When Making & Writing Collide

In May of this year, my second novel was published, titled Two Brothers, One Redhead, and a Stolen Giraffe. It’s a quirky coming-of-age story that takes place on a farm in Nebraska, where a pair of well-meaning but impulsive brothers and their sixteen-foot stowaway spend several weeks falling in love with their newfound freedom, the wide open land, and the book-smart redhead who lives there.

It’s no surprise both sides of my creative mind have influenced each other recently, and that the process of writing & publishing Two Brothers, One Redhead, and a Stolen Giraffe has lead me to create a special collection of work inspired by the story. Here’s a sneak peek at some of the new pieces I’ve been working on lately, all inspired by the book. These are available for purchase in my Etsy Shop.

My favorite series features needle felted paintings, jewelry, and laser etched wood blocks that contrast an aerial view of farmland in Nebraska with the patterned hide of a giraffe. I loved that contrast in the story - an exotic African creature living on a rural farm.

To celebrate these two new things, my book release and new handmade collection, I’m hosting a giveaway on Instagram this week. The winner will receive a signed copy of Two Brothers, One Redhead, and a Stolen Giraffe, a $10 Amazon.com gift card, plus their choice of handmade pendant (shown below).

To enter the contest, simply follow both of my Instagram accounts @sarahmandellauthor & @onceagainsam and comment on the giveaway image (on either account) letting me know which pendant you’d choose if you’re the winner. Contest is open worldwide now through July 10. Good luck to all!

Collecting Art

Vase: April Schwingle, Woven Pine Needle Basket: Clay Burnette, Bird paintings: Diane Kilgore, Landscape Painting: Annie Koelle

Vase: April Schwingle, Woven Pine Needle Basket: Clay Burnette, Bird paintings: Diane Kilgore, Landscape Painting: Annie Koelle

When I try to picture an art collector in my mind, I see a wealthy foreigner and his severe-looking wife strolling into a highly intimidating art gallery wearing their finest furs. They gesture towards a huge abstract painting and say “I must have dis”, then they wire the 80K from their elite offshore bank account.

I don’t know where that visual came from, if it was in some bad movie, or just floating around in my brain with other ridiculous caricature stereotypes I don’t actually believe (but keep around for my own amusement).

Felted Bunny Heads: Sarah Mandell ;-) , Assemblage: Jon Andrews, Landscape Paintings: Annie Koelle

Felted Bunny Heads: Sarah Mandell ;-) , Assemblage: Jon Andrews, Landscape Paintings: Annie Koelle

The truth is, many of us, in one way or another, are art collectors. We may not describe ourselves as such, but if you peek into our homes, you’ll get all the proof you need. Anyone can be an art collector, regardless of what it is they favor, and you don’t have to be filthy rich, follow trends, or do it all in one weekend. When it comes to collecting art, there really aren’t any rules, other than buy what you love / what’s beautiful in your eyes / what makes you feel something.

Bird Block Print: Kent Ambler, White Paper Bird: Cara Harris, Landscape Painting: Annie Koelle, Felted Cactus (by me) in Wood Turned Bowl (by Matt Tindal), Mini Buzzard Painting: Canvas Dove, Mini Bunny Painting: Once Upon a Time Co., Illustration prints: Elizabeth Mayvile, Water Tower Mixed Media: Paul Flint, Paper Cat: Jordan Grace Owens, Rabbit Portrait Watercolor: Rachelle Elevingston, Bird Paintings: Diane Kilgore, Abstract City Scape Painting: Jersey's Freshest.

Bird Block Print: Kent Ambler, White Paper Bird: Cara Harris, Landscape Painting: Annie Koelle, Felted Cactus (by me) in Wood Turned Bowl (by Matt Tindal), Mini Buzzard Painting: Canvas Dove, Mini Bunny Painting: Once Upon a Time Co., Illustration prints: Elizabeth Mayvile, Water Tower Mixed Media: Paul Flint, Paper Cat: Jordan Grace Owens, Rabbit Portrait Watercolor: Rachelle Elevingston, Bird Paintings: Diane Kilgore, Abstract City Scape Painting: Jersey's Freshest.

