Sonya Sombreuil is a Los Angeles-based artist and the creator of COME TEES, an apparel line specializing in small-batch hand-printed clothing with roots in both underground and fine art communities. Over the years, COME TEES garments have been seen on everyone from artists to punks to Rihanna. In addition, Sombreuil’s work has been featured in publications including 032c and Maximum Rock and Roll, and she has exhibited in New York, Los Angeles, Austin, Tokyo, and Western Massachusetts.
Join Sombreuil for one busy week in Los Angeles, where the artist works on a new collaboration with the design house NO SESSO, among other projects. There are trips to dollar stores and the fashion district, early morning workout sessions and a pilgrimage to the former residence of Marvin Gaye. Also: a whittling side project, expert studio meals, and a lot more. Check it out, below. —John Chiaverina
I wake up like a loaded spring. I’ve been so busy lately, I wake up enervated even though it’s Sunday and the mood in LA is super mellow.
I hit my workout class. I go to this class 4-5 times a week and I’m a bit of an evangelist for it. I sing its virtues constantly. It’s satisfyingly difficult but I never feel like I’m suffering through it. This class has its own branded fitness rhetoric that I’ve come to really like. It’s pretty silly, but it’s also really soothing.
I’m at the studio. My studio has meager natural light and by mid-morning it is already waning. I consider this a positive asset because the passage of time brings up too many feelings in me. If I experience the light changing all day, I’ll feel sad about being sequestered in my studio for most of my life, or just have generally existential thoughts. Before I conquered my inherent night owl nature, I preferred to work at night, for this same reason, but now that makes me feel out of step with life. I’m used to the hot artificial light and I like the sense of human activity all around me beyond the walls of my studio.
I walk to the dollar store to get clothes pins. The block I’m on is basically the dollar store district, and I’m intimate with all of them. Each one has an area in which they really shine. Like one down the street has the best household plastics I’ve ever seen. Molded pampers, baskets, step stools, etc in every shade. It’s god’s own palate. I love it. This dollar store has really charismatic plaster dog sculptures. They ain’t a dollar though…
My friend Tremaine comes to see the studio. We riff for a couple hours. Tremaine is deep and really, really well read. We express our views on life. It’s really nice to talk to him.
I go visit my friend Mario Ayala at his studio in Chinatown. He’s working on a big show coming up in March. His studio is the coziest place with such great energy because he works so hard and you can really catch a feeling in here. The walls are alive… His dog Bubba is very special guy with a lot of depth.
I go home and pass out. It’s really quiet at my place. My neighbors have these pink Christmas lights up. It’s very sweet.
I wake up as usual with a nerve shock. I go to a 7:15 work out class and I’m very impressed with this teacher I never had before. She works me OUT. The really pro teachers make a very formulaic program seem spontaneous. I’m shocked at the variations she invents. She is really an artist!
I stop on my way to the studio to get lunch for my workday. I have this running joke about how the parking lot of the natural foods store is the apex of my social life because running into familiar faces is so unavoidable there. And sure enough I run into someone I really don’t want to see. This new label on the balsamic vinegar is darling beyond words.
My workday commences. Among other things, I’m working on a new project that has been really intoxicating. It’s a collaboration with the LA design house NO SESSO and it will culminate in runway show with a live soundtrack performed by DJs Venus X and Asmara. (That’s a plug!) I don’t collaborate with other designers for various reasons, not least of which is the intense labor that goes into my work, but meeting Pierre (the designer of NO SESSO) has been an expansive experience for me and I was knocked out when she suggested we co-create.
I feel like our minds and our hearts are co-mingling right now as we wade deeper into this project. Pierre’s work vibrated my imagination, it is easy for me to envision my work transmuted through her eyes. It’s a little bit like the beginning stages of love where you see yourself reflected in another’s eyes. This love is filtered through our respective crafts. More than ever I’ve been aware of my work as a brand, and its ability to telegraph its own little world. It’s beginning to gel into a universe of its own and to dictate its own direction. NO SESSO’s world is tangibly available to anyone who sees the work. It’s so brimming with its own vibe, and it’s very fun and invitational. It’s very much about a love for people. I can wax poetic all day about this project, needless to say I’m living for it right now. This is my beloved couch.
