More About Me….

April 27, 2009 at 11:13 pm (Artist Musings)

Last week, a senior at NC State asked to interview me for a report he was doing for an art appreciation class. He asked some very good questions, so this week I am posting his questions and my answers.

What is your medium?
Although I make jewelry, I would consider my medium to be mixed media. For most shows, I am juried in as a jeweler, but last year into the Coconut Grove Arts Festival in Mixed Media and won second place in the mixed media category.

What is the process necessary to produce it? What can you tell about the famous polymer clay?
Polymer clay is a synthetic modeling material which bakes or “cures” at a fairly low temperature to a hard surface. You can sculpt it, carve it, stamp on it, texture it, sand it, buff it, or paint it. Most people know polymer clay by the brand name “Sculpey” or Fimo. Sculpey is primarily a kids’ clay. I use Premo, which is the artist grade form of Sculpey for my work. For my process, vintage images are transferred to polymer clay (using alcohol and a color copy) and formed into beads. The hand-formed image transfer beads are then cured, sanded, and buffed to a satin finish. The finished beads are woven and twined with crystals, pearls, vintage glass beads, and found objects to form one-of-a-kind pieces of wearable art. A couple of years ago, I started incorporating Precious Metal Silver Clay into my work to create one-of-a-kind clasps into my designs. Precious Metal Clay results in objects containing .999 pure silver or fine silver. Last year, I started incorporating porcelain clay into my designs and started experimenting with bronze clay, which like its silver counterpart, results in a metal object.

[Right – Darfur Nightwalkers, example of Precious Metal Silver Clay; Center – For Frida, example of bronze clay; Left – Criss Crosswords, example of porcelain clay]

Why jewelry?
I never thought about it before, but I think I initially started making jewelry because of the scale. It was easier for me to wrap my mind around making a piece of small jewelry than a painting a large canvas or something. I also like jewelry, though interestingly enough I don’t wear a lot of it. The interesting part of making jewelry for me, which I didn’t know at the beginning, is the connection I make with my customers and the connection they make to the jewelry. There is something very personal about a person putting on a piece of jewelry that you have designed, connecting with it in a personal way, falling in love with it, and then making a decision to buy it. The person, in essence, becomes my “frame”, similar to a fine artist finding the perfect frame for their painted canvas. While I am designing and making a piece of jewelry, I typically don’t know who I am designing it for, however, when the right person puts on the right piece, I instinctively know. The other thing about my jewelry is that each piece tells a story. Typically, customers will project their own story onto a piece which is part of their personal connection to it. For example, when I first started making jewelry, one customer fell in love with my Cigar Label Necklace. She explained to me that it was so meaningful to her because her grandfather used to wrap the cigar bands around her finger like a ring when she was a little girl. She ended up buying it. It was the second piece I ever sold. The first was purchased by Nicole Kennedy, a local artist and gallery owner. [Below, one of my first pieces, The Cigar Label Necklace]
Would you make jewelry with other media or use ephemera to do something other than jewelry?
Probably not. I think like a jeweler, and I love creating wearable art. Last fall I did experiment with some mixed media wall pieces. My customers were telling me that they were leaving their jewelry pieces out so that they could look at it and enjoy it even when they weren’t wearing it. One of my customers even bought a leatherette bust from me to display her necklace. So, last year I created a series of pieces called “Out of the Box”. These were mixed media wall assemblages in which an element could be removed, worn, and then put back on the wall. Artistically, I think that these pieces represent my best work, however, none of these pieces sold. So, this year, I have gone back to basics and I am focusing on making beautiful, one-of-a-kind, polymer clay jewelry. The interesting thing about the wall pieces, however, is that they have opened me up to a whole new audience. Audiences who never took an interest in the jewelry before, really like the mixed media panels, and vice versa, my customers who have liked my jewelry from the beginning, have mixed feelings about the wall panels. [Below – Skinny Bitch Brooch, example of mixed media wall panel]
What is your main artistic inspiration?
I would say my Grandma Betty. She saved everything… every menu, every photograph, every matchbox from every restaurant she and my grandpa ever went to. When I was in college, I interviewed my grandmother to do my family tree. I asked her about her any my grandfather (who had already passed away). She took this big Burdines department store box out of the closet and in it were all of these things… all of which represented the story of their life together. I didn’t know the name for it at the time, but I suppose that is when my fascination with ephemera began. In fact, my first art project when I moved to North Carolina six years ago was a tablecloth covered with image transfers of my grandmother’s photographs and artifacts. I reproduced this tablecloth for Home and Garden Television a couple of years later, and the response was tremendous. I had people from all over the country e-mailing me how to make their own heirloom tablecloth, and to think that it all started with that department store box full of memories. [Below, Grandma Betty and Grandpa Ralph on their wedding day; Heirloom Tablecloth as seen on HGTV (click on the HGTV link for directions on how to do this project)]
When/how did you decide to do this as your full-time occupation? Did you study art in a formal capacity?
I guess four years ago when I moved into my current Artspace studio. That was the catalyst that transformed me from being a kitchen table crafter or hobbyist to a professional artist. In many ways, it was the start of my professional career and being there has opened doors for me. As far as formal training, I am a self-taught artist. I was a journalism major and theater minor and never took an art class (not even an art appreciation class) until after I moved to Raleigh and became a professional artist.
How hard is it for you to sell your work (in a “normal” economy)? How much marketing do you do?
In the beginning, it was hard to sell my work because I was an unknown. Using my journalism background, I launched a public relations and marketing campaign. I sent out a press kit to every magazine and newspaper I could think of. The first article landed in Lapidary Journal in 2004. Since then I have been lucky enough to be featured in Ornament, Our State, American Style, Cary Living, The News & Observer, Southern Living, and on Home and Garden Television (all of which except for one were the result of a press release I sent). I think that is one of the hardest things about being an artist… that is that you have to wear many hats. You can’t just be a designer. You have to be a business manager, sales person, and marketing professional. In fact, I work much harder now than I ever did when I had a “real job.” Even in a bad economy the jewelry sells. You have to be more creative at marketing in a bad economy.