Art is important to me, and I want to be surrounded by it always. I first got the bug when my husband and I married in 2005, and we needed something to personalize the renter’s-white walls in our apartment. However, we didn’t have 80K sitting around in our elite offshore bank account to invest in original paintings, so we found some affordable reproductions and prints, and they made our living space “ours”.

Clay Rabbit Mask: F. Gleason, Assemblage: Jon Andrews, Hanging Terrarium: Amazon.com, Reclaimed Boards: Asheville Hardware

Clay Rabbit Mask: F. Gleason, Assemblage: Jon Andrews, Hanging Terrarium: Amazon.com, Reclaimed Boards: Asheville Hardware

Since then, we’ve found ways to buy original art (guess what, we still don’t have an 80K art budget), and have invested in many pieces we love that range from woodblock prints, to assemblages, paintings, ceramic arts, and much more. Buying smaller pieces and displaying them as collections has worked well for us, because we can always add or rearrange. Buying small because of budget reasons has actually changed my taste in art. I prefer smaller pieces right now, I gravitate towards something I can hold in my hands, and find connection with on a more personal tactile level.

Block Loom: Mary Hamby, Section of Original Wood Block: Kent Ambler, Clay Houses: Crave Studio

Block Loom: Mary Hamby, Section of Original Wood Block: Kent Ambler, Clay Houses: Crave Studio

Everyone is different, and that's what makes collecting art so fascinating. While I may prefer groupings of smaller works for my own home, I still find a single large room-dominating piece to be just as pleasing elsewhere. As we all know, art is a very subjective subject, but that makes it all the more interesting!  

Bee Block Print: Sunny Mullarkey Studio, Bird Print: Sharon Lorenz, Ceramic Bird; West Elm, Carved Pottery Vase: Unknown 

Bee Block Print: Sunny Mullarkey Studio, Bird Print: Sharon Lorenz, Ceramic Bird; West Elm, Carved Pottery Vase: Unknown 

When starting your own collection on a budget, here’s some things to keep in mind:

  • Shop local: support artists in your town (student work too!) by visiting craft shows or gallery openings. Most of us probably can’t afford the work of a world famous or historically significant artist, but honestly, there’s incredible work available in your very own zip code, and at a fraction of the price.

  • Buy small: you CAN afford original art if it’s what your heart (and wallspace) desires. Look for smaller scale work that fits your budget, and build a multi-piece collection a little at a time. Things can get pretty cool after a few years of buying smaller work and creating interesting groupings, and it’s easier on the bank account doing it one piece at a time.

Mini Bird Paintings: Diane Kilgore

Mini Bird Paintings: Diane Kilgore

  • There’s nothing wrong with prints: I’m still a huge fan of prints, and this is by far the easiest way to bring artist’s work into your home. There are tons of amazing prints for less than $100.

  • It takes time: time to save up, time to figure out what you like, time to find that certain piece you can’t bare to leave behind.

I really enjoy curating my own collection, and rearranging what I already own. It’s truly a eureka moment when you find two pieces that don’t have much in common actually work well together!

Rabbit Print: Cory Godbey, Crowd of People Print: Janina Ellis, Mountains Print: Sara Gibson

Rabbit Print: Cory Godbey, Crowd of People Print: Janina Ellis, Mountains Print: Sara Gibson

Here’s some quick tips for curating your very own collection:

  • Group pieces by color, even if the subject matter is unrelated. Or...group by subject matter or style, even if the colors are unrelated. You’d be surprised by what “goes” together!

  • A focal point doesn’t have to be right smack in the middle. Experiment with layouts that are asymmetrical but balanced.

  • Matching frames can help tie in assorted pieces so they feel more connected, but mixing in a wide variety of different frames can add interest too. A unified collection is just as cool as an eclectic collection.

  • Before you start putting holes in your wall, make a quick to-scale sketch on graph paper, and plan where each piece might hang, then adjust as needed. Keep in mind room for growth.

  • It’s YOUR collection, so buy what you love, display it how you want, and enjoy the hell out of it! When you step back and look at your walls, and it makes you feel happy, or excited about what your next piece might be, then you’ve succeeded as a collector.    







