Arts + Crafts

A Mad Tea {Towel} Party!

July 24, 2008

Now this is fun! A few months ago Maya from the Nicholas Gallery in downtown Cincinnati, Ohio contacted me regarding an upcoming exhibition she curated involving artists coming together from all over the world to show their work on tea towels. “The humble tea towel is no longer merely relegated to the tasks of the kitchen. Reinvented, its form offers a unique challenge and serves as a new canvas for artists and designers. This show brings together some of the most exciting contemporary talent worldwide, most exhibiting in Cincinnati for the first time.”

A Mad Tea {Towel} Party!
Talents like Marisa Haedike of Creative Thursday, Arian Armstrong, Atelier LZC, Sigrid Calon (I had the pleasure of viewing her work at Dutch Design Week in 2006), Phat Sheep, Push Me Pull You Design, Variegated Inc., and many others contributed their work for results that I’m sure will inspire many.

A Mad Tea {Towel} Party!A Mad Tea {Towel} Party!A Mad Tea {Towel} Party!A Mad Tea {Towel} Party!A Mad Tea {Towel} Party!
I just love seeing the work installed in the gallery and enjoy that there are some risks being taken in the art world, small changes that challenge the norms. You can view more photos from the show right here.

(images from the nicholas gallery)


  • Reply flowerpistol July 24, 2008 at 8:58 pm

    No way! Did I see a Mr. T towel? I must have one!

  • Reply ChrysRT July 24, 2008 at 10:23 pm

    Wow!!! I love these tea towels! So different, so arty, so interesting! These are the towels I have been looking for since a long time!

  • Reply Margot Madison July 24, 2008 at 10:31 pm

    See? There’s LOTS of cool going on in Cincinnati. As a local, I love seeing the plug! Congrats and thanks for showing it.

  • Reply ~ Sarah ~ July 24, 2008 at 11:26 pm

    Looks great! Love the designs.

    If only I could get my kitchen looking like that ;)

  • Reply Pippa Rex July 25, 2008 at 12:45 am

    Now I am not just talking about these tea towels but I have to finally say this as you finished your post by talking about the risks taken in the art world. Does it not bother you that most of the “art” posted here and on other design blogs is all the same. It seems to me that there is an awful lot of silhouette trees and birds, childlike drawings of little girls and bears etc and they are all done by various artists. I guess that I think that there is little risk there. I read your post about how peoples houses are all becoming silimarly decorated (How many “Keep calm and carry on” posters can this world handle? I feel the same is true of this “art” world. When did art stop being controversial or at least personnal. Is this form of art really not just craft?

  • Reply July 25, 2008 at 4:00 am

    These are all lovely, I always have a treasured tea towel hanging on my oven door…it kills me when I see company pull it down and start drying their hands when the plain old turkish cotton towels are right by the sink. They look amazing hung on the concrete wall too.

  • Reply decor8 July 25, 2008 at 4:12 am

    Pippa your comment is great. I actually think about this a lot.

    But you know, whether one calls it art or craft these are human beings behind it all doing work for the most part from their heart and lots of their inspiration comes from the same places so trends in design are easily created. We’re only human, there is no new idea but there are new interpretations that are uniquely our own.

    I started decor8 2.5 years ago when only a handful of design blogs existed. My goal then was to promote the work of designers, artists, crafters, etc. because there wasn’t much support going on back then from mainstream books and magazines. Unless you were well known or showed your work at large trade shows, few took a person seriously. It was sad to see as my friends were turned down by shop owners because they felt these independent artists were not ‘good enough’ for their customers because they didn’t have a solid trusted brand.

    I was determined to start some kind of alternate platform for these ‘outcasts’. Little did I know that after some other design bloggers and myself got started that magazines and the press would take notice of our words. We blog daily without let up to sing the praises of products we enjoy and the song is heard.

    I once called the editor of a certain design magazine and she turned my pitch down flat about design blogs and how important blogs are because she said “No one cares about bloggers and it’s just a passing phase and by the way, who are you?”. She gave me 20 seconds to tell her about my brand new blog and she put me on hold to take another call and never came back to me. I will always remember that. To this day, I have no dealings with this magazine and when they offered to advertise on my blog I turned them down flat. Domino on the other hand, accepted my pitch to showcase new talent in the Netherlands since I was going to attend Dutch Design Week in October 2006 and accepted my pitch to write about it for their website. I’ve been writing for Domino ever since and they are the best people ever, always showing support for the small business owner. I have nothing but respect for them.

    Now most magazines and shop owners enjoy design blogs, some look to them for products. It’s wonderful and I never in my life thought that we could all band together as bloggers, as voices, to build a strong community like the one we have today. I knew we could make a difference, I didn’t predict the difference would be like this. I know art gallery owners who rely on blogs to locate new talent and even have web shops and blogs now to reach out to find such talent when before you would go to a gallery and try to show your work and their nose would go up and most likely you’d be turned away no matter how amazing your work was. Not some but all. You were a nobody to them and that was all that mattered.