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Arts Stimulus: Ten Small Action Steps You Can Take Right Now

April 22, 2009 at 12:41 am (Artist Musings)

The economy is bad. That is a fact. Many artists, including myself, are struggling to make ends meet. In fact, the arts as a whole are suffering.

Renee Phillips, Director of Manhattan Arts International writes: “Although historically the art market is far less sensitive to economic crises and geopolitical events than other assets, we are currently living in a new global economy… Jill Conner keeps a close eye on the art market. A critic based in New York City and a Contributing Editor to Contemporary magazine and other art publications, Connor points out that sales in the third tier galleries started to dry up in the summer of 2008, followed by the second and first tiers. She reminds us that numerous galleries in major cities like New York City are facing demise, and several art magazines have had to delay their publication schedules due to a drop in advertising revenues. Art museums are reacting with freezes on hiring and spending cutbacks. Yes, it’s just the tip of the iceberg, and it’s going to be a long, cold winter.” Art Calendar / The Business Magazine for the Visual Artist

So, what can you do to help? Here is a list of ten small action steps you can take right now.

1. Participate in your local, regional or state arts councils. Here in North Carolina, we have The United Arts Council and the NC Arts Council. The United Arts Council lists volunteer opportunities on their website.

2. Whenever possible, wear or carry something handmade.

3. Buy handmade from local retailers.

4. Go to a craft show. This Saturday, I will be showing at Spring Daze in Bond Park in Cary, NC. On May 16th and May 17th, Artsplosure takes over Moore Square in Downtown Raleigh. Admission to both Spring Daze and Artsplosure is free.

5. Expose your children to the arts. Your children are our future art collectors. Take them to the North Carolina Museum of Art. Bring them to Artspace. Visit the Rocky Mount Art Center. Admission to the Rocky Mount Art Center and Artspace are free. In fact, on August 23rd, Artspace hosts Family Fun Day, a one-of-a-kind carnival for the whole family.

6. Join an arts organization. Many arts organizations offer memberships for families for under $100 annually. Two organizations I belong to are Artspace and Piedmont Craftsmen. Family membership at Artspace is $60 and includes priority registration and discounts for classes (including the Summer Arts Program), workshops, and special events. More importantly, membership support ensures that Artspace continues to be one of the region’s leading and most unique cultural institutions. Established in 1963, Piedmont Craftsmen represents the highest standard of contemporary and traditional craft. Over 400 exhibiting members from throughout the Southeast have been juried into the guild. The organization conducts workshops, mounts exhibitions, and operates a gallery and shop at 601 North Trade Street in Winston-Salem, NC. Supporting membership starts at $50.

7. Donate to the arts. You don’t have to donate a lot to be a patron of the arts. On April 2nd, Artspace hosted a “Give and Take” event in which 50 works of art were donated by local artists and sold for $50 to support The Summer Arts Program. The event raised over $5000 ($50 at a time).

8. Host an open house. When I first went into business, I hosted an open house just in time for Christmas. I created a display in my dining room featuring my work and the work of several other artists. I provided a comfortable, casual place for my friends and the neighbors to socialize and shop. It was a fun and successful event.

