Learning to Paint

Over the last year or so, I've been slowly getting back into painting. I enjoy it tremendously, but I don't have the skill level I'd like. I can needle felt a wool painting with my eyes shut and I can paint jewelry all day long, but a traditional painting on canvas is, for some reason, really daunting to me.

  "The Foothills on a Cloudy Day"  by Sarah Mandell (January 27th, 2018)

"The Foothills on a Cloudy Day" by Sarah Mandell (January 27th, 2018)

I enjoy viewing and collecting paintings by other artists and often wonder how they developed that distinct style which makes them so unique. I wish I had a distinct style like Annie Koelle, Charles Gatewood, or Jessica Fields. They're each so talented and I enjoy their work personally in my home, but I also stand and stare at their pieces (up close, far away) and try to figure out exactly which details make it perfect, and try to guess at what colors they mixed or which brushes they used. I enjoy art but I also analyze the heck out of it!

Each of these painters knows exactly what they're doing with colors, textures, light, and composition, but there's a raw skill that goes into the mix too. I don't think I have that particular skill, but I'm willing to put in the time to try and develop it anyway. Only recently has it occurred to me that these artists, in addition to their raw talent, probably have years and years of practice behind them. If I want to improve, a good deal of that will be my responsibility. 

Painting was the one course I was required to take at Maryland Institute College of Art that single handedly pulled down my GPA. I sucked at painting, and when you suck at something at one of the top art schools in the country, they give you C's. I told myself that it didn't matter at the time, I hustled and still graduated with honors despite my sad C's in painting because I was majoring in Environmental Design and wouldn't need to paint again, but the problem was I desperately wanted to paint, regardless of my career path. 

So here I am, almost 15 years later. I'm painting again. No grades, no real assignments or deadlines, just me and my desire to improve my skills and enjoy myself in the process.

  "Young Raven"  by Sarah Mandell (January 30th, 2018)

"Young Raven" by Sarah Mandell (January 30th, 2018)

In October of 2016 I participated in a 30 day challenge called Creative Sprint, and one of the assignments was to create something with your non-dominant hand, so I painted an abstract painting with my left hand. It was my first painting since graduating from MICA. Oddly enough, I really liked how it turned out! From there, I tried small scale landscapes as pendants and needle felted wool landscapes. Those two series are my best sellers now, and I can't help but find myself thinking the missing link between the two is painting. 

 "Left-handed Landscape" by Sarah Mandell (April 15th, 2016)

"Left-handed Landscape" by Sarah Mandell (April 15th, 2016)

Fast forward to last summer when I took a fun pet painting course at Greenville Center for Creative Arts. I captured my sugar gliders Sid & Sophie in acrylic, and I'm seriously considering signing up for additional courses. I enjoyed it so much!

 "Sid & Sophie" by Sarah Mandell (July 23rd, 2017)

"Sid & Sophie" by Sarah Mandell (July 23rd, 2017)

I don't know what I want to paint or how I want to paint yet, I just want to paint. Right now, I'm all over the place. There's no common thread, no cohesive technique, no regular schedule for practice, but I'm getting there. This year, I'm putting aside a few hours each week to paint purely for fun, something I often forget to do when I'm in the studio making orders. 

Here's to learning, making time to improve, and creating art just for my own satisfaction! 

  "The Ridge at Dusk"  by Sarah Mandell (January 21st, 2018)

"The Ridge at Dusk" by Sarah Mandell (January 21st, 2018)

Checkout my new Maker's Eye View time lapse video on YouTube showing the process of a recent landscape painting. 

Commissioning Artwork FAQ

Commissioning a piece of original art may be intimidating if you've never done it before. There’s so many unknowns. Will it look like what you envisioned? How much will it cost? How long does it take? Is the artist you have in mind currently taking on custom requests?

I wouldn’t want any of my customers to feel this way or to rule out custom orders because they’re unsure about the process. Commissioning art can be an enjoyable experience so I thought I’d share how I personally handle commissions and answer some FAQ. A huge part of my handmade business is custom work, so I welcome special requests!

Q: I’m interested in commissioning a wool landscape painting. What do I need to do?