    In all of this rambling my point is this, I would rather see bird themes repeated and families supporting themselves working from home crafting art with birds motifs than to see people working jobs they hate because no gallery will take them serious and no store will look at them twice so they have to sit at a boring job all day. Now we have the web and it means something to be out here and we can PROMOTE OURSELVES without sole reliance on external sources. This alone is taking a risk and I’m all for it.

    When other blogs write about things that I post I think it’s a sign that we are promoting work we enjoy, we share common interests, and that if we all can share these finds we are shouting a louder voice across the web and therefore helping these small business owners to make a name for themselves, to build a following, to sell their work and support themselves doing what they enjoy.

    In the end, I don’t need controversial art to inspire me, I need to know that there is more than big box shopping and made in china, it’s called supporting the person in argentina making cups or the lady in canada sewing shirts from scraps. I guess I don’t need someone to splatter paint on a wall and because they are a big name it is automatically considered valued art and therefore “the next big thing”. I would rather see someone make coasters with birds on them who spent hours on the details and can feed their family on the income.

    I’m more for the small business with big dreams. I want to help anyone I can to reach those dreams, somehow, through my blog. And because of this passion, my own dreams of writing for a living and decorating homes and retail spaces was returned to me as somewhat of an unexpected gift from the work I’ve done here building decor8. From blogging I have learned that what comes around goes around and if you put the interests of others ahead of your own, you receive back ten times what you put forth.

    Thank you SO much for your comment. It was refreshing and really made me stop and think about a lot of things and I’m grateful to readers like you who go ‘there’ when you comment.


  • Reply FurnitureQuest July 25, 2008 at 4:24 am

    Love this blog… Have been keeping up on it for I don’t know how long and it’s always a joy to visit. Thanks for all of your great work!

  • Reply alice July 25, 2008 at 6:32 am

    great comment pippa and great response, holly. nice to read and think about.

  • Reply Marian July 25, 2008 at 10:58 am

    Well, I was just going to comment on how interesting it is that anything can become a canvas where to display your imagination, when someone mentioned that about the repetitive birds and trees…and i thought, i do agree with her on the amount of birds and stuff (even for me, I make them too). But then I thought… it is controversial and it pushes the bounderies when you explore new materials and new techniques. Ie painted, sewn and …printed a whole lotta birds (other stuff too.. :) ) but then I decided to try tile painting…and, Im not going to say that I am a pioneer, but it’s exploring… and that is art I think. When you are messing around is when you create and come up with newer things.

    There is somthing that Holly said (kinda describing my situation now). I decided to leave the boring office job which was making me misserable, to pursue my artistic side. I love makign what i make even if I struggle trying to get it out there. Galleries find it beautiful…buuuuuut… ya know… the brand thing. What Holly said. However, I crossed the point of no return. I rather this life banging my head against the wall dealing with promotion and stuff but doing what I love. Than sitting in a boring office 9hours a day dreaming with a better more creative life.

    was that too long? sorry!

  • Reply Sara July 25, 2008 at 11:05 am

    Oh, of course this beautiful work belongs in a gallery! I’m an avid tea towel collector (especially when traveling) and I find myself displaying them much more than I would ever dare to use them. Also, as I’m sure you well know, Anthropologie usually has a fabulous selection of really textured, colorful tea towels that charm me every time I shop.

    I really like the notion that it is “a new canvas for artists and designers.”

  • Reply Sara July 25, 2008 at 11:29 am


    I’ve just read the exchange had by yourself and pippa, and really feel the need to comment further.

    I’m an illustrator, and in a field such as this, there is much competition and this constant feeling of needing to “set oneself apart.” Whether this is through technical style, subject matter, whatever…it simply must be done to make an artist unique and noticeable.
    For the past 6 years, I have been employed by two butterfly houses in the Philadelphia region: I run one of them in a county park in the summer, and am a manager in the live butterfly exhibit at the natural sciences museum. My passion for Lepidoptery and Entomology in general runs so deep…I am, quite honestly, -obsessed- with studying, educating about, and of course, drawing butterflies. Butterflies and moths make their way into my work *all* of the time, and I have to tell you…it is a constant struggle to come up with ways to fight the trends and just draw/paint what I love.
    But I do it. Because I love it. I see it as a risk, because to focus on a subject matter that is just so common and has been used as a design element by everyone under the sun means that I’m constantly challenged. How can I make it unique? How can I best get my passion across? And the eternal question: How can I get the greatest amount of joy from what I’m doing?
    I sincerely hope that just because a trend happens to be in place, that audiences do not instantly invalidate artwork that incorporates a certain subject matter. If it is done skillfully and with much care, what is the difference? Being an artist of any variety is a risk. That is plain and simple fact. I personally think that just because an idea has been visited before, does not mean that it cannot be revisited in a new, beautiful, and provocative way. Perhaps some people just prefer to be provoked in a different way than others.

