Alpacas & Art

Yes, you've seen other Alpaca-related blog posts here if you've been a reader for awhile. Here's another one! I'm a little obsessed with these sweet-faced creatures, but it's not just because they're so stinking adorable. They're also part of my art. Literally. 

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Recently, I visited my dad and his wife at their new home in Brandon, VT (it's actually a very old home - built in 1880 - but it's new to them). They recently retired there, and I can see why. It's such a beautiful place! Just down the country road from their horse farm was an unexpected surprise. Maple Creek Farms is home to a few dozen alpacas, which is already enough to get me excited, but then I learned they actually process all of the fiber onsite and have a mini-factory for making roving, batting, and even yarn. All the things I'm interested in! 

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I've been a knitter and felt fiber artist for almost 10 years now, so I know my materials and I work with a variety of tools every single day, but I have never actually seen how fleece is processed before I get my hands on it. I always buy roving and yarn that's completely ready for use - I don't do any cleaning or dying myself, so seeing how the fiber gets from the alpaca's back to a ball of colorful roving in my living room was quite the treat. 

Needless to say, I took about 100 pictures of the baby alpacas, some of which were just a few weeks old, and I stuffed my suitcase full of colorful roving for my return trip. I love seeing how things are made, and truly understanding the process by seeing it for myself, so this whole pit stop was right up my alley. Now I have an even deeper appreciation for the material I use every day. 

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TOWN Magazine Feature

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Greenville SC people probably already saw this, but for everyone else, I wanted to share this article in a local magazine about my time as Artist-in-Residence at Poinsett State Park back in May. The full article can be found on TOWN's website. It's such an honor to be featured in the July issue! I enjoyed recounting my experience and sharing how all of my expectations were blown away. 

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Flip through the entire issue if you like...and stop on pages 49 & 50 ;-) 

 Photography by  Eli Warren   Thank you all for being so patient while I listed all of the wool landscapes from The Poinsett Collection. Everything is now available on my new website:  www.onceagainasam.com   Several of the pieces sold during my 3-day Art in the Wild Exhibition a few weeks ago, but everything else (plus a few more) are listed online. If you've had your eye on any of the work I've been sharing post-residency, incluing the piece I'm holding in the photo above, now's your chance!    

Photography by Eli Warren

Thank you all for being so patient while I listed all of the wool landscapes from The Poinsett Collection. Everything is now available on my new website: www.onceagainasam.com

Several of the pieces sold during my 3-day Art in the Wild Exhibition a few weeks ago, but everything else (plus a few more) are listed online. If you've had your eye on any of the work I've been sharing post-residency, incluing the piece I'm holding in the photo above, now's your chance! 

 

Artist in Residence: Poinsett State Park

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Earlier this month, I was honored to have the chance to be the Artist in Residence at Poinsett State Park. I spent a week in the woods, soaking up inspiration and creating art inspired by it. This was my first time doing anything like this and it was such a good experience.

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I stayed in Cabin #2, which was built in 1937 and had been updated with modern conveniences, but still felt rustic. Each morning I’d wake up to the sound of birds, eat breakfast on the sun porch, and hit the trails for a few hours.

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There’s miles and miles of trails in the park, and my favorite ones were the Cowasee, Scout Loop, and of course the trail alongside Mill Pond, which is just about as scenic as it gets. I'm not originally from the south so the sight of Spanish moss is still a bit surreal to me. It looks like a movie set!

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After a few hours in the woods, I’d come back to the cabin and spend the hottest hours of the day painting, needle felting, and sketching. There was no shortage of inspiration in the park. Ideas would come to me while sitting by the fire pit after sunset or canoeing through the lily pads listening to choir of frogs on the shore.

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I definitely lost track of time, and had no idea what day it was for most of the week. I can’t tell you the last time I disconnected like that, and really focused on my work without any interruption. It was so good for my soul!

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I created nearly 20 pieces during my residency and have another 20 in the works that will be ready for my upcoming exhibit “Art in the Wild” which runs June 14-16th at Art & Light Gallery in Greenville, SC.

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A big thank you to the South Carolina Parks Department for this amazing opportunity! If you’re interested in applying for next year, check the SC Parks website in the fall for more info: https://southcarolinaparks.com/

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Check out this short video documentary that shows my week as Artist in Residence in a nutshell. Hard to believe 6 nights, several miles of hiking, hours of working, and a lot of fun in between, can be condensed into 3 1/2 minutes, but here it is! 