Indie Craft Parade 2015

The 6th annual Indie Craft Parade was this past weekend, and as always, it didn't disappoint. Far from it! This highly competitive, well-organized regional craft fair showcases 80 artists and brings out 6-7,000 attendees in Greenville every September. I was pleased to participate once again this year, and just as in years past, it was one of my best shows ever. How does that keep happening? This particular craft show is just THAT good!

My Indie Craft Parade 2015 booth setup

I saw so many familiar faces, people who have been coming to my booth year after year. I always enjoy seeing "vintage" Once Again Sam jewelry in the crowd, pieces I made several years ago, still being enjoyed. That's probably the coolest part of the weekend - having happy customers come back again and again.

This is a big weekend for my business, so I spend a good chunk of the summer preparing for it. I'm proud to say, this was the first Indie Craft Parade when I didn't run out of bags or dollar bills. In previous years, I vastly underestimated how many shoppers would come through, so I'd double up on supplies the following year, and of course the number of customer would double up too, so I still had the same problem. Not this year! I took $150 in singles, and over 500  paper bags (which I hand stamped one by one) and it seems I finally have a feel for just how to prepare for this show. It only took me 5 years to get it right! 

Here's the rundown of my weekend in numbers, just as I shared last year, plus a peek inside my shopping bag at my fabulous finds. I always enjoy supporting other artists, and at a show like this one, you truly have to restrain yourself! There is so much talent, so many gift ideas, so many splurges to consider. In the end, I brought home items from 12 other artists. 

My 2015 Indie Craft Parade purchases will full artist list below:

1. Origami flowers by Paperform

2. Mixed media block art by Heather Murphy

3. Ceramic bowl by Daniel Bare

4. Paper wall art by Paperform

5. Lip balm by Hello Soap

6. Weaving on woodblock by Twenty Two West

7. Mixed media assemblage by Jon Andrews

8. Wood block paintings by Sunny Mullarkey Studio

9. Brass stud earrings & ring by Melting Sun Apparel

10. Print by Elizabeth Foster

11. Painted wood sign by Olive + Grey

12. Handbag by Hawks & Doves

The Bunny Project

There’s something about bunnies. Sure, they’re utterly adorable and their skittishness is sweet, but they’re also quite clever, and perhaps a little bit spooky at times. Their secret lives make me awfully curious. Bunnies are my most beloved muse, and after months and months of holiday craft shows, holiday orders, and the holiday rush in general, I finally took a little time to make something just for fun. This collection was purely for my own enjoyment, but since several of my handmade pieces sold within hours of being posted, it would seem I’m not alone in my obsession with bunnies. Bunny lovers unite!

“The Bunny Project” had been stewing in my mind since early October, but during that time of year I simply don’t have the luxury of working on anything ol’ thing I feel like. I’m swamped keeping up with orders and preparing for craft shows, and getting ahead or developing new product ideas is just not possible in those busy months. As a reward for getting through a record breaking fall season, I treated myself to some time off after Christmas and finally made the bunnies I’d been imagining for so long. Some of them, at least. I have a list of about 30 cotton-tailed characters and was only able to produce 9 of them so far.

Will there be more bunnies in the future? YES!!! I don’t know when exactly, but I promise to add to #thebunnyproject as soon as I can. After all, bunnies are my favorite thing in the world to create.

So how are these creatures made anyway? Each bunny is needle felted with dyed wool fiber - no glue, no sewing, no hot water is involved. Just a bundle of roving (sheep’s wool that’s been cleaned and carded), a barbed felting needle, and lots of patience. These pieces took anywhere from 2 to 7 hours to make by hand. It’s a very time consuming craft, but I enjoy it!

Here’s a peek at what goes into making a small bunny. This time lapse video documents the 2 ½ hours it took me to needle felt a fairly simple rabbit, so you can see how it all comes together from start to finish.

Click Below to watch me make, or CLICK HERE to watch on my YouTube channel:

My material list is short:

-Polyfill wrapped in yarn (to create the form for the body & head)

-Pipe cleaners (to give the legs and arms rigidity)

-About 3-4 oz. of roving

-Flat sheet of felt (which I cut then covered in wool to make the ears)

-A set of plastic eyeballs