Interview with Jeff Macpherson: “I love that my work can be ambiguous or specific.”

I am really excited to present this interview with Jeff Macpherson, also known as Jeff Mac, a 27-year-old artist living in Linwood, New Jersey. Both his Etsy shop and Facebook page are filled with prints and paintings bursting with energy and exuberance (and pretty reasonably priced as well, I might add). Definitely check them out before reading this — they’re great.

What do you enjoy about printmaking as a medium? Printmaking is a relatively new art form for me. I’ve always wanted to keep my work accessible and make a living off of it, printmaking was a way to do that with my drawings. As for what I enjoy about it, I think I like the control of it… being able to walk the line between manipulating my work and staying true to the original vision is sort of a thrill. I feel like I’ve just scratched the surface of what I can do with printmaking.

How does your print work differ from your painting? I’d love to be an awesome painter but I get way too impatient with it. I don’t know why, I can sit at a drawing for hours but I can only look at a painting for so long. I always end up working loose and fast on my paintings whereas my ink work tends to be more detailed and intricate.

I’d love to be an awesome painter but I get way too impatient with it. I don’t know why, I can sit at a drawing for hours but I can only look at a painting for so long.

How long have you been creating work like this? Did you previously work with other materials? When I moved to Austin in 2008 I started using ink more frequently. I’ve drawn with pencil my whole life and I’ve always painted, I just have never been so dedicated to ink the way I am now. Something about the way it’s so permanent and bold really appeals to me.

How would you describe your point of view as an artist? Umm… hmm. I think the ideas I tend to gravitate towards are the ones that say “art should be accessible” and “art should communicate what people can’t say”. Even when I do something that I think should be more expensive (a piece that takes me two weeks or so), I try to make prints so that if people want to hang it on their wall, they can. As far as what art should communicate… I really believe that a good piece of art is something you can stand in front of and say “I never knew I felt this way, but this piece really says something that I’ve been feeling and could just never put into words”, you know? It’s easy to make a piece that says “ahhh, I hate the world!”, it’s definitely harder to dig deep in yourself and make work that says something positive and that resonates with peoples dreams.

I really believe that a good piece of art is something you can stand in front of and say “I never knew I felt this way, but this piece really says something that I’ve been feeling and could just never put into words”, you know?

Why do you gravitate towards using text in your prints? I’m a wanabe typographer. I wish I could hand-write awesome fonts and I guess working it into my pieces is a way to get that out for me. The text in my work is usually words that run through my head… I seriously have a drawer full of phrases that I want to work into pieces.

Is Etsy the only place where you sell your artwork or do you also sell it elsewhere? I have some work in cafes here in south Jersey and I do commissioned pieces, but as far as retail goes, Etsy is pretty much it for me.

Where do you get your inspiration? My faith, mainly. The love between my wife and I. Every day life. Music. Old art supplies are a new source of inspiration for me. My Grandpa graduated from art school in the 40’s and my Grandma gives me his old art supplies every now and then. Now, whenever my wife and I go into an antique store I’ve gotta check their old art supply section.

What is your background in art and design? I haven’t had any formal training. My parents bought me my first drafting table when I was ten (I think) after years of reading Norman Rockwell’s biography and drawing for hours at a time. My grandfather was a successful photographer in Pittsburgh, my brother is a photographer in Florida… I’ve just always been encouraged to be creative.

When you’re not designing, how do you spend your free time? Cleaning up after our new puppy mostly. Cooking homemade pasta. Riding my Vespa around, and going to Philadelphia with my wife. (If you’re into mosaics and have never been to “The Magic Gardens” in Philly, you’re really missing out.)

What have been your most popular designs/pieces? What do you think determines their success? By far, the most popular piece on Etsy has been my “Every Day is a Revolution” print. I just shipped one to Norway today, actually. I really believe that it goes back to pulling out of people what they’ve always thought but never could say. I’ve had people think that I made it for the occupy Wall Street movement, or for Ron Paul or whatever they think their revolution is. That’s amazing to me, I love that my work can be ambiguous or specific. Really, I just made the piece after finding a sketch I did when I was into Radiohead’s OK Computer album. There’s a scribble in the liner notes of the album that says “Every day, in every way, I’m getting better and better”.

I’ve had people think that I made [the “Every Day is a Revolution” print] for the occupy Wall Street movement, or for Ron Paul or whatever they think their revolution is. That’s amazing to me.

