The Artsmiths of Pittsburgh

Instructor Interview – Daniel Baxter Kreepy Dolls Factory


Talented artist Daniel Baxter of the Kreepy Dolls Factorywill be showing our campers how to create unique dolls from their imagination in our weeklong summer camp at The Artsmiths in partnership with the Society of Contemporary Craft the week of July 17th through July 21st .  

Daniel Baxter was born in 1980 and is a 2003 graduate of Cleveland Institute of Art with a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Drawing. Daniel found an abandoned Kreepy Doll Factory to tend to, and began bringing one of a kind magic dolls to life. Later while exploring the wilderness in NYC Baxter and friends created the TV show “Food Party” for IFC. Since returning to Pittsburgh in 2010 the Kreepy Doll Factory has created toys 24 hours a day.  Baxter hopes to create “greater things than imaginable” in the future…  Learn more about Daniel in our interview with him below:

Who had the biggest influence in your career and artistic development?

I let everything influence my art. I am always searching and just looking.

Animated promo for one of a kind kreepy dolls and soft sculpture designed and made by artist[s Jeff Vincent and] Dan Baxter of  Video by Rubytoad Studio.  Music by Paul Kozlowski.

What do you do to recharge if you have a creative block, where do you find inspiration?

I love making toys and making toys for people, and so like the elves who work for Santa I never get tired. When I want to take a break I just draw or run around and eat good food.


When did you create your first piece of artwork? Was it sold or is it a piece that you decided to hold onto?

There’s no way to remember that. But if it becomes possible in the future I’d love to time travel back and see.

Are there other Pittsburgh artists that you have collaborated with or that have mentored you?

I always enjoy talking to every person I meet, and everyone becomes an influence when i’m making toys.

What are some other ways that you creatively express yourself, apart from your art?

I answer lists of questions.

Do you have any unusual skills or talents outside of art?

Race car driving, in Mario Cart.

How did Kreepy Dolls evolve?

Kreepy Dolls get better with every second you work on them, and every stitch of string brings them more to life until they start saying “stop poking me!” Every person in the world is unique and so is every kreepy doll I make for them. It’s a very natural free flow.

What are some of the materials that you use most often to create Kreepy Dolls?

I use recycled fabrics, whatever the universe provides becomes a Kreepy Doll, and happiness for somebody who finds what has been made for them.

What is your favorite part about teaching?

To pass on the “art spirit” like my teachers did.

Explore the process of designing from your imagination with drawings and develop your vision into a 3-D figure. Then through sewing magic, creative needling, string theory, and pattern making we will bring our drawing to life as Kreepy Dolls. Click the button below to learn more or register for the Kreepy Dolls Summer Camp at The Artsmiths presented by the Society of Contemporary Craft:

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Instructor Interview – Eileen Viloria

Interview with Eileen Viloria

Many of you will recognize this smiling face from The Artsmiths Shop.  Eileen Viloria joined our staff when we launched The Artsmiths.  As our Assistant Shop Manager and Inventory Control Manager, Eileen’s vast arts knowledge and experience, attention to detail, and creativity has proven to be invaluable. 

Eileen received her BFA in Jewelry and Metalsmithing along with her K-12 PA teaching certification from Edinboro University of PA in 2008. As an Artist Educator at The Andy Warhol Museum, Eileen helps facilitate tours and workshops related to Warhol’s life and art making processes. Eileen’s enthusiasm to create connections and partnerships with schools and other community arts organizations has led to a wide range of teaching experiences throughout the region and abroad.  Although, teaching plays a large role in Eileen’s life and career, she feels that it is crucial to always be learning and growing.   Eileen continues to explore her own creativity with her favorite art medium, metal, and has her own sterling silver jewelry line.

Eileen will be teaching Screen Printing “Stars of the Silver Screen” with The Warhol Museum, a weeklong Summer Camp for youth ages 14 to 17 at The Artsmiths this coming Monday, July 10th through Friday, July 14th from 9am to 3:30pm.  Learn more about this Summer Camp instructor in our interview below:

Who had the biggest influence in your career and artistic development?

Definitely my Mom. When I was in college, I would call my Mom when I would pull all-nighters in the studio (she worked the overnight shift as a nurse, so she was always up). She was always genuinely interested in what I was making and made sure that I kept going. She’s also a skilled crafter herself. My grandmother was a seamstress and my mom would help her make dresses. She would make anything from my Halloween costumes to school uniforms. I feel like I get my attention to detail and craftsmanship from her.

What do you do to recharge if you have a creative block, where do you find inspiration?

Never stop learning. I like to take workshops with other artists and learn a new skill. It always helps to jumpstart my enthusiasm to create. Visiting the museums also helps. I like to go alone and have that time to myself to really look at things. Just being in a creative space does wonders.

When did you create your first piece of artwork? Was it sold or is it a piece that you decided to hold onto?

My main focus was jewelry and metalsmithing in college. I sold one of the first pendants I made to my cooperating teacher during student teaching. When it comes to screenprinting, I usually just give pieces I’ve made as gifts.

Are there other Pittsburgh artists that you have collaborated with or that have mentored you?

Aileen Lampman – Ai Jewelry.  I worked as her studio assistant for about 4-5 years. She taught me so much about running your own business and the skills needed for producing a jewelry line.

Tresa Varner – Former Curator of Education for The Warhol – Printmaker. Tresa played a vital role in teaching me the importance of finding the balance between being an educator and also being an artist. I learned about silkscreen printing by working as an educator at The Andy Warhol Museum.

What are some other ways that you creatively express yourself, apart from your art?

I love to cook and bake. When I can’t sleep, I watch videos about cake and cookie decorating. I would love to take classes to learn.

Do you have any unusual skills or talents outside of art?

My husband always tells me that I need to get involved with community theater. I was involved in musical theater when I was younger and still enjoy going to shows. I miss singing sometimes. Anyone looking for an amateur alto?


What is unique about working at The Warhol?

People from all over the world come to Pittsburgh just to visit the museum. I love to talk with visitors and hear their stories. It’s different every day.

What is your favorite thing about or piece of work by Warhol?

I love Warhol’s early commercial work before he got in to silkscreen printing.  He was a commercial illustrator in the 1950s.  He did pen and ink drawings with bright watercolors and sometimes gold leaf.  They have a whimsical feeling to them that I am drawn to.

What is your favorite part about teaching?  

I’m always amazed at the creativity of my students.  I show them how to do something one way and they take it to a whole new level.  That’s the fun thing about art.   Everyone can have a different reaction or interpretation.

To learn more about, or register for, Screen Printing “Stars of the Silver Screen” with The Warhol Museum click the button below:  

Instructor Interview – Lindsay Huff

Interview with Metalsmith & Enamel Artist, Lindsay Huff

Meet Lindsay Huff, the metalsmith and enamel artist behind Huffalo, and one of our Artsmiths jewelry artists and Summer Camp instructors.  This week Lindsay is teaching our Campers Jewelry Design and Metalsmithing.

Why is metalsmithing your medium of choice?   How/when did you figure that out?

It was really love as first…saw? I first made a pendant in 8th grade art class. All my tablemates were growing frustrated with using the jeweler’s saw (it’s basically like a miniature hacksaw with a blade that looks like a piece of thread) but instead I was just more and more enthralled. I found it immensely satisfying to be able to transform something so elemental as sheet metal into something beautiful.

