Monday, July 21, 2008

Michelle Moode

Michelle Moode, Los Angeles, CA

I've just recently been introduced to Michelle Moode's work. The more I read about her and the meaning behind her work the more I fall in love with everything her hands create (I'm sure you'll feel the same). I'm so excited to have her here - I had a tough time picking & choosing what to feature, so I really urge you to check out her shop, millions of people happy (blog) and photos on flickr.

Check out Michelle's photos on flickr for more pics and information about her thesis installation and other works. You can also read more about Pieces of the Universe here.

1. Your work has such a distinct look. One of the hardest things for artists to do is to stand apart from everyone else. How difficult was it for you to come up with your own style and signature look? What advice can you give aspiring artists struggling to find their own voice and look?

I never sat down and thought about what “style” I needed to adopt. The way my work looks is the result of almost 28 years of being Michelle Moode, drawing pictures, and then drawing more pictures. I’ve always tried to be aware of where my influences come from, both art and non-art. “Research” can mean many things.

My advice for aspiring artists is to think about how you balance “making art” and “looking at art.” Both are necessary, of course. If you spend all your time creating, without an awareness of what other artists are doing, then there is a limit to how much you can grow in your own work. To be part of the history and future of “making stuff,” you must take some part in the dialogue amongst artists. What would be the point of all this, if none of us shared what we made?

On the other hand, If you spend all your time looking at what other artists are doing, two things might happen: one, you might become too influenced by “trends”. I feel a lot of artists, particularly when you browse around online, are unknowingly (or knowingly) adopting others’ “style”. The second thing that might happen if you spend too much energy looking at others’ art, is that you are spending less time making your own.

As artists we must be aware of how much we are looking “outside” of ourselves, compared to how much we are looking “in.”

2. I know that you're currently teaching. Can you tell us a little about your class and your process in preparing your lesson plans?

In the fall I will be teaching Printmaking and 2D design at California State University Northridge, and possibly (hopefully) a non-major drawing and printmaking class at Loyola Marymount University.

I will be the first to admit that I am pretty green as a professor. I draw a great deal from my experience in school, both for what works and what doesn’t work as an instructor. I have a number of very generous former professors and peers who I ask for advice and ideas. My dad and brother are also in academia, so I have a lot of excellent resources.

I am not a natural public speaker, so every time I face my students it’s a little scary and exhausting. I’m also sort of clumsy and tend to trip on things when I’m trying to talk to everyone....but clumsy awkwardness aside, I am a good teacher because I’m enthusiastic and attentive to what’s going on, and, well... I know a lot about “stuff.” I am also a hard-working working-artist, and learning by example is most important to art students.

3. Can you pinpoint the exact time in your life when you decided to make a living out of creating art? Or an exact time when you started to believe that you could actually make a living doing what you loved.

This is a question that assumes that I have everything figured out! I’ve always known that I want to spend my life making things and drawing pictures. That has been a certainty. I am still working out how best to do this, and I know there are many ways to achieve this goal. At this point, I am testing various hypotheses, and I do not have a clear plan for the rest of my life. I am exploring different venues for showing and selling my art, I am still growing and learning as a teacher, and have yet to fall into a “rut” in my art-making.

So I suspect that I’m doing alright!

4. The handmade and design community is such a close knit group, I notice that most people are either mentors to aspiring artists or have mentors who have been in the business for a while and are eager to share their experiences with budding crafters/artists. Do you have a mentor? And are you a mentor yourself?

Oh yes, I am a mentor to thousands. I change people’s lives on a daily basis.....I’m kidding, of course. I would never assume to be a mentor; no one has ever told me that I am their mentor. I try to be helpful when people ask me for advice or opinions. I know that my work is well-liked, but that does not make me a mentor. I’m not sure what that makes me.

As for my mentors, I have a few former professors that I feel have done far more in my life that merely “teach.” Again, it goes back to that idea of learning by example. I am also inspired and encouraged by friends from school. Although we’re scattered all across the country now, its good to know what old friends are doing and making.

5. I know that you have some upcoming shows, and your work is featured in a coffee shop. What advice could you give aspiring artists on the best way to get noticed and invited to be part of shows and gallery exhibitions?

“Never put all your eggs in one basket.”