    I hope that I’m managing to make sense here, because the topic of arts vs. crafts is one that really interests me, and that strikes up very strong personal opinions. It is quite refreshing to see the discussion on a site like decor8, which has become a sort of forum for artists and art appreciators alike. I sincerely hope to see this discussion go a bit further…I’d love to know what other readers think!

  • Reply Julie July 25, 2008 at 11:55 am

    Wow – so cool to see something featured from my city! Nice response Holly – lots of food for thought. Case in point:

    "I know art gallery owners who rely on blogs to locate new talent"
    Margot Madison who posted a comment earlier – she's a well known stationery shop owner here in Cincinnati

    "helping these small business owners to make a name for themselves, to build a following, to sell their work and support themselves doing what they enjoy"
    Amen & thank you! :-)

  • Reply VisuaLingual July 25, 2008 at 12:29 pm

    I have to respond to Pippa as well. As the curator of this exhibit, I think the risk lay more in the over all premise than in any actual tea towel design. You’re right that not every piece is ground-breaking in and of itself.

    But, so many people really struggled to accept that this was going to come together as an exhibit. I got push-back from commercial designers who typically deal with shops, and from artists who couldn’t wrap their minds around this useful object as a starting point. The art versus design dynamic is still alive and kicking, apparently. A similar thing happened with the press — people had a hard time knowing how, or whether, to talk about the show, or who would care. And, I think the same thing happened with the people who came [or didn’t] to the opening reception. I think it attracted a slightly different audience, and also a fair amount of people who were curious because they didn’t get it.

    I realize that bringing up these issues on this blog is sort of preaching to the choir, but I think that we sometimes forget the larger cultural context in which an event like this happens.

    In the end, though, we had a great crowd and almost everything sold within the first couple of hours. I think the work surprised people, and hopefully they came away with some new knowledge about some interesting makers to whom they hadn’t previously been exposed. I’m proud that a lot of these people have never shown in the US, and their work came to Cincinnati first. And, I’m proud to have exposed some artists to the tea towel as a creative vehicle. In its own small way, the show broke down a lot of boundaries.

  • Reply Kelly July 25, 2008 at 1:19 pm

    Wow…That is really all I can articulate right now. Holly, that was a great response. Thank you so much for giving those of us with a dream a chance to share it with the world.

  • Reply Mys liv och hem July 25, 2008 at 1:43 pm

    What lovely teatowels.I?m a big friend of teatowels and I use them as picture?s on the wall.I love it!

  • Reply Marisa and Creative Thursday July 25, 2008 at 4:30 pm

    Hi Holly ~ thanks so much for sharing and Maya, again thanks for inviting me to participate in this show. I am truly loving this discussion via the comments. So thanks to, to Pippa for bringing it up.

    Since I am one of the artists of the show and you can clearly see my towel in the images above with both a bear and a bird (and good lord, another owl!) on it and cuteness just dripping from it, I feel inspired to share my thoughts here.

    The funny thing for me is that a) I never thought I would make a living as a painter and b) I never at all thought about letting “cuteness” especially with animals be my subject matter. In fact one of my favorite stories to tell is that my photography teacher in college told me once that “cute doesn’t sell”. The style that I presently work in developed all on its own. I just remember trying to paint a character for a show theme a group of us had almost 3 years ago now and that was so much fun, it inspired me to go further, and challenge myself with creating characters, because it was something I didn’t think I could do. Then through the process of daily painting more and more of them literally kept appearing in my paintings.

    It was like a creative faucet had turned on and it couldn’t stop. And I would ask myself the same question, “I mean really, can I paint another bear or a bird?” but the truth is I couldn’t help myself. And looking back at my childhood and what I created even then, the attraction to cute has been there from the beginning. And every time I try to push myself in a new direction, it feels forced. So these kinds of childlike drawings embodying a certain innocence, joy, hopefulness, simplicity~ they represent the truest part of me right now at this time in my life.

    From a small business perspective, it is convenient that these themes are trendy right now. I have even been asked by galleries to paint them because they are “what sells”. And I have to be honest and say that as an artist who makes a living with their art, I am always walking that fine line of, “is this my true inspiration and is this something that will sell?”. So there is a part of me that wants my work to sell because I love what I do so much and I want to keep doing it, and there is a part of me that is always trying to challenge myself and ask the questions you are asking, especially because I pride myself on not making decisions based solely on financial survival, and most importantly I also want to keep growing as an artist. Somewhere in the middle is where my creations find their voice.

