Saturday, August 29, 2009

Art For All The Right Reasons

As a former social worker, I have friends and acquaintances who sometimes pause, squint, shake their heads and tell me they "just don't get the whole art thing". They sigh and then ask me, "What does it do?"

What does it do?

My short answer is, "So very much," at least for me.

My more complete answer is that many artists, especially the ones I have been lucky enough to meet over the past few weeks here in Nashville, often devote chunks of their time and talent to helping people gain a better understanding of issues that many people, people who you may never meet or know have to deal with on a regular basis. Want to see what art can do? Then walk the walk and devote some time to visiting this show:

These Small Things

September 5, 2009 / 1st Saturday Crawl / up through September 26
6-9 PM
Blend Studio
79 Arcade
Nashville, TN 37219

Middle Tennessee photographer Eric Denton is married to a hero. His wife teaches in one of the more underfunded corners of the state and he has been helping kids in that county learn to understand and share their world through photography. The show focuses on four young artists who have been working with him, but he would like to expand the program so more children can get an opportunity to learn about photography.

Do you have an old digital camera lying around, memory cards you're just not using or did you flip off a nun for cutting in front of you on Charlotte last Wednesday and now you need to cleanse your black little soul by making a donation to a good cause? (Yes, I'm lookin' at YOU, Sara.) Well, here's your chance.

Visit his site at Thinks I Make And Do and help Eric make a difference!

You're still here? And you ask what's in it for you? Contribute to Eric's program and I'll give you a 10% discount on your next order at and donate 20% of the proceeds from your order to Cameras For Kids.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

The Better Part of He(Art) 2: Q&A With Collage Artist Tim Lukeman

This month's Q&A is with author/artist Tim Lukeman. Fantasy fiction lovers may know of Tim from his novel, "Witchwood". People who write fantasies are world builders of the first order. When it's done right, as Tim does it, you are drawn in to a place where the geography, language and timeline have their own internal logic that works so well you can't help but feel it's real. What I hope people will soon discover is that he has translated that knack for verbal genesis into a visual medium that uses imaged that are at once sophisticated and yet so primal that they touch the viewer at an instinctual level.

Tim was kind enough to spend an evening answering questions about his collages, his writing and the art of living a creative life.

Zen Dixie: Did you start out as a visual artist who ended up writing novels or is this something that you came to enjoy later in life?

Tim Lukeman: Well, I remember drawing and writing when I was 5 years old. The pictures often had a story to go with them, in that I'd start drawing on the left side of the paper, and the story would develop as I went to the right side.

At the same time, I was reading at 5, and fascinated with storytelling even then. C. S. Lewis has written about his childhood love of books -- not simply the stories, but their physical being -- the binding, the indicia, etc. I was like that myself.
I'd write little "novels" (all of 4 or 5 handwritten pages), then make a cover, a library card & pocket for the back cover, and everything a "real" book required.

Zen Dixie: Even the library packet?  You had a clear vision of what you were going to do even then.    Where there any artists or illustrators who made an impression on you as a child? 

Tim Lukeman:
I can't remember too many specific writers or illustrators from that early. I was fascinated by stories of myth, of foreign customs and different ways of life, of anything especially imaginative. One of my treasured childhood books was a very old children's volume of Norse myth. In fact, myths of all lands attracted me from the start. I discovered science-fiction at that time, and read all the classic authors of the 1930s through the early 1960s

My father was in the Army, and we were uprooted every year and a half, it seemed. This had a powerful effect on me in a couple of ways. First, it made me realize first-hand that not everyone in the world was an American, that other people spoke different languages, believed different things, lived different lives. This was a valuable lesson, as you can imagine!

Secondly, as an introverted boy, it always took me longer than most children to adjust to each no location around the world. I tended to cling to familiar things, my books being among them. And I was delighted to learn that one thing I could always count on being familiar was the local library -- the Dewey decimal system was my friend! No matter how different the surroundings, I could always count on the library being organized & laid out the same way everywhere. Again, this reinforced my love of books & storytelling in general.

