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Mountainside Designs Jewelry

This month, I spoke with jewelry designer Amelia Turbyfill Smith, of Mountainside Designs. Amelia began her work as a metalsmith three years ago when she moved to Montana. She took one metalsmith class in Whitefish, Montana and learned the rest on her own. Amelia now has several stockists, an online shop, an etsy shop, and sells at the local farmer’s market.

Amelia continues to work in digital marketing alongside her jewelry business. She enjoys the freedom to create when she is inspired, and worries that going full-time as a maker would be too much pressure. 

Amelia says her challenge has been to get over the fear of not knowing. As a mostly self-taught artist, her way of creating may be different than others. However, she sees this as a good thing. She’s also had to experiment with finding quality materials and stones. Amelia orders her materials online, which makes it difficult to know what she is getting. 

Amelia finds success in knowing that she has found something creative for herself. She describes always wanting to be expressive and creative. However, it wasn’t until she discovered metalsmithing that she felt confident in her creativity.

One of the areas that Amelia seems to have found success is in growing her Instagram followers. So how does she do it?

Amelia says it is important to post quality photos and be consistent. Amelia wants her photos to look cohesive and have a similar vibe to them. She uses a few filters that fit that vibe. She has experimented with finding the right hashtags for her brand and initially learned by looking at what other metalsmithers were using. She also thinks about her target audience and gears her hashtags to those that would buy her jewelry.

Thanks for the tip Amelia! You can see more of her work at mountainsidedesignsjewerly.com

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Meghan Purcell, Fiber Artist

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This weekend I had the opportunity to sit down with Fiber Artist, Meghan Purcell, in her studio in Livingston, MT. I first met Meghan and her husband Jeff while selling at the Bozeman Flea. I was immediately drawn to their eye for finding and creating simple, modern, and rustic designs. 

Megan attended art school in Milwaukie Wisconsin but didn’t pursue fiber arts until she moved to Livingston. Meghan believes, however, that it was in her blood, as growing up her great grandmother was always knitting, sewing, and quilting. Megan recalls going to the Livingston Farmer’s Market where she met Barb, a local farmer, selling Icelandic wool. Meghan describes feeling a spiritual connection to the wool’s texture, color, and scent. That day, she left the market knowing one day she would return and make art out of it. After saving up, a year later, Meghan purchased the wool and began experimenting with felting. 

Meghan cherishes her time in the studio and describes being protective of that feeling. She continues to work other jobs to help support herself, which seems to be an advantage for her. Meghan doesn’t want her work to feel like something she has to do. Rather, she appreciates being able to create when she feels it and not pressuring herself when she isn’t feeling it. 

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So what is Meghan’s advice for those starting out? Meghan believes it is important to have a vision and keep it. She had a vision for a studio space outside of her home but wasn’t sure how to get there. She kept the vision in her mind and then one day a friend who was moving out of his space, offered it to her. Meghan believes that if you think consistently about something, it will eventually come to you. Perhaps with a little patience and trust in the universe.

Thanks Meghan! You can see more of her beautiful work at www.purcelltrading.com

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Esther Sullivan, Jewelry Designer

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I first learned about Esther Sullivan's work a few months ago when she moved into the studio across the hall from mine. I immediately fell in love with the simplicity and thoughtfulness of her designs. Esther graduated from Montana State University with a degree in Metalsmithing. After graduation, she worked for two different jewelry designers before making the decision to go out on her own.  

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Esther's work is influenced by her time in nature. She finds objects such as those shown below, to inspire both her spirit and her work. History and connection are an integral part of her designs. She enjoys seeing others relate their own story to her pieces. She also uses reclaimed metal that comes with a history and story of it’s own. Even the tools she uses to make her jewelry have been passed down by her grandfather. Sitting with her in her studio, you can feel the inspiration and connection in the space that she has created. 

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When I went to visit her this week, we talked about an important topic: how do you manage your business when you’re dealing with real life issues.  The reality is that as a small business owner you don’t get paid vacation or sick days.  And the demands from retailers, scheduled shows, and customers don’t stop because you’re dealing with “life.”

Esther laughs as she describes being in her studio as “facing myself.” She believes there is a fine balance between being easy on yourself and encouraging yourself to get through it. Over time, Esther has gained greater self-awareness that helps her to make this decision.

For Esther, starting is the hardest part. However, once she gets started, she doesn’t want to stop. Esther finds that just showing up helps her to get motivated. She also balances her time between working on new and old designs. New designs help keep her inspired and prevent boredom, while old designs help her when she is procrastinating or stuck. 

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Thanks Esther for sharing your insights! You can find more of her work at www.esthersullivan.com

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Brick Bound

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I have to admit I was pretty excited to sit down with this month’s maker. A fellow bag maker, I first heard about Matt Saporito’s work at the Missoula Made Fair last December.

I spoke with Matt at his home studio where he showed me his process and talked to me about how it all began. Several years ago, Matt took a trip to Morocco where he witnessed the locals tanning leather. During this trip, he bought a bag that later became the starting point for his business, Brick Bound. Matt tore his ACL in 2010 and says he needed something to fill his time. He took the bag to a local leather shop, Black Sheep Custom Leather. It was there that Matt asked questions and learned the ins and outs of leather making. Since that time, Matt has been making bags for friends and family, and has steadily grown his business both locally and beyond.