    I am also continuously influenced by the art that inspires me and am often interpreting and incorporating what I see in the world around me, into my own art. I do think that while we see a lot of the same themes as you mentioned with “birds, animals and childlike drawings” in art and featured in the world of design and design blogs ~ there’s a reason that it is received so well. I feel that there is a present theme of happiness, and beauty among many of the artists creating work today, and I think people are in search of more of that in their lives and this kind of work, and the design blogs that feature it are reflecting that back to them. It happens to be the art I personally collect, because I too want more happiness in my every day. And I when I look around my home and feel uplifted by what I see, it feels so good. When I travel the internet and visits beautiful blogs like this one, I feel good. It’s that simple. I just want to feel good more of the time.

    I often feel that “controversial” art is from a pushed place of the mass idea that somehow “art isn’t good unless it’s controversial”. There are artists for whom controversy is their true voice and you can tell that it’s genuine and compelling and interesting. In the same way that artist’s who paint sweeter, less controversial images are either faking it because it’s popular, or it’s also their true voice. Either way I find that genuine art in any form speaks to most people. And really in regards to taking “risk”, ANYONE who is willing to create ANYTHING and share it with the world….now that is truly RISK. Every time I put something I make out into the world, it feels risky to me. Every time I wonder how will this be received? Even writing this comment, I wonder. And then I remind myself that however it is received is ok, and that all I am asking from myself is that I be satisfied with what I put out into the world. I really just want to keep creating from my heart and let that be what continues to call me forward.

    Which, in closing I have to say that translating my style and my characters to a tea towel for this show, was challenging and so much fun ~ it opened me up to a whole new world of creating that I am just at the beginning of.

  • Reply love forever July 25, 2008 at 4:42 pm

    holly, your response was very articulate and it was really interesting to hear about your early experiences in blogging.
    i was an art history major in college but my interest was always in the intersection of art and craft. the art world is finally starting to come around to the use of craft techniques to make fine art but still many art critics dismiss this kind of work. i think the reason for this is that craft techniques are thought of as “feminine”, that they are a skill but not an art. one only has to look at a gee’s bend quilt or a peruvian arpillera to know that this is not true at all.
    i agree that part of the appeal of this show is not just the content of each tea towel but that the medium is a tea towel. i love the idea of finding art in everyday materials, that art can be available to everyone and that our daily lives can be enriched by these beautiful handmade things.
    i think there is something very very valuable in making something with your two hands and that is why i love craft. i agree that there is a lot of “sameness” in craft but a lot of crafters in different societies and times have relied on incorporating symbols and icons that have meaning to them. perhaps birds and trees and silhouettes are just our chosen symbols. or maybe it’s just because they are pretty.

  • Reply Rita vindedzis July 25, 2008 at 4:48 pm

    Fantastic dialogue going on here!! Isn’t this what art is supposed to do??

    As a visual artist I find it curious that if I paint on a canvas and hang it on the wall it’s considered art-but if I paint the same image on a flowerpot or a stone most would consider it craft. I too have found that birds, trees, silhouettes of leaves and flowers seem to be everywhere these days and I have painted them-they are my “bread and butter” so to speak. Gallery shows can be few and far between and I don’t believe in the starving artist stereo type. It’s a business like any other.

    I would’ve gladly painted tea towels had I been asked!! LOL

  • Reply Rowena July 25, 2008 at 5:02 pm

    Wow, Holly, you are awesome. I found this blog through the giveaway, but now that I think about it, I’ve probably seen you on apartmenttherapy (?) but I love your thoughts on art and craft and small business and inspiration.

    It is an interesting conversation, and one that I have been having a long time, but not about art.. about books. I used to teach English, and I have had many discussions about the merit of Stephen King or Harry Potter or many of the other super popular, not very literary works.

    My take on the idea is that whatever brings people to Art/Literature is a good thing. Not everything has to be groundbreaking, not everything SHOULD be. To allow people into the world of art or literature, don’t we need to also offer them comfortable, pretty, entertaining pieces? If they love it, they will keep looking and maybe develop their taste for the more intellectual or original work.

    I think what you are doing is a very good thing. (see, I stole that from Martha.)

  • Reply Ann July 25, 2008 at 5:22 pm

    I read some of the comments. Wanted to go and eat lunch, but couldn’t walk out the door without making a couple of comments.

    There’s one thing I forget when I’m passionate about something and that’s: not everyone is passionate about it. Not everyone knows about it. If you read a design blog, you do start to see how certain themes repeated. When I show my friends a specific blog, I scroll through and they’ll point to something , something I’ve seen a million times, and they are wowed by it all. There’s a whole world out there that doesn’t know that latest trends of trees, silhouettes and such. Once they find out, this design world will probably be over it.