So, up through 7th or 8th grade, I concentrated both on drawing & writing. My first real story was lost in moves decades ago, but I remember it very well. In fact it encapsulated my creative interests & approach even then. It was called 'The Little Toy Alligator Who Ran Away From Home," complete with an illustration of the alligator.

Zen Dixie: Kind of like "The Brave Little Toaster"? 

Tim Lukeman: The story: an old toymaker had made a toy alligator, his favorite of all his creations. The toy alligator was curious about the world beyond the toyshop & ran away from home to see what was out there. After wandering for awhile, he joined the circus & became a big star. Meanwhile, the toymaker was saddened & heartbroken. So one day he decided to go to the circus, hoping to cheer himself up. Lo & behold, there was the toy alligator! A happy reunion followed, and all was well ever after.

Zen Dixie: Aw, that sounds pretty neat!  And you were in first grade or so when you wrote it?

Tim Lukeman:
First or second, if I remember correctly. The idea of some thing fantastic, of the unreal being accepted as real, the joy of creation, the urge to see & learn new things, the pain of loss -- all themes in my work to this day.

About the time I entered high school, many things changed. My father retired from the Army, so no more moving around. Because I had started school overseas, where children could start at a younger age than in the States, I was about a year,  year and a half younger than my classmates. That hadn't mattered so much before, but in high school, with puberty hitting, and a few months seeming like decades, well...

Zen Dixie:That must have complicated things.  Did you find any kind of community with other creative students?  Was there a teacher or adult who made an impression and was supportive?

Tim Lukeman:Well, I was lucky in that all of my English teachers recognized my introversion AND my love of literature, and encouraged me. My 9th grade homeroom teacher, later my 11th grade English teacher, noticed the sort of books I enjoyed & lent me his Ace paperback copy of "The Fellowship of the Ring." That did it! It also helped that my high school years were from 1967 to 1971, right at the height of the 1960s, when imagination & flights of fancy were a good thing (to put it mildly).

Zen Dixie: an excellent time to be a sci-fi fantasy fan!

Tim Lukeman: Yes, Ballantine had begun their Adult Fantasy Series & was reprinting dozens of classic books, before fantasy became a formulaic, mass-market genre.

I really immersed myself in the world of the imagination, in order to cope with major introversion. At the same time, I made a decision, not entirely consciously, to focus on writing instead of art, since I seemed better at it, and thought I could only do one thing well, not many at the same time.

Zen Dixie:I know you're still pursuing both types of expression.  It makes me wonder:  Are you the kind of creative person who revisits and rewrites/recreates past work or do you see everything as completed and tend to continually move forward?

Tim Lukeman: Ah, that's a good question. Now, as to revisiting past projects... Like any aspiring writer, I've got plenty of unfinished novels. I wouldn't be averse to mining them for some ideas & good invented names; but otherwise, I've generally been eager to keep trying new things.
However, I've been creating long enough to recognize certain themes & motifs that occur again & again in whatever I'm doing -- ideas that have intense emotional power for me, and inspire me far more than most other ideas. I can see very clearly how they took root in my psyche, too.

Zen Dixie:
Do you see these concepts in canonical mythic terms or is there a sort of person arcana of archetypes and ideas that you work with?

Tim Lukeman: It's definitely a personal arcana, even when derived from more traditional forms. I can briefly outline the exact progression & development of that personal mythology, in fact.

"Lord of the Rings" made me want to read all things Tolkien, and anything remotely like him. At the time, of course, fantasy stories were few & far between. But Reading about Tolkien led me to Medieval literature, and a renewed interest in the Norse myths.. We were also reading "The Iliad" and "The Odyssey" for English. Those influences led me to read every piece of classical literature in the school library such as the Greek poets & playwrights, the Medieval classics, and so forth.
This in turn led me to works such as Dante's "Divine Comedy," and more modern poets' take on mythic material. I discovered Willima Blake & was overwhelmed by his long prophetic poems, as well as the fusion of art & poetry in his work. I couldn't understand or cope with it then, but I instantly saw that at its heart, it was the same territory that both Tolkien & Homer were exploring. It didn't take long to stumble onto the psychologist Carl Jung from that point, as his name came up in quite a few books about such literary works.