I kept taking metals electives all through high school and give great credit to Ron Frank at Fox Chapel High School for recognizing and encouraging my interest. We took a field trip to Society for Contemporary Craft and seeing art jewelry and museum quality metal work really opened my eyes to the full potential of the medium. I went to Syracuse University specifically for their jewelry program (and because at the time I wanted to be able to double major with creative writing), so it’s been a steady growth since then.

I love the technical aspects of the process–there’s so many aspects that are like miniature engineering, and I love the scale of jewelry. Small things feel very immediate to me, I appreciate the portability of it, and the idea of something that I’ve made becoming part of someone’s daily life, even in a tiny way.

What/who inspires you?  What do you do when you have a creative block?


I’ve been teaching metalsmithing and jewelry making since about 2007, and I’d say that my students are a major source of inspiration. I love seeing that spark of discovery in someone else, and seeing innovative ways to solve problems. Metalsmithing can be pretty tough (especially if you’re a kid and you’re still working on simple stuff like hand-eye coordination), and helping someone to be successful and to watch a project transform is really satisfying. It brings me back to why I initially chose metalsmithing (or why it chose me), and makes me want to go home and get in the studio even if I’m exhausted.

If I’m feeling uninspired about on particular medium, I usually try to be creative in another way, like writing a chord progression, or sketching. Sometimes I’m also too stressed to be creative, (which can be a legitimate challenge as a working artist) so I try to empty my brain by cleaning, or folding laundry, or generally being productive and crossing items off the to-do list. I’m not always great at relaxing, but I’m trying to practice more self-care and allow myself to enjoy and relish non-essential things like long bike rides, yoga, road trips, gardening, hanging out with my horse, reading, and writing letters to friends in other cities.


As far as general sources of inspiration, I love landscapes (buildings, bricks, sunsets, old signs, gardens, horizons) and colors (I try to distill or evoke a feeling, place, song, etc. into a simplified motif). When I make pendula (the dangle earrings with three different colored discs), I imagine how to express exuberance, or interpret a photo of the patchwork linoleum from the old Quiet Storm restaurant in Garfield, or how to express one of the best songs of all time, Tom Tom Club’s ‘Genius of Love’ in color (the answer in my brain is lime green, aquamarine, and burgundy).

What kind of music do you listen to when you work?  Tell us a little bit about your band and getting involved in that.

It’s a pretty wide range that depends somewhat on my mood but mostly on what kind of work I’m doing in the studio. I love strange history, science, interviews, and storytelling via an ever expanding podcast list for when I’m doing less focused tasks like cutting up sheet metal, sawing, filing, and general cleaning. When I need to pay attention more to what I’m doing I gravitate towards 80s-90s indie/college rock (Sleater-Kinney, Yo La Tengo, My Bloody Valentine, Carla Bozuluch/the Geraldine Fibbers, Stereolab, Belle & Sebastian, Slowdive, Lush, Broken Social Scene), and hip hop (De La Soul, Pete Rock & C.L. Smooth, anything on Stones Throw Records). If I’m doing something really detail oriented, I try to stick to something I already know and love or something instrumental-ish (DJ Shadow, Four Tet, Sun Ra, Ornette Coleman, Boards of Canada). As far as more current (new) bands, I’m really into Warpaint, Kurt Vile, The War on Drugs, Whitney, Real Estate, Alvvays, DIIV, Beach Fossils, and Courtney Barnett…I like listening to entire albums so I have a sense of how much time I’ve been doing any one task. And I have a studio ukulele if I need a break, but the guitars have to live upstairs otherwise I’d end up trying to play along/learn songs instead of accomplishing anything.

I’ve been playing guitar since I was maybe 15? I definitely needed to have my parents drive me to guitar lessons before I got my license. I played bass in a band in high school, then just alone writing and recording fragments of songs all through college. I wish I would have collaborated with other musician friends around me in college, but I’ve always been a bit anxious and that seemed way too scary! I played bass in another band for a bit after moving back to Pittsburgh after I graduated, but we were never motivated enough to book shows and play out. I was on musical hiatus for several years after that, not on purpose, but it seems like my creative brain shifts its output from time to time. Like all my ideas came out as poems in high school, then as visual art through college, then songs for a summer, then mostly metals for the last few years.

Regarding this band, Sound Elevator, I met Dan and Zev through mutual friends. They’ve been pals and bandmates since they were in high school, and we’ve been playing as a trio for a year/year and half. The band has been in existence since 2012, so it’s evolved as other folks have come and gone. I play guitar and sing (both of which would astound/terrify my 15 year old self), Zev plays bass, and Dan sings, drums, and makes loops and rhythms and noises on the sequencer. We all co-write and collaborate, and it’s astounding how much more fun it is to play music as a 30-something because I care way less about other people’s opinions. I never thought I was a good enough to play guitar in a band, and being in a band with people who are kind and encouraging and up for sonic adventures is pretty grand.

If you could meet a famous person who would it be and why?  If you have met someone famous or not famous who particularly influenced you, tell us about them.

All of members of Sleater-Kinney – I’m so inspired by their artistic output in general, but also by what seems to be an incredible collaboration both within the band and in support of so many other types of projects. I met 2/3 of the band last year, but it would be amazing to have a conversation instead of just being awestruck and awkward–Carrie and Corin were incredibly nice though.

June Schwarz and Angela Gerhard, both metalsmiths and enamelists. I’d love to geek out with them about glass powder!

And in real life, when I first started selling at I Made It! Market and other shows back in 2006-2007, I thought Amber Coppings of xmittens was a local celebrity! Like so professional and having these multiple design lines and real photos of people wearing her wearables and making beautiful, functional items! I think our Pittsburgh craft community is full of so many kind people who are so willing to share their experience and talent and expertise, and Amber was one of the first people I really got to know from that world. She’s an amazing educator who I get to work with in other ways these days, too, and I’m so grateful to call her my friend!

I think that everyone in your orbit influences you to some degree if you’re open to receiving what wisdom and warmth they have to offer. If I start to think about this too much, the amount of wonderful people who I’ve had the good fortune to cross paths with is staggering. Like in good way.

Artist Interview: Judi Erno of Urban Baroque Jewelry

This week’s interview is with Sewickley jewelry artist, Judi Erno of Urban Baroque.  Judi’s designs combine various elements (fiber, metal, stone, clay, glass) to create truly unique pieces.  She has a knack for balancing the classic with the contemporary, the earthy with the urban, the raw with the polished.   Her design fluency allows her to explore the spectrum of feminine and masculine styles.  Whatever her materials and wherever her designs take her, Judi’s work is like a breath of fresh air.

A woman of many talents, Judi worked as a professional caterer and restaurant manager before taking up jewelry making.  She now sells her jewelry work at shows and shops across the Greater Pittsburgh region, and passes her knowledge and skills onto her students.

Judi’s big heart and warm personality are immediately evident.  A dog lover, her dedication and efforts to improve the plight of animals are remarkable.  Her keen sense of humor keeps us in stitches.  For example, Judi discovered a damaged prop in our Winter Wonderland window display this past December.  The note she left for us read:


We know that you’ll enjoy our latest interview, complete with eye candy.