A: Send me a message via Facebook, Instagram, Etsy, or contact form to get the conversation started. If you have a photo you’d like me to use as a reference for the piece, please include that. We'll work out the size, frame choice, deadline, and go from there. Pricing depends on size and complexity of the piece, but a good ballpark budget number for custom felted landscapes is $2 per square inch. For example, an 8x10 scene would typically run $160, which includes the frame.


Q: I saw something in your Etsy shop or Instagram that I liked, but I want it in another color (or a slightly different design, size, etc.).

A: No problem! Nearly all of my jewelry can be customized, and often times the fiber art can be recreated or tweaked to be a specific size, alternate color range, etc.


Q: Do I pay before or after the work is done?

A: 99% of the time I’ll request payment upfront. This goes for jewelry, fiber art, or any other custom orders. Once I’ve received payment, your order will be added to my list and I complete them in order of payment received (unless there’s a specific deadline previously discussed).


Q: Does a custom order cost more?

A: Not necessarily! The price is usually the same, but it may take a few days longer to create, depending on the request and if I need to special order materials.

Q: Do you offer proofs or photos prior to shipping a custom order?

A: I typically don’t do this for custom jewelry, ornaments, or smaller items. However, for the custom wool landscapes, I’m happy to to show you progress pictures upon request.

Q: Do you offer discounts on bulk orders? 

A: When it comes to jewelry, yes, I'm happy to work with you on the total price if you're ordering 10 or more pieces. When it comes to the fiber art, the price is firm. Needle felting is a very tedious process and this is the reason my fiber art work never goes on sale online or at events.


 Q: The piece I wanted to buy has already sold. Can you make another?

A: Probably so! I don't mind recreating pieces (although they'll always be slightly different than the original because they're handmade). If you see something that's sold, get in touch and I'll let you know if I can recreate something similar. 


A quick run down of do’s and don’t when commissioning art:

DON’T commission artists to knock off other artist’s work. It’s not cool, and it’s no fair.

DO ask artists for references or examples of past work if you’re unsure if they’re the right person for the job.

DON’T expect the artist to deliver the finished piece in person, even if they’re local.   

DO ask for progress images if you’re particular about the composition, materials, etc.

DON’T be afraid to be specific if you have a certain size, look, or deadline in mind. Share that with the artist from the start so they can accommodate your wishes.

DO allow the artist to do what they do best and embrace their process. The finished piece will surely look different than what you had in your mind, but hopefully it’ll be even better than what you imagined.

A Long Summer Ends, a Busy Fall Begins

I have never needle felted so much in my life. Throughout the spring months, I was absorbed in my wool landscape series for my Fibers of the South exhibit at Art & Light, and ever since receiving word in late June that I was accepted to Indie Craft Parade solely for the Fiber Art category, I’ve been working with nothing but wool for several hours a day, for what feels like months on end.


Normally, I spend more time focusing on my jewelry line (it accounts for the majority of my business), and usually the fiber art is just what I do at the end of the day to unwind while watching a documentary or movie. Not this summer! Although I still have lots of jewelry orders to keep up with and fall shows to prepare for, I’ve been immersed in this medium which I have a love-hate relationship with.


I really do love needle felting (especially when I’m not actively doing it, like right now as I’m writing about it…) but it’s a somewhat frustrating medium to work with. If you’ve ever given it a try, you know it takes FOREVER to make anything, even the smallest pieces. With fiber art, things don’t start to really take shape - or look like anything decent - until you’ve put in a serious amount of time with the barbed felting needles, layering roving upon roving.


Working like this can be hard to accept as an artist. It’s not rewarding to work on something if it looks horrible for the majority of the time you’re working on it, right? Normally I have jewelry to switch off to, so it’s not so tedious, but this summer I doubled down and stuck to felting. Not my favorite way to spend the summer, but there’s always an upside to concentrating on specific skills for a season.


Being patient and keeping up with my felting goals paid off, and I’m thrilled to share these new fiber art additions at Indie Craft Parade here in Greenville, SC. The sold out VIP gala is Friday September 15th, and the show is open to the public Saturday the 16th through Sunday the 17th at the Huguenot Mill downtown.