Zen Dixie: It's easy to see Jung's influence in some of your collage work.

Tim Lukeman: Yes, Jung remains a major influence on my worldview -- not dogmatically so, recalling Jung's own statement, "Thank God I am Jung, and not a Jungian!"

All of that came together within a naive, introverted, idealistic personality shaped by loneliness, imagination, a hunger for the transcendant & the wonderful. My social life, or lack thereof, only emphasized the growing intensity of my inner world. Yes, I was one of those who didn't date in high school -- just too shy! -- which made me see girls & then women in an idealized fashion. This was just a small step away from the primal power of the Anima, the feminine Soul within -- prophetess, seer, guide. The womens movement, as it took hold in the early 1970s, meant a lot to me, because it told me that men didn't have to be stuck in a one-dimensional macho prison. You can see in much of that in my current collage work how & the short-short stories I'm writing. Women figure as major characters, magical presences -- sometimes darkly.

Zen Dixie: Dark yes, but not in the foreboding sense that seems to be pervasive in a lot of dream/mythos driven art.
What is it about collage that speaks to the part of you that creates and works within this personal mythos?

Tim Lukeman: You're right. Not necessarily an evil or negative darkness, but a mysterious & paradoxically revealing darkness.
I think it's the immediacy of collage. I seldom plan an image beforehand, although I'll occasionally have a rough notion of what I want to create -- but on the whole, I'll simply start sorting through clippings & images until something clicks on a very deep level, just feels right. In a way, it's like keeping a journal, simply puttiing down whatever comes to mind at that moment, then figuring out what it might mean later on (if possible).

Zen Dixie: Do you find that collages operate in the way dreams do, clipping bits here and there from what's around us to create their own narratives?

Tim Lukeman: I've been keeping a dream journal for most of the past 9 years, and collage is rather like letting dreams assemble themselves on the page before me, as if it's simply flowing out of me, though me, as it would through a medium. As in dreams, they take an eclectic mix of images, many of them mundane in their usual context, and create something vivid & startling in their juxtaposition. Needless to say, the Surrealists are great favorites of mine -- as are the English Romantics. This makes for a potent influence!
I've been more driven to create as I enter midlife, too -- a good deal more driven.
I've dabbled in painting, and would like to pursue it further; but I do seem to have a knack for collage.

Zen Dixie: What is the process like for you? Do you have an idea and look for pictures to match or are you more likely to do a bit of "visual archeaology" and create narratives from what you find?

Tim Lukeman: I'll often start with an interesting, evocative background, trying various clipped images against it. and once I've created one image that really seems to work, that in turn inspires similar images -- I'll find myself caught up in creating a series, almost as if telling a story, relatign some mythic narrative. Although it's usually a personal mythic narrative, one that reveals a great deal about me, to me.

Zen Dixie: Have you ever considered animation?

Tim Lukeman: I have! The idea fascinates me, and I'd love to try my hand at it. I'd like to try it.

Zen Dixie
: What directions would you like your art to take? Also, where do you see your work going?

Tim Lukeman: You've probably noticed that the theme of The Descent shows up in quite a lot of my work, or The Threshold Between Worlds or Realities -- that is a constant for me. So if I could do a animated film, it would undoubtedly be along those lines. As many of my short-short stories are, as well. I also want to try a wordless novel or novella in collage, as well as a story mixing text & collage.

Zen Dixie:
Have you ever wanted to redo and/or illustrate any of your books or covers?

Tim Lukeman: I wouldn't mind trying that now, to be honest! This would be a return to my childhood efforts of creating books from cover to cover, really. My first too books are horribly overwritten apprentice work, so I'd want to rewrite them as well; but it would be fun to create fitting covers for them. My only published book that I feel is strong, solid work, "Witchwood," actually had a cover I liked very much.

Zen Dixie: It is nice.

Tim Lukeman: I'm proud of that book. It's my first one with a female protagonist, by the way. Everything I've tried wriitng since then has had a female protagonist. Perhaps one day I might write the subsequent volumes, planned but never completed or even begun.