    Artists have always been influenced by each other and very few have been able to really be groundbreaking. Back then, it was known as movements (is it still, do movements exist anymore?). Most groundbreaking work is actually most strongly influenced by popular work. It’s a deliberate attempt to be the opposite of what was previously happening. Looking at the cycle of artists movements and there are two things that are interesting, maybe three things. They peak on edginess or flowery, with transitions that never quite caught on. Through time these cycles have happened closer together. There’s a nice graph visualization of this. It’s quite cool.

    A long time ago an artist movement would last at least decades, now it’s hard to last a year.

    Actually, it’s amazing that things like birds and silhouettes have lasted for some time. That’s quite groundbreaking given the current environment.

  • Reply Anonymous July 25, 2008 at 5:27 pm

    I just wish I would have known about this exhibit earlier. I was in Cincinnati two weeks ago & now it is too late to go:(

  • Reply Tracey July 25, 2008 at 5:51 pm

    Great discussion! I really liked Rowena’s comments about doing whatever it takes to bring people to art/literature, and not everything should be groundbreaking. Art is a very personal thing and it should develop emotions for the person looking at it- whether its a smile for a cute owl or a frown for something “dark and controversial”. With that said, I applaud all artists that make a living doing what they love and keep on doing it!
    Excited to see the new blog Holly, and your success is inspirational!

  • Reply Anonymous July 25, 2008 at 5:52 pm

    Hi, this is my first time commenting on your blog, Holly, but I love to visit and see all the gorgeous things you post! I just wanted to add my two cents to this interesting discussion.

    I don’t consider myself an artist but over the last few years I have been learning about and building some skill in more traditional “crafts”, such as crochet, needlework, and general interior design. What drew me to the tea towel designs was not so much the designs on the towels but the fact that they are on towels. Another commenter mentioned that one reason the tea towel art is “risky” is because of the femininity of the medium. I think that’s a really important point. What draws me to these traditional crafts is the idea that our great-great grandmothers, over generations, developed such intricate, beautiful and undeniably creative works and yet these skills have been dismissed and not taken seriously as “art” for whatever reason – as so often happens to innovation driven exclusively by women, it is dismissed as “practical” rather than artistic. My understanding of the difference between “craft” and “art” is that craft is something that is easily replicated and fairly rote, in that you follow a pattern or directions and creativity or expression is not the aim. Art is expressive, innovative, and personal. Trends in design will come and go, of course, and I think Marisa has a good point when she says that the recurring designs of birds, etc. symbolize the concepts of happiness and simplicity that people are being inspired by right now.

    So I think the “risk” involved here has very little to do with the little birds and bears and cutsy elements and more to do with the assertion that life is art – beauty and art have a place in our day-to-day activities, that art is something we can experience and touch and not just observe at a distance.

  • Reply Melissa de la Fuente July 25, 2008 at 6:03 pm

    Such interesting and thoughtful answers from everyone…….I feel that just like you can’t help whom you love, you can’t help what inspires you. Sometimes it seems repetitive to others but, to you it is a necessary expression of what moves you. I, too, don’t feel art has to be controversial to move me…just beautiful or meaningful…to me.

  • Reply Andi-a July 25, 2008 at 6:55 pm

    OMGoooooooooooooooooosh good points good points. First let me say this is what is so exciting for me as a creative person still trying at 35 to get her design mashine working and producing on all cylinders. Your gift will make room for you -Prov 18:16. I’m happy for thses artists getting to show thier work.

    I can totally come from both sides of what Pippa is saying, and I”m glad for whatever reason she had the guts to say it. Many times we float along with a lot of the same old cause we don’t want to not get a foot in the door. In college studying fashion design I was considered the best by my peers simply because my ideas came from within, but they also taught me to understand they would steal an idea in a second. Since then I’ve had to understand the art/design business you have to know your craft and you gotta know business. Her are some thoughts I have in this gentle debate.

    1. You have to be able to interpret and trend, being able to forcast it is great but people want accessibility not complication and intimidation. These are not times where design dictatorship trickles down from the few at the top.

    2. Why does art need to be controversial to be considered real art? How many more skeletons in a dress or bloody hearts or anger lives here type stuff is necessary? Is there just an issue of style here?

    3. I do see the need to see something fresh beyond, hope I say this right, the pretense of being a little girl in the seventies who likes lots of stuffed cotton minatures of forest creatures, felt whatnots, and bright bad contrasting thread on poly blend bad vintage clothing remakes. This just seems pretenious and make-believey (not a word, I know). This looks says to me that the person is bound and determined to live in a bubble called The Past, but it’s not within my area to change those who love this aesthetic.

    Why do birds sell so much right now? It’s eco, it’s simple, and they represent beauty and freedom. Honestly though for the many hipsterish people who don’t want to look overdone and don’t bend anywhere near the right side of the brain, it’s just easier to go with this look, but that is how its always been.

