Thursday, January 30, 2014

Tillie's Fields

When my grandmother, Tillie, or Nanny as we affectionately called her, passed away, we had to go through her house to figure out what to do with her belongings. My mom found a box in the kitchen full up of aprons of various shapes and, from what I figure, various uses. One by one I pulled them out of the box, unfolded them, and imagined Nanny flitting around the kitchen or garden in any and all of these aprons, cutting biscuits and frying chicken and planting daffodil bulbs. I saw her, in my mind, wipe her hands on the skirts of these aprons, calling out the window to Granddaddy and the farm hands that lunch was ready and come and get it. I saw Momma in the dirt at Nanny's feet, playing with worms and seed packets while Nanny put flowers in the ground outside the front porch.

Without having to be in the kitchen every morning, or in the yard every afternoon, I knew how much love, care, and sunshine these aprons had seen. They had pounds of flour and acres of dirt deep within their fibers.

I loved my Nanny deeply, but she passed away probably not knowing that very well. We rarely made the trip to rural Georgia. It was 3 hours away from home and as kids in a generation of constant entertainment, what were we supposed to do with ourselves on 60 acres of unworked farmland? Rather than entertaining ourselves with family stories and exploration, we chose to bury our noses in portable games and books. When I found this box of her things, I promised myself, and Nanny, that I would move forward with my life remembering her, celebrating her, bragging on her and never letting her soft and beautiful face fade from my memory.

Momma has always aspired to keep a little bit of Nanny with her as well. Momma got the "green thumb" and can do anything with plants that she wants to. She's too modest to admit her flowers even look "good" most of the time, but friends and neighbors will call her just to love on her garden in the summertime. Any number of any bird you can find in the south can be spotted on one of her many feeders or drinking nectar from one of her many flowers. I often refer to her yard as a "sanctuary" with its serenity and collection of birds. Summers when I'm home I will sit out there for hours and enjoy the escape from my "big city life" with a Fannie Flagg novel and a cup of hot coffee. Just to remember my roots, you know.

A few years ago, Momma came up with the concept "Tillie's Fields", which unfortunately never went very far due to grandbabies and general business. Tillie's Fields was a budding idea in which Momma wanted to sell flowers, seeds, and foods that were inspired by Nanny. The foods would fall under the sub-category "Tillie's Kitchen", following the logical path from field to table of the farm life of her past. I played around with some conceptual ideas for brand identity and marketing back when my art skills were not very strong, and I hate to think I failed myself, but sometimes we all have to admit when we've been defeated. Now that the years have passed and brand identity is something I'm much more comfortable with, I hope that Momma and I can rekindle the spark of Tillie's Fields. I took it upon myself to kick-start the identity with the Etsy store (Momma, I hope that's okay!) and bring my little piece of heart into the project. I can't put up preserves or keep a hydrangea alive, but I can use a sewing machine and draw on things. So hopefully between the two of us, with a little support from the Beautiful Angel watching us from the warm summer of Heaven, we can keep Nanny's memory alive and strong, and pass along her courage, faith, and blessings to those of you who didn't know her when she was leaving footprints in the garden soil.

From the box of aprons we found, I started with my favorite one, the one that brought forth the most daydreams of her days. I followed her pattern exactly, mimicking even her stitching, with the deepest hopes that she will be seen and known farther than my studio.

So Nanny, while I'm here and using my talents with which God decided I could do good, I hope that you see the things Momma and I do, using the skills we learned from your wonderful hands, and are proud. I hope you see yourself as a creature worth immortalizing, because we sure do! We love you so much, miss you every day, and can't wait to get to Heaven! Thank you for always loving me, even when I was too stubborn to appreciate you during the short and punctuated time we had. Thank you for loving to do puzzles with me, for giving me that cat that one time that threw up macaroni and cheese all over my purple velour overalls, and for always having a open heart and an open kitchen. Can't wait to have a cup of coffee with you again and really listen to all of your stories this time. Give Granddaddy and Uncle Sonny a big kiss from me and Momma (and please don't tell them I cried just now! Let's keep that between us!). Love you and see you soon, darling!

