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Working as as an interior designer, I had access to all kinds of outdated material samples like leather upholstery swatches and wood veneer.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.

Studio Makeover

It all started with a photography problem.

Every time I wanted to snap a quick photo of a new piece to post on Instagram or list in my Etsy shop, I had to stop packing orders, move whatever I was in the middle of making, and clear off my only worksurface so that I could set up my lights and backdrop. It may not sound like a big deal, but it was a daily source of frustration.

I took a good look around my studio and found other problems with the layout. Not only was the room looking awfully cluttered, the hodge-podge of furniture & storage wasn’t doing anything to make my job easier. It was time for a major makeover!

Within 24 hours of getting fed up with my space, I had mercilessly gone through every corner of my studio, filled 8 trash bags full of junk and donated or relocated about 80% of the furniture.

Out with the old:

1. Oversized corner desk that jutted out into the room

2. Plastic storage drawers that could no longer support the weight of their contents

3. Drafting table from college (that wasn’t great when it came time to hammer)

4. Old 3-drawer nightstand that never opened properly and didn’t store much

5. Bulletin boards that had become a cluttered mess

6. Saddle stool that cut into my legs after only 10 minutes of sitting

7. Desk chair (because I really don’t need to sit down just to print shipping labels)

8. Folding table in front of window that had no surface visible left

9. Old materials stashed in the closet for projects I never did and had no interest in doing now

In with the new:

A. 24”x48” table dedicated to my permanent photography set up, plus prop storage underneath

B. Large worktables that create a continuous standing-height worksurface that’s super sturdy

C. Standing height desk for my computer with dedicated area for shipping supplies and packing orders

D. “Perch” stool, so I can sit and work if I need to (though I prefer to stand)

E. A second set of large flat file drawers for storing leather

F. Convenient wall-mounted shelving for the things I need to access daily

Want to see more? 

Take a tour of my many workspaces, including my new and improved studio:

So why did I have all this random stuff causing problems in my studio? 

When I first started my business in 2009, I wasn’t entirely sure what all I was going to make. I collected all sorts of things, “just in case” I came up with an idea, but eventually found my groove with specific materials and products. Even still, all of these random things I'd been storing for years continued to be stored. I’m embarrassed to say I may be a bit of an unintentional hoarder, but after my recent clean out, I think I’ve taken some major steps to break this habit!   

I parted ways with a lot, but I also rediscovered some pretty cool stuff and that has inspired me to dabble in new materials once again. I've got some new collections in the works thanks to this studio makeover!

Tour My Workspace(s)

My work is a huge part of my life, and my home is where I work. The spaces in which I create are linked to my ability to get work done, be inspired to try new things, and ultimately make a living. Working from home is ideal for me, because I can bounce around from making leather earrings, to needle felting, to laser cutting wooden pendants, to photographing new products, all without having to go anywhere. A lot can be accomplished in just one day!  

Today, I’m inviting you on a virtual tour of my many workspaces. Each room is home to a different part of my process, and is the birthplace of a variety of handmade items. When you make a living making things, it can change your whole lifestyle, and your home ends up becoming more than just a place to live.

Come on in, welcome to my home!

The Workshop: this is the first stop on the tour because it’s where my husband / operations manager and I have spent the most time renovating and improving lately (lighting, ductwork, wood paneling, etc.). The unfinished basement is about 900 square feet and is where a lot of production work occurs. All the things that make big messes (like the lathe, sanders, saws, laser cutter, etc.) live down here.

The Laser Room: In an 8x10 side room, a room that was once used as a children’s play area when we hosted a Bible study / small group a few years ago, is now the the “laser room”. I recently upgraded my 40 watt hobby laser cutter to a humongous and awesomely powerful 90 watt pro model. It’s pretty friggin’ cool! We could barely move this new machine into the house, it cost as much as a used car, and requires serious ventilation, but it was well worth it. My jewelry designs (done in Illustrator or AutoCad) are intricate, but the laser can handle it. I could never dream of doing these cuts successfully by hand, so by adding this high tech tool, I’m able to remake my designs over and over, which allows me to do large orders and keep my prices reasonable. Having a machine like this changed my whole business model several years ago when I took the plunge and bought the original laser. In this room, I also keep some leather, wood, and tons of supplies. We’ve got a small tabletop CNC router on order so that will be a welcome addition very soon.  

* Favorite things about this space: the workbench with “paint store” that my handy husband built for me, and my way-cool splatter paint carpet that’s fun and light, but hides everything (because let’s face it, it’s not clean, and some of those paint splatters are actually paint splatters).

The Studio: From the basement workshop, walk up two flights of stairs and you’ll find my studio. This is the room where final assembly, finishing touches, photography, and packing orders occurs. All of the hand-cut leather jewelry is made here, since I still have have a number of designs that use basic hand tools rather than high tech machines. In the closet, there’s shipping supplies and about a dozen articles of clothing. Not my clothes. Clothes I got at thrift stores and intend to chop to pieces and turn into jewelry. I love to repurpose leather and will buy just about anything, as long as the color is right.

* Favorite things about this space: My “leather drawers” ;-) The leather scraps in these drawers are organized by color, and I get inspired just by looking at all the bits and pieces and all the possibilities they bring.

The Office: Go back down one flight of stairs, and you’re in the office. It’s funny, the workshop, studio, and office are all in the same exact corner of the house, so the views are identical, just at different levels. The office is shared with my husband who works from home, and is where I do all of my correspondence, Etsy shop maintenance, photo & video editing, blogging, and accounting. Since I don’t have a physical brick & mortar store, and in-person craft shows are only seasonal, I end up doing the majority of my business from this spot in the house.

* Favorite things about this space: being near my husband. We “bother” each other a lot, but it’s actually a huge blessing. There was a time back when we lived in the DC metro area when we only saw each other about 2-3 hours a day during the week. It sucked. We have a completely different lifestyle now and I wouldn’t trade it for anything. Also, his title of “Operations Manager” is 100% accurate - he keeps the biz up and running, so it’s nice having him nearby.

The Couch:  Not kidding! I spend several hours a day needle felting on the couch with some sort of nature documentary, depressing indie film, or audio book going in the background. The living room may pass for fairly normal at first glance, but if you look closer (like in the bins under the couch, the basket under the end table, in that dark wicker hamper sitting discreetly in the corner), you’ll notice there’s a whole flocks’ worth of sheep’s wool all around you. I have my roving in containers organized by color, so it’s easy to find what I need. Besides (a lot of) wool fiber, there’s really not much else needed for needle felting. I have a 2” thick foam pad that sits on my lap while I felt, a variety of needles, plus a portable work light, and that’s about it.   

* Favorite things about this space: being able to learn something new / think about something else unrelated to my work, while I work. My hands may be felting, but at the same time I can be learning all about the Altiplano in South America and the fascinating flamingos that call it home, or reading / listening to The Electric Michelangelo by Sarah Hall for the 50th time.

So there you have it. The spaces where everything is handmade, by me, under one roof!