We never get tired of hearing stories about passionate Makers who are (literally) carving a name out for themselves. Crystal excels at transforming ho-hum wood canvasses into intricate works of art. Pair that with fresh pops of color and a whimsical aesthetic and these work pieces quickly liven up any surrounding. Here's a look at Crystal's extraordinary woodworking chops and her personal tips for breaking out of a creative rut.
Can you tell us a little bit about how you became a maker?
I initially started my career as an illustrator focusing primarily on traditional media like painting and drawing. I've done a lot of licensing work (gift bags, greeting cards, wrapping paper designs, etc.) so my work grew increasingly more whimsical and colorful. When my husband and I decided we wanted to start a family, I made a commitment to grow my art business from a home-based studio.
What sort materials and tools do you find yourself using the most for your work?
I've always had an interest in textured art and had been looking for something organic and interesting for backgrounds. My husband's chisel and mallet set had been sitting around the house unused for a couple of years so I picked it up one day and just randomly decided to carve a tea-set out of a left over piece of wood from a carpentry project. I loved the look of the background and was instantly hooked on carving.
My first Dremel Rotary Tool was a Christmas gift from my dad who wanted to help speed up my process. I had spent all of my life up until that moment being absolutely terrified of any power tools and was reluctant to use it, but after I started my first carving my career changed dramatically. I doubled my carving speed and increased the intricacy in my work. Looking back at my career, I see a time in my life when I could have gone the digital illustration route, but I've always enjoyed working with my hands - manipulating materials and tools. I will probably continue carving for a very long time because the happy, passionate part of me wants me to create projects that are involved, intricate, planned out and take a bit of physical effort.
What are some of the unique challenges of essentially carving your own canvas out of wood and what compelled you to move away from more conventional painting?
My biggest hurdle is having to create my canvas from scratch. There's all of this time involved in making sure all of the elements are perfect before I can apply paint to it. Unlike other artists, I can't just pick up a canvas from the store and start painting as soon as I bring it home. I actually have to special order my wood blocks, cut, glue, clamp and then sand them even before I can start transferring my sketch on it. With a painting on canvas I can also fix anatomy issues or completely repaint someone's face if I didn't get it right on the first try, but with a carving the elements are carved out and for obvious reasons I can't shift anything around, so the sketch part of my process becomes very important. If the sketch is flawed and I transfer it that way, it's going to be flawed all the way through until the painting is done. So, sometimes I just live with a few quirky elements here or there. But that's completely part of the charm too.
Not many other artists out there create relief carvings like I do; at least not in my style. I am by no means a master carver and still have a lot to learn in terms of technique and what my tools are capable of, but that's definitely part of why I moved away from painting on canvas all of the time. I love the challenge of figuring out something new and exploring an area that I haven't mastered yet.
When you pick up a carving and run your fingers over all of the grooves, ridges and round edges - feel the weight of it in your hands - you can almost feel all of the love, time and soul that got put into it as the artist worked on it.
What inspires you?
On weekends as a child my family would sit around my grandmother's dinner table doodling pictures of ladies together. We'd doodle girls in gardens with bright red lipstick surrounded by poppies and sunflowers and, not surprisingly, a lot of my favorite pieces I've created as an adult feature women. I grew up in a log house that my parents built and spent my summers running in the forest in bare feet, collecting frogs and discarded bird feathers while inventing stories about the secret lives of animals that lived there. That's probably why I still love drawing animals and often incorporate quirky smiles and silly clothes in my pieces. I now spend summer vacations hiking in the Rocky Mountains (which aren't that far from my home) and running down paths in the parks which has inspired a landscape series.
So, I find inspiration in memories and in the things I love. Little pieces of joy, like beautiful clouds and cats hiding under cars. Being outdoors is incredibly inspiring. Visiting art galleries is incredibly inspiring. Following incredible artists on social media is inspiring. Every single day something little triggers something inside of me that makes me want to capture it, draw it, put my own spin on it.
What's your creative process like from idea to finished product?
Once I have an idea for what I want to create, I make a series of sketches and doodles on the theme and, if it calls for it, I collect references based on the doodles I like best. After that I create a final, crisp sketch with all lines exactly as I want them in the final piece. Often times this part of the process involves a lot of tossing out of ideas, reworking angles and ideas until I'm happy with it. I think a lot of beginner artists underestimate the value of the sketch stage. It's probably the most important part of the process and it's almost invisible.
I have to create a basswood sheet to the size I want my piece (special ordered, then I cut, glue, clamp and then meticulously sand every edge of the piece) and then transfer my photocopied sketch to the board. This is where my Dremel Rotary Tool comes into the picture. I spend the longest amount of time in the carving stage. First, I etch deep outlines for everything. Then I make a mental map of which objects are going to be in front and which are going to be set in the background and will switch back and forth from hand carving tools to power tools depending on what kind of marks I want to make and how quickly or slowly I need to be creating the different elements of the piece.
When I'm satisfied with the carving, it's sanded in all of the spots I want to be smooth and rough and gritty in the spots where I want texture. The piece gets sealed and then gets to go into the painting studio. Since I've spent 15 years illustrating and painting, this part of the process comes the most naturally to me. I love seeing the colors and little secret details I've been planning from the beginning come to life, like the flower pattern on someone's dress or a tiny lady bug hiding on a flower leaf.
Do you have any tips for beating writers block (or Makers block in your case)? How do you dig yourself out of creative ruts?
You have to get yourself into a routine, which I understand doesn't sound very creative, but once you build regular, consistent and frequent "creation time" into your schedule you'll get used to creating even when you "don't feel like it".
Make it a habit to collect things that inspire you. Photograph pieces of the world that you see on a daily basis (beautiful clouds, a plant growing through a crack in the sidewalk, your kids left over Cheerios, whatever you think looks neat), create lots of Pinterest boards, keep a sketchbook with you and doodle in it during boring moments (I keep mine in my purse. I only buy purses that will fit my moleskin in them!).
One way to motivate you to get around a "makers block" is to make yourself a deadline, or sign up for a show with a deadline. There's nothing better than the pressure of people counting on you to get yourself to sit down and start brainstorming and sketching!
If your job is making art and you're already spending the majority of your time creating, you have to book time where you're not allowed to do your art. Market your art (hello social media obsession!) and talk about it. It truly revives your passion once you can return to your work after stepping back, even if it's just one single day out of the week or once a month.
To see more work from Crystal, visit her website and follow Dremel on Facebook.