9. Take a class. The City of Raleigh Parks and Recreation (Sertoma Arts Center and Pullen Arts Center), The Town of Cary, and Artspace all offer adult arts education programs (in addition to their children’s programs and camps). I have had the pleasure of taking three jewelry classes at The Pullen Arts Center, including enameling and two other metals classes. These six week courses (all of which cost under $100) helped me explore new techniques in a safe, comfortable, and casual atmosphere. In August, The Crafts Center at NC State will re-open its doors. The Crafts Center at NC State University functions as an art school specializing in crafts. Classes are offered each semester in various craft media such as pottery, photography, woodworking, fiber arts, lapidary, glass, jewelry, metals and more. Classes are offered for all skill levels from beginner to advanced and are open to NCSU students, faculty, staff, and the general public. The Fall 2009 class brochure will be available in July. Visit The Crafts Center at NC State online for more information.

10. Get involved. Make sure your state and federal representatives know that the arts are important to you.

So, for the rest of the week, I will be in my studio getting ready for Spring Daze. I hope to see you there on Saturday between 9:00 a.m. and 5:00 p.m. in Bond Park in Cary. Have a good week.

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The Road Less Traveled

April 16, 2009 at 11:46 pm (The Road Less Traveled)

I was born in Miami, Florida and moved to Raleigh eight years ago. I always tease my husband and say that, “I moved to Raleigh and became an artist… Who knew?” Although I have been to the mountains of North Carolina and to the coast, like many of us, I very rarely venture beyond the 15 mile radius between my house and my studio at Artspace.

Today, however, I had the pleasure of visiting The Rocky Mount Art Center. Located about 60 miles outside of Raleigh, The Art Center is located in The Imperial Art Centre for the Arts and Sciences in Downtown Rocky Mount. Occupying the combined former sites of the Imperial Tobacco company and old Braswell Memorial Library in downtown Rocky Mount, the complex houses an Arts Center, Children’s Museum & Science Center, and community performing arts theatre. The 135,000 square foot facility involved the historic restoration and renovation of the old buildings which had been dormant for more than 50 years.
Now, when you are traveling with children, first thing is first… The Science Center and The Children’s Museum. Once we were done with that, however, we wandered over to the art and fine craft galleries in The Art Center. The Art Center features an impressive display of fine craft in its exhibition halls and permanent collection gallery. Current exhibitions on display include Handcrafted, A Continual Journey: Jewelry and Objects, and Within.

The exhibition I was most interested in was Robert Ebendorf’s Jewelry and Objects. When I first started making jewelry, I saw Robert Ebendorf’s Off the Street, From the Beach necklace (pictured on right) in a magazine. This necklace is made from a collection of colorful plastic objects found on the boardwalks, parking lots, and sidewalks of Santa Monica. I could say that he was the inspiration for me to explore found objects in my own work. His work is included in some of the most celebrated museum collections in the world including The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, The Victoria and Albert Museum in England, and The Mint Museum of Craft and Design in North Carolina (Charlotte). Currently, he is the Carol Grotnes Belk Distinguished Professor in East Carolina University’s School of Art and Design, which in my opinion makes him a North Carolina treasure. On display at The Rocky Mount Art Center are over 80 pieces spread out between the North Carolina Gallery (downstairs) and the Artists Gallery (upstairs), including the From the Beach… necklace. Ebendorf takes the ordinary and makes it extraordinary proving that he is truly master of the medium. A Continual Journey: Jewelry and Objects will be on Exhibition at The Rocky Mount Art Center through May 17th.
Also on the second floor of The Rocky Mount Art Center is Andrew Fullwood’s Within. Like Robert Ebendorf, Fullwood makes the ordinary, in this case a “promising log”, and makes it truly extraordinary. His sculptures are created from single pieces of natural wood and transformed into complex sculptures through the use of chainsaws, chisels, files, rasps and fine grade sand paper. He says, “With my sculpture, I want to generate curiousity, allurement, and excitement, and I want there to be an element of surprise.” That he did. To my unexpected surprise, this exhibition was highlight of my visit to The Rocky Mount Art Center. Within runs through May 24th.
Admission to The Rocky Mount Art Center is free. The Art Center does have a children’s area with creation stations in which the children can create their own masterpieces. There is even a play stage and costumes in case the kids want to try their hand at the performing arts. There is a nominal admission fee for The Science Center and Children’s Museum Tuesday throught Saturday, but on Sundays, admission to The Science Center and Children’s Museum is free.
So, I encourage you to take the road less traveled and journey beyond your 15 mile radius this spring. You never know what affordable treasures you might find right in your own backyard.

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Flea Market Finds

April 13, 2009 at 2:43 pm (Artist Musings)

I am often asked, “What inspires you?” My answer is… everything. For The Ephemera Collection, my first jewelry collection, I was inspired by old labels, posters, advertisements, and postcards… fleeting bits of a vanished or vanishing time. For the Beyond Neverland Collection, I was inspired by the movie Finding Neverland and J.M. Barrie’s relationship with Sylvia Llewelyn Davies and her five boys, his inspiration for what later became Peter Pan.