I head to the fashion district to pick up more denim, canvas, muslin, and power mesh. Sometimes these little fabric stores make me feel really sad. The vendors are a crucial part of my business, and of an entire made-in-LA industry, but they are also a dying breed. Every store is so filled with bolts, they are like overstuffed intestines, and the store owners are experts on their stock. A lot of these people are highly-educated immigrants and it’s a tough gig. I have so much love and such respect for these businesses.
Driving back to the studio, it’s a little drizzly and I’m always just sitting in my car being totally dazzled by the signage of LA. It’s a cliche, but LA’s signs are so special. So many hand-painted signs, I try to soak it in because it’s a swiftly changing world out there. LA is the type of place where you are constantly aware of the future eclipsing the past. In my daily commute, I try to etch every little sign into my memory because I know they won’t last forever. My girl Jezenia has asked me to keep an eye out for rental halls for this event she’s planning. I’ve always admired at this place, “THE STAR LOUNGE,” so I pull over and take a picture for her. Not sure if it’s even in business anymore. I also catch this great church van.
My pattern maker comes so we can discuss refining some of the stuff I’ve been making. Turns out I really just want Fruit of the Loom sweatpants. Why am I even trying to design a pair of sweatpants when the perfect ones already exist? The constant minutiae and decision making of designing a cut-and-sew line bugs me out. I sometimes feel like I am approaching infinity. My pattern-maker is stoic and comforting.
I crack open the first tin of sardines of the week. I practically run on these little guys. I fuck it up in the area of making scrappy studio meals. I got my chops living for long periods of time with only a mini-fridge and no way to heat food so either I’m really good at this or I just learned how to love it.
Pierre shows up and we are working side by side. The NO SESSO casting director Jacori comes by so we can prepare some stuff together. Jacori has great style and a great eye.
I take a little break to work on my new whittling project. My little brother hooked me up with a couple knives and piece of old growth redwood. I’m whittling a chain of continuous links.
We have a model come by who has modeled for NO SESSO before so we can take a couple pics for promo. He looks great & smells great.
After hours begins. Recently my brother pointed out Marvin Gaye’s house to me—the house where he lived with his parents and in which he was murdered. I pick up this guy that I think would appreciate it, and surprise him by taking him to the house. When I first saw it a few weeks ago, I was struck by the total lack of ostentation. I know Marvin was beset with financial problems, and while it’s a big house, it’s very suburban, very ordinary. It’s a tudor and it’s right close to the sidewalk. When my brother first took me there, I felt moved to tears. It occurred to me later that this was not at all because of Marvin’s death, but more from the sense—also felt in his music—that he just wanted to be normal. He was the keeper of a divided soul, and in an intense psychic pain that he tried to pass off as love and eroticism. My friend doesn’t seem particularly moved by the house tonight, but I might have built it up too much. We get a drink and the day is over.
It’s an unusual morning because I’ve slept in way past my normal wake up hour and it’s raining in LA. It’s raining hard. It’s pouring awesome sheets of water and it’s loud. Water is gushing everywhere. This is rain with a vengeance, rain with something to prove. I stop off at my friend’s house to pick up a bunch of coffee beans he got for me from his work and I have to take off my suede boots to walk up to his driveway as it’s already several inches deep.
I meet up with Venus at my store in Chinatown because I want her to bring her store PlanetX to LA. Venus has so much to say and it’s all right on. I love what she’s talking about: being a woman and going around the earth performing love. We get tacos and chop it up more then I drive her across town so she can catch a flight. There’s so much water everywhere. It’s a real water event. I love it, it’s so dramatic and suits the mood I’m in and its so distinct. I’m logging this one into my memory.
It’s super nice when I arrive at my studio. The rain is drumming on everything in the alley and it is very loud. All my little studio talisman are rattling on the shelf.
Pierre comes to the studio so we can keep jamming on our project. She has a lot of great ideas and she’s good at handling me when I have doubts or stress out. I have extremely high standards for what I make and I tend to spin my wheels a little bit trying to live up to my own expectations. This project is out of my realm of comfort, it’s beyond my control and a scale and format I haven’t worked with before. Plus we’re trying to get corporate dollars! Pierre reminds me that we can do this without any support and anyone who denies us will be sorry later because this show will be major. Love that.