So where can you find my jewelry, if not at Indie Craft Parade? My Etsy shop is always open, plus I have a FULL fall schedule that spans 12 weekends and 5 states. Mark your calendars!

September 16-17: Indie Craft Parade (Greenville, SC)

September 22-23: Jewelry Trunk Show at Urban Digs (Greenville, SC)

September 29-30: Made South (Atlanta, GA)

October 5-8: Jewelry Trunk Show at Custard Boutique (Greenville, SC)

October 13-14: Jewelry Trunk Show at The Urban Planter (Spartanburg, SC)

October 20-22: Brookhaven Arts Festival (Atlanta, GA)

October 28: BBQ Festival (Lexington, NC)

November 4: Crafty Bastards (Nashville, TN)

November 11: Greenville Classical Academy's Fall Festival & Holiday Market (Greenville, SC)

November 17-18: Made South (Franklin, TN)

*November 19: Retropolitan (Knoxville, TN) 

November 30-December 3: Bizarre Bazaar (Richmond, VA)

December 8-9: A Craft Christmas (Hickory, NC)

*December 10: Crafty Feast (Columbia, SC)

*Starred dates indicate events I've applied to (and have participated in the past), but haven't heard back yet if I've been accepted. Fingers crossed these shows will in fact be on the tour!

MAP of USA.jpg

Fibers of the South

Things may have appeared to be quiet on the needle felting front these last few months, but I assure you, lots of fiber art has been in the works. Ever since the beginning of 2017, after the craziness of the holidays and tradeshow season subsided, I started working on a series I’d been daydreaming about for about for months. The series only recently received a name, but it’s been on my mind and in my hands for some time.

“Fibers of the South” is a collection of 50 wool paintings featuring landscape scenes from all over this beautiful state I call home. When I moved to South Carolina in 2010, I was in awe of the wide range of beautiful scenery here. We’ve got majestic mountains layered in colors in the Upstate, we’ve got wide open spaces in the Midlands covered in amazing texture, and we’ve got these elaborate patterns of marshes and waterways in the Lowcountry. There’s so much beauty in every corner of this state! My landscape series is a tribute to these places, done in a medium near & dear to my crafty heart.

I’ve been a needle felter for nearly 10 years, sculpting 3D plants, animals, faux taxidermy, and even anatomical hearts. Only recently have I tried my hand at 2D work. My first felted landscape attempts came about last year, thanks to a #CreativeSprint challenge, and I did a trial run with a limited collection of small-scale pieces framed in embroidery hoops and simple wood boxes last fall for Indie Craft Parade.

Fibers of the South takes the idea to the next level, particularly in size. My new landscapes are 4 to 10 times the size of those first pieces! Working this large has been a wonderful challenge, and it also allowed me to collaborate with my woodworker husband to create beautiful shadow box frames custom made for these fiber art pieces. I’m thrilled with how the collection turned out!

From August 5th-19th, my series will make it’s debut at an exhibit at Art & Light Gallery in Greenville, SC. The final day of Fibers of the South, I’ll also have a handmade jewelry trunk show at the gallery.

Curious to see the process? Checkout this #MakersEyeView on my YouTube channel.

If you want to see the WHOLE process, not just time lapse, stop by the gallery (16 Aiken Street, Greenville SC) on Saturday August 5th between 11 and 3 to see my live felting demo. I'm also planning to do a live stream on social media so tune in on Instagram @onceagainsam

For a sneak peak at the collection, click through the image gallery below. If you see one you like, please contact the gallery directly to purchase. They will be glad to ship if you're not in Greenville! 

Where Women Create

This month, I’m honored to share my personal story and creative workspace in the summer issue of Where Women Create. This magazine showcases artists, crafters, and makers in a way that allows you a personal look at their space, but also shares their creative journey. I really enjoyed reflecting on how I got to this point in my life and all the things that added up to make it what it is today. I feel like I’m just getting started - there’s so much more I want to do!

Checkout the full story below see additional photos that weren’t used in the article. All photos courtesy of the talented Eli Warren.