    I used to sell dept. 56 Villages many many eons ago in a store and these women were already having to sneak them in in the dark of night to their already chock full of village attics. I couldn’t understand what possesed them, once I saw a couple lit up I said awwwww and considered myself good for life on ever needing to study them again. For those who may still be collecting every next “limited edition” village they represent a demo and this is comforting nostalgia to them.

    4. Amen Holly to those who are able to do it for themselves. What they know and what we all hopefully understand is the sale of these art tea towels is just one nice evening out or a payment on a past due bill.

    5. Most creative people need to have their brand of peanut butter to bring them some bread and butter. I have an artist friend named Holly here in Oklahoma City who is absolutely freaking Amazing absolutely AMAZING. She has painted anything from a huge canvas of a woman having fun in a sudsy bath to a retro robot plus tons more just interesting views and I cant stop looking at them. But to keep the bread and butter she has a more mainstream line of hand painted products for the home. This isn’t selling out it’s just selling period. It’s business. It’s something she can do fairly easily and execute well. I’ve been asked to sew some little league uniforms uhm so not my deal I dont even like to sew, but I want some money that I don’t have to punch in Bob’s clock for, so there it is for now.

    6. The term craft has come a long way baby. There has always been artisans who hand crafted great work, much of which I’ve seen here. What New York calls a craft show may be another city’s biggest Art Festival. For the average person even the fact that it has become cool again for people to create something of thier own without beating themselves up that they’re wasting time is great.

    7. Lastly I also believe that we are seeing and are going to see some amazing jaw dropping breath taking work come from people we never heard of who have been hidden away. Thank God for this internet tool.

    Holly thanks again for your great blog place to discuss this stuff, looking forward to the big reveal on Monday.

  • Reply Ez July 25, 2008 at 7:04 pm

    What an insightful and valuable discussion! I hope you don’t mind me adding my two cents:

    From my point of view (as a fellow blogger) I have to say that my story mirrors Holly’s in a very similar manner. I began blogging (3 years ago) simply as a way to share what I love and as a means of getting to know a community of creatively-motivated and inspirational people. Very quickly I realized that of all the incredibly talented independent artists out there, very few of them were being given the platform to showcase their work that I felt they truly deserved. So I began including more and more independent talent within my posts, and the response from my readers has been nothing but positive.

    One of my favorite things about blogging is highlighting great handcrafted designs in tandem with mainstream products. I love that indie design can hold it’s own right alongside popular design, and together there is no real distinction… just great and inspiring design! Three years ago when I began blogging these products would have likely been labeled as “crafty”, or some other term used to differentiate handmade products from the culturally acceptable products we are accustomed to seeing promoted in publications. But now through the act of bloggers and print publications who have been willing to promote and showcase something outside of what used to be acceptable, we are finally seeing the tremendous talent that is all around us in our communities and world. True, some of what we see may be repetitive, but if anything that is a challenge for all of us to push ourselves towards creating and promoting art in new ways. Such as utilizing tea towels as a raw canvas for artists to create upon. This is unique and something that should be celebrated.

    So my final thought is this:
    I believe that the very act of promoting indie artists, or “crafting” as means of supporting oneself is a “risk.” It’s a risk to break outside of what has been sold to us as acceptable. … A challenge to step outside of the molds of societal conformity and find creativity and passion in whichever means we choose.

    “It is better to have enough ideas for some of them to be wrong, than to be always right by having no ideas at all.” – Edward De Bono


  • Reply Andi-a July 25, 2008 at 7:10 pm

    I forgot to mention that most art floating around today can easily be date stamped so to speak because art has trends. Baroque paintings that no one has been able to mimick, art deco typography, 70’s has a lot of sketchy yet straight outlines, 80’s photography had a lot of pianos with a rose theme lol and many of us took some hs pics in wicker peacock chair. I still don’t know why slate blue, mauve and geese were so absoluty necessary in almost every home? An

  • Reply Lasso the Moon July 25, 2008 at 7:16 pm


  • Reply Vela July 25, 2008 at 7:19 pm

    This is a great topic. I think Marisa’s point about an artist using their true voice, and being to tell that it’s genuine is so right. Honesty in art always attracts people. As humans I think we are able to spot honesty in art because it makes us feel. The artist leaves part of themselves on the page. And as artists it’s our job to put our whole selves in the process. I have this quote in one of my sketchbooks (don’t know the author, sorry) but I think it’s fitting here “Part of being a Master is learning how to sing in nobody else’s voice but your own.” That might take a lifetime, but whatever it is you make, art or craft, it’s worth striving for.