What other artists and/or designers do you admire? Milton Glaser, Norman Rockwell, Mike Giant, I just recently saw the work of Aaron Horkey and it’s just incredible. I admire Paul Simon, too… I’ve never seen him draw but I just love the way his music speaks to me.

Can you describe your design process? It depends. Lately, with all these words, it will begin with a phrase that has been going through my head. I’ve got this piece I’m about to start on and all I have is the phrase “Only good news”… I’m not sure if it’ll be an astronaut piece or a paisley piece or maybe just words. Sometimes I don’t know until I sit down and sometimes I have a very specific vision. Sometimes a customer will just say “draw me a page full of that space thing you do”… those are the easy ones.

Your Etsy profile mentions that your designs have been “utilized for non-profit advertising, bands that need album art and writers who need book covers.” Could you explain how you got involved in these types of work? It really comes about just from living in so many places. One of my best friends from North Carolina just wrote a book and asked me to illustrate it. Sometimes a band who I know a member of will need a poster or somebody is doing something for a church and needs a design. Sometimes I’ll just randomly check Craigslist if I’m looking for a change of pace and see that someone needs album artwork. It’s fun, I love creating and my friends know I love it, so they ask me to do it for them or they recommend me.

What is your favorite thing to create? Astronauts. By far.

Interview with Linda of Pool Pony Design: “Simple, balanced and pared back – with warmth”

Linda is a graphic designer all the way from Down Under. I personally discovered her prints while browsing Etsy and was really captivated by her simple, yet well-thought out designs. To see more of her works, visit her Etsy shop or webpage.

Have you always been interested in art? Yes – it’s always been an interest.

What is your background in design? Did you go to school for it or are you more self-taught? I didn’t study design at college. But I wouldn’t say self-taught either, because I learnt a lot about colour and design from my mother, from generous artist friends and from observation over the years.

What drew you to print and graphic design specifically? Print and graphic design have always been a big interest, perhaps because of a love of paper, the thrill of making multiple copies, and an interest in mid century modernism.

Print and graphic design have always been a big interest, perhaps because of a love of paper, the thrill of making multiple copies, and an interest in mid century modernism.

Do you also work in other mediums? I’m a bit of a dabbler, so I’ve tried lots of other mediums –  jewellery, ceramics, sculpture – all of which I’ve really enjoyed. But print has always been a bit special for me.

How would you describe your design aesthetic? Hard to pin it down but I think the aesthetic I try to work towards is simple, balanced and pared back – with warmth.

I think the aesthetic I try to work towards is simple, balanced and pared back – with warmth.

What sorts of things do you gain inspiration from? I often feel inspired by beautiful spaces, imagining what sort of images would work well in them. I also get inspired by the process itself – starting with a simple idea and seeing it evolve, playing around with colour and shape and line until it looks right to me.

Your work is described as having a “mid century modern twist” in your Etsy profile. What types of art from this era are you captivated by? I particularly like the furniture, architecture, design and film from that period – Eames, Noguchi, Aalto, Jacobsen, Holm, Ozu and Utzon, to mention a few that spring to mind.

Can you describe your design process? What steps do you take to turn an initial idea into a completed work of art? I don’t have a set process, and am always open to the work taking an unexpected direction, and going with that. A lot of the time I just play around with an idea until it starts to take shape, which I should add doesn’t always happen – sometimes part of my process is to abandon and run! But I’ll spend a lot of time playing around with the line and the colours. Often I’ll leave a piece aside for a few days or even weeks and then come back to it fresh and, with a bit of luck, know what it needs to make it work better.

I don’t have a set process, and am always open to the work taking an unexpected direction, and going with that.

What attracted you to Etsy as a place to sell your work? Etsy provides good exposure to a lot of people quite quickly, and it has a nice community feel to it.

How long have you been selling prints on Pool Pony? Since 30th March 2011

What do you see as the benefits and drawbacks to selling your work online versus in, for instance, a gallery? I love exhibiting in galleries, and I love visiting them too – you can’t replace the experience of seeing an actual artwork in front of you with an online image of it, and it’s very satisfying to work towards a gallery show, and see your work up on a big crisp white wall. But I’d have to say the online experience is great too – the control you have over the display, the interaction with online visitors, and the potential for reaching a lot of people quickly makes it a very worthwhile thing for artists to do.

I’d have to say the online experience is great…the potential for reaching a lot of people quickly makes it a very worthwhile thing for artists to do.

