Sunday, November 17, 2013

A Love of Making Things by Hand - Artist Tammy Smith

Handmade Christmas ornaments are fun to make and exchange with friends and family, or to give out as gifts. Artist Tammy Smith is a licensed artist and also makes some really unique and cute ornaments. So I invited her to join us today for an interview!

The Moon from My Attic: Can you tell us a bit about yourself and your art? Sure thing! I am a mostly self-taught artist and surface designer who grew up in Kansas City, MO, near where I still live today. In my early 20's I was hired by Hallmark Cards and began a career as an artist/art director there, designing partyware, giftwrap, and social expression products. Over the years I've also illustrated children's books and worked in many different mediums, including ceramics, wire, acrylic painting and 3D mixed media sculpture.

Artist Tammy Smith
Four years ago I began a freelance career working from home, creating surface pattern and product development for art licensing.

TMFMA: What is exciting about your creative work? I love the diversity of the projects I get to work on, from designing a 3D line of garden decor products to hand lettering a calendar or paper partyware unit. I love working on a pattern on my computer in the morning and a wire and stitch project on my back porch in the afternoon. I tend to get bored if I do the same thing in the same way for too many days in a row!

TMFMA: Is there a person or thing that has influenced you in your artistic efforts? What inspires you? >My father was a lithographer by day and an amateur woodworker by night and he was always building something in his basement workshop. From him I developed a love of making things with my hands and from then on I was never without either a sketchbook or project of some sort going on. As for inspiration, I really admire the UK maker/designers like Maxine Sutton, Mark Heald, or any of the artists of St. Jude's Gallery. I think that artists in other countries are more likely to be shopkeepers as well as artist makers and I admire that.

TMFMA: What project are you currently working on? In September I opened a new online shop that is also on my Facebook page where I have many new wire-n-stitch pieces, as well as DIY kits and downloadable PDFs available. I love to challenge myself creatively, so currently I am working on an Ornament-A-Day project, where I make one Christmas ornament a day throughout the month of November. All of the ornaments are created from wire, cloth and embroidery thread. Each day I post the ornaments on my Instagram, Flickr and Facebook pages. It's turning out to be a super fun creative exercise plus it's great to get that immediate feedback from an audience. I'm also doing some commission and graphic design work for clients as well.

TMFMA: Tell us of your experience as an art licensing artist. Since entering the licensing field from the corporate world 3 years ago I've exhibited at Surtex the last 2 years and plan to again in 2014. I've been fortunate to meet and work with some really wonderful licensing partners like Studio M (Magnetworks),Graphique de France, Design Design, and Unique Partyware, and I've learned that licensing is a marathon, not a sprint.

You may start a conversation with a company and begin concept development before signing a contract. This is where the "spec work" comes in. Then after completing a project it is usually months to a year before the product is actually introduced for sale in the marketplace. For someone who isn't very patient (like me!) that wait can seem to take a very long time but it is really exciting when you finally see your product on the shelves!

TMFMA: Any important tips and tricks you can share or anything else you'd like to share? I can think of a few things. The first is to have multiple income streams. Since licensing does take awhile to see financial returns, it's best to either have another way to make an income or have money saved that will keep you afloat. Many licensing artists that I know also do graphic design or book illustration while pursuing licensing deals. I think that just makes you a stronger designer and also adds more images to your portfolio. Next, read licensing blogs (like this one) because they are a wealth of very useful information.

I referred to them quite a bit before my first Surtex even though I had been to several Surtex shows before in an art director capacity. One other important thing is to find what makes you unique. There will be rows and rows of artists showing surface design, so really look at what makes you different from the crowd. For me, it was in the materials I used. For about 4 years, I had been making and selling my mixed media wire sculptures and lamps under my previous business name "Homemade Circus" so I brought a wire lamp to my first Surtex show. That lamp ended up being a conversation starter with Anne McFarland Brown and Sue Todd that has now led to a wonderful partnership with Studio M (a division of Magnetworks) and soon my new line of wire pieces for the garden will debut at the January 2014 Atlanta Gift Mart. This wouldn't have happened if I hadn't brought the lamp!

TMFMA: What are your future aspirations and goals? I would love to see my wire-n-stitch Christmas ornaments become a licensed collection and I'd love the opportunity to see my surface design work on fabric or stationery products as well.

View more about Tammy at:


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