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Christine Mason Miller (and a few words about the spirit of giving)

Marisa told me about Christine Mason Miller recently, a California-based artist that has more than talent, but a huge heart. Christine has the reputation of being supportive, kind, and extremely helpful to her peers, which gives fine testimony to the type of person she really is inside. Christine is known for not simply looking after herself, but identifying needs that exist, hurdles others face, and then stepping up and helping to find solutions so that all are impacted in a positive way. That’s powerful! Life is really just a big circle and you get back what you put forth. I’m always encouraged to hear about those in business for themselves that take the time to support others running alongside them. You don’t always see this in the corporate world, there is so much face stepping as the ladder is climbed, but I do see it more amongst crafters and artists. There’s a real network, a sisterhood (or brotherhood), that is formed and with hands holding other hands, that chain isn’t easily broken. The spirit of giving is so much better than constantly waiting to receive. If more people followed this, so much good could be accomplished in the world.


I recently heard that if you want something, that means you’re lacking it. I never really gave much thought to that. Upon hearing it, you almost want to say, “Well, duh!”, don’t you? But once you’ve settled into the thought, giving it some time to sink in, it’s a pretty weighty statement. If you’re lacking, you aren’t truly whole, which can easily mean you are never satisfied or happy. It also makes you appear as weak if you think about it, because if you walk around always wanting things, you obviously can’t get them for yourself. If you want power, that must mean you don’t really have it, and if you want praise, it’s because you aren’t perhaps getting it so you’re in want of it. Try to look for ways to give what you do have, extend yourself, just like Christine has the reputation of doing. Good people respect and recognize good works. You want to attract positive people and experiences, do your best work and then, support others. Asking for help is one thing, constantly wanting, wanting, wanting, is another. You get back what you give out. People often want things that they aren’t willing to give themselves. Power, praise, money. Those that are the most successful at anything in life are those that empower others first.

Here’s a glimpse of some of Christine’s work (above), her etsy store, and her website. Thank you Marisa for telling me about Christine, and thank you Christine for being a lady known for your good energy and supportive, giving personality. It’s a joy to know you’re out there helping your fellow artists to thrive alongside you. That’s the sign of someone truly confident and secure in themselves and in their work, and that’s so great to see put in action.

(images from christine miller)

Posted in Arts + Crafts, Etsy Faves, inspiration, small business on June 19, 2007

Meet Michelle Caplan

We’re taking a little break from mood boards until later today because first, I would love for you to meet my friend and talented artist Michelle Caplan. This lady really inspires me and since finding her online in ’05, we somewhat grew our freelance careers together, mostly through the internet. We met right around the time when I left my 9-to-5 and launched decor8, so having Michelle to walk alongside on this online journey has proved to be a genuine source of encouragement to me. I know her words will stimulate you as well; she presents lots of great advice, so gather ’round your monitors — Time to meet Michelle Caplan!

“This is a bench in my entry that is in constant rotation. It serves as a sort of storage space for finished pieces, and they are mixed in with other art pieces and objects. It is a fun idea to see it constantly changing.” -MC

decor8: Hi Michelle! For those that aren’t yet familiar with you and your work, can you give us the basics?

Michelle: Sure! I’m Michelle Caplan, a 30-year-old Mixed Media Collage Portrait Artist living and working in Los Angeles, CA.

decor8: Great! Now let’s talk about your roots. What is your background and education?

Michelle: Born in London, moved to Monte Carlo when I was 3, and then to Los Angeles when I was 6. Then in 1998, I was off to NYC to attend the School of Visual Arts (SVA). I graduated in 2000 with a BA in Graphic Design and started to work in the publishing industry designing book covers.

decor8: There’s lots of talk about formal training vs. “real world” experience amongst artists these days, and I see real value in both. Since you went the formal route, what do you think art school gave you (besides a degree) that you may not have received had you not attended?

Michelle: Attending SVA forced me to leave my familiar surroundings in LA and relocate to NYC, which was a great place to learn and live. There was so much to see and feel and hear that I would never have experienced had I stayed in LA at that time. The experience of art school prepared me for the real world experiences that were, and are, to come. I needed a degree to qualify and get my first job, which set me on the path of honing my computer skills and learning a sense of balance and design. Also, the endless critiques that scared me so much in school, have definitely helped me to get past outside opinion, and to help me focus on expressing myself without censoring or second guessing every stroke of the brush. I don’t think that my graphic design sensibilities necessarily came from school, however being around so many talented and varied people certainly was inspiring. Also, the opportunity to learn from some amazing contemporary designers and artists was priceless.