  • Reply shayoa July 25, 2008 at 7:46 pm

    I guess many of us have been discussing this lately. (Art vs. Craft) Personally, I feel the distinguishing factor comes from the artist-in-question’s motivation, which can’t always be determined by looking at the artist or art piece. If an artist is emotionally inspired to create something, and they can’t get it out of their mind until they’ve completed it, and give up part of their heart (and soul) to do it, it seems like art, even if it is birds and trees and wistful looking children. On the other hand, there are people who study others’ art and products and decide on the spot that they “can do that” too, as though figuring out someone’s technique or style and accomplishing the making of a similar product is the art itself. To me, this is craft. If you’re simply re-creating a product, either because you think it will sell, or because you feel a sense of accomplishment by realizing someone else’s idea, it can’t be art. There’s a difference between being inspired by someone else, and being inspired to make similar/identical products. The art comes in when it’s a personal, emotional, and almost spiritual “need” to create something that was born in your brain to begin with. Learning how to make things that other people make has to be craft.

    But, as others have said, perspective is everything. If you don’t feel a personal (emotional, spiritual) response to the thing you’re looking at, you’re probably not going to think of it as art. We all know this from the varied responses we receive on our own art. In simple terms, I make circle paintings that change colors and glow in the dark. I’ve had some people respond as though they’re *positive* the next thing I’m going to show them is a velvet poster of Jimi Hendrix riding a jaguar, and others who downright tear up and begin explaining to me how my painting is a representation of GOD to them. So… ???

    That being said, I think the tea towel art being hung up like that in that warehouse-style gallery space looks pretty spiffy and artistic. Beyond that, I’d have to judge each tea-towel for itself. :o)

  • Reply Arian July 25, 2008 at 8:20 pm

    Hey! How cool to check the decor8 blog today like I always do and see my name in the list of tea towel “talents”.

    My work is not revolutionary by any means, but I painted it one day at home while my babies were asleep. It’s so great to have venues (such as Etsy, design blogs, and small galleries like the Nicholas Gallery) that allow small “artistic nobodies” like myself to design and create and get work out in the world w/o sacrificing family. So thanks, Nicholas Gallery and Holly for giving me a chance : )

  • Reply Sister in Second-hand Sequins..... July 25, 2008 at 8:22 pm

    Gosh it was exciting to read this post and all the comments that were generated by it. As a Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky resident I was pleased as punch to see a show from Cincinnati featured. It was pretty great show (red dots abound), so sad that it was Nicholas Gallery’s last.

  • Reply Jennifer Ramos July 25, 2008 at 8:50 pm

    Hi Holly, can't wait to see your new design. Also will email you stuff soon!

    I have to agree on a few things Pippa has said. I know what you mean Holly when you say that some magazines didn't want to give you a second look when you tried to pitch to them regarding blogs. I also understand that a lot of the BIGGER blogs cater to the crafty – handmade designers and have thought twice about posting my work on their site.
    I remember submitting my work to certain blogs when i first started my CARDS, and some would have the nerve to say" yes i will post you" and NEVER even do so. Yet, they would post similar artists everyday, illustrations that were very similar, dolls that looked like the same designer could've made them, the same art appeared everywhere, and photos of art that just bores me, and so on. Even though I work just as hard as the crafters do in my business. To me when bloggers only accept specific types of designers and artists and not others – is the same thing as the magazines not giving us a chance no??
    In the end, its the bloggers decision who they choose to post. BUT just because something isn't handmade, doesn't mean its not well thought out and just as special. Personally I'm tired of seeing birds and UGLY looking dolls that would've given me nightmares if someone had hung it on my wall at age 7.
    My point is, we need to broaden our horizons and our level of acceptance toward other types of artists and not just ETSY type designers. Thats what I think… : )

    Jen Ramos
    '100% Recycled DESIGNER Cards & More'

  • Reply Stephanie Ryan July 25, 2008 at 9:32 pm

    Who is to say what art is? I have done it all. Fine artist, graphic designer, doll maker, photographer,product designer, stationery designer, and now tabletop designer. I have considered all of these things to be art. From the simplest character to the most detailed oil painting. I feel that this is a newer way of thinking about art. Before, art and craft were separate entities. Crafters were looked down on by the main stream artists and designers. I am so please to see a shift in that way of thinking and believe that it is because of this amazing world of blogging and great people like Holly who have blazed the trail for all of us. As far as trends, and things looking the same. That really isn’t anything new, it is just more prominent because of the vast resources we now have. It is all cyclical, a year from now a new look will be emerging, probably a resurgence of a past trend. It’s all good, actually it is a very exciting time.

  • Reply Elizabeth July 26, 2008 at 3:07 am

    what a great read, everyone, thanks.

  • Reply karyn July 26, 2008 at 5:15 am

    It?s a trend. It seems to me that we are in a period of time where there is a common desire for simplification. This type of art speaks to that in it’s images and in the production by individual artists.

