time ago. Toxic Vision is not my job, I haven't worked a day since I was 17 and there is no 'off' button. This is who I am. This beast never sleeps, it even haunts my dreams. I have to do this, sitting still in nothingness drives me crazy. I refuse to live a life to simply just exist.
Do you do mock-ups or drawings first or do you just go head-first into your work? Sharon Ehman: My creative process is very fluid and primal. On occasion I will have very vivid dreams that get translated into my designs but for the most part---no sketching, no mock-ups. Drawing inspiration from the music that fills the room and abstract textures and natural elements talked about in previous questions, I just simply lay a pile of raw materials on the floor and let my scissors and mind run free. No patterns, no guides, no rules, no boundaries.
Death is a prominent feature in your work. What is fascinating about death and why do you choose to use it as a central theme? Sharon Ehman: There is no escaping death, it is the absence of everything that we come to know on this earth, the ultimate void. It is a very focused part of a lot of cultures and allows you to explore and question the realms beyond.
Has your style changed over the years? Curious of you’ve ever looked back on older pieces or collections. Sharon Ehman: Certainly. I think that for any artist, there is always progression…nothing ever stays the same. There is always new territory to conquer and as your skill set becomes more developed and defined, so will your work. Inspiration is limitless, it wouldn't make sense to put on a pair of blinders and never explore.
How often do new collections come out? I usually release a new collection every two weeks, but this past year has brought about a lot of traveling and adventure, so sometimes this stretches to three to four weeks in between.
Your Facebook page is extremely active. Is the page more about marketing and brand awareness? I ask because you seem quite shy, but you’re also the model for the pieces and collections. Sharon Ehman: Facebook is a great platform to display my work since the reach is rather widespread. I assume this shyness you mention, is from meeting me in person? [Yes, precisely---CD] I've never really thought of myself in this way, but it is true that I like to stay out of the spotlight for the most part. We live in a world where people are obsessed with the 'individual' and focus so much on this aspect that it completely overshadows the purpose of doing this sort of thing in the first place. Artistry is lost by this terrible obsession our society has with 'celebrity'. My work is so incredibly important to me and I always want that to take the spotlight. Actually I would prefer to step away from that spotlight personally, what I have created is the true reflection of myself anyhow. It really is the double-edged sword because I model all of the designs myself, but there are many reasons for this. As I have mentioned before, every aspect of Toxic Vision is by my own hand, so it feels a bit odd or misrepresented when someone else wears these things initially. Perhaps it is because I have such a deep connection with the things that I make, it loses a bit of the magic if it were to be displayed on someone who doesn't share those same feelings or the same vision. In remaining a bit 'anonymous' as I do when displaying my work (by means of cutting off my head in photos, etc.), it leads to Toxic Vision being represented by a mysterious figure. It agitates and confuses some, and lures others in.
Where do you hope to see Toxic Vision in, say, 5 years? Sharon Ehman: Can these things really be planned out? I don't hope for anything. Hope is a desire for something to happen, hope means that you are letting other things control your path. There is something very terrible and dark and unstoppable that has latched on here. I am assembling an army and I will lead them into battle. This torch has been lit, and it is impossible to snuff it out.
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