I have come to an interesting realization about my recent surge of creativity.
While I was driven to examine my life in depth after my brush with death in 2002, I didn't really become driven until just about a year ago. Looking back at my first completed series of collages, "Descending Mavis," I realize that I began them just two or three weeks after my father's death. And I've been busily making collage or writing short-short mythic stories ever since then. I think that made me far more aware of mortality and the preciousness of time, which is all too limited, more than my own should-have-been-fatal heart problems.

Zen Dixie: Some people have mentioned that dreams are a way for the mind to process out things we need to clear away the old stuff in our heads to make room for the new.  Do you think that turning point might have created the same sort of process?

Tim Lukeman: Oh, I've no doubt of it! I'm definitely struggling to cope with loss, grief, awareness of time and mortality, and the need to live a more meaningful life now. I wonder if it's a mean of delving into those things safely, or a way of holding them at arm's length -- maybe a little of both?

I feel a greater need to create & leave behind something worthwhile now, to justify my life, perhaps to my father's memory? To justify it to myself? I'm really not sure.

Zen Dixie: Many of the titles of your collages seem like snippets of a narrative in progress. 

Tim Lukeman: I do know that when I'm in the midst of creative work, whether it's writing or the visual arts, I'm in another world, somewhere outside of ordinary time.

One of my creative aspirations is to write a dreamlike narrative or epic poem of some sort; and I think the collage titles are a step in that direction.
Just like a musician fooling around with an instrument and idly shaping music, then having it begin to take shape & a life of its own, I write or collage in a sort of conversation with the work (which I suppose is with myself). I may have an firm idea of where I want it to go, and it'll have a very different idea. I trust my instincts then, going with what feels right, even if that leads into uncomfortable territory.

Zen Dixie: are there any pieces that speak to who you are as an artist?  I know all of them speak of the moment, but I'm talking about works that continue to resonate in profound ways long after they're finished.

Tim Lukeman: Hmmm, that's difficult... but some of the Forest Spirits collages I've done, with a sense of unearthly stillness, a perception of some otherworldly power embodied in tangible form, glimpsed in passing within a wild wood. This is a feeling I've always had from early childhood: that there's something wondrous just around the corner, just over the hill, just out of sight -- and occasionally there's a guide to offer you a glimpse of it. "If the doors of perceptions were cleansed ..." as Wm. Blake put it.

I recall feeling as a very young child, not more than 4 or 5, that if I could reach out in just the right way, I could literally grasp the scene in front of me, and find that it was like a painted curtain or backdrop, something I could pull away, revealing the true nature of the Universe. That longing for transcendence again! My dreams often feature just such wise, beautiful Anima figures, showing me to doors, or pools of water, or windows -- entrances or passages to another, richer, more REAL world. But as the Surrealist poet Eluard once said, "There is another world, and it is this one." Hence my fascination with myth & religions, without a literal belief in any dogma or system -- all metaphors for what's going on inside, to my way of perception. Wm Blake again: "Thus men forgot that all deities reside in the human breast."

I have no system, no One True Way, to offer anyone else -- wouldn't dream of it! I only know that it works for me, that it's my ultimate narrative of meaning & existence -- to vanish when I do, no doubt. But no less meaningful while I'm alive. Which is what drives me to create, I guess. I'm making the images & legends of my inner universe tangible. And, if I'm lucky, some of what I create will resonate with others as well.

Zen Dixie: I know you've put some of your art online.  Have you had a chance to show it yet?  How do you feel about artists' collectives and critiques?

Tim Lukeman: At this point I haven't thought too much about showing it in a professional way. A bit intimidated, of course, unsure if it's good enough, or if I'm ready to deal with something like that. For the time being, sharing it with friends & whoever happens to stumble upon it at Flickr seems enough.

Zen Dixie: That first submission to a jury is always a huge step.  Do you feel that the process by which you write and create art is still so very intertwined or do these use very separate parts of you?

Tim Lukeman: I think they are entwined. There's always a strong narrative aspect to my collages, and my writing is rich in vivid detail -- if you like, I can send you a short-short story as an example, or at least a few sample paragraphs. The few times I've tried painting, I don't start with much (if any) of a specific idea. I just start putting down a background and seeing what images emerge from it, then follow whatever appears.

