Sunday, August 31, 2014

Amy Huff and Her Double-Secret, Undeniable Creativity

Portland Graffiti captured by Amy Huff

I met Seattle artist, Amy Huff, at a Silver Bella art retreat in Omaha, Nebraska in 2008.  This was a fabulous retreat created by artist, Teresa McFayden, who was my last interview.  I remember flying up to Omaha in 2008, leaving my two-year old behind for the first time, knowing that when I would arrive, I would not know a soul there.  For introverts, like myself, this is not something high on our list of things we want to do.

When I walked into the ballroom with 200 other "bellas," I thought I was going to hyperventilate.  They all seemed to know each other, most of them looking like Anthropologie cut-outs, and, to my surprise, inclusive of newcomers, very chatty and gracious.  My skin was crawling.  I got to my table, and there sat Miss Amy with the same look on her face as mine: was it fear, as well?  I wasn't sure, but I noticed she had less to say than I did, which was why I liked her immediately.

She was from Dallas, and me from Houston, and maybe both being Texans unified us.  Or maybe it was that both of us had no one to cling to, and therefore, found some safe harbor with one another.  That first night, I watched her and saw she had mad skills, but the humility of Mother Teresa.  I was representing artists at the time, and had become adept at one thing: spotting talent.  Every artist I tried to represent or did represent had this one thing in common - they were consumed about what they did and their approach to it was unlike any I had ever seen.  Most of them were self-taught, but even if their background was formalized artistic studies, it was their technique that made them stand-out.  Amy had that same quality.  She had the insatiable need to create, get it right, think about it and master it.  I watched at how adeptly she handled making glass Christmas ornaments, sewing a hat, making mobiles, and her double-secret, undeniable mastery at jewelry making.

Peace, Love, Om necklace by Amy Huff

In one class we took together, taught by Kaari Meng of French General, the task was to make a handmade rosary.    Kaari came over to Amy and said, "Your links look professional, and your technique is incredible.  How long have you being doing this?"  Amy, humble as always, was totally shy about it, and probably doesn't even remember this.  I wanted to hit her on the arm and say, "Dude, that was Kaari Meng saying that to you.  You are that good."  Look at the link work below...good perfection.  I've seen artists struggle for years to get this good.  She sometimes sells her jewelry, and has an Etsy site

Mala style necklace by Amy Huff

After the retreat was over, Amy made a necklace for me and sent it to me as a surprise.  The thing I love most about artists is they have the most generous souls.  I've watched Amy grow as an artisan the last six years.  She makes jewelry, blogs, bakes like a professional pastry chef, solders, cuts glass, paints in art journals, but probably my favorite thing to watch her do now is see her photography and Project Life books.  Project Life is a fabulous, innovation that I learned about from artist Ali Edwards that takes the old-school scrapbooking methods and replaces them with methods that are cleaner, less cluttered, easier to keep up with and just plain fresher.  The emphasis is more about documenting stories, capturing simple moments, and being able to do it quickly and efficiently .   

Project Life example by Amy Huff

Poject Life page by Amy Huff

Amy's editing and photography skills are something to behold and I often look at her Instagrams, study them, and  actually write down the filters she uses, in order to try them later on.  The picture below of her daughter, Sophy, is the type of photo you wish you could get even once in a lifetime.

Photograph by Amy Huff

When talking to Amy about how her creative process started, she said something that stood out to me.  "When I was little my mom was always creating something - Halloween crafts, Christmas cookies with all the different colorful icings, sewing constantly."

It was the absence of creativity, when I moved away from home, that made me want to create again.

In 2006, she went to her first art retreat in Dallas, followed by a metal cutting class, and classes with Sally Jean.  Her husband was working nights at the time, and even though, she was working full-time, she would stay up until two o'clock in the morning soldering, metal cutting and making all types of jewelry.  Her studio and how it is set up is something she fights with herself about.  She says, "I fight with myself about this.  If I don't see it, I won't use it. So my studio is organized chaos."