Works by Michelle on display.

decor8: You’re no longer in the publishing world, but out and about as a freelance artist. What do you like most so far?

Michelle: The best part of being a freelance artist is that I genuinely love what I do. All of my hard work reaps a direct reward on my family’s life. The hours I spend experimenting with new surfaces and mediums is fun and beneficial to my craft. I live for the feeling I get when an idea is sparked and I can work out in my head how I will execute it. I can be at lunch with friends and all I can think about is getting into the studio and creating whatever the inspired piece is. That kind of giddiness is rare, and I try not to take the freedom I have for granted. I have a wonderful husband who works very hard for us and has supported me fully in exploring my artistic dreams.

decor8: Can you tell us more about the creative process?

Michelle: I love the stories I can tell through my work. I search out discarded photos and create stories of who I imagine the people may have been. Being able to use my imagination in such a way is so much fun. I gather clues from the image and the persons demeanor, clothing and surroundings. I make assumptions and take guesses.

decor8: In addition to your own pieces, you work on commissioned onces as well. I know, because you created one for my husband that is proudly displayed in our home. :)

Michelle: Yes, in complete contrast to the pieces I do on my own are my commissioned works. Clients give me their photos and tell me all about the subject, which have ranged from grandparents to children, to pets. They are so excited to have a personal piece made. Their enthusiasm drives me to hunt for the perfect papers and items for their pieces. The opportunity to create a narrative for someone’s personal photos gives my work a completely different dimension.

Wedding commissions by Michelle Caplan.

decor8: Other than your clients and the ideas that you come up with on your own, what else inspires your work?

Michelle: My fellow crafters. I want to learn everything from sewing to crocheting to wire-wrapping jewelry because of the AMAZING talent that I see all over the web and at the fairs that I do. Seeing the ingenuity makes me want to get my hands dirty. It is easy to get stuck in a rut and I really try to make sure that I am always looking and experiencing work outside of my own.


decor8: Speaking of the web, you have a few blogs. How has blogging assisted you as an artist?

Michelle: Blogging has had a HUGE impact on my business. Just by opening myself up and sharing with those who are interested in my work I have met some of the most incredible people who have supported and inspired me. On my own personal blog, I’m able to share my work with people from across the country and around the globe. When I first started and set-up my stat counter, I would check it incessantly to see where readers were located. I was so mesmerized to see Poland, Germany, Switzerland and Australia among other places on the list. That is an audience I never would have been able to reach in such a small amount of time without a blog.

decor8: So true! And you have a another blog that is less personal and more focused on the whole arts and crafts world. Can you share a little about that with us?

Michelle: Sure! My second blog, Creative Swoon, has given me a forum to share the people and things that really blow my mind and inspire. I have met a lot of really cool people through Creative Swoon as well. In supporting each other we help to grow our own businesses. I have to say that learning about the blog world and meeting people like you on eBay really started me on my current path. You introduced me to blogging when you first purchased a piece from eBay and then posted about it in the very first days of decor8. I started reading your blog regularly and that is where I discovered Etsy.

decor8: It really is a very large circle of life, isn’t it? Outside of blogging, how do you market your work?

Michelle: The best way is to talk about it and share as much as I can. In addition to blogging, I post images from my life and of my work on Flickr, and I have a MySpace page. I also get involved in a few of the local craft fairs in LA such as the Felt Club coming up on July 15th, and the Ventura Fourth of July Street Fair in Ventura, CA. I keep an ongoing list of my upcoming events in the sidebar on my blog so that people who would like to see my work in person can keep track of upcoming shows.

Michelle at her booth, Felt Club, August 2006.

decor8: Despite all the good times, there are bound to be some bad, especially online because it invites the critiques of those we’ve never met. What are some things you dislike about being online with your work?