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Please introduce yourself and Urban Baroque. 
I live in Sewickley with my recently retired husband, Jerry and my retired “stud” dog, Chuck Roast Sire of Sausages a.k.a. Charley.  Jerry is thoroughly enjoying retirement, but Charley bored quickly, and became my studio assistant. [Don’t you just love Charley’s full name and title?  Charley’s bother, Pork Chop Baron of Frankfurter a.k.a. Porky, passed away earlier this year.  Porky was a beloved pet and local celebrity whose annual birthday bashes raised money for Animal Friends.]

My handmade jewelry business was, in a sense, handed to me.  While recovering from an illness I started to make jewelry to pass the time, and fell in love with the process and outcome. I was surprised and flattered when friends and acquaintances started asking for my jewelry, but I never expected to turn my pastime into a business.

You used to be in restaurant management and had a catering business. Are there experiences from that time that have informed or helped you with your jewelry business?
Surprisingly yes.  When I was catering I had to cost out my menu items before I could even consider giving a client a quote. I now use the same process and formulas to price my jewelry.  It gives me the peace of mind knowing I’m being fair in my pricing and that my clients can expect consistency—both in pricing and quality.

Do you have a favorite studio or show snack?
Not really, but Charley will woof down a piece of cheese occasionally.


Leather & Bead Bracelets by Judi Erno of Urban Baroque © 2014.

Describe your studio working space for us.
It’s a spare bedroom with my grandmother shelves stuffed with supplies and hooks on the walls holding beads, fibers, ribbons, chains etc.  A tv for my favorite cooking shows, Downton Abbey On Demand, and my new favorite funny, Chrisley Knows Best.  I have a counter-height table and stool that overlooks my backyard, and the most important thing, Charley’s loveseat!

What is your favorite part of your arts process?
Choosing the color paths for my pieces.

Do you have a favorite material?
I love to incorporate fibers and leather into my jewelry.  Even if it’s only a bit of silk ribbon, I love that extra little touch of ‘pretty’.

If people could only take away 3 things from your work, what would they be?
It’s more like one thing. That they enjoy my jewelry as much as I enjoy designing it.

What was the first thing you ever sold?
A funky little mixed media necklace.  A friend convinced me to part with it in the bread aisle at our local Giant Eagle.  Sadly, I couldn’t give her fuelperks!®

Define “Urban Baroque”.
I chose the name Urban Baroque for a few reasons.  For my love of baroque architecture influenced by my Catholic faith and love of cathedrals, and for baroque pearls, each one irregular and each one unique.  That is what I hope to convey in my jewelry.  Different and one-of-a-kind!  I then added Urban to express the contemporary side of my designs, and to make sure my clients didn’t envision Marie Antoinette stringing their pearls.

What is the inspiration behind your work?
I’m a hippie at heart, and I’m really enjoying all the bohemian looks that are out now.  Vera Neumann‘s graphic designs inspire me.  I fell in love with them when John Lennon started wearing her scarves.  I’ve wrapped cuff bracelets with her beautiful silk scarves, and embellished them with metals and seed beads.  They’re some of my favorite pieces.  Vera’s business journey is an inspiration, too.  Her start in a NYC apartment to worldwide recognition is quite a story.  I’ve met so many wonderful artists at Koolkat, I often wonder if I’ve just met the next Vera!

What do you do when you need some inspiration? 
Log onto Pinterest.  The colors in nature always inspire me.  During this long winter I found myself searching for meadow scenes or purple flowers, whatever I needed. Hopefully it improved my work because it definitely helped my attitude. [You can follow Judi on Pinterest.]

Do you ever suffer from artist block?  How do you get through it? 
Yes.  With silence and prayer. Works for just about everything!

Silver Cuff & Ring with Gold Details by Jens Bisgaard

Silver Cuff & Ring with Gold Details by Jens Bisgaard © 2014.

Favorite local artist. What do you love about their work?
My stepfather Jens Bisgaard.  His Scandanavian style jewelry is perfection, and the simplistic beauty of his work is stunning.  But the real reason he’s my favorite is that he loves my Mother so much.

Favorite artist living or deceased. What is it about their work that resonates with you?
Annie Leibovitz.  Her photographs are mesmerizing.  She has the ability to capture a moment in time so perfectly that it becomes a piece of art in an instant.  What a gift!

Favorite work of art.
That’s on my bucket list.  The Sistine Chapel.

How did you first become involved with Koolkat Designs?
My good friend heard wonderful things about Koolkat Designs, and urged me to check into it.  We stopped by one afternoon just to scope out the joint, and met Kate McGrady.  Kate was so nice and welcoming the next thing I know we’re chatting up a storm, and I’m a new Koolkat artist!  I’ve been at Koolkat a year, and feel blessed to be part of such a fabulous group.

Koolkat owner, Kate McGrady with Sewickley-based jewelry artist, Judi Erno of Urban Baroque

Koolkat owner, Kate McGrady with Sewickley-based jewelry artist, Judi Erno of Urban Baroque

What is your favorite thing about Koolkat Designs?
I love the art and the opportunities that Koolkat Designs offers, but my favorite thing is the people behind the art and the fabulous new friends I’ve made.

Guilty Pleasure?
A big greasy breakfast.

What art festivals, craft shows have you participated in?
Three Rivers Arts Festival with Koolkat, Sweetwater Center for the Arts “Holiday mART, Beaver’s Garrison Day, and the Sewickley Harvest Festival.

What are your art goals for the coming year?
To establish a presence on the internet and to learn the ins-and-outs of social media.  It’s intimidating, but a must for anyone who wants to share their work. (Btw…will trade jewelry for internet expertise!)

Tell us about the classes that you teach.  
I’ve been on a teaching hiatus, but I’m happy to say that I’ll be starting new classes next month at Crystal Bead Bazaar.  There are now five Koolkat artists teaching at Crystal Beads—Maria Richmond, Jeanne Shuff, Olga Mihaylova, and Georgette Frances.  We’re all very good at sharing!  I’ll be teaching a few of my favorite leather and bead bracelets.

What is your favorite part about teaching your art? 
My favorite part of teaching is actually learning from my students.  Most of them have some type of craft or homemade experience, and I always pick up great ideas to incorporate into my work.  Thanks everyone!

Favorite book?
Ken Follett’s Pillars of the Earth.

Favorite movie?
Blazing Saddles, Spaceballs, anything Mel Brooks.

Describe yourself ten years from now. Where would you like to be?
Right where I am know. Enjoying and thankful for my life, family and friends!!


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Photo credit:  The photographs of Judi’s jewelry were taken by Koolkat artist, Karen Sturgeon



Artist Interview: Nicole Bloch of erra creations

Big-hearted. Open. Upbeat. Energetic. Ambitious. Hard-working. Environmentally Responsible. Problem-solving. Creative. These are words that come to mind when we think of Koolkat artist, Nicole Bloch of erra creations.   Nicole lives her values, not only in her personal life, but in her professional life as well.

Nicole Bloch of erra creations

Nicole Bloch of erra creations

Recently Nicole’s generosity of spirit inspired a blog post by Marketing Consultant, Shawn Graham:

“… All I needed to do was ask what other exhibitors [Nicole] thought I should check out. Without skipping a beat, she proceeded to give me a personal tour of some of the other booths. If that wasn’t enough, she not only provided a quick overview of what she thought made them so awesome, but she also shared some of her favorite products. … Nicole didn’t have a hidden agenda. She just wanted to help other local business owners be more successful. That’s who she is. She gets it.  Each and every time she talked about one of their products, she had the same energy and passion as if she was talking about something she created herself. …”

Nicole creates her work through the process known as upcycling.  Reiner Pilz first coined the term upcycling in 1994.  “Recycling? I call it down-cycling. They smash bricks, they smash everything. What we need is upcycling, where old products are given more value, not less.” (Reiner Pilz: thinking about a green future, Salvo Monthly, No. 23, October 1994, p. 14)

Nicole sees and/or creates value in things that would otherwise be clogging our landfills. She scavenges the waste piles of local bike shops,  and shops area flea markets, garage sales, and thrift stores. The result?  A line of truly unique ‘reclaimed material and reinvented vintage wares for men, women, and home’.