And it's better for her if her studio is a mess.

When asking her about how she handles failure, being a perfectionist, she said it used to stop her if she made something poorly.  Now, she just pushes through it.  And professionally, she thinks a failure has been to take risks.  She recently read an article that stated women only apply for jobs where they think they have 90% of the qualifications.  Conversely, men apply with 60% of the qualifications.  This is something she is focusing on changing.

Her ritual for creating?  Get all pieces spread out in front of me, grab a big mug of tea (dang it, I forgot to ask what type), light a citrusy candle that her friend Randall makes (I want to be friends with this guy), and turn on her Avett Brothers radio station on Pandora (who I was not familiar with, so I listened to them non-stop while I wrote this post, and enjoyed more than my first snickerdoodle).

Favorite art supply? Brown-nose pliers & charcoal pencil
(note to self: charcoal pencil was Teresa's too-I gotta get one)

Worse sense to lose and what you would do about it? Sight.  She'd miss seeing her daughter's smiles, especially first thing in the morning. If she lost it, she would take up quilting, sewing and stitching, in order to have the tactile ability to create.

Favorite TV show visually: Outlander on Starz
(Bob and I checked this one out this the love of all that is holy...turn it on! Even the man loved it).

Favorite Aha Moment for me interviewing her:  Finding out there is another person in the world who salivates over the sets of one Nancy Meyers, and adores the movie "Under the Tuscan Sun."  I knew Amy and I had a lot in common, but since I have every one of Nancy's movies recorded with instructions "that they are NEVER to be erased off our system," it's nice to know someone else has this same affliction.

Dream job if money, eduction or anything else would not hold you back?  Be a professional travel blogger who went to art retreats and wrote about them.

With the amount of retreats this girl has done, her writing abilities, photography skills, and her focus on taking more risks, I like the direction I see her heading in.  One thing leads to another, as one job prepares you for the next one.  Can't wait to see her what she creates in the next 6 years.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Coffee Talk with Teresa McFayden

When you go to Teresa's website, you'll see right under her name:  Artist, Instructor, Latte Slammer.  And she drinks Starbucks, so I knew I would like her. Silver Bella creator and founder, she is known nationwide for a variety of mediums: painting, hand lettering, paper crafting, art journaling, stitching and embroidery, and that ever popular item circling the Internet for years, The Advent Calendar made from a cookie sheet.  Her talent as a teacher beams through her online art courses, which have detailed and thorough explanations along with organized curriculum.  I have taken 4 of these, and left each one with skills I did not think I would ever be able to accomplish (much less from the Internet), probably because her background was in elementary education.  Along with online art courses, she started selling her various works on Etsy years ago, and let me tell you, things blew out quickly.

No matter what she does, I've noticed she always seems to be at the forefront of the latest art trends.  Being one of the first to lead the pack in art retreats and online art classes, I'm interested to see what her next focus will be.  Right now, her focus is painting.  She seems to be in the mode of...
The fewer things I use, the better result I get.
Painting has opened a new place for her since focusing on it seven years ago.  She did not like her results initially, but she kept doing it because it felt good.  She approached it as play, and in playing, her skills developed.  I wish more people could use her example to do what feels good, and get better while you practice and have fun.

With two kids in college, and one three years away, I think a lot of women can relate to the desire to pair down and simplify.  She moved to her new studio seven months ago.  Her old studio used to occupy the bottom portion of the house, meaning it was huge, but being located in the basement left it light less and with room for a whole lot of stuff she no longer used.

Tired of walking into her space and seeing messes, which looked like work to her, she started to avoid her studio.

Now, that she has light, plants are in places where stuff used to be.  As she said, "Plants represent life and energy to me."  I asked what other rituals she added to her new room:  a fresh cup of water, music (always), her essential oil diffuser and her little Yorkie, Lilly, laying on the floor.