Michelle: The haters! People who can’t find a way to support their fellow crafters, artists and bloggers and be happy for them when they have a good day. In this community, we all have good days and mini victories. I’m always so excited to see one of my contemporaries get a glowing review, or to open a magazine and see their wares or read their story. I don’t understand the negative people.

decor8: So true! I believe that if you do your best work, you will draw others like you and that’s really the point, to create a pool of supportive, positive people that want to make progress together. Now, you mentioned Etsy earlier and I’d like to chat about that a bit further because I know many decor8 readers are toying with the idea of launching their own store there. Can you tell us a little about your experiences so far?

Michelle: Joining Etsy changed my business completely. The seller fees are completely affordable and they strive to support and grow the community. It is also a much safer buying and selling environment than eBay. My confidence in actually being able to call myself an artist has grown as well. In the eBay days, I was still experimenting and it was hard to really feel like I had the right to take the title of this profession as my own. It has been three years since my first portrait and my process is so much stronger and that confidence has helped me to market myself. It is like one giant chain reaction. First you create something, then present it to the world. Then each one you create gets better and better in quality and then you get so excited you want everyone to know! You have to be willing to take the good with the bad, and taking that risk will make you stronger. Etsy is a great place for all of that!

Some of the papers Michelle uses in her home art studio.

decor8: What are some of your goals for the rest of 2007?

Michelle: Branching out from online competitions and really going after the galleries. I would love to do shows outside of Los Angeles and on the East Coast. I am proud to say that I had my first solo show open in April, and have been participating in other shows at places like The Hive Gallery in Los Angeles. I also sell online in my Etsy shop and have several retail shows in the works. I am also starting to investigate the art rep road. I have never thought about finding one before but have heard some great stories from local artists who have found success taking this route. I am really excited to share that sometime this summer I will be on an episode of HGTV’s Design on a Dime. I created a portrait for the homeowners whose space was being renovated for the show. Kahi Lee came to my house and we filmed a whole segment about collaging. It was SO MUCH FUN!

Kahi Lee (left) and Michelle Caplan (right).


decor8: Aren’t you also experimenting with other materials?

Michelle: Yes! I have recently started to experiment with creating pieces on wood which I am very excited about! I am learning to sew which I hope leads to applying my artwork to original handmade one of a kind items such as tote bags, pillows and pouches.

decor8: Wow, those are great goals, congratulations! What is the best advice that you can give to artists who want to earn a living doing what they love?

Michelle: Just do it. Take the dive and go for what you truly want. Start off small in whatever your medium or genre is, and just start creating. Get online and share, and look around and see what others are doing. Open an Etsy store. It is totally affordable and impossible not to be inspired by the community on that site! Don’t put yourself in a category and then feel like you have to stay there. I straddle the fence between fine artist and crafter and the variety of projects keeps life interesting! Dont be afraid to ask questions to people who you admire. This is a very giving community and everyone has been there in the beginning stages and will have useful advice if you find yourself stuck in a rut or disheartened.

Another glimpse of Michelle’s home art studio.


decor8: You’ve mentioned once about teaming up, can you explain what this is and how it has helped your business?

Michelle: Yes, teaming up is a great way to stay motivated. I have a dear friend, Hannah, who has her own line of jewelry called HannahMade. Our products dont compete so there is no fear that one will overshadow the other. We are constantly bouncing ideas off of each other and driving each other to push as hard as we can. She and I do a lot of the fairs together and so we share a common goal of making our both look the best it can and that our product is top notch. It also helps to have someone as passionate about your work as you are. We can share the fears of talking to potential clients, and when I am not thinking fast on my feet, you had better believe Hannah has the answer to the question, and vice versa. The point is, the more support the better!

decor8: Thank you so much Michelle for stopping by decor8 and sharing your journey with us.

Michelle: And thank you Holly so much for this opportunity and for all of the inspiration you share with all of us everyday. You have definitely been a huge part in changing my direction with my business, and your continued support of the indie community is unwavering!

If you have questions for Michelle, please feel free to comment below so she can reply. Thank you!

(images from michelle caplan)

Posted in Arts + Crafts, Etsy Faves, interviews, small business on June 13, 2007

decor8 Interview: Meet Claudine Hellmuth

I’m back from vacation feeling refreshed and ready to go, go, go! I thought I’d make a comeback by sharing an inspiring chat I had recently with talented Florida-based artist and decor8 blog of the week, Claudine Hellmuth.