Zen Dixie: This is more of a nuts and bolts question  One thing that is a challenge for many people is finding time to create.  It seems like there is a part of you that is always in that mode.  Does this translate well to your schedule?  are there times that are better than others or do you have a set work day as an artist?

Tim Lukeman: Ah, finding/making time to create! The smaller collages, using a minimum number of pieces, area lifesaver for me, I can fit them in during an hour, or even a half hour, stolen here or there. For writing, I might dash off a few lines while at work in an e-mail to myself. In both cases, if I've got something already there, some starting point, I can get a lot done in a short amount of time.

Short, simple creative exercises help a great deal. I've written about the 5-word-list poems we do: each of us comes up with a list of 5 words at random, sending them to one another; then we both make poems out of them, as quickly as possible, within the first 20-30 minutes of getting them.

My wife & I are happy that we cut our cable to the barest bones, and seldom use the TV except as a DVD player now. This frees up HOURS! We both agree that we need to consciously make or set aside creative time, or else it slips away before we know it.

Zen Dixie: I don't think people realize how much TV saps creative energy.  Douglas Adams was the first person I'd ever encountered who wrote about what he listened to or had going in the background when he worked.

Tim Lukeman
: I find that music helps me quite a bit. In the last few years, I've begun to immerse myself in jazz -- the classic 50s-60s period -- Miles Davis, Bill Evans, etc. Or, I'll put on some minimalist or ambient music. I also find that Medieval music is conducive to creation as well. But sometimes several albums by, say, the Beatles, or maybe My Bloody Valentine could be just the thing! I have eclectic tastes! I may believe I'm choosing the music at random, at idle whim; but once I begin working, I discover that it suits the mood for whatever unexpected creative piece is emerging.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

DIY #2 Wire Wrapped Windchimes

Around here we're at that part of Winter that feels like a long, cold stretch. I know that Spring is a few weeks away, but everything is still cold, brittle and gray looking. At our house we've fired up the grow lights and started the seedlings, but still, a little bit of color outside wouldn't be a bad thing.

I was puttering around the patio with O'Neill and noticed that our windchimes were practically blending in with the branches of the trees. They've never been the most colorful things. They were jet black wrought iron when we got them new at an iron and brass goods store near Horse Cave, Kentucky many years ago. Over time, we've either sprayed them with poly to retard rusting or sprayed them bright colors to add some punch to the back patio before the flowers bloom.

This year I decided to do anything to them that didn't involve spray paint. Having a bunch of craft wire helped. I bought a big box of the stuff that sat here for a long time and found it hard to work because it was coated wouldn't solder. For this project, I would say go for cheap. A thrift store or building salvage place might have wire for a lot less than the hobby shops. Don't shy away from bags of "tangles". They're not that difficult to rehab for use. Still no access to wire or not enough wire? Try using garden twine or yarn, either by itself or alternating with wire. How long will this last? Maybe a season, but then you're going to want to do something different next year, anyway.

So, let's get down to business. Here's what you'll need:

a windchime with rigid embellishments that can be wrapped with wire

enough wire and/or string to wind around every part you want to cover. (Sorry I can't be more specific. The length and thickness of the part to decorate will vary.)

hot glue (if you're using string)

a pair of wire clippers

a pair of pliers that can be used to flatten and crimp wire

(Note on the pliers and clippers: Craft stores sell sets of jewelry making tools that include the same kinds of tools pictured above. You can often get them for less than half what the hobby store charge at your local discount store. I paid six dollars for a set of wire tools with a nice plastic case at a discount store.)

To start, pick a starting point, preferably at a corner if your chime design has one, and either glue one end of your length of string or wind your wire around a few times.

If you are using wire, you might want to anchor one end with your finger and grasping the other end with the crimping pliers, pull the other end tight, wrap it around and crimp it against the metal.

Then you can wrap the rest of it, crimping the end when you've either come to the end of that piece or you want to change colors or textures. (Yikes! Please ignore the epoxy under my nails!)