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When I asked Matt his advice on pricing, he said “don’t sell yourself short.” Matt believes it is important to know when to say “no” and hold out for better opportunities. He also spoke of the importance of explaining to the customer why stuff is so expensive. The time, materials, and details all add up. So it’s important to at least give the consumer the knowledge of what goes into that price tag.

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When I asked Matt about promoting Brick Bound, he spoke about the business he gets from traveling and carry his bag with him. When someone sees his bag and asks him about it, it starts a conversation that can lead to a sale. Matt also believes in word of mouth as a tool to promote his business. When someone loves the product that he has made, they tell other people. That is one valuable piece of advertising.

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So what's behind his brand? Matt describes his bags as being well built and looking well built. He wants people to be able to see the construction of his bags just by looking at them. Matt also hopes that his bags will someday be found in the antique shops of the world and be passed down throughout the generations. 

Thanks for the tips Matt! You can see more of Matt’s work at www.brickbound.com

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Icepond Press

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On a rainy April day, I was lucky enough to find myself in the warm and cozy studio of Molly Douma Brewer. A former public relations professional, Molly became intrigued by the idea of incorporating words and art into one form. When her husband suggested they build a sauna in their backyard, Molly had a different plan. She sought out a letterpress machine and with the help of her husband created a studio space in her backyard. Molly spent months learning how to run the machine and create the beautiful letterpress cards you see here. Eventually, as her business began to grow, Molly quit her day job to focus on letterpress.

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Molly's biggest challenge as a small business owner is time management. Molly says that she underestimates the time it takes to complete tasks; often wanting things to take less time than they really do. As her business grows, Molly is starting to look for outside help to manage everything. Molly has hired an intern and is currently seeking out a sales rep. Molly hopes that by learning to delegate some of the smaller tasks, she can manage her time better. 

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So what keeps Molly going? Molly finds pleasure in knowing that her work makes others happy. Seeing a smile on a bride's face when she receives her invitation, or knowing that her card is being given to someone on a special day. These are the things that bring a smile to her face. 

Molly also describes a sense of confidence that comes from running her own business. From the beginning, Molly believed that she could turn this art into a business. Believing in yourself is half the battle. 

Thanks Molly! You can see more of her work at www.icepondpress.com

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Cherlyn Wilcox, Abstract Art

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This week I had the opportunity to talk with abstract artist, Cherlyn Wilcox. Cherlyn discovered abstract art while attending the University of Montana, where she received a Bachelor of Fine Arts. She recalls taking on various side projects and jobs before really owning her career as a painter. Four years ago she went full-time, and now spends her days working in her studio in the Emerson Center for Arts and Culture. 

Throughout our conversation, Cherlyn pointed to a central theme of her work: being authentic. Cherlyn describes authenticity as sticking to what feels good and not what others would necessarily buy. As a contemporary artist in Montana, marketing her work can be a challenge. Most of Cherlyn’s galleries are located in larger cities such as Dallas and Atlanta, where contemporary art is more recognized. Part of Cherlyn’s challenge is to help others see the value of contemporary art in a state where western art has dominated for so many years.

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So how does Cherlyn stay movitated despite this challenge? Cherlyn believes it is important to make art even when you don’t feel like it. Often times, when she forces herself to paint, an idea happens that moves her work forward. This idea creates an energy and excitement that gets her back into the studio the next day. Cherlyn also goes to her studio five days a week, even if she is just sitting with her art. 

Thanks for the tips Cherlyn!

If you would like to see more of Cherlyn’s work, you can visit her website at www.cherlynwilcox.com . And if you're local, head on over to the Emerson Center for Arts and Culture on Friday for a studio celebration from 6-9pm in room 217. 

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Gangbusters Pottery

Pottery by Ryan Mitchell

This week I had the opportunity to sit down with local potter, Ryan Mitchell, of Gangbusters Pottery. Having recently become self-employed, I've decided to hear from other makers about how they manage it all. So each month, I will be visiting a new local maker to hear about their process, story, and tips for us newly self-employed makers.

Potter, Ryan MItchell

 

Ryan, a one-time biology major, states that he found his passion in college while taking a ceramics class. After doing various side jobs such as farming, he decided to pursue his passion full-time and hasn’t looked back.

Ryan’s tip for those newly self-employed: diversify your income sources. Ryan recently moved into a bigger studio space and although he’s excited about what’s to come, financing it all can be stressful. Ryan’s new space will allow him room to have his own art gallery and shop with retail hours. He will also hold classes for small groups that want to come in and make a piece of pottery while enjoying some wine. Yes, please! Ryan also participates in several markets and shows throughout the year. He teaches adult classes at the Emerson Cultural Center and kid classes at local elementary schools. Ryan’s work can be found in various coffee shops around town, art galleries, and other retail spaces. Ryan’s greatest fear is “how will I pay for everything.” However, he believes that by diversifying what you do, you can off set the slow season from January to April and make ends meet. Thanks for the tip Ryan!

You can find more of Ryan's work at www.gangbusterspottery.com 

Stay tuned next month as I visit abstract painter, Cherlyn Wilcox. 

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