Claudine’s home studio space

For those of you trying to make a living doing what you love, you’ll find Claudine an excellent role model, and we all know how much we need more shooting stars in the world – people that don’t say they’ll do it, but actually set their life course on following their dreams. Whether it’s making the best grilled cheese sandwich you can make or painting a masterpiece, no goal is stupid or “not good enough” if it’s your dream and you want to pursue it. If you can dream it, you can achieve it, right? Yet, somewhere along the road of life, we toss aside our dreams and follow the natural progression of life and its stages. Fall in love, get married, buy a home, get a dog, have a kid, and continue working in a profession we dislike in order to support the life we’re not too keen on in the first place. Then you meet someone that leads by example, like Claudine, who shows you that you really can follow your own inner compass, and not the one society hands you, and find happiness and inner peace by going your own way. Ah, the beauty of that reality, huh? Would you like to meet Claudine?


decor8: Hi Claudine! I’m so happy to have a chance to “meet” you, if only through email, I’ll take what I can get because I find you to be quite an inspiration. I’ve watched all of your DVD’s from Creative Catalyst and read your recent book, Collage Discovery Workshop: Beyond the Unexpected, which inspired me to paint this during my recent vacation, so being able to take a moment with you is very exciting for me. Okay, so let’s get to talking! Being that your name is all over the web lately, and reading your website seeing your huge list of accomplishments, I have to ask, now that you are being recognized for your beautiful mixed media collage art, at one point in your journey did you wake up and feel like you’ve “made it”, you know, you had “arrived”?

Claudine: I am such a striver and pusher, that I wonder if I ever will feel like I have “made it” because there is always something bigger around the corner to “make it to”. Sometimes I wish I could just be like “ahhhh this is the goal I wanted, I am here now, I am happy”. But that usually lasts about 20 minutes and then I’m onto the next thing. I think it’s the chase of the goal that excites me more than reaching it. I have to remind myself to celebrate the steps along the way. I am seriously working with my coach on that!


decor8: Because so many questions I’ve had were answered in the various interviews I watched via your DVD’s and from the Martha Stewart radio program, I learned quite a bit about you. For decor8 readers that haven’t had a chance to learn about you and your work yet, I’d like to talk about the early years. You studied at the Corcoran College of Art + Design in Washington, DC. Looking back at your art school education, what 5 things did you like, and dislike, about the experience?

Claudine: The 5 things I liked: lots of studio time, being around other artists, new ideas, art history classes, living in Washington, DC. 5 things I didn’t like: critiques, typography (this was before computers), the wood shop, welding, and wheel throwing.

decor8: In one interview I watched on your DVD, Collage – MORE Textures and Techniques, you mentioned that you enjoy reading magazines that span many different genres, some that you aren’t even attracted to. I found this interesting because you said that this helps you to appreciate art and also to not focus just on one specific art form. Can you explain exactly why you think it’s important to stay open-minded as an artist?

Claudine: Sure. I think it keeps things fresh to look at a variety of different styles of art. Even if I come across a piece of art that I don’t like, I ask myself why I don’t like it. What is it about it that I don’t like? Is it the color, the shape, the message? You can learn just as much from looking at work that you don’t like as you can looking at work that you do like.

decor8: Wow, that’s a very unique perspective. I recently started buying altered art magazines and although all the angel wings and fairies do nothing for me on a creative level, I think you’re on to something when you say you can learn a lot by asking yourself what you don’t like about it. I have to start doing this! Next question… You love color and your paintings never cease to incorporate lots of it. Give us 3 color combinations that you swear by.

Claudine: That’s easy! Teal, red, and green is one. Then there’s orange, lime green, and yellow. Finally, hot pink, butter yellow, and turquoise.

decor8: Now let’s get down to business. You once said that artists need to either have good business skills or hire someone to represent them if they don’t. How does an artist go about acquiring business and marketing skills if they aren’t a natural at it already, and cannot afford to hire someone to help them?