Koolkat owner, Kate McGrady adds,  “When an artist can bring together two elements as interesting as upcycling and bicycling, they get our attention.  Nicole has successfully created a line of unique products that are as positive as she is.” 

Without further adieu, please meet Nicole Bloch.

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Nicole Bloch

Nicole Bloch

Please introduce yourself and tell us about erra creations.
Howdy! Nicole here. I am the owner and only creator for erra creations.  I grew up in an artist family that also owned a local supply shop, but spent all my school years training as a classical flutist.  After being a grown up in an office job for a few years, I subconsciously knew I had to get back to my roots.  I started playing around with broken bits and bobbles of my great-grandmother’s old stash.  Over the past few years, erra has transformed into so much more fun.  I work with lots of reclaimed materials, and am now known for my work with bicycle parts.  The part I love is the never ending evolution of my art, and making and being able to share the newest and most fun things with others, while staying green and earth happy!

Bicycle Gear Necklace by erra creations

Bicycle Gear Necklace by erra creations

Describe your studio / working space for us.
My studio!  It is a bunch of everything squeezed into our basement.  Lit by clamp lights and heated by turning the clothes dryer on—it’s one awesome place to be.  It’s everything I want it to be.  Everything is out where I can see it and able to be thrown into a project.  Some may categorize it as messy, I just don’t pay attention to them!  Our new dog, Nicco, just started venturing down with me and he is an amazing foot warmer!

What is it about discarded bike parts, say over other discarded items, that interests you?
I was just asked by someone what inspires me and I responded that “… everything in the world around me inspires me.”  While this is true, I am learning that I am inspired by something being out of place or a void of space…er something.  Like right now, typing this I got distracted while eating a pickled egg… wondering how I can re-create the funny texture from the bite side into resin.

SO that being said—I love piles of things and digging through them. But, what is it about discarded bike parts? I think it’s time to put this story in print!

I wouldn’t call it a dare, but a snarky comment from my best bud who I was helping load up his moving truck (off to Vermont for law school). Nick was an avid cyclist and time trial racer. During the truck loading I came across two 5-gallon paint buckets brimming full of cassettes and chains. Naturally I asked if they were moving with him, and he said, “Nope that’s just trash.” In my head I’m thinking, “How can this 20+ lb. bucket full of stuff be trash?” I said, “You simply can’t throw that out!” Without skipping a beat he said, “What—you going to make jewelry out of it?” in the snarkiest voice possible.  I said, “YUP.”  And here we are!

Bike chain bracelet and cufflink by Nicole.

Bike chain bracelet and cufflink by Nicole.

There is something wonderful about feeling chain and gears slip through my hands while I clean them. But, I don’t discriminate what “discarded items” I get to play with.

We imagine that preparing used bike parts for jewelry making is a dirty, greasy business that must be hard on your hands. How do you deal with it?
How’d you guess? I am a gloves off, hands-on kinda of artist. When I have a major boo-boo, I love Una Biologicals’ Wound Wonder stick—it’s magic. For everyday maintenance, I started making some lotions and potions to help what the digits look (and feel) like! And from that (drum roll…) have a new line coming out the beginning of April! It starts with a line of solid lotions “geared” to cyclists, but really for everyone!

Wow! That’s exciting news! Congratulations on your new product line!

You actively work with local bike shops to get the materials to upcycle for your work. Can you tell about your relationship/friendship with these businesses?
HA.  Yes, “the Local” bike shop, they’re not all created equal…  But, there are others that are just THE BEST.  I have different arrangements with different shops, but have to say that Rob at West Liberty Cycles is the best, nicest and most thoughtful (and a darn good wrencher, too!)

You also frequent flea markets, garage sales, thrift stores, etc. for materials. What is your favorite part of the hunt?
THE HUNT!  Oh, it’s just so exciting. You never know quite what you will find! It has limitless potential—wallet-emptying, car-filling goodness!  And digging through piles of stuff is kinda like heaven.

What do you do when you need some inspiration? 
I end up going down some rabbit hole, whether it be online or at a flea market, something completely unrelated always bring me back around.

What is your favorite part of your arts process?
The initial burst of a new idea is almost too exciting, especially if it happens in-hand versus mentally. Anyone who knows me will tell you that I get over excited at that juncture. So my real favorite part is when I have some great tunes playing, and I just get to play around. Nothing in particular, nothing for an order, just pure and raw creating.

You were very close to your grandparents. Can you tell us about them, and share the ways that their interest in the arts informed you as an artist?
Oh sweet Grammie and Grampy!!! Gramp was an amateur architect and a high school art teacher, Gram was an English teacher, master découpage artist and secretary for The National Guild of Decoupeurs. They lived their dream, and opened up a local craft and art supply shop, Creative Hands, Co. in Castle Shannon (and 2 other locations back in the day). I am thankful everyday to have been able to grow up in that store! Growing up, we didn’t watch much TV. I have the best memories of painting things at the kitchen table with Gram (and joking about the blue paint splatter on the ceiling for years to come), practicing lettering with Gramp on Sunday mornings while he talked about his father blasting opera on the radio every Sunday morning.

Vintage Music Earrings by Nicole

Vintage Music Earrings by Nicole

My formal education is as a classical flutist, and they were both very supportive. Gram would drive me every week, through rush hour, for my weekly lessons in Squirrel Hill. In Gramp’s last few months in 2012, he would love to talk about and brainstorm new cuff link ideas with me.  I feel their collective love of the arts, and willingness to share and teach everyone, made for an incredibly well-rounded artistic life for me!

My dad has always also been a huge influence. He gave me my love of tools and taught me about color. He was a wicked talented frame-smith at the shop, and the colors he would choose to frame a picture were awesome.

Do you have a favorite tool / material / medium?
Yes, all of them. I’m a super huge fan of my mega Dremel tool (thanks, Dad!)

If people could only take away 3 things from your work, what would they be?
I only require and state one thing—life is too short to not have fun, and I insist that my wares go onto continue living a fun life!

First item Nicole ever sold.

First item Nicole ever sold.

What was the first thing you ever sold?
This silly pair of earrings on Etsy!

Favorite local artist. What do you love about their work?
Now THAT’S a loaded question!  I only have like 50 favorite local artists!  I would say Lew and Melissa at Whimsical Wonders.  I feel they embody the same life is short-have fun philosophy as me.  I mean, handle-bar mustaches made from forks, that you actually wear: brilliant!

What does handcrafted mean to you?
It means LOVE! Something made by hand, with care, precision and thoughtfulness. Not just something slapped together because you saw it somewhere—that’s DIY.

How did you first become involved with Koolkat Designs?
OOOOOOOOOO! I received this FANTASTIC email from Koolkat Designs! May I quote?

“And then, destiny really wanted to drive the point home, and had Mary Kennedy Withrow, from KDKA’s Pittsburgh Today Live, walk into Koolkat wearing one of your bike chain necklaces. We have to have your work!”