Then work your way around until you're done! Hey, it's pretty simple, really.

Note: Most metal yard pieces have imperfections, bumps, etc. Don't sweat these or try to make a perfect wrap around them. You'll just drive yourself crazy and run out of supplies. They'll look fine if you go around them.

After all, this is about lovely handmade stuff that makes your home an expression of who you are.

copyright 2009 jas faulkner

Sunday, January 25, 2009

The Better Part of He(Art) 1: Q&A with Stamping Artist Bonnie Downing

Quick Facts:
Bonnie Downing, Stamping Artist
her website: Flights of Stamping Fancy
where you can buy her art: Stampingbird's Shop at

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Rubber stamps have come a long way from their humble position as an office supply or a quick and dirty way to put return addresses on Christmas cards. Visit your local crafts store or etsy-dot-com and you'll see works by artists that are expressive, personal and quite beautiful. One artist who is responsible for elevating this craft into an art is Bonnie Downing. Downing's work mixes retro charm with a savvy eye towards a more modern sensibility and palette. Recently, I had a chance to sit down with Bonnie and ask her a few questions about her work.

Faulkner: One thing I'm always curious about when talking to other artists is what kind of schedule they have set aside for their work. Do you have time set aside specifically to work on your stamping?

Downing: I usually work in the evenings and on Sunday mornings

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Downing's work space aka Stampingbird's Headquarters

Faulkner: Is it particularly quiet then? 

Downing: Yeah - Sunday mornings particularly are great, because the light's just right in my office, and the sun's not shining right in my eyes yet... and I can open the windows and watch everyone walking their dogs outside. Sunday morning seems to be prime dog-walking time around here.

Faulkner: So in a way, the dog walking is like your "working music"? 

Downing: Yeah, I'd say so... for some reason, actual music is kind of hit-or-miss for me - sometimes it's just distracting My real "working music" is dvds, though.

Faulkner: That's interesting.  What do you usually have going while you work?

Most often, Buffy, Joan of Arcadia, Veronica Mars - those are the ones that hold up to multiple viewings, which works well for me because I can listen without watching, and tune out when I get into something without missing anything I haven't seen several times already. I think music tends to engage me creatively a little TOO much - I need something in the background that doesn't take up too much brainspace.

Faulkner: Gotcha.  So you're not pulling inspiration from your working background so much?

Downing: I really don't get much from my background, aside from just something to listen to/watch when I'm not having any ideas and need some downtime

This is going to seem like a chicken/egg question. Do you get inspired to do projects based on tools ie stamps or paper that you find or do you look for tools to match an idea?

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Downing: I don't come up with brand new ideas very often - I'm usually building on an older idea (like in my blog post a few days ago), or have made something I like and want to try out all kinds of different variations (like my bookplates). And yeah, I do that too - I'll pick a fun paper, or a new embellishment I think is really neat, or a tool I haven't used in a while, and decide what I can make from it. I used to be a terrible hoarder - I'd buy cute stuff and like it so much I couldn't bear to cut it or use it, but that's a good way to end up with a pile of outdated materials, so I started challenging myself a year or so ago to pick something I wasn't inclined to use and use it.

Faulkner: Your blog is nicely done. I'm looking at your "Always" card.  It's a lovely piece! 

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Downing: The "Always" card was what came to mind while I was pondering quotes - the bird feels a bit Thoreau-ian to me. Or Whitman-ish.

Faulkner: It does have that feel both in terms of subject and the period look. What was the process for putting it together?  Were you going for a particular feeling or a function and this is how it came together? I especially like the bird, is it a precut piece?

Downing: Actually, I put Versamark and brown Palette ink on the stamp together, so that I could emboss it in brown, and did the embossing, then cut that piece out and stamped the bird just in brown on a separate piece and put the embossed one over it... I really like that technique for giving it a little dimension And I let the bird's body be sparkly and embossed but the legs are flatter.

I started with pink glitter and the patterned strip behind the bird - I couldn't resist the pink glitter at the store the other day, so it's really inspired me to do some pink pieces, and I love the paper set that the patterned paper comes from, so I had it out. I made that little strip first, by doodling on the patterned strip with a glue pen and adding glitter, then set it aside to dry while I worked up the rest.