Claudine: From personal experience, I really enjoy the business side of working on my art because it’s all about my work and my career. What’s not to like when it’s all about me!? Everything I do works toward bettering my business. I have recently found The Switchboards and they have a forum there which is very helpful for indie crafters and artists. They have lots of great advice on there. I also read a lot of business/PR blogs like The Publicity Hound and Art Biz Coach.

decor8: Thanks for pointing us to those resources. I know they must be working for you because you seem to be a lady about town – you’re all over the internet! You’ve written a few books, teach workshops, you have several amazing DVD’s through Creative Catalyst, and you’ve even been on Martha Stewart Radio and HGTV! In addition to all of that, you accept commissions and paint constantly. You’re married, maintain a home/office, have fur kids, and travel a lot. (I’m out of breathe already!) Being so busy, what 5 key things help you stay on top?

Claudine: Number one is being organized. I have a calendar and I stick to it. Second, to answer emails promptly and check email a lot. Next, I try to blog every day. Fourth, I work every day. There is hardly a day where I take off completely. I like to stay in my bubble and keep on making the kind of art that I like and keep moving forward. And fifth, I have a business coach (Feisty Females) and she helps keep me on track, especially when I feel overwhelmed.


decor8: When you feel overwhelmed, how have you learned to pull out of that feeling and move forward?

Claudine: Well, when I feel a rut coming on, it means I need to play more and relax. So I try get out of the studio, read, watch movies, and just take a little break. Even if it just for a day or half a day. Something!

decor8: I heard you work from home, out of your living room. Can you describe your workspace and provide some images of it so we can take a peek?

Claudine: You heard right, Holly! My current studio is in our formal living room, so it’s the very first room that you come to when you walk in the house. It used to drive me crazy that it was there and everyone could see my stuff, but then one day I realized that no one comes over but family anyway so why should I worry about it. Now I really like it there. BUT my dream studio is a little tiny matching house in the back of my “real” house and that little house can be my little studio. I can imagine if I do get that one day, I might feel lonely out there in the little house and want to be inside! So now I have come to terms with my current studio!


decor8: You said in one of your interviews that all artists should be online either blogging or with some web presence. I couldn’t agree more. Especially when it comes to blogging, as it’s a very easy and inexpensive way to voice yourself and show your work. What are some tips you can give to artists that want to start a blog but have been told, “Serious artists go straight to galleries, you can’t sell art online!”

Claudine: I love the Internet! Everything that has happened to me has been BECAUSE of the Internet. I actually sell my work better online then I do in real life. I think through the Internet you can find your right audience, the people who will love your work. Locally I have a much harder time selling my work because it limits that audience. Blogging is magic. It opens you up to a whole community of people that are also blogging. I love it way more than I thought I would. My blog feels like a little community to me, and I am checking it a million times a day to see if anyone has commented about my posts. :) If you are starting a blog, the best way to get the word out about it is to post comments on other people’s blogs. Thoughtful posts. Not just “Hi! Check out my blog” because that is the equivalent of spam. Also make sure you post often to your blog. If you start a blog and then only post every once in a while people who visited your blog will forget to come back. I try to post at least six times a week and sometimes more.

decor8:
Great advice. And finally Miss Claudine, what are 10 things that you can’t live without.

Claudine: Hmmm…1) Crystal lite – I gave up diet coke a year ago and now I drink lemonade crystal lite ALL the time. 2) pets 3) gel medium 4) my wonderful husband
5) PITT pens 6) my computer! 7) email! 8) Tylenol PM 9) Thai food and 10) 10+ hours of sleep a night!

Thank you Claudine!

You can visit Claudine’s blog or website to learn more about her and to inquire about her commissions or classes. If you’d like to know more about Claudine and how she grew her business from the ground up, visit her website and make sure to listen to her interview on Martha Stewart radio (click here).

Posted in Arts + Crafts, inspiration, interviews, small business on May 31, 2007

The Crafter’s Companion *New* Book

You absolutely must read Anna Torborg’s new book, The Crafter’s Companion: Tips, Tales and Patterns from a Community of Creative Minds. Let me tell you why.


I discovered the book, not via a blog or surfin’ the net as you’d expect, but the old-fashioned way. At a bookstore. As I navigated my way towards art/design (where else?), I passed the crafty section and there it was, the Barnes & Noble featured title. With a juicy apple green cover and a to-the-point title, I was lured in instantly, so I grabbed it and started doing the anxious flip. As I flipped, the more excited I felt because I recognized so many of the artists featured inside. Some I’ve even blogged about. I had to buy it, and so I did. Sure, I could have found it for $13 on Amazon, but I wasn’t feeling patient enough to wait and order online.