If you follow Teresa on social media, you would know she is a big believer in essential oils.  This has become a heartfelt vocation for her.  I asked her if I could post a video she recently did (WITHOUT MAKEUP) showcasing her skin routine with these oils.  I felt like this was such a BRAVE thing to do, and I wanted to highlight it because it shows her sincerity behind her conviction.

With all her successes, I noticed there were many failures.  Not really failures, because the proverbial closed door helps to open a new door, but many avenues that ended and then she had to sort of reinvent something new.  Many, many years ago, she did a local TV show where she taught all types of crafts.  When this station went belly-up, she had gotten to know every creative-type in the state.  Hello, Silver Bella Art retreat, where she already knew the clientele to draw and also in doing the show got noticed from a national company to travel around the country and demo their products.  Another closed door happened with  a rough experience in licensing her products, as the company was sold two years into their working relationship, and then the new company had a different direction.  Hence, her products were no longer selling.  What she gained from that experience was national exposure, and "the belief that as an artist you can bounce back from any experience.  You are the one with the creativity and it starts and ends with you."

When I asked her if she could do anything else (money, location or education aside), she came out with "Coaching women. Confidence seems to be something a lot of women struggle to obtain.  Helping them gain this would be rewarding."  Could this be an aha moment for the future?  One can only hope.

No canvas is ever ruined or wasted.
You can paint right over it.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

The New Mission of Little Lucy & Scooter

I've been thinking about this blog for awhile. I went on vacation recently and sat for many hours looking into the Texas landscape trying to figure out what to do with it. What did I want it to be in 2014 & 2015? What is its current mission?

Originally, I started this blog because I wanted to write. I had no clear purpose. Just wrote what came to me. Some days on the blog that was showing a cool new book that I made, or doing a tutorial of sorts(which I found to be loathsome, tedious and definitely not something I wanted to do). Since I write often at my real job, I wanted this blog to have as defined a purpose as my work blog.

I know what I like and what my life has been missing.  Above all things, I LOVE writing about other artists.  Promoting their work, showcasing their product and going behind-the-scenes in their studios. Love paging through their sketchbooks and seeing where that idea of theirs originated. Nothing thrills me more than looking in the tray or box of unfinished projects and asking, "What's this?"

When I started the company, Little Lucy and Scooter, in 2008, I sold handmade products for artists and specialized in selling to Art Museum Gift Stores.  My first client was The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston and quickly, I was selling to the Houston Museum of Natural Science, and The Menil Collection. I added a slew of retail stores to my client base, and then the recession hit. Stores that were buying these wares outright, no longer had the money, and wanted to put future purchases on consignment.  I probably could have continued on, but add into the equation that I went through a divorce, making it inevitable that I had to move on, get a "real" job with steady income, and think about the next chapters in my life.

The part of this job that I loved was writing about the artists.  I wrote their bios, wrote Press Releases, got them in The Chronicle, on the Tidbits blog, and all types of Houston local magazines.

I can sell.  Sure.  I've been in retail for 32 years.  What I love more is writing and promoting other people's creative evil-genius side. All this writing about artists taught me the foundations for writing people's online dating profiles.  It taught me how to write a personal, authentic, and often quirky bio that stands out.

An artist's mind is something to behold.  When people are brave enough to put something out in the world that they created for all to see, I want to applaud them.

My new mission is to feature artists on my blog.  I'll be featuring artists in all mediums (taught, self-taught & especially outsider), designers, bloggers (because they are artists too), retailers with crazy-cool visions and well anything else that makes me think "Geez. How the hell did you think of that? You're amazing."  I'll also be throwing in things about Lucille (my daughter pictured above) and her side-kick Scooter who this blog has always been dedicated to. 

If you're an artist and would like me to consider writing an article about your work, just shoot me a message. Believe me, I'm not above meeting you in a needlepoint store, finding out you're a letterpresser, inviting myself over to your house and then holding you up as the biggest Martha Stewart in-the-world.

One thing that always amazed me about my former business was the way artists found me. I never found them.  It was always this happy coincidence that was Divine, I promise.  I look forward to feeling that again.