How do you choose which prints to sell? Are there a lot of designs you keep to yourself? There are a few prints that I’ve made especially for friends which are one of a kind. Other than that, not really – although I won’t release something until I think it’s finished.

What types of art do you display in your home and/or workspace? At home, mainly the work of friends, and in my workspace, my own prints on rotation so I can ponder what I do and don’t like about them, and incorporate what I learn into new work.

Why do you design? What motivates you? I don’t really know – it’s just something that I’m drawn to do.

Interview with fabric designer Katie Schrader, “the girl who makes stuff”

Katie Schrader, Wild Notions shop owner

After a successful first interview with Aeropagita Prints designer Mishel Valenton, I was interested in doing some more interviews with other artists and designers. This week’s feature is on Katie Schrader, a 24 year old fabric designer from Pittsburgh who sells her projects on Etsy in her Wild Notions shop and her fabrics on Spoonflower.

When did you first get interested in art and crafting? I’ve been crafting since I was a kid.  I started out sewing simple stuffed animals from scrap fabric and moved into making my own little purses.  In high school I became “the girl who makes stuff” and would commonly be found wearing my own homemade beaded jewelry and altered clothing.

In high school I became “the girl who makes stuff” and would commonly be found wearing my own homemade beaded jewelry and altered clothing.

What drew you to fabric design specifically? I just love the tactility of fabric.  The texture of the fabric just adds a whole other element to a design and there is nothing better than being able to wrap yourself in something beautiful.  It’s been my favorite medium for a while and I had experimented with dying and stenciling fabric to make my own patterns before I found Spoonflower.

You have designed a range of fabrics and had them printed on Spoonflower. Have you had a lot of success in selling your designs this way? I still get excited every time I see that someone has purchased fabric with one of my designs.  I’m not quitting my day job, but creating the designs and sometimes seeing what they are used to create really makes my day.  Getting a free batch of fabric every once in a while is nice too.

I’m not quitting my day job, but creating the designs and sometimes seeing what they are used to create really makes my day.

What is your favorite thing to sew? I don’t know that I have a favorite thing to sew.  I like a lot of variety in my sewing projects.  I’ll get bored with something if I am making the same thing over and over again.  If I had to pick one thing though, I would have to say little fabric card wallets.  They are quick to make and I can play around with mixing and matching fabric and colors.

Little fabric card wallets [are my favorite thing to make].  They are quick to make and I can play around with mixing and matching fabric and colors

What blogs or websites (they can be related to crafting or not) do you follow? I’m a total NPR junkie.  I’m on NPR.org everyday it seems.  The design and crafty blogs I follow are Design Sponge, Craftzine, How About Orange and Grosgrain.  I like to look at all the crazy and wonderful things people are making on Craftster as well.

Has there ever been a craft that you have created to sell that you ended up keeping because you liked it so much? If so, what was it? No, there have been things that I have thought about keeping but in the end if something turns out well I want to share it with others.  If I love it so much I want to keep it then I’ll usually make another one specifically for myself to keep.

What is your ideal work environment? Plenty of sunlight, a queued up playlist of podcasts and good music, and lots of beautiful fabric in view

What inspires you? The writings of Jack London and John Muir have been big inspirations.  Objects that I find will also inspire me. Recently I found a small plastic dinosaur that was just like one I had as a child at our family’s summer cabin and that inspired me to create a “Long Weekends at the Cabin” print that I am currently working on.  I’ve also been inspired by specific colors and vintage patterns.

The writings of Jack London and John Muir have been big inspirations…  I’ve also been inspired by specific colors and vintage patterns.

Do you have other Etsy sellers or people in the art and design business that you respect and admire? Care to name any names? There are so many talented people on Etsy.  Some of the shops I check in on from time to time to see what they are up to include: Beck and Lundy (who is also one of my fabric Spoonflower designers), Sadly Harmless, A stitch in dye, and Leah Duncan.

In your mind, what is a successful day? A successful day is when I check off everything on my To Do list.   There is something extremely satisfying about seeing everything that you accomplished.

If you could see your fabric designs anywhere, where would you want to see them being used? My grandma keeps asking when my fabric designs will be available in JoAnns but I would be ecstatic if I saw my fabric designs being used in projects and featured on sites like Craftzine or Design Sponge.  I would love to see them being used in quilts or items that will be passed down and treasured for generations.  Basically I would love it if my fabric designs stood the test of time and became vintage!