HA! Yes, I remember that.  Within a span of a few days, we discovered your page on Facebook, then Samantha Bower saw your work at I Made It! Market, and then Mary came into the store wearing your jewelry.  

At the "Sign of Summer' Party in July 2012, celebrating Koolkat's new trompe l'oeil store sign.   From left to right: Koolkat artists Lucy McClure of Bel Monili, Nicole Bloch of erra creations, and Samantha Bower of Designs by Samantha Pittsburgh.

At the ‘Sign of Summer’ Party in July 2012, celebrating Koolkat’s new trompe l’oeil store sign.
From left to right: Koolkat artists and friends—Lucy McClure of Bel Monili, Nicole Bloch of erra creations, and Samantha Bower of Designs by Samantha Pittsburgh.

You’ve been selling your work at Koolkat since Spring 2012.  What is your favorite thing about Koolkat so far?
The people— the art— the community, everyone is just great! The selection of local art is really outstanding!

And, just for fun… what’s your guilty pleasure?
Scotch and Bacon

And that concludes our interview with Nicole.  Follow erra creations on Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest.

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Artist Interview: Jim Zahniser of Red Robot Design & Illustration

B.B. King by Jim Zahniser of Red Robot Design & Illustration

Okay, campers, rise and shine.  It’s Artist Interview time!

Music aficionado and Koolkat jewelry artist, Samantha Bower, stumbled across some bold and colorful poster-style portraits of Rock’n Roll, Blues, and Country musicians while browsing online one day.  Turns out that these “Icons of Music” were created by Forest Hills illustrator, Jim Zahniser.  We were immediately struck by his strong design sense—his superb line quality, his masterful manipulation of positive and negative space, and his dynamic color and pattern choices.

Koolkat Artist - Jim Zahniser of Red Robot Design & Illustration

Koolkat Artist – Jim Zahniser of Red Robot Design & Illustration

With a little sleuthing, we were able to track Jim down, and were delighted when he joined the Koolkat artist family in October 2011.  Since then we have been continually impressed with Jim’s ability to capture the likeness, energy, and je ne sais quoi of some of the world’s most renowned musicians and movie stars.

“Jim is the quintessential unassuming but secretly madly passionate artist.  It’s been a pleasure to help introduce his work to Pittsburgh and to work with such a talented and hardworking individual.”  ~ Kate McGrady, Koolkat’s owner

Jim’s work was an instant hit at both the store and our booth at the Three Rivers Arts Festival.  In addition to art festivals and craft shows, Jim also sells his work at Wildcard in Lawrenceville, the Johnny Cash Museum in Nashville, Tennessee, the Hank Williams Museum in Montgomery, Alabama, and online. If you book and stay in the Rat Pack Room at the swanky Orbit In Hotel in Palm Springs, California, you’ll see his portrait of Ol’ Blue Eyes hanging on the wall.

Jim's Johnny Cash at the Johnny Cash Museum gift shop in Nashville, Tennessee.

Jim’s rendition of The Man in Black at the Johnny Cash Museum gift shop in Nashville, Tennessee.

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Please introduce yourself and tell tell about your handmade business. 
I’m a graphic designer and illustrator from western Pennsylvania. I graduated from Thiel College and the Art Institute of Pittsburgh, and have been working as an artist/designer for over 20 years. My full-time gig is as a graphic designer in the marketing department of Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh. Red Robot Design & Illustration is my freelance business that keeps me very busy with side projects. I live in the beautiful city of Pittsburgh with my Seattle-born wife, Carrie, and our two cats, Bear and Bailey.

What’s the story behind the name “Red Robot”?
After doing freelance work for about five years, I decided to re-brand in 2009 and come up something that better fit my interests and design style. I also wanted to attract work that fit those interests. I love old stuff and I collect space toys, so Red Robot came from those passions. It seemed like a good fit, and I was able to create a strong look and image with the robot being the focus. I think when people visit my site, they have a pretty good idea of where I’m coming from and what I like to do.

How did you come to be an illustrator?
Ever since I was a little kid, I’ve always liked to draw, and up until I entered college, I thought I wanted to draw comic books, but once I was exposed to other areas of the “commercial art field” (that’s what they called it back then) I got into other areas of the art/design world.

Describe your working space for us.
I have an office at the house, but I don’t really have a “studio.” I usually just draw wherever – on the couch, at the dining room table. My set-up for drawing is pretty basic — a light small table, some markers, and paper. Most of my work is on the computer, so I can do that anywhere.

Icons of MusicHow did celebrities—icons of music and film—become your subject matter?
The first Icon image I created was my Beatles poster, 1964. It was for a Beatles-themed Pittsburgh Society of Illustrators show. I liked how it turned out, so I did a few more – I think Johnny Cash, Jimi Hendrix, Bono were next. I love music, so this was something I was just doing to please me, not a client. [To view more of Jim’s Icons, visit his website at]

How do you decide who to draw next?
None of my subjects are perfect people, but I usually admire some aspect of who they are or what they did. I have a list and I just try to work my way through it.

Can you walk us through your process when you’re creating a portrait?
Once I find an image for reference, I draw the portrait with black markers called Penstix – if they ever stop making them I’m in trouble! The thicker tipped markers have a brush-like quality. Then I scan the drawing and finish it in Adobe Illustrator. That’s where all of the color, type, backgrounds, etc. are created.

These are the Penstix technical markers Jim uses when illustrating his various subjects.

These are the Penstix technical markers Jim uses when illustrating his various subjects.

Why vectorize? 
Vector artwork is different than pixels (Photoshop). It turns the drawing into “objects” that can be made to any size and never distort or become blurry.  That makes the artwork very easy to re-size or change. Once I scan the drawing and turn it into vector art, I spend a lot of time refining it, almost like sculpting it.

What do you get out of real media? digital media?
I like both and I think both are valid forms of art, just different tools. But I also understand the value of stuff you can actually touch and feel.

In traditional promotional work, much of it was screen printed. Do you feel a relationship to that heritage? 
I love screenprinted posters and a lot of my inspiration comes from that form of art, but I just don’t have the desire to invest the time and knowledge it takes to master that end of the medium. I would like to have some of my portraits created as screen prints though—maybe someday I can find someone that will help me with that.

What is your favorite part of your arts process?
When it’s finished!

What’s the difference between a digital print and a giclée print?
A giclée is a very high-quality ink jet print. It creates very even and vivid color distribution, and they can create pretty large prints. The giclée inks and paper are usually archival. My digital posters are created by a more commercial-type press. Commercial printers use digital presses for smaller, affordable print jobs.These digital presses are like color printers on steriods (they about the size of a car), and they give very high quality results for the price point. Some of these machines use a toner-based process, but my posters are printed on a press called an Xerox Igen that uses actual ink. They are also printed on acid-free paper. With digital posters, I can get a quality image and still keep the price low. I still offer giclées for my larger limited edition prints though. Sometimes people refer to giclée prints as digital prints, so the terminology can be a little confusing.

It's your friendly neighborhood Jim & Spider-Man!

It’s your friendly neighborhood Jim & Spider-Man!

Do you ever suffer from artist block? How do you get through it?
I think it helps to go back to the stuff that inspires you. Although for me, laziness is a bigger problem than artist block.