The "textile" embossing folder that I used on the background is one of my go-tos - I really like how elegant it is, and I thought it would work well with the design on the glittered paper.
And I just happened to have the "Always" set out on my desk - I don't use the little bird nearly as often as I'd like, so I thought I'd make it the focal point.

Faulkner: It comes together well!

Downing: Thanks! Ha - I actually just now had a great idea for some more bookplates, looking back at that card.

Faulkner: Ideas can strike at any time! How long have you been doing this kind of work?

Downing: I know I started in August, but now I can't remember what year - I think it's been about four years now.

Faulkner: What is it about stamping that appeals to you?

Downing: Honestly, at first I wasn't that into it - a friend invited me to a party to launch her hostessing for Stampin' Up!, and I thought it was fun, but way too much of a money-suck for my finances at the time. Then I remembered that my grandma had done some stamping, and asked for whatever materials she wasn't using, and she gave me a big box of stuff. I had it in my head that having her stuff to start out with would save me money, but it pretty much ballooned from there.

Faulkner: That's neat.  What kind of stamps did she have?

Downing: She had a lot of Christmas stamps - when my grandpa was alive, he played Santa for different functions around the city, so they were really into all things Christmas. Her main thing was embossing paper ornaments as little handouts for the kids at their events. When my cousin and sister and I were little, we played elves for some of their events, and we spent a lot of time tying bells to the ornaments with Christmas ribbon.

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Faulkner: Sounds like there are some nice memories associated with those stamps.  It's interesting how they are used to create keepsakes and can be keepsakes and keys to memories themselves. What was the first stamp you bought for yourself?

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Downing: There really are some good memories. I've sold some of them over the years - when you start stamping, somehow everyone comes up with a stash of old stamps from when they did it, and you end up with a LOT of bunnies-in-tutus - but I have a few that are really special.

Or country patchwork cats?

Downing: Oh yeah, lots and lots of cats. I think the first one I bought was the Stampin' Up! Sketch An Event set. I actually have one really bizarre cat stamp that I've held on to - turns out it's a rare one that people actually buy on purpose.

Faulkner: Really?

Downing: Yeah - it's a stamp designed after this:

Very odd.

Faulkner: (facepalming)I have that stamp I have no idea why I bought it either.

Downing: Really? Small world - I just thought it was so funny when I found it in a box. I haven't found anything to use it on, but I keep holding on to it for that perfect thing.

Faulkner: It is pretty unusual. Kliban was an odd duck. 


Faulkner: Are there any stamp designers or companies that you prefer?

Downing: My favorite company for the last year has been Papertrey Ink - several of their designers are really excellent. I particularly like Lisa Johnson, who runs the blog Poppy Paperie. I think I've used her poppy set, Remember, more than almost anything else lately. Alli Miles is another favorite - she created Wise Owl which is far and away my favorite owl set.

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Those are nice!  I think I saw some of your work with those on your blog.

Downing: I do use them a lot - I had some fun with the owls last week on a progression-of-inspiration post, and I use the poppies on several of my bookplate designs

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Faulkner: Has there ever been a "Stamp that got away"?  Something that you didn't get when you saw it and then thought, Dang!  I should have bought that one!

Downing: Hm - I definitely have a long wish list, but I can't think of many that I wished later I had. There is a cute castle-and-dragon set from Stampin' Up! that everyone seems to want - it tends to sell for multiple hundreds on eBay - and it's really cute, but I tend to try to take inspiration from what I have and spend time planning designs around sets on my wish list, rather than pine after what I can't get.

Stampin' Up! is kind of the original big stamp company, and they have a retirement system that's designed to create a lot of demand around the outgoing sets, while at the same time making them difficult for demonstrators to use profitably so they have to buy all new ones - even when I really like a set that's retiring, I tend to be put off by the frenzy, so I'm really happy I've found another company that I like so much that doesn't use the retirement/demonstrator model.

Faulkner: So the idea is to appeal to the collector in stampers?  Is there anything you'd like to see in stamps that you haven't yet?

