Annette Kesterson is a craft maven, a librarian, and a contributor to Craftivity. Her sublimely beautiful button cuff is a hit project in the book. Recently she took time out to talk with us about another project: porn-by-numbers. Kesterson creates note cards and canvases following the traditional paint-by-numbers convention, but instead of pleasant landscapes you paint pictures of naked ladies.
Porn-by-numbers might be the smartest, hottest DIY kit I could imagine. How did you come up with this?
First off, that just makes me blush. I've always had little obsessions that I kick around. I used to make dioramas, pop-up books, lots of paper and book stuff. The porn-by-numbers thing popped into my head when I was poking around for something to do a few years ago. I decided that I wanted a paint by number set with a little more bite than my westie here. My motto is: "Everybody loves naked ladies." So I busted out with it. I made some porn-by-numbers note cards for friends and showed them around a little. It just sort of blossomed.
There is a lot of what I would call alt smut craft, really great stuff, like Subversive Cross Stitch, Made with Sweet Love and Susanna Conway. Do you think this is a rising trend? Were you familiar with some of this stuff before you began?
My porn-by-numbers fits nice n' cozy with a lot of good company these days, it's true. I hadn't seen anything like it when I started, but it's not like I created the idea of the pin-up girl in art. Since I started the project, I've seen some amazing things. I love that there are so many cool projects out there that "take back the smut"! I have to admit, though, that when I saw some fancy-pants "designer" porn-by-numbers t-shirt about a year ago, I did feel a little proprietary about it.
Have you gotten any flak about doing this?
The one negative thing I hear more than anything else is "Why don't you do any men?" Sometimes it's a request, sometimes a demand. I know I could tap into a different market, but I love the innocence of pin-up girls. The images of women I choose are saucy and beautiful, but not crass, you know? Naked men are always sexual, big ol' erections, that sort of thing. They're great for having sex with, but I don't really want to make art out of it. Even my mom can feel reasonably comfortable with my ladies, and I feel sure that I'm not subjugating them. I'm lifting them up for everyone to enjoy.
Is it true that you really are a librarian?
Yes, ma'am! I'm a librarian—check me out! And, just for fun, my other favorite library catch phrase: "I've got a great rack, and I'm not just talking periodicals." Best job ever. Seriously though, I keep my extra-curriculars out of my work. Librarian by day, porn-by-numbers maven by night. It's the best of both worlds.
Why are there so many smart cheeky feminist library science majors
milling about? And how come I don't get to go to those parties?
You have an open invitation, as far as I'm concerned!
I know that you are pacifirrific (live on the west coast). What has shaped your outlook and aesthetic, particularly its feminist lean? Were you influenced by riot grrrrl stuff?
I love San Francisco and Humboldt County—where I went to school before I lived here. But I have to say that I grew up in super-conservative, super-oppressive redneck mecca—the San Joaquin Valley. And, as much as I dearly love my family, they're all NRA republicans from way back. They love me, but they don't have half a clue as to what I'm about most of the time and that feeling is mutual. I sometimes wonder how I ended up like I am!
But I've worked at it, all along, to find out who I am and who I want to be, every step of the way. I used to listen to Patti Smith records when I was a kid and think that being tough was the way it was supposed to be. But I also loved the Patsy Cline my dad listened to. There has always been a dichotomy between what I thought I should be and what I was, and it's something I think all American women deal with in one way or the other. The body image issues we're all saddled with take some time to work out and I think, for me, a lot of it is pretending you're okay with something until you really are okay with it. I went from stick-thin depressed high school girl to big n' busty, mostly happy woman. It wasn't always smooth sailing, but I made peace with my ass just a few months ago and I'm a better woman for it.
My ladies are beautiful and I enjoy looking at them and painting them. My number one favorite, Underpants, has a great body, but it's really the mischievous look in her eye that sells her. My centerfold is all about the curvy hips, but she's looking right at you. That direct gaze has so much power and allure, I think. These women are not victims, but they're also not a manifesto. My empire is about fun and beauty and art. And if I work out a few personal demons in the process, it's just an added bonus.