What inspires you?  What do you do when you need some inspiration?
Old stuff – ads, posters, graphics, logos, photos, signage, etc. Although I recently read a great quote from artist Chuck Close, “Inspiration is for amateurs; the rest of us just show up and get to work. If you wait around for the clouds to part and a bolt of lightning to strike you in the brain, you are not going to make an awful lot of work.”

One of Jim's Roadside Attractions photographs —DINER in McConnellsburg, PA

One of Jim’s Roadside Attractions photographs —DINER in McConnellsburg, PA

Tell us about your Roadside Attractions.
I just like old signs – they don’t make them like that anymore, and they also represent a different time and attitude in our history. I’m not much of a photographer, but once in a while I get a shot from the right angle at the right time of day. In a way, it’s also about documenting and preserving them, since many of them are disappearing. There’s a whole movement out there dedicated to preserving these relics.

You have an alter ego, Milo.
Hey – how do you know about him?

Haha.  We have our ways…
Actually, me and my friend Matt Texter have played music together for quite a while now. At some point we started calling ourselves Cephas and Milo as a joke, like an old blues duo, and it kind of stuck. We try to do a road trip once a year, and we call it Cephas and Milo’s Rusty Strings Roadshow.

Cephas & Milo's Rusty Strings Roadshow

Cephas & Milo’s Rusty Strings Roadshow

If people could only take away 3 things from your work, what would they be?
As long as they like it and it makes them happy, that’s fine with me. It’s nice when people see the influences in my work too.

What was the first thing you ever sold?
Not sure, but I think it was a watercolor painting of some Pittsburgh Penguins when I was a teenager. My brother-in-law bought it.

Favorite local artist. What do you love about their work?
Too many great artists in Pittsburgh to pick just one. Mark Bender. Dave Klug. Toby Atticus Fraley. If you Google them, you’ll see why I like them. There’s also a woman named Jill Zieglemeier that does these awesome handmade folk art dolls. Her company is called Creative Primworks.

Favorite artist living or deceased. What is it about their work that resonates with you?
That’s a tough question – my favorite artists always change. I love N.C. Wyeth and Jack Kirby. They both worked hard and were insanely prolific.

Jim's rendition of Al Pacino as Michael Corleone in The Godfather

Jim’s rendition of Al Pacino as Michael Corleone in The Godfather

What is your favorite thing about Koolkat Designs?
[Koolkat is] very supportive of local artists and artists in general.

How do your values impact your process/work?
I try to keep the subject matter positive I guess. There are subjects that would sell that just don’t make me personally comfortable or happy, so I haven’t done them. Although, I’m not sure how my portrait of Michael Corleone with dripping blood fits into that philosophy. 🙂

What does it mean to you to have someone buy your work?
That’s the best. I love it when someone looks through a ton of choices, online or in a store, and spends their money on something I made.

What advice would you have for someone hoping to take their work from hobby to business?
Try to observe successful people and try to get involved in that community of successful people. Ask the successful people lots of questions.

What art festivals, craft shows have you participated in?
Shadyside Arts FestivalThree Rivers Arts Festival through Koolkat, and a few I Made It! Markets.

What are your art goals for the coming year?
Sell more stuff! Actually, do at least 6 more posters, get into Handmade Arcade in December. Stay employed.

Describe your life ten years from now. Where would you like to be?
It would be nice just to be still making a living doing art. But I’m open to doing other things — you never know what God has in mind for your life. Maybe the Cephas and Milo thing will take off!

Guilty Pleasure?

One question you’d love to have answered?
Why are there no flying cars yet?

Favorite book? movie?
Groundhog Day.

BING!  We always drink to world peace.  And that concludes our interview with Jim.  Follow Jim’s Red Robot on Facebook and Pinterest

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Artist Interview: Paula Nettleship of designs2c

Paula Nettleship of designs2c

On Saturday, December 14th from 10am to 5pm, Koolkat will be hosting a Trunk Show for Mt. Lebanon artist, Paula Nettleship of designs2c. Paula is known for her intricate bead work, such as her beaded Swarovski crystal rivoli collection, her versatile designs, and unique color schemes. She was recently invited by the Cleveland Museum of Art to have her jewelry featured in their 11th Annual Wearable Art Fashion Show & Boutique in 2014. Her trunk show is a feast for the eyes, and one of the season’s most anticipated.

Koolkat owner, Kate McGrady adds, “A few years ago Paula decided to focus on off loom sewn designs. Her craftsmanship and design have blossomed into one of our most in demand artists. Paula’s work is intricate and stunning, but she makes casual and glamorous pieces equally perfect for every occasion.”

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Five things about Paula that you may not know:
1. She is a fan of Star Trek, Farscape, Firefly, Doctor Who, and Downton Abbey.
2. She is a phenomenal cook. If she weren’t making jewelry, she might have had her own catering business.
3. She may know more about the British Royal Family than they do.
4. She is a dedicated swimmer.
5. She uses a portion of the money that she earns from jewelry-making to make micro loans to entrepreneurs in third-world countries through Kiva.

Read more about Paula and her beautiful jewelry in this week’s Artist Interview.

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Please tell us a little bit about yourself and your jewelry business, designs2c.
I started making jewelry with my youngest sister almost eight years ago, never imagining that I would have the business that I today. I began stringing simple pieces and that is my first love. About 3 years ago, I began trying simple bead weaving patterns. It wasn’t too much of a stretch because I learned to sew and embroider from my mom. These skills have served me well as I developed this side of my business.

designs2c-1Describe your studio / working space for us.
My studio is in my 20 year old’s former bedroom. I use his old desk, and removing his old bed let me move in my exploding stash of beads. The desk is always covered with works in progress, pieces of failed projects and little bits of things that might go in to future projects. In short, it is a mess.

Future rivoli earring and necklace pieces scattered across Paula's work desk.

Future rivoli earring and necklace pieces scattered across Paula’s work desk.

What is it like being an artist who lives and works in Mt. Lebanon?
I love living and working in Mt. Lebanon. The community is a great one supporting local business and artists.

What is your favorite part of your arts process?
The best part of doing what I do is creating new things and in new colors. My favorite piece is almost always my newest piece.

Do you have a favorite material / medium?
I am not sure that I have a favorite medium or material. I find greater inspiration in the colors and textures. So, glass and gems are equally cool.

What was the inspiration behind your work?
I was a history major in college and thought about adding an art history minor. I like vintage jewelry and jewelry with lots of color. So ideas come from old portraits and the vibrant color used by the Italian jeweler Bulgari. I also like almost everything Fabergé made but don’t feel it directly affects what I do.

How do your values impact your process?
I try to make things that are unique but affordable. I would hope that almost anyone who liked my work, could find something in their price range. Art and beauty don’t have to be elitist.

If people could only take away 3 things from your work, what would they be?
1. I care about the details.
2. I create pieces that can be worn in a host of situations, versatile work.
3. Striking color combinations.

What was the first work you ever sold?
I really don’t remember, but I probably won’t like it now. Whatever is new is my favorite.

417869_10151403637516576_948754387_nFavorite artist living or deceased. What is it about their work that resonates with you?
Thomas Gainsborugh, John Singer Sargent, and Hans, the Younger Holbein. I have always loved portraits. Now, I use them for jewelry inspiration.

You take a lot of pride in supporting local artists and designers. Why is this important to you?
Life is all about community and your relationship with your community. It is an extension of my faith and comes from my relationship with God.  But supporting local anything also makes economic sense.