Downing: There's actually one old thing I'd love to see come back - it was really a genius idea, and I'm not sure why it disappeared from the market. It was an alphabet set that snapped together, so you were able to get nice even spacing between letters and have your words always placed on a straight line. The design also made it possible to use much smaller letters than other alphabet stamps offered. I think you can still find them if you look hard enough, but it was such a good idea, I wish they'd expanded and added more fonts. Especially since one of the dogs ate all my 'e's - it's hard to find much you can say without 'e's.

Faulkner: So the dogs found the e's tasty?

Downing: Apparently - I think I had them stuck together into the word "eye" or something, so if it had just been the 'y', I'd have probably been okay, but the missing 'e's are a problem.

Faulkner: Yeah, that could be problematic.

Downing: I have been meaning to get some of the Papertrey alphabets, though - the clear stamps make it a lot easier to get alignment and spacing right.

Faulkner: Those are pretty.  How do you like working with etsy?

Downing: I'm still learning - I had someone ask today for a custom order slot, and I'm not really sure how to do that yet, but overall I'm liking it. The interface is really nice, and it's really easy to set up entries.

Faulkner: Is this the first venue you've used to sell your work?

Downing: No, I've done open houses and craft fairs with friends in the past - the craft fairs were both a bust, but the open houses were great, I think because people came knowing what we were selling and prepared to buy. There's so much variety at craft shows, and so many professional crafters and MLM sellers, that a booth with just cards isn't very eye-catching without a lot more investment in display equipment.

Faulkner: etsy sounds like it would be a lot easier.

Downing: It is - I've never had to deal with shipping before, but that's not too difficult. It's great not having to worry about providing change or setting aside a full day to sell $16 worth of merchandise.

Faulkner: Do you ever see yourself opening up your own online store? 

Downing: I don't know - if there comes a time that I'm selling enough to justify building my own store rather than paying etsy fees, I might, but my items are pretty small-ticket, so the fees aren't too high. It's possible that I'd start a separate site and route my etsy store and blog both to a central location, but it's not in the works right now.

Faulkner: How do you like blogging? 

Downing: I really like doing a craft blog - I did a personal blog for a while, and I have to say I prefer this format where I have something concrete to write about, and there's always something visual to add.

Faulkner: There's such a great community of creative people out there.  Do it and etsy make you feel more connected to other people who share your passion?

Downing: Yeah - I think the main place I get that, besides the fantastic blogs I have on my RSS (for nearly constant new inspiration), is - it's a great site for resources and community, particularly when I'm considering some new company or tool and want to find out what others think about it. They also have daily challenges that are a great way to get my juices flowing when I'm low on inspiration.

Faulkner: I remember looking at that site some time ago and enjoying the critiques.  Of what you've made so far, what has been the most satisfying piece?

Oh, that's a tough one. Actually, no it's not. I made a stationery box a while back - it took an entire weekend, but I just loved how it turned out.

Faulkner: Oh that is nice!  What do you want most for your work to bring to people who experience it?

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Downing: The knowledge that they're loved and appreciated enough for someone to have spent so much time and thought on a card or gift for them - even a handmade item bought on etsy or at a sale has a degree of care behind it that's warmer than a mass-produced item. Even though I make my own cards, I think my favorite in my rack right now is one a friend gave me for my birthday - she got it off etsy, and spent quite a bit of time finding one that was really perfect for me and obviously painstakingly crafted.

Faulkner: You have a link to the handmade pledge on your blog.  Do you think more people are understanding the benefits of supporting artists?

Downing: I hope so - I think it's a great idea. When you buy something handmade, you have a connection to a particular person on the other end of the transaction - something is going from their hands to yours. It's something you can't get from a factory. You can always tell when you receive something from a crafter how much love they put into it - I think almost everything I've bought from etsy has come with a little card or token with a handwritten message - I think that's just such a warm, personal thing to do, and only takes a minute for the sender to do. And of course, making your own gifts and cards reaps huge rewards, too - you get to exercise your creative muscles, sometimes save some money, and give a gift that's truly from the heart.

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