‘Everyone can cut loose’: Easthampton artist’s business Cut Loose collage workshops uses crafting as a tool for wellness

Lauren Peretto shows her finished collage to the group during a Cut Loose collage workshop event on Saturday at Fame Lounge in Holyoke.

Lauren Peretto shows her finished collage to the group during a Cut Loose collage workshop event on Saturday at Fame Lounge in Holyoke. PHOTOS FOR THE GAZETTE/DAN LITTLE

Cut Loose collage workshops owner Michael Sjostedt shows examples of finished work during a workshop Saturday at Fame Lounge in Holyoke.

Cut Loose collage workshops owner Michael Sjostedt shows examples of finished work during a workshop Saturday at Fame Lounge in Holyoke.

Cut Loose Collage Workshops owner Michael Sjostedt shows examples of finished collage work during a workshop Saturday at Fame Lounge in Holyoke.

Cut Loose Collage Workshops owner Michael Sjostedt shows examples of finished collage work during a workshop Saturday at Fame Lounge in Holyoke. FOR THE GAZETTE/DAN LITTLE

Wendy Farley works on assembling a collage during the Cut Loose collage workshop Saturday in Holyoke.

Wendy Farley works on assembling a collage during the Cut Loose collage workshop Saturday in Holyoke.

Scott Lemme shows a finished college piece during a Cut Loose Collage Workshop event on Saturday at Fame Lounge in Holyoke.

Scott Lemme shows a finished college piece during a Cut Loose Collage Workshop event on Saturday at Fame Lounge in Holyoke. FOR THE GAZETTE/DAN LITTLE

Sol Melina Taranto Paz peruses through material during a Cut Loose Collage Workshop event on Saturday at Fame Lounge in Holyoke.

Sol Melina Taranto Paz peruses through material during a Cut Loose Collage Workshop event on Saturday at Fame Lounge in Holyoke. FOR THE GAZETTE/DAN LITTLE

Cut Loose Collage Workshop attendees Marie Rohan, from left, Stephen Taranto and his daughter Sol Melina Taranto Paz work on their collages Saturday at Fame Lounge in Holyoke.

Cut Loose Collage Workshop attendees Marie Rohan, from left, Stephen Taranto and his daughter Sol Melina Taranto Paz work on their collages Saturday at Fame Lounge in Holyoke. FOR THE GAZETTE/DAN LITTLE

Cut Loose collage workshop attendees work on their collages Saturday at Fame Lounge in Holyoke.

Cut Loose collage workshop attendees work on their collages Saturday at Fame Lounge in Holyoke. FOR THE GAZETTE/DAN LITTLE

Michael Zappala shows his finished collage during a Cut Loose Collage Workshop event on Saturday at Fame Lounge in Holyoke.

Michael Zappala shows his finished collage during a Cut Loose Collage Workshop event on Saturday at Fame Lounge in Holyoke. FOR THE GAZETTE/DAN LITTLE

Cut Loose Collage Workshops owner Michael Sjostedt, middle, poses for a photo with Fame Lounge/Eatery owners David Blood, left, and Mauro Brito at a workshop Saturday in Holyoke.

Cut Loose Collage Workshops owner Michael Sjostedt, middle, poses for a photo with Fame Lounge/Eatery owners David Blood, left, and Mauro Brito at a workshop Saturday in Holyoke. FOR THE GAZETTE/DAN LITTLE

Cut Loose Collage Workshop attendees work on their collages Saturday at Fame Lounge in Holyoke.

Cut Loose Collage Workshop attendees work on their collages Saturday at Fame Lounge in Holyoke. FOR THE GAZETTE/DAN LITTLE

Cut Loose Collage Workshops owner Michael Sjostedt, right, reviews a finished collage by Marie Rohan during a workshop Saturday at Fame Lounge in Holyoke.

Cut Loose Collage Workshops owner Michael Sjostedt, right, reviews a finished collage by Marie Rohan during a workshop Saturday at Fame Lounge in Holyoke. FOR THE GAZETTE/DAN LITTLE

Cut Loose Collage Workshop attendees work on their collages Saturday at Fame Lounge in Holyoke.

Cut Loose Collage Workshop attendees work on their collages Saturday at Fame Lounge in Holyoke. FOR THE GAZETTE/DAN LITTLE

Cut Loose Collage Workshops owner Michael Sjostedt shows examples of finished collage work during a workshop Saturday at Fame Lounge in Holyoke.

Cut Loose Collage Workshops owner Michael Sjostedt shows examples of finished collage work during a workshop Saturday at Fame Lounge in Holyoke. FOR THE GAZETTE/DAN LITTLE

By ALEXA LEWIS

Staff Writer

Published: 06-20-2024 9:05 AM

EASTHAMPTON — Michael Sjostedt has always been a creator with an entrepreneurial spirit.