I’ve printed all this “tape” for our collaboration.
I leave the studio and head home. I make myself a little late night dinner. I sometimes crack myself up because I think my own cooking is so bomb but I pretty much only cook eggs.
I hit my workout class and head into the studio. I’m getting more and more frantic as the week progresses. I have a couple flyers I need to make. One for an old friend who has a jazz label and one for my girl Angela Dimayuga who is doing a food event in Hokkaido in a couple of weeks. I love making flyers and I use them as a test ground for new drawing ideas.
Pierre comes and we keep working. I usually work alone and I resist having people come by the studio but lately I’ve had an open door policy. It’s fun to have people in my workspace when it’s going off like this. It makes people feel like insiders. Pierre’s friend Leo comes and works quietly on embroidery. I wish it was still raining. The monotonous LA sunshine has returned.
I leave the studio to go to my weekly meditation. The topic of this week’s meditation is “shame,” which under normal circumstances would be a live one for me but this week all I can access in my mind is a big scintillating to-do list. I see this list in my mind with LED lights that are crackling and flickering, with the list looming over me. Actually what I see in my mind is a gigantic maneki-neko with a huge swinging arm and lightbulbs for eyes. I barely feel like I’m there. It’s hard for me to sit still but I am devoted to this once-a-week hour where I demonstrate my desire for inner quietude. ;) I’m into the idea of not needing to exert mental energy—”letting go” they call it. I like it because it is so not native to me. I think a lot about this concept of non-attachment. I’m always trying to control reality, thinking that everything in my life is feedback from god especially for me. When really I can just do what I do and the chips are going to fall where they fall.
I link up up with my brother Jordy and Noah and decide to get a late meal in Koreatown. My brother wants to go to this place that specializes in Galbi Jim. Next door is a restaurant I really love called Mountain whose whole thing is super simple health dishes. I love the giant picture of congee with a floating egg yolk that’s in the window. This Galbi Jim restaurant is killer.
I can’t sleep. I get out of bed, make my tea and head into the studio. Sometimes, I’ll have so much to do to meet a deadline, I get fixed on adrenaline. You know when you are up at a strange hour, it’s almost feels like you are catching a glimpse of something exotic or very rare? Even though life keeps going without you all the time. That’s how I feel about 4 a.m. on Alvarado. It’s pitch black outside and very dewy. By 4:45 I’m full on printing in my studio.
Every screen printing project I do I try to technically raise the stakes and this project is no exception. It takes me hours to print each 1-yard panel. But the effect is really cool. I’m so amped up that I’m afraid to drink any coffee, so I drink some black tea. This stuff, Barry’s Tea, is very near to my heart. I drink it all day every day, as does everyone in my family. This is a tip for all you PG Tips drinker…you just found out.
I have a bad habit of chewing gum when I’m really wired, so I walk out to the Guatemalan market on my block to pick up a pack. I go here for some provision everyday. Walking back I always see my best friend’s tag on a pole outside my building. He’s in New York right now and I miss him. He just had his opening and I saw Artforum post about him on Instagram. Such a come up for the kid.
I’m still printing, and sheets of fabric are starting to accrue. I alternate between listening to music and to archived episodes of On The Media. Brooke Gladstone is my girl. I eat a hard boiled egg.
Recently I made a new mixtape. I usually work on a mix concurrently with my heavy rounds of production and then at the end of the production I have a ritual and dub the master tape and make copies for my closest friends. I’m wearing this tape out. It’s my latest and greatest. It’s called MOOD CONTROL.
I’m starting to burn out. I’ve done a lot of printing so I cut out and head to my favorite thrift store. It’s pretty close to my brother’s house and he meets me there. I see this vicious looking foot massager. I’m so zoned out I literally spend two hours walking around but in the end all I get is a pair of jeans and a jacket for my friend Claire.
As always, I put off going home until the last possible hour. So I come back to the studio and try to watch this documentary I downloaded earlier, IDI AMIN DADA.
I’m about to drive home. It’s the life I lead, the life I love.