So yesterday I went to the flea market at the North Carolina State Fairgrounds. I wandered into Debs’ booth. Debs’ booth had bins and bins full of vintage hardware, buttons, and knick knacks. Handing me a treasure box to hold my fabulous finds, Debs warned me that the longer someone stays in her booth, the more the creative juices start to flow. I filled the treasure box with a pile of rust… screws, hinges, pins, and keyholes. Some might see these things as uninteresting, utilitarian, or a just plain junk. I see transitory treasures that I can reinvent into a brooch, an art doll, a bezel, or a pendant.

I think one of my favorite teachers, author, metal artist, and award winning jewelry maker Susan Lenart Kazmer says it best:

“The magnitude of energy carried with the found object from their previous lives can be seen felt and touched. When you close your eyes and hold the object in your hand you can feel whether the user has enjoyed, neglected, or cherished it. Fear, happiness, struggle, and strength are also feelings embedded in an object. My job as an artist is to take the found object and present it in a new and unexpected way.” Susan Lenart Kazmer

When a found object becomes found art, it captures the imagination of the beholder. Old keys drape from my luggage label necklaces. The key itself is not interesting, but on the necklace, the key becomes the story, and the wearer of the necklace usually becomes the storyteller. It gives me great satisfaction as a designer when someone sees my jewelry, makes the connection, and becomes the storyteller. It means I’ve done my job as an artist.

So keep coming back to see how I transform my flea market finds into found art. It might take some time, but I will post them here when they are finished. And in the meantime… What inspires you?

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Constrained Chaos

April 9, 2009 at 10:40 pm (Artist Musings)

Two weeks ago I took a class with Dan Cormier, a polymer clay artist and master craftsman. After the class was over, he walked down the hall into my studio and upon entering my workspace said, “your studio is a mess”. As he looked beyond the mess to the work hanging on the wall he said, “I admire your ability to constrain chaos into such refined work.”

This isn’t the first time someone has commented on my messy space. Usually I respond by smiling and saying, “this is a working studio”. Some of you may have been to my Artspace Studio in Downtown Raleigh’s City Market and know that I work in an open studio environment, which means my studio is open to the public five days a week. I sometimes compare the experience to being in a fish bowl, however, my process and my work space is the same as it would be if I were working in a home studio. In fact, my work space at Artspace is more contained than my home studio ever was, since I only have a little more than 200 square feet in which to work.

I will say that at this point I do not have a home studio. All of the components that go into my pieces are made at Artspace. When I am in production, that is getting ready for craft shows or exhibitions, I will bring the finished components home and string bracelets and necklaces at my kitchen table.

Long before I set up my studio at Artspace, I attended a workshop with polymer clay artist, friend, and mentor Irene Semanchuk Dean. The workshop was how to sell and market your work and as part of the curriculum Irene talked about how to set up a studio. I did implement many of the principles Irene talked about in her workshop when I first set up my home studio, namely having a specific area set aside for each process. It wasn’t hard because I was only working in one medium, polymer clay. I had an area for conditioning the clay, working with the raw clay, curing the clay, and sanding and finishing.

I tried to set up my studio at Artspace the same way. However, since I moved into Artspace four years ago, I have become an adventurer… diving into new mediums and exploring new dimensions in jewelry design. Now my one work table, which started out being used solely to condition and work with polymer clay, is now also used for painting, enameling, Precious Metal Clay, BronzClay, and porcelain. A couple of years ago, I did put in a jewelers bench, but I only use that for fabricating metal. My studio hasn’t gotten bigger, just my ideas, which is part of my growth and development as a professional artist.

Notwithstanding the other forty or so studio artists in the Artspace building, most of whose workspaces I have seen, I went online to see if I could find pictures of other creative workspaces, and I realize that I am not alone in my chaos. While some artists have neat and organized workspaces, like my studio partner Sharron Parker, many are like me. After viewing photos of other artist creative workspaces, one blogger wrote of his own workspace, “I am the kind of artist who brings order from chaos.”

Workspaces aside, I think most artists have the ability to constrain chaos into art, which is fundamentally how I think our artist brains are programmed to work. We take all of information that is flinging towards us (at home, in the news, in the world) and filter it, interpret it, and ultimately translate it into a work of art.

I suppose a more organized studio would streamline the artistic process, however, I would submit to you that my ability to constrain chaos into art is an intregal part of my artistic process.

If you have a creative workspace that you would like to share, e-mail me a picture at and I will post it here.

To view other creative workspaces and home offices go to:

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