Etsy has been a great way for me to share my work and make contacts and friends, but it is certainly not my only resource. I love attending conferences and workshops. I’ve been involved with the Southern Graphics Council and Mid-America Print Council, (even though I am now definitely in the West...) and I have spent time at the Penland School of Crafts, Haystack Mountain School of Crafts, and Frogman’s Print Workshops. Such experiences are what I feel the “handmade community” is really all about. Meeting people, and seeing old friends, and being with people who have something in common with you. Doing business online is great in a lot of ways, but it can also be a lonely pursuit.

You can’t just wait around for things to happen, or for opportunities to come to you. I do a lot of research, and send out applications to shows, galleries, and residencies. And I get lots of rejections. And then I throw away the rejection letters and try again.

>> Thinking about selling online?

You joined Etsy late last year. There are artists out there who still feel overwhelmed with the whole online selling world and haven't taken the plunge. As a recent convert, can you share some tips that you learned while going through the process yourself?

I try to make my descriptions as detailed as possible, while at the same time not writing an essay for each item. I include the information that I would like to know about someone else’s work, such as what kind of paper it is, and what SIZE it is. It drives me nuts when I can’t tell the size of a piece.

My mixed-media work is usually some combination of paper, ephemera, drawing, etching, silkscreen, Xerox transfer, tea, wine, ink, typing, watercolor, acrylic medium, sewing, and beeswax. I doubt anyone comes to Etsy searching for a “mixed-media etching with tea stains and drawing, that’s not editioned,” the way someone might search for “a red scarf.” So the quality of the images is very important in getting people’s attention.

The work I sell on Etsy is small, so I scan most of my pieces. They look great, but there is no substitute for the physicality, subtlety, and ’soul’ of an actual piece of paper. Plus there is no way of digitally conveying the embossment of an etching, or the lovely lingering scent of beeswax. Mmm. I am often told that my work is even better in person, which is certainly what I want to hear.

Whatever you make, whatever you are trying to sell, keep your descriptions thorough but not too wordy, post things often so people know you’re still making things, respond to any communication promptly and politely, and don’t depend on people finding you.

7. How many hours a week do you spend reading blogs, how much time do you dedicate in maintaining your own and are you consciously putting an effort to increase your readership?

Blogs are funny things. I started Millions of People Happy, primarily so that people who came to my Etsy shop could find out more about me: works-in-progress, news, and interesting things worth sharing. Many people start a blog for the exact opposite reason: to direct people from their blog to their Etsy site. I don’t make a conscious, daily effort to get people to look at my blog, because I’m not sure it’s worth looking at every single day. I mean, I’d rather think people are living their lives and working in their gardens than checking to see what Michelle Moode is doing on a daily basis.

So, the number of hours per week that I spend on my computer varies quite a bit from week-to-week. It depends on what’s happening in real life, and how much desire I have to face this screen.

8. Can you share with us a couple of blogs that you've recently discovered and love?

My friend Abigail Hendrickson has a delightful and appropriately named blog called Aesthetic Outburst. It is one of my all-time favorite blogs, and was certainly a motivating factor when I started mine. Abbey is a clever person, and a wonderful artist.

I also frequently check out Michele Maule’s How to Draw a Cup of Coffee. I love Michele’s work, and feel she’s something of a kindred spirit.

Note: I love her too!! Stay tuned Michele Maule fans, Michele will be making a special appearance on Heart Handmade in August.

9. Who is your idol/current artist-crush?

I’m not sure this is an “idol” or a “crush”, but I recently remembered, or re-discovered what an influence Mary Blair has been over the years.

Blair was a color-stylist and conceptual designer for Disney in the 1950s and 1960s, a favorite of Walt Disney although her style and color schemes were not very “Disneyish” at the time. I have memories of admiring her tile murals in Tommorrowland at Disneyland, from long before I had any notion that individual people were responsible for what is “Disney.” The murals were removed in the 1980s. There’s a book about her: “The Art and Flair of Mary Blair” by John Canemaker. There’s also a version of Cinderella that has been published using her conceptual work as illustrations. She was an interesting woman.

Thanks Michelle!!


Sew Bettie said...

What lovely work! I love it.

Melissa de la Fuente said...

Beautiful, beautiful work! A new favorite!

Natalie Jane said...

WOW. LOVE your stuff!!! If you ever want to do a little trading for some handmade earrings, let me know....