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.

2016: Year in Review

2016 was quite the year for Once Again Sam. After taking a much-needed break during the holidays, I had some time to look back over the last 12 months and reflect on all my little handmade business has been through this past year. I felt like I barely crossed the 2016 finish line – I’ve never been so busy before, but it was a phenomenal end to a phenomenal year, and I’m celebrating big time. I’m so grateful for everything about 2016, and feel overwhelmingly blessed by each and every thing that made up this chapter.

Many of my business goals were met this year – I became an LLC, printed my first catalog, participated in my first tradeshow, graduated from Etsy’s “SAM Program”, grew the wholesale side of my business, invested in advertising, and nearly doubled my Etsy sales. I have LOTS of goals for 2017, but I’ll wait to share those after The Maker’s Summit in March, because no doubt I’ll have twice as many goals after the 2-day conference.

The significant spike in business this year certainly had to do with a lot of hard work and a little luck, but there were several specific changes I made in 2016 that might be something for you to consider as you grow (or start) your handmade business. I have learned so much from other Makers over the years, and am happy to share what I know in return. That’s the beauty of the handmade community!

1.     Promoted listings on Etsy & Google: I was skeptical to try this, but looking at what I spent vs. what those promoted listings earned, it was well worth my daily $5 budget. It takes almost no effort once you set it up, and the payoff can be big.

2.     Launched 5 new collections: it seems like it should be pretty easy since I love to experiment and create, but getting my act together to launch 5 cohesive collections is a lot more involved than you might think. The previous year, I hardly launched anything new, only 2 small collections, so having 5 completely new series to share within a 12 month time period is something I’m very proud of and hope to continue in the next year. Several new collections came about during the 30 day #CreativeSprint challenge (April & October). If you want to grow, you have to keep coming up with new ideas – those tried & true best sellers are fine, and by all means keep making them if they’re selling well, but always be working on what's next.

3.     Graduated from the “SAM” Program on Etsy. The “Seller Account Management" Program was something I applied for back in 2015, and my year of one-on-one coaching started last December. I was teamed up with an awesome Etsy staffer who coached me, answered questions specific to my shop, and helped me set goals for the future. I highly recommend applying for this program, even if you’re an Etsy veteran like me. I’ve been selling on Etsy since 2009, been very pleased with my sales for the last 4 or 5 years, but there’s always room to grow. In my case, there was a TON of room to grow, way more than I thought, and I earned nearly twice as much on Etsy this year compared to last year, all thanks to things I learned in the SAM program.

4.     Grew my wholesale business: I started out 2016 with a brand new product catalog, a booth at my first tradeshow, and high hopes of developing new retail relationships. The focused effort worked! Wholesale is something I know I can grow even further in the future, so I’m investing in tools & making a game plan for how to improve my wholesale outreach going forward.

5.     Tried 5 new events (craft shows, art fairs, pop up shops): some of that came out of necessity because two of my biggest sales days from 2015 didn’t happen in 2016, and I felt I had to make up for them or my financial projections for the year were shot. Just to give it some context, these two sales days from 2015 accounted for over 20% of my income that year, so it could have been a big big problem for 2016, but everything turned out incredibly well, despite all my needless worrying. One event (Artisphere) did not accept my work in 2016, and the other (Indie Craft Parade) moved to a different model for their holiday event, which significantly changed things for me. This was out of my control, and I learned the hard way you can’t always plan your season around shows you love or have done in the past, because they can change or go away, and it's not up to you. However, I did learn another valuable lesson here – I applied for several new shows, ones I didn’t know much about, or that weren't as well known as others, and they turned out to be really great events that I will definitely plan on doing in the future. You never know how you’ll do at any given event until you try it for yourself!

So that’s it – that’s 2016 in a nutshell. Can’t wait to see what 2017 has in store. As always, if you have any general or specific questions about running a handmade business, selling on Etsy, doing craft shows, etc., please drop me a line. I’m always willing to help fellow entrepreneurs in any way I can (as long as you pay it forward when someone asks you for help in the future!).  

Past "Year in Review" posts can be found in my blog archives:

2015

2014