Interview with Mishel Valenton: “What I’m doing right now is my dream job.”

Mishel Valenton in her studio

I am very excited to present my first interview for Little Dipper! Mishel Valenton is an artist and Etsy shop owner of Aeropagita Prints. Living in Brooklyn, NY, 29-year-old Valenton sells colorful prints meant to brighten any room.

When did you first get interested in design?  I would say only this year. I was mostly painting before I started Aeropagita Prints, so I still tend to approach my work in a very loose, painterly manner. However, I do have works that are more “designed” such as the prints of quotes by Carl Jung and Anais Nin. I loved those quotes so much I felt I had to do work around them.

What’s your first memory of making art?  I still remember the self portrait we had to do in kindergarten. I drew my head with a ponytail on one side. It was cute!

Where did you go to school and how do you think that shaped you as an artist?  I went to the University of the Philippines and majored in Sculpture. The friends and the communal aspect of that experience is priceless; however, I never really felt completely resolved with the structure of school for the reason that the focus is more often than not very group-oriented. I think that there is an innate wisdom in an individual’s moment to moment desire that sometimes goes unanswered when you’re in a group setting. One minute may be good for creating and the next might not be. I think that experience really taught me what kind of situation I wanted to be in in order to make things and that is usually by myself and far away from the discussion of art itself. A vacuum is the best place for me to make art.

Do you have a favorite color? If yes, what is it and why is it your favorite?  To wear, black. To create art with, currently bright and pastel colors. I also really like in between colors like a grayish green, gray purple etc.

Why did you decide to open an Etsy shop?  I love the immediacy of just making art, setting up shop, and having my work seen by thousands of people online from all over the world. The internet is a great place for us introverts. Also, being a full-time artist has been my dream for the longest time so being able to support myself through my work is great.

The internet is a great place for us introverts.

What have you found makes your shop successful?  Aeropagita Prints will always be a work in progress and I hope to continually make better prints and offerings. I also try really hard to make work that is bright, uplifting, and has a kind of joy and wonder in it. I hope that comes through to other people. For several years prior, I had been painting things with a darker nature, and I noticed that it tends to take a toll on your spirit when you create things with that quality. So, I put a high premium on work that has positive energy. I hope the shop’s success has something to do with that.

I try really hard to make work that is bright, uplifting, and has a kind of joy and wonder in it… I put a high premium on work that has positive energy.

If I can ask, where does your shop name come from? Aeropagita isn’t something you hear everyday.  Areopagita is the name of my grandmother. I don’t know why but I had recalled it as “Aeropagita” and I had used the name on a previous blog and on this shop. A few months ago, my dad reminded me it was actually spelled “Areo” instead of “Aero” (lol). I just loved that name because it was so unique and when I was looking for a name for any new project, “Aeropagita” always comes to mind. It sort of represents something that is new, unknown, and slightly feminine on one hand.

How do you feel when you imagine one of your pieces hanging in someone else’s home?  Gratitude. It’s like being welcomed into someone’s home as a guest.

What is your dream job?  What I’m doing right now is my dream job. I can die tomorrow (knock on wood). I’ve always wanted to do computer art since my college days but there was such a stigma attached to it. I think there is more openness now that we are seeing what technology can do for art. I would love to explore that relationship further in the future.

What I’m doing right now is my dream job. I can die tomorrow (knock on wood).

Who is your favorite designer or artist?  Dana Schutz, Kaye Donachie, Katherine Bernhardt, Ryan Trecartin and lots more. I like artworks that are emotional, expressive, and have a lot of physicality in them. I also really like artists/designers such as John Maeda.

What blogs or websites (they can be related to design or not) do you follow?  Oprah, Fashiontoast, Bryan Boy, Artlog, and Huffington Post for news. I think I follow a lot more fashion blogs than art or design blogs.

What inspires you?  Everything but most especially great ideas, ideas about spirituality, moving speeches and lots of Oprah. Most of the inspiration from my works come first from a feeling and then its me trying to translate that feeling into something visual.

Why is art important?  I think the call to be an artist or a designer comes from within. It’s not something you can just fabricate. You do it because you know there is nothing else in this world you would rather do or can be better at doing. When you are given the freedom and ability to do what you love, only more love and joy can come of it, which is exactly what the world needs. The only thing we owe the world is our happiness.

I think the call to be an artist or a designer comes from within…You do it because you know there is nothing else in this world you would rather do or can be better at doing…The only thing we owe the world is our happiness.