The Crafter’s Companion takes the reader on a terrific journey into the minds of creative types that sew (either by hand or machine) beautiful wares ranging from dolls to pillows and everything in between. These artists also talk about crafting via their blogs/websites where they form creative connections, making new friends, exchanging ideas, and offering encouragement. Anna Torborg pulled together a beautiful read, combining heartfelt text from each artist along with inspirational images, pulling in the most beautiful shots of studios, inspiration boards, work surfaces, and handmade items. The flow of the book is very easy to follow, it profiles one artist at a time — Each with their own images, name, location, age, url, why they create, what inspires them (my favorite part), and information about their workspace (another great feature). But that’s not all.


An added bonus is when each artist wraps up their profile with a mini project, so you can try getting crafty yourself. Lisa Congdon shows how to make a log cabin pillow, Wee Wonderfuls demonstrates the art of making a pillowcase apron, My Paper Crane crafts up a quick “house” tissue cover, Angry Chicken teaches how to create a quilted throw (I want to try this one), or learn how to make a library tote from the fabulous Fiona Dalton. With 17 crafter profiles and projects, The Crafter’s Companion will motivate everyone, from the experienced artist to the closet crafter, to reach out and create something from the heart. It will also inspire you to blog, and although you may not thought it possible, when you finish reading the book, you’ll appreciate handmade wares on a level you may not expect.

I appreciate how the artists reach deep inside and express exactly why they craft. Not for money or to win some popularity contest, but often for spiritual and emotional reasons, and for the friendships they make through online networking. Of course, some are able to supplement their income from their craft business, but none of these ladies are rolling in the cash – for them, money is only a small piece of it. Their work is from the heart. What does this really mean to them? It seems that each hopes to use their talent and energy to put a stamp on something unique, to gain the approval of others, feel appreciated, form friendships, bond with others, and make money doing what they love. Certainly a different approach to the mission of most companies today. Isn’t that refreshing? Of course, they also appreciate the value in owning something unique and handmade in a world that has become so commercial and, flip over any object you buy these days, is stamped “Made in China”. So it’s a combination of things that encourage the modern crafter to do what they love, but the common theme is that they all seem to use crafting as a creative outlet to balance the boring, mundane things in life that can sometimes crowd out the creative side (i.e. working for a living and taking out the trash). These ladies make room to craft because it helps them stay balanced and happy. A good lesson for all, isn’t it?


I’d like to give a little shout out to each one of these talented women because they put so much of themselves into this title. I hope you click on their links below and visit their sites. But first of all, a huge shout out to the energy and spirit behind the book, the editor, Anna Torborg from Twelve22. And then, in order of appearance in the book:

Alison Brookbanks, 6.5 st, Australia
Amy Karol, Angry Chicken, Oregon
Cassi Griffin, Bella Dia, Idaho
Fiona Dalton, Hop Skip Jump, Australia
Heidi Kenney, My Paper Crane, Pennsylvania
Hillary Lang, Wee Wonderfuls, Illinois
Juju Vail, Juju Loves Polka Dots, England
Katey Nicosia, One Good Bumblebee, Texas
Lisa Congdon, California
Lyn Roberts, Molly Chicken, England
Maitreya Dunham, Craftlog, New Jersey
Mariko Fujinaka, Super Eggplant, Oregon
Myra Masuda , My Little Mochi, Hawaii
Sarah Neuburger, The Small Object, South Carolina
Tania Ho, Chocolate a Chuva, Portugal
Tania Howells, Canada

Congrats ladies on the powerful, positive message that The Crafter’s Companion sends. Excellent work! And if you’d like, listen in on a podcast CraftyPod had with Anna Torborg. It’s all about crafting + blogging and how Anna selected each artist, the message she is trying to send through it, and her feelings about blogs in general.

Psst: If you’ve read this book and created something inspired by the patterns in it, feel free to post your project to the The Crafter’s Companion Flickr group.

(images from individuals linked above)

Books:

Some of my books

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