How did you first become involved with Koolkat Designs?
I am proud to be artist number 23. I met Kate through a common friend. She came to my first house party as the friend’s guest and told me about this store she planned to open. We essentially started our businesses at the same time. This has been more than a happy coincidence. The year round outlet for my work is the number one reason that I have been able to grow and be so successful as an artist. Thanks, Kate.

Paula organized a benefit for Hekima Place in APRIL 2012.  Pictured left to right: Karen Wolowski, Kate Wagle Hitmar, Paula Nettleship, Hekima founder Kate Fletcher, Kate McGrady, and Samantha Bower.

Paula organized a benefit for Hekima Place in April 2012. Pictured left to right: Karen Wolowski, Kate Wagle Hitmar, Paula Nettleship, Hekima founder Kate Fletcher, Kate McGrady, and Samantha Bower.

What is your favorite thing about Koolkat Designs?
The people. I love the people who run the store. I am lucky to have them as friends and as professional advisers. They have made me a better artist. I love the artists I have met through the store. I love the customers who come in, especially the regulars. To these people we are awesome. They love our work and appreciate the unique aspects of having a business that represents so many local artists.

Guilty Pleasure?
Wine and champagne and chocolate.

Favorite book? movie?
Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, the book.  A Room with a View, both.

Tell us about the handmade object that you cherish the most.
Two actually. One is the first piece of art glass my husband and I bought at The Seekers Gallery in Cambria California by Donald Carlson. It it s a lovely red bowl. The second is a piece of porcelain that I bought at this year’ TRAF. White with a leaning pine cut into it. It is by a husband and wife team [Tim and Erika Peters] from Peters Studios in Winter Haven, Florida.

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Artist Interview: Jeanne Shuff of Jeanne Marie Jewelry

On Saturday, December 7th, from 10am to 5pm, Koolkat will be hosting a Trunk Show featuring the work of local jewelry artist, Jeanne Shuff of Jeanne Marie Jewelry. Jeanne designs and handcrafts jewelry using quality materials such as stones, Swarovski crystals and Czech glass. Her attention to detail and skill at various beading techniques give her work a high level of finish. Her jewelry often features a monochromatic color scheme to allow the texture and the beauty of the natural and semi-precious gemstones to take center stage.  A generous and gifted teacher, Jeanne is a local bead instructor teaching classes such as bead crochet, netted necklaces, and rivoli crystal bezels. Her trunk show will feature an outstanding selection of earrings, as well as beaded necklaces and bracelets. 

As Kate McGrady, Koolkat Designs’ owner says, “Jeanne’s style is classic quality. She is a genuine artist designing for timeless appeal. As one of our top earring sellers, her work pleases a broad audience. She is also an attentive instructor willing to share her talents with patience and skill.”

Jeanne’s thoughtful and calm manner, her attention to detail and craftsmanship, her keen eye and color sense continue to impress all who know her.  We are so thrilled to be able to introduce her to you.  Grab a cup of tea, and learn more about this gifted artist.

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Please tell us a bit about yourself.
I am a native of Pittsburgh and live in the Fox Chapel area in O’Hara Township. I am married, have two children, and recently became an ‘empty nester’ this fall so I hope to have more time to devote to designing and creating jewelry. I have always had a love of hand crafted items. People may be surprised to learn that I majored in Chemistry and wore a lab coat for many years.

Tell us what the handmade scene is like in Fox Chapel.
The handmade scene in my area of the North Hills consists mainly of holiday arts and crafts shows. There is a great gift shop in my neighborhood, SoMe, that is dedicated to American handcrafted gifts and also carries my jewelry. Lawrenceville and the Pittsburgh Center for the Arts are just across the river.  

Describe your working space for us.
There’s not much to describe. I have been using my dining room and dining room table as my work area. I plan to find/make a dedicated room in my house in the coming year.

How long have you been making jewelry? How did you become interested in it?
I have been making jewelry about 10 years. I’ve always had a love of jewelry and took as many jewelry classes in high school as I could. I also enjoy knitting. I visited a bead shop with a friend and was hooked.  Full circle, I now teach at that store among others in the greater Pittsburgh area. [Jeanne currently teaches locally at Bidelia’s Bead Boutique and Crystal Bead Bazaar.]

As someone who also teaches, what is your favorite part about teaching your art?
I teach seed bead weaving. My favorite part of teaching is encouraging new students by sharing my knowledge of the project’s stitches. I always hope the student leaves with a piece they love and a sense of accomplishment, confidence, and mastery of that particular technique.

Do you have a favorite technique or bead?
My favorite technique is bead crochet.  I like the look and feel of the finished jewelry as well as crocheting.

What’s your favorite color?
Blue is my favorite color, although I do like the natural colors of green and brown. In my jewelry I experiment with different color combinations and use a variety of semi-precious gemstones.

If people could take only three things away from your work, what would they be?
The three things I hope people appreciate in my jewelry, are the clean, classic, ‘wearable’ designs I create, the quality of materials I select and use, and the attention to detail in my craftsmanship and execution.

At Koolkat, you are known for your fabulous earrings.  What is your favorite pair of earrings that you wear all the time?  If so, please describe them to us.
That’s a hard one! I am an earring collector and wear a lot of different earrings. Of course I like every pair I make. The pair of mine that I’ve been wearing the most recently is a pair of faceted citrine pear shaped briolettes that I splurged on and hand wrapped in sterling silver.

How did you first become involved with Koolkat Designs?
A friend of mine recommended I visit Koolkat’s and talk with Kate McGrady.  The rest is history.

What is your favorite thing about Koolkat Designs?
Aside from the fact the store supports local artists, my favorite thing is the friendliness and supportiveness of the female artists and jewelry designers that staff the store.

What advice would you have for someone hoping to take their work from hobby to business?
I know this will sound like a cliché, but do what you love and find your niche. 

What does it mean to you to have someone buy your work?
It validates what I do.  I am glad my jewelry and work speaks to someone else.  Jewelry makes a personal statement about the wearer. The fact that someone else chooses to wear or gift something I created is a compliment.

Artist Interview: Maria Richmond of Lost Marbles

Koolkat is delighted to present the Trunk Show of Maria Richmond on Saturday, November 23rd from 10am to 5pm.  Her trunk show, full of amazing designs, is one not to be missed!

Kate McGrady, Koolkat’s owner, describes Maria in this way:  “Maria is calm and patient, meticulous and boundlessly creative. From intricate wire working to stunning glass, she always puts her best effort into every design. As a nationally known instructor, we are blessed to call her friend.” 

Maria is indeed one of the most creative, talented, hardworking, and generous-hearted people we know.  A self-taught master wire manipulator, Maria creates jewelry primarily in copper incorporating glass beads, vintage components, found objects, and industrial cast-offs (like zippers, buttons, pen quills, twinkle light bulbs…), as well as Czech glass. She continually amazes us with her ability to transform the common into the uncommon.  Her natural ability, her imagination, and impeccable craftsmanship combine to create truly one-of-a-kind pieces that function both as jewelry and works of art.  Her work is museum quality, yet still affordable.  She is one of Koolkat’s most sought-after artists, for both her creations and her classes.  Maria is a local metalwork instructor, as well as instructor with Bead&Button Show (the largest consumer bead show in the world) and Bead Fest, teaching her classes and selling her jewelry kits throughout the US.

