Meet Alchemy Artisan Works
Alchemy Artisan Works is run by American artist Shanda who creates experimental and beautiful art creations. Join us in this week's designer interview, as Shanda tells us about some stories of her favourite customer stories and bespoke commission pieces that she has created.
How did your brand begin?
I've been an "artist" since I could hold a pencil, but I started Alchemy Artisan Works when I found my current studio, 3 years ago. I chose the name because my work is very eclectic, and I see my process as a sort of alchemy; from taking found objects and upcycling them, to the way the materials and media I work with come together and are transformed into something completely new.
A work of art.
I also feel that there is a sort of alchemy that occurs between the art and the beholder. There is a sort of magic when someone is touched by a work of art the way one is changed or altered by having had an emotional connection.
My favourite compliment is when someone tells me that my works bring them a sense of joy and delight. Especially my little birds. They seem to evoke a joyful innocence we remember from childhood.
When did you first fall in love with designing and knew you wanted to become a designer?
I can't let a day go by without creating or working on something artistic; a tiny painting, working on a piece of furniture, or painting a colourful wall in my home. It's meditative for me. Everything else, the worries of the world, go away when I'm in that creative space.
I'm not a full-time artist... yet!
I have worked (and still work) as a hair and nail stylist for 39 years. I often say, "I didn't want to be a starving artist, so I chose to work on the human canvas!" LOL. And, it has brought me much pleasure and satisfaction. I have loved being a "day maker".
There was a long dry spell when that was all I was doing, and I forgot my art. But that all changed about 13 years ago, when a very wise client encouraged me to start making art, again. I always knew I'd return to my roots as a traditional artist, one day, and that day had come!
Is there anyone in particular who has heavily influenced/guided you as a designer?
There have been many over the years. Most recently it’s been the artist and teacher, Maria Grossbaum. I love her exuberant and playful energy. Her work is wonderfully expressive and she has a lovely teaching style. She makes me want to inspire and teach others, too!
Values are really important to us at JewelStreet. What are your core brand values?
It's really important to me that the things I create are well-made from quality materials. I'm always mindful to use materials and processes that will hold up over time. If I'm ever unsure, I do a ton of research until I am, before proceeding with a project I plan to sell.
I prefer to create unique and individual works I can put my heart into. I'm not into mass-producing.
The finish work is also very important, be it sanding and polishing, or matting and framing. These are the things that say "quality" to me.
Where do you draw inspiration from for your designs?
Oh my gosh, where do I begin? My eyes are always scanning the landscape, seeing beauty in colour, line, and form.
I'll see the saturated colours of a sunset over a lake, the foamy ocean waves of a blue sea washing tiny bits of shells ashore, the knotwork in the gnarled roots of an ancient tree, the veins in a beautiful slab of marble, or those of an insect's wing, and I just want to recreate them!
I am also inspired by other artists and try to draw from the qualities I like in their work while making my own way with the things I like.
How are your products made?
I work with epoxy resin, sometimes casting smaller pieces in moulds, but mostly in a pour-over method on various substrates from charcuterie boards to countertops.
When I paint, it’s watercolour or alcohol inks that are my go-to. At the moment I’m especially drawn to painting tiny loose watercolours; florals and boats on the sea are my current favourite subjects.
I also love to “paint” on my iPad. Procreate is my favourite app, it’s so versatile. I’ve created a couple of my favourite chicken series digitally.
It’s a great no-cost way to practice and hone my skills, and it can go with me almost anywhere! I’m able to offer a variety of print options featuring my digital works, that are not limited to flat prints, which is very fun.
How do you source your materials?
I try to buy locally whenever possible, but sometimes I have to order from online vendors. When I do I find it advantageous to form a relationship with the vendor, as there are often rewards to be had in return for brand loyalty. Plus, I often find many things do work synergistically, producing superior results.
Tell us about some of your most inspiring clients, or bespoke commissions.
I was recently approached by a new client to create a bespoke dining room table. She saw another resin-designed table top I had done and knew I was the artist to create her special design.
This project really pushed me to go outside my comfort zone, and there were many challenges and hurdles to overcome. There were times I wondered if I would be able to tick all the boxes in the design work and complete the project on time, but I forged on. It required collaboration between myself, my husband, and a metalworker.
My designer husband created the visuals and the concept for the base and built the tabletop for me. The metalworker then fabricated the base, which was designed to replicate a shape in her dining room chairs. I created the epoxy resin base on the table's surface, painted the artwork over the top of that, and refinished and reupholstered 8 chairs to complement the design.