In college, he used these predispositions to start a bustling clay bead business, handcrafting and marketing his own wares. Now, he is celebrating the one-year anniversary of Cut Loose, a workshop series that uses the art of collage to help people explore their relationships with their innermost selves and “cut loose” from perfectionism.

Creativity has always been in Sjostedt’s blood. Throughout his life, art making has been an important part of decompression and overcoming difficult periods. During the COVID-19 pandemic, the healing power of art became all the more apparent to him as the world navigated trying times, and even more so as he grappled with the loss of several loved ones in late 2022.

“Art making was very helpful for me during the pandemic. It helped manage the difficult emotions that so many of us faced during that time,” said Sjostedt in an email. “It also helped me during a very challenging period of burnout and grief.”

During this time, he completed hundreds of pieces. In particular, Sjostedt found himself drawn to craft work.

“I’ve always been drawn to craft more than fine art because it was so much more accessible,” he said during an interview with the Gazette. “I’ve always found it so meditative.”

When he was looking for a new project, he happened upon the library across from his home in Easthampton, which was in the process of discarding piles of old magazines. These magazines offered the perfect supplies for collage — a medium that Sjostedt fell in love with and ultimately took to new heights.

“We met up last year for coffee to talk about his career shift. He was trying to find a new path and was reaching out to different people,” Burns Maxey, president of CitySpace, said in an email. “It seemed obvious that he should follow his passion because he has so much drive. And here he is now a year later, bringing people together with Cut Loose!”

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Sjostedt’s collage work pulls primarily from vintage sources, from old biker mags and airplane journals to bodybuilder illustrations and surfing photos. Employing thoughtful composition and eye-catching color combinations, he explores a range of themes including anything from design processes to male identity in the media.

When some of his work was on display in the Easthampton restaurant Calico, Geoff Arthur, the principal of Meetinghouse Architecture Inc. in Florence, was struck by it. Arthur had met Sjostedt previously at a party, and reached out when he recognized the name on the art that had caught his eye. Like architecture, Arthur remarked that Sjostedt’s collage work explores ideas of reuse and new ways to look at design.

“The similarity between his collage and architecture is astounding,” said Arthur, who was excited to provide a space for Sjostedt’s work.

In June 2023, Sjostedt started hosting his Cut Loose collage workshop series at the Meetinghouse Architecture building. It began as a monthly residency, but over the past year Arthur said that Cut Loose’s growth and impact has been “meteoric.”

Not long after Cut Loose’s inception, Sjostedt found himself overwhelmed with support and demand for the unique experience he offered, sometimes holding two workshops in one day.

“By April, I was slammed,” said Sjostedt. “There’s been a lot of positive energy about it.”

Cut Loose gained interest not only from individuals looking to tap into their creativity, but also organizations seeking wellness retreats for their employees, higher education institutions looking to help students de-stress, and more.

Sjostedt takes Cut Loose to a variety of locations in New England, hosting art making gatherings like themed workshops, private events, as well as “Sip & Clip” and “Crafts & Drafts” sessions. At these workshops, he provides the materials needed to craft a collage, and the space needed to foster a relaxing, judgment free atmosphere for participants to get to know themselves and one another through art. The workshops offer a break from daily stressors, including technology, as most participants tend not to look at their phones while working on their collages.

Among workshop-goers, Sjostedt’s timed collage exercises are a favorite activity. For these exercises, Sjostedt provides participants with the materials they need, and gives them a limited amount of time to create something with it. During their limited timeframe, individuals tend to break free of their doubts and tendencies toward perfection and start to have fun.

“I thought it was a great way to get to play a little bit,” said Chris Gallerani, a past Cut Loose workshop participant, who said he is typically “an anxious over-thinker.”

Another past participant, Scott Lemme, echoed this sentiment.

“I’ve just found it to be very almost meditative… I’m a perfectionist, and it teaches me to let go,” Lemme said.

Sjostedt also has participants chronicle their inner state before, during, and after these workshops. Often, they find themselves surprised by how much their mental state has improved by the end of the process.

“I’ve seen people really kind of shift,” Sjostedt said.

Over just one year, Sjostedt has led over 60 workshops, teaching more than 500 people to see the meditative properties of art making and break free of the limits of perfectionism through the “forgiving” and “low-cost” collage medium. He is currently working with the LGBT Chamber of Commerce and Valley CDC to further scale his workshops. Next month, he will bring the joys of Cut Loose to southern Maine, for workshops in Ogunquit and Portland.

As Sjostedt continues to expand his workshops and prove that creating can be a full-time gig as well as a meditative experience, he reminds others that “everyone can cut loose, everyone should try to cut loose.”

Those interested in cutting loose can sign up for workshops at michaelsjostedt.com/cut-loose/. Participants typically pay about $45 to attend, which includes all the needed materials. 

Alexa Lewis can be reached at alewis@gazettenet.com or  on Instagram and Twitter at @alexamlewis.