I was born to create. My love of art and working with my hands started early in life, so early I don’t remember when exactly. I can recall peeling my sleeping mother’s eyes open before sunrise and begging her to come downstairs and draw with me when I was about four years old, and she, in all her love and patience, would do just that. I think that’s where my story begins, with creative and supportive parents.

Growing up, I couldn’t get enough art in my life, so my parents took me to museums often and signed me up for additional art classes after school, encouraging me to pursue it. My mom was a self-taught artist, and although she did it purely for her own enjoyment and to decorate our home, there was never any question that I could do it as a serious career if I wanted to, and I’m so grateful for that freedom. As long as there was art & design in my future in some shape or form, I knew I’d be happy.

After 4 years of intense design study & a wide range of fine art studio courses, I received my BFA from Maryland Institute College of Art in 2005. Shortly after graduating I got married, lost my mom to cancer, and began working as an interior designer for a commercial architecture firm. My whole world changed in just two short months, and for the first time in my life, I wasn’t creating with my hands. I never realized how important that part of me was until it went missing.

Knowing me all too well, my husband Josh encouraged me to open an Etsy shop and get back to making. That little decision changed everything. Not only did I get back to my roots as an artist and rediscover the joy of creating, I was now on a double career path as an interior designer and an entrepreneur, and these creative pursuits complimented each other in unexpected ways.

Working as as an interior designer, I had access to all kinds of outdated material samples like leather upholstery swatches and wood veneer. I took those miscellaneous odds and ends that were bound for the trash and gave them new life, once again, in a whole new way. My business name, “Once Again Sam”, hinted at my love of reusing materials, and although “SAM” wasn’t me exactly (those are my initials but nobody calls me that), it was someone I wanted to become. I wanted to start a new creative life, and not have to choose to do just one thing or have a single career. The freedom to pursue art, the encouragement I had growing up as well as from my husband, inspired me to go for it. ALL of it.

I chose not to choose a single path. I’m currently an interior designer, a fiber artist, jewelry designer & maker, entrepreneur, and published author. That list will probably grow with time. It’s not that I don’t know what I want to do when I grow up, it’s that I want to do so many things. My greatest joy is creating and imagining, and it doesn’t matter if it’s a beautiful space for a client, an intricate design for a leather cuff bracelet, a life-like plant made out of wool fiber, or a fictional story about a soap-eating giraffe. I live to create. Any medium will do.

The majority of my time is spent working from my home studio running Once Again Sam, which has grown into a thriving small business that takes me to the post office 5 days a week and all over the southeast for craft show events. My husband Josh, who is responsible for putting the crazy idea into my head that I could actually start a small company, is my my business partner.

A good portion of our home is dedicated for Once Again Sam workspace. The dining room isn’t used to entertain anymore, it stores inventory and displays for craft shows. My husband and I share an office, where we do accounting, photo editing, etc. Upstairs is my studio, where I do final assembly, product photography, store materials, and ship orders. The basement is our workshop wonderland. Josh and I both enjoy working with wood, so we’ve got all our loud messy tools and machines down there, including my favorite tool, the 90 watt laser cutter.

Just as my days are a combination of many things, the same can be said of my handmade jewelry collection. My work marries basic hand tools with high tech equipment, and common materials are often mixed with the exotic. I still use a lot of recycled leather material in my jewelry designs, just like I did when I first opened my Etsy shop in 2009. Sometimes I do the cutouts by hand, other times I leave it to the laser cutter.

I enjoy learning new skills and have a long list of things to try. My husband and I took a wood turning class together a few years ago and have enjoyed getting into wood turning. I’m finally getting the hang of sculpting modern pendants on the lathe. I’ve also taken up painting recently, and my series of landscape pendants feature a panoramic painting that’s cut up into sections so the owner may wear an original piece of art any day of the week. A huge portion of my business revolves around custom jewelry. Customers can order a pendant featuring a portrait of their child, favorite animal, or home state, etched into painted wood. With a wide range of handmade options, there’s truly something for everyone at Once Again Sam.  

My creative journey is just getting started. I never could have guessed I’d be where I am now, and can’t wait to see where my creative careers take me in the future. Starting something can be the hardest part.