Learn more about Maria in our artist interview below.  You will learn all sorts of fascinated things, like who her favorite artist is, what book she is reading now, and what a favorite movie is.  The answer to the last one will bring a smile to your face.

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Please introduce yourself.
Hi, I’m Maria Richmond. I’m a full time jewelry designer and instructor. Though it’s changed focus over the years, I’ve owned my own business since 1999. I love the freedom I have as a business owner and am completely spoiled by not having to work a conventional 9-5 job. I’m able to create when I’m most inspired and not controlled by a work week grind.

How did Lost Marbles come to be and how has it evolved?
I began making and selling wire and glass garden ornaments when I was the director of a horticulture therapy program in eastern Pennsylvania. I bought marbles 100 pounds at a time and had them delivered to my job site. Co-workers joked that I lost my marbles so frequently, I had to buy them in bulk. The name stuck.

I went from selling ornaments to friends and co-workers to selling them at Philadelphia Buyers Market of American Craft. The business became so successful that I quit my full-time job to keep up with the demands of my ornament business. My primary customers became galleries, gift shops and garden centers. For a couple of years, business was very good. Unfortunately, demand tapered-off when the large chain stores began offering cheap overseas knock-offs below my wholesale price. So, I began making and selling my own glass beads at bead shows around the country. It was a natural progression for me to make jewelry. I’ve been working with wire again for the past several years, so I guess I have come full circle.

Since then, I’ve worked to increase my skill level and the number and kind of jewelry pieces I offer. I’ve also tried to simplify my teaching methods to better reach my students. I love what I do and hope it shows in my classes and jewelry pieces.

Describe your studio/working space for us.
My studio is bursting at the seams, which is to say I have far more supplies in my 10×15 room than it really holds. Being a visual person, I have most of my beads, wire and tools hanging on the wall, so it’s easy to see what I have. I have a large counter-height work bench with a chair that I use for fabrication. I have comfortable armless upholstered chairs to use for wire-wrapping and stringing. The room is generally occupied by any number of pets who will take my work space as soon as I make a move to get a strand of beads. They make getting anything done interesting.

Is your area of Pittsburgh supportive of artists? If so, in what ways?
I moved to Pittsburgh from Tampa in late 2007. I’ve found that Pittsburgh is far more supportive of the arts than Tampa. The sense of community among artists is much stronger and the following that artists receive by the general community is much better. Getting involved in Koolkats when I did made all the difference in the world to me.  I recently moved to Aliquippa, and while I haven’t found an arts community here, I’m delighted to have my own home. I’ve been able to set up a truly dedicated studio space, which wasn’t really practical in the house I previously rented.

What is your process like when you’re designing/creating a new item/piece of art?
Depending on the design, I usually play with wire until I’m happy with a shape, then pull out multiple strands or bags of beads to find just the perfect bead. Then I change my mind half a dozen times. Sometimes, I land on the right thing early on, other times it’s more a process of trial and error. If it’s a project I intend to teach, I take notes while working through it a few times so the tutorial-writing process flows better. I tend to make revisions of both the project and the tutorial itself many times before I’m happy with them.

What is your favorite part of your arts process?
I love to see a piece nearing completion. When I’ve applied the patina and begin to polish the piece to bring out the highlights, sometimes discover I like it even more than I expected.

Do you have a favorite tool?
I’m such a tool junkie. I have multiple favorites. For wireworking, my set of Wubbers pliers is irreplaceable. For polishing, I use a Dremel with a brass wheel. I also have a pair of antique channel locking pliers that I couldn’t live without…they allow me to change those polishing wheels without having to track down the wrench that I lost.

Do you ever suffer from artist block? How do you get through it?
When I suffer from artist’s block, I usually spend some time doing something unrelated to wire. I might work with seed beads or read, or spend time online looking at other forms of art. Sometimes, it just helps to take a break and relax.

What was the first thing you ever sold?
I sold earrings and bracelets in high school for extra spending money. I’m sure they were quite rudimentary, but my friends liked them, and I found that inspiring.

Who is your favorite artist living or deceased? What is it about their work that resonates with you?
If I have to narrow it down to just one, I think Philadelphia mosaic artist Isaiah Zagar would have to be my favorite. I love that he uses such variety of materials, particularly glass in every form imaginable to completely transform urban spaces. He involves community members in this transformation as well, which gives an accessibility that many other installation artists don’t have.

Sometimes handcrafted objects cost more than their mass-produced counterparts. Why is the difference worth the price?
Creating art is a need for most artists. When an artist creates an object, he or she incorporates a part of themselves into piece. I think the imagination, the drive, and the energy each artist uses to create an object gives that object a soul you’ll never find in a mass-produced item. Unfortunately for most of us, that need to create is coupled with the need to make a living. When you support artists, you nurture that need as well as help to provide them with a paycheck. When you purchase something mass-produced, you’re just feeding the machine of some big corporation that may or may not pay its workers fairly.

Tell us about the handmade object that you cherish the most.
I have a stained glass panel my dad made for me years ago that is currently hanging on my back porch. It is because he made it that I cherish it so much.

How did you first become involved with Koolkat Designs?
I met beaded jewelry artist Olga Mihaylova at the Three Rivers Arts Festival in 2008. She liked the beads that I made and encouraged me to bring some of my work in to Koolkat Designs for Kate to see. Kate must have liked it because she invited me to bring work in to sell. I also helped in the shop on a weekly basis. Though I only fill in when I can now, I’m still lurking about…they just can’t seem to shake me. In all seriousness, I taught a number of classes at Koolkats as well, which really helped me to get started on the path I’m currently on. I doubt that would have happened if I hadn’t gotten involved. I’d probably be stuck in a cubicle somewhere…

What is your favorite thing about Koolkat Designs?
While the sales opportunity provided by Koolkats is wonderful, I think the relationships I’ve formed with my fellow Koolkat artists are my favorite thing. It’s such a diverse group, yet the encouragement, interaction and feedback we share are truly priceless. It’s like being part of a family without all the baggage that some families have, lol!

You travel for Bead & Button and other bead shows. What is Bead & Button? How has it affected your path?
Bead and Button is the world’s largest indoor bead show, held annually at the beginning of June, in Milwaukee, WI. I was terrified to apply, but with some encouragement from Koolkats folks as well as friends and family I did. Being accepted to teach there last year as well as at the Bead Fest  shows around the country gave me the opportunity to teach to larger audiences. I’ve taught in Santa Fe, Milwaukee, Arlington, TX as well as Philadelphia. I’ve developed the self-confidence I need to help other people improve their jewelry-making skills.

As someone who also teaches, what is your favorite part about teaching your art?
I think my favorite part about teaching is the sense of accomplishment I see in my students when they’ve finished a piece and put it on. They may come into class skeptical of their own abilities and they leave with a finished piece, having added to their skill set as well as their level of self-confidence. As an instructor, I can’t ask for more. [Maria currently teaches locally at Bidelia’s Bead Boutique and Allegory Gallery.]

What advice would you have for someone hoping to take their work from hobby to business?
Competition is stiff among jewelry makers. To stand out, I would recommend to a potential business person that they develop their own unique style and pay close attention to the quality of their work. Also, it would be a great idea to learn some basic business skills to make the bookkeeping end of the business easier.

Favorite book? movie?
I enjoy reading, so I guess my favorite book is the one I’m reading right now, which is 11/22/63 by Stephen King, and my favorite movie is Monsters, Inc.