Pink Kitchen Apron
Buy it on Etsy
Green Kitchen Apron
Buy it on Etsy

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Snowmageddon 2014

Two inches of snow, one inch of ice, two billion people on the road at once. Thousands stranded, businesses and schools closed, cars wrecked, it looks like Walking Dead here in Atlanta.

The irony of Armageddon on TV this week is not lost on me.

I was among the fortunate few who made it home before too late last night, incident-free, with a short walk from my parked car, after the blunder made by the State of Georgia. One by one, family members reported safety and by the time my husband and I fell asleep after midnight, the last one was home safe. Coworkers and neighbors all kept tabs on each other, making sure everyone was safe, or home, or, at the very least, warm.

Not surprisingly, work was cancelled today.

It's amazing how captivity will waken the raging beast within. I woke up this morning after a restless night's sleep, full of dreams in which I had decided to become a pizza tosser in a new move my IT company had made in light of the circumstances, with that familiar, yet rarely-felt, itch. I needed to make something. The creative monster inside my gut was yawning, stretching, growling.

Of course, I had to fulfill my work duties, which included rerouting front-desk phone calls to my personal cell and answering e-mails in a timely manner. But fortunately, that doesn't seem to take up my whole day. In between phone calls from people who I could hardly understand and the occasional "Yes, I'm still working" e-mails, I pulled out some spare mugs and my trusty (most of the time) paint pens and went to work.
A little fox to keep you company.
This little guy came from the realization that, despite my training in "illustration" I had never made an illustrated mug. I loved sketching him out and I can't wait until the stores open back up and I can get more mugs with which I can make more little friends to sit with you at your desk.

I was getting ready to photograph this guy when I decided that, while I'm at it with the updating and the blogging and the stuff, it was the perfect opportunity to refresh the photos in the shop. I dug into my piles of goodies outside in the garage and found some colored chalk, a chalkboard, and a little red cardinal. Perfect.

Not only was I able to come up with something uniform, but it also turned out to be informative! I could change the board to say anything I wanted it to. Oh the power I felt! It meant less dependence on clever AND informative descriptions and more upfront information to catch your pretty little eyes! I had so much fun changing the words around, playing with a new lettering style, and snapping just the right angles.

The best part was the gratification that came from seeing my Etsy store as soon as I updated all of the photos on my listings. U N I F O R M . To me, they all look like parts of a whole, like they belong together now. Something, I realized, I had hoped I had been doing all along, but saw, by comparison, I had not. Nothing like a little refresher to something you're tired of looking at!
You can customize, I can customize, WE ALL CAN CUSTOMIZE!
Having a real stage for my mugs to stand on really made them feel a little more life-like to me. Like they were more than just a white mug with things on it. They are something special, something to be remarked upon, something to share.

I'm excited about the direction I'm heading in with this shop and the things I want to do with my time.

We have another day off tomorrow.

Who knows what is going to happen! (I do but I'm not telling you yet!! Gotta come back tomorrow and see for yourself!)

In the meantime, Michael and I are going to play some Banner Saga, watch some Princess Jellyfish, and listen to the sweet sleeping puppy snore loudly on the couch beside us.

Happy Snowmageddon!

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Come see my stuff!

Now that intros are over with, I can start sharing the things that I love to make!
Please Visit My Etsy Shop!

Here you can find things that I currently have for sale, work with me to make your own versions of my things, or ask me to make you something totally different!

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See the pretty things all in one place!

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Happy Shopping!

Hello, World!

Nice to meet you. You look lovely today.

There are so many ways to start writing- I could tell you my name is Rachel, I could tell you this blog works with my Etsy store, I could tell you I had eggs for breakfast... But I'm the person to skip the formalities, we'll get to know each other, soon enough. I could tell you my spirit animal is the cardinal, I could tell you I sing to the sunshine, I could tell you I'm addicted to sugar... But I don't like to give everything away up front, you'll discover how crazy I am, soon enough.