    What is unique about this to me is that I?m seeing what I consider to be a reversal in the market where individuals are collectively directing mass market product choices. West Elm has an art line up that reflects this. I love it because it?s simplistic. I have always had a kind of love hate relationship with art. So much art was mass produced or unfordable and just not anything that fit me. I couldn?t hang it on a wall in my home. That?s not to say that I didn?t see beauty in it or admire the artist, it?s just that art is so individual and I didn?t see anything that was me.

    To be able to be able to purchase art now available in so many different mediums at a reasonable price while supporting the individual artist, is a win, win situation for me and I am so happy to have be a part of this changing time.

  • Reply Marina July 26, 2008 at 12:33 pm

    I know my comment does little to cover the original point, but I’ve been thinking about this for some time, and it’s loosely related to some of the points that Holly raised in her own response. So…

    Speaking, not as an artist (I do like to create, but very badly and only for my own amusement), but as someone who appreciates this blog (and the others like it) – my viewpoint is as follows.

    I hate art galleries. I can spend a day looking around the Tate Modern or the National Gallery (London) and feel like I’ve wasted my time. I’m just not attracted to the art I see there. I can certainly appreciate the work and insight involved, but I would never want to display it on my wall and have to see it day-in, day-out. The work displayed on these blogs, however, gives me access to a whole concept and style of art that I would never have otherwise learnt about, and for that I truly thank the artists who promote their work through this media, and the bloggers who give those artists a chance. I love Creative Thursday prints; I adore Camilla Engman; and I just can’t get enough of Lisa Congdon – just to name a few.

    I don’t care if their aesthetic is broadly similar and I don’t care if they are not necessarily pioneering (and okay, tea-towel design is not completely groundbreaking, but certainly experimental as a canvas and exhibit) because they appeal to me – a lowly average Joe who has never once taken an art-appreciation or critique class in her life. And really – isn’t that the truly groundbreaking thing? Bringing art and design to an audience who would otherwise have no interest in art?

    And, for me, the most important thing about the work that Holly – and the other bloggers – showcase is that, by-and-large, it’s affordable. Three years ago, I had no interest in art and now I can’t wait to introduce my 6month old to the whimsical, imagination-inspiring Creative Thursday prints I plan on putting on his walls in the hope that his interest in art is ignited and might even extend to Van Gogh, Rembrandt, Warhol and Macuga.

  • Reply Carla Sonheim July 26, 2008 at 4:58 pm

    It’s hard to add anything to what’s already been said. Thank you, everyone, for such thoughtful and intelligent responses!

  • Reply zack July 28, 2008 at 2:14 am

    This is great! Ill bookmark it over at our place:

  • Reply Cartolina July 28, 2008 at 2:15 am

    Very interesting. I think that almost every comment has a valid point here.

    As an enthusiastic blogger, blog reader and professional designer, I have a couple of observations.

    I am always surprised how designers jump on a design bandwagon so eagerly.
    I think that if you would like to make a living from your art, or your craft, then you are taking a big risk by jumping on the well known, over used illustrative icons that that have been mentioned above – owls etc.

    I have found that buyers and art directors don’t want to see what’s all ready out there – they want to see new and exciting design.

    “Show us something new.”

    As an artist, or crafts person, you have far more chance of success if you step away from trends and design something unique.

    This has been such an interesting thread. Thank you for the opportunity Holly.

  • Reply Lauren July 28, 2008 at 2:42 pm

    I am loving Marisa’s comment. It is risky to put work out for sale. I am glad you are able to do it. Isn’t it amazing that when you love the work you do, it will inevitably find an audience.

  • Reply Shauna July 28, 2008 at 3:28 pm

    What an interesting thread, and what a great dialogue.

    Re: birds and trees in so much art/craft. It’s interesting to me to take a step back and consider trends as a reflection of human consciousness. Why are birds and bees and trees selling? Now, I’m not an economist or an artist– I am an art appreciator who makes a living as an environmental educator, so I’ll hazzard a suggestion from my perspective. What I see all over the media lately (for better or worse) is a whole lotta coverage about global warming, environmental conservation, and stewardship. It makes sense to me that in the art/craft/design world symbols of conservation (trees, bees, and birds) would become similarly popular.

    Although I do love stylized prints as well, it’s been really great to watch a growing body of biologically correct animal and plant prints become available (fabrics, prints, etc.) It warms my heart to think of the artist doing the research and careful observation required to capture the details and differences between, say, a goldfinch and a Wilson’s Warbler.

  • Reply Rick Bucich July 28, 2008 at 7:21 pm

    To be honest, I know nothing about tea towel art but as a photographer am fascinated by the discussion. This type of interaction is common in photography circles as well because it does not necessarily take great artistic talent to take a beautiful photograph. In my opinion, the conversation topic is constructive, deserves merit and should be ongoing.

  • Reply tea towels - Karen Phillips September 15, 2010 at 6:47 pm

    great post and discussion! I love the images of tea towels ‘out and about’.

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