It was truly a masterpiece when finished and the client told me we had exceeded her expectations!
Can you recall a particular moment with a client that will stay with you forever? Could be a funny horror story or a fond memory.
A young man once commissioned me to create a painting for his girlfriend for Sweetest Day [a holiday celebrating romance and kindness celebrated in parts of the US].
It was a photo of the lake where she visited her grandma as a child, who had recently passed. It was to be a complete surprise. The really unique element I got to incorporate was a special message written in the shape of clouds in the sky, that was meaningful between her and her grandma.
When the day came for him to pick it up, he was literally speechless, and he gave me the biggest hug and was smiling from ear to ear. It was very sweet. I always remember that one.
How do you want someone to feel when they wear/use your designs?
Delighted! I want them to feel as pleased to possess their piece of art as I felt in its creation. I put my heart into everything I do, and I always hope for that energy to go with my work. Especially with commissions. I want the recipient to really feel the specialness of having had something created just for them!
If you hadn't become a designer, what would you be doing?
Well, I'd be a hairstylist and nail tech... Oh yeah, LOL, that's what I did do! Actually, another path I explored briefly, but didn't follow was interior design. But now, I have recently had opportunities to incorporate a bit of that into what I do, as well. The client I made the table for said she just might invite me to decorate her whole house.
Do you have any exciting future plans and where do you see your brand in 5 years?
Oh, yes! I just received the opportunity to attend a week-long. mixed-media art retreat in France in September of this year at a beautiful chateau. Very excited about the opportunity to be mentored by a favourite new artist and teacher I discovered last year, whom I very much admire.
This is also a wonderful opportunity for me to get more acquainted with France, as my husband and I have plans to retire there, in a few years.
What music do you play in the studio whilst you’re working?
All kinds! My taste in music is as eclectic as my work! Lately I’ve been listening to a station on Pandora based on a station I created with the group Massive Attack.
Who is your favourite artist?
I’d say it’s Stephanie Law. I am absolutely mesmerized by her watercolour work! I can get lost in her paintings, studying the minutest details. They’re so ethereal and mystical in nature. One can truly get lost her otherworldly dreamscapes.
What's the best piece of advice you've been given?
Remember to play. Don’t try to make a masterpiece every time you sit down to paint (or create). I find this to be so important to remember.
Striving for perfection can make you tight and afraid to make beautiful mistakes that can turn into masterpieces!
If you could travel to one place in the world right now, where would it be and why?
Besides France? It would be Australia and New Zealand. It seems that every time I’m drawn to a new artist these days, they live in or have come from this part of the world. I’d love to experience the place that’s brimming with so much creativity!
Are there any other designers whose work you particularly admire?
Definitely Rhonda Dracoulis of Rk3 Designs for her epoxy resin work. She was the first to really inspire me and I continue to follow her work. Jean Haines for her deliciously loose and expressive watercolour style. I’ve got books and taken courses with her. She too is a wonderful teacher.
What music inspires you to create new designs?
As I’ve said, I have very eclectic tastes in music that range from soulful blues to 70’s funk, to disco. Honestly, it depends. I do like positive music with an energetic vibe, but not too crazy when I’m pouring epoxy in the studio.
But at home, when I’m painting with my watercolours, I love it when I can have the windows open and catch the lovely nature sounds, the birdsongs and insects, the rustling leaves of the trees, from my garden.
Winter can be more challenging, but then I’ll often stream a podcast, or a book, or an art tutorial. And sometimes I’m happy with the quiet. The world can be so noisy! It’s kind of nice to shut it all out sometimes.
How do you ensure you’ve got a good work/life balance?
What’s that? Lol! But seriously, I love date nights with my husband once a week, and I try to create set times for office time and less glamorous work. In the summer my garden is my sacred space where I connect with nature and recharge my batteries.
What drew you to JewelStreet?
Actually, JewelStreet found me, but it was just exactly the platform I’d been searching for!
How do your brand values align with those of JewelStreet?
I love that JewelStreet is all about forming relationships, from supporting small business artisans behind the scenes to striving to connect those artists with just the right audience where further relationships can be built between the artist and their patrons. I love that the platform is, and plans to stay, about “small batch” and original works, not mass production.
Quality in craftsmanship and originality are also key, and I love that JewelStreet strives to curate artists and art that embody these qualities.
What is your favourite quote?
Be the change you want to see in the world!
Thank you for talking with us Shanda!