The only way to really start writing is to just dive on in. Every writer I've ever admired has done it that way. If I haven't learned anything from them, what am I doing with my life? I won't bore you with the "Once Upon A Time..." business, the past is past for a reason. We are who we are because of it, but it doesn't do to dwell on it. So, down the rabbit hole we go...

Art is not an action, it is not a thought, it is not a product. Art is a reason. Art is a state of mind. Art is life.

People always ask me who my favorite artist is, and I could respond with Dali because his paintings look like my dreams, or Picasso because of his intimacy, or Klimt because of the way he uses pattern. And sometimes I do say one of those three, or sometimes I change it up depending on my mood at the moment, or the project I'm working on. But if I really want to give an honest answer, and I'm in the face of someone who is willing to be taken off guard, I tell them that my favorite artist is God.

Now I know some of you are like, "But Rachel, that's such a Sunday School answer!" but let me stop you there and tell you what I appreciate in an artist:

Ingenuity- make something useful, beautiful, or intriguing out of nothing. Or use things that are already there to make something new and bold.
Creativity- make something no one else has ever made before. Surprise me.
Appreciation- take care of the things you make, give them value to yourself and to me.

Now, when the creative mood strikes God, there's no limit to what he can and will make. He took darkness and made light, he took a piece of sand and made a pearl, he took microbes and made me. Not only that, but when he was done with his crazy creative process, he sat back and said "This is good." 

I strive, rather unsuccessfully, to follow my 3 guidelines for art. Perhaps it is because I am an imperfect creature that I cannot live up to my own standards, but graciously God endowed me with an insatiable curiosity to discover ways to overcome my own shortcomings and often opens doors or sends me song birds to help me find my way again.

More often than not, when I'm drawing, my husband will find me in the office crying or ripping up a piece of work that I've been playing with for hours. I have found out through the course of my training and experience that I may easily fall out of love with my work when I realize I have put no heart into it. To an onlooker it will be "good" or "pretty" but when I look at it I see something that contains no part of me.

When this little tweak finally dawned on me two years after college, I came to understand one thing: Construction is the key to my heart. Building something. Layering something. Combining something. That's when I am most happy with my work. It was then that I discovered the joy of handmade art - pieces that I have to touch with my entire hand before it is finished. Pieces that are inspired by the gifts around me.

A little piece of my heart then discovered the joy of inspiring other people to feel the same way. Not in a "You need to get out of your house and make everything!" kind of way, but in a "always remind yourself to be inspired" way. That was when I landed on the coffee mugs, after dabbling into too many failed projects. It was the most efficient way to spread cheer and send reminders to people that, not only did I love them, but the world around them is there to love and be loved. To always remember that inspiration can be found in the unlikeliest of places. To keep your eyes and mind open to the simple gifts that are missed by most but should be appreciated by all.

I create, not to scratch an itch or to prove something to the world, but to fill my heart with the joy of those around me. Seeing a smile reminds my heart to sing. So, selfishly, I make people smile because it makes me smile. If you are happy, I am happy. I have been warned against being too kind, too giving, or too agreeable because I could get taken advantage of. But in the end, my happiness comes from those who are happy because of my efforts. I might be bone tired and worn thin, but my heart keeps singing, horribly loud and out of tune, because others can sing. I want to bring that smile to your heart because sometimes when life is hard, all you have left is a smile. God gave us the gray storms to remind us why He also gave us the red birds. And every time I see my red birds, I am reminded that I have been brought through many storms. And when God made me he said, "She is the reason why I made my cardinals. And they are the reason she will smile." 

So please, let me inspire you today, tomorrow, whenever. Choose to see the things around you with a smile in your heart, and use your cheer for good. Spread the infection of a smile. Find your Red Bird.

I look forward to getting to know you, and giving you a little insight into who I am as a person, an artist, and a shop owner. Thank you to those who will choose to keep up with me, to support me, and to enjoy life with me. You guys rock!

One of my favorite mugs I've made ever.