By Regina Connell.
You know how obsessions build, especially online. (Yes, you do.) You look once. Look again. Go back to the place you saw the piece, click around, come back. It’s a little like stalking.
I kept thinking about them; the way I knew they were solid, but looked like they could move. The way they looked delicate, but also strong. I found myself wondering which wall could house my collection of little white flowers. Or maybe sea urchins?
What blew me away when we finally met was that this incredible work came from an artist just starting her career, and that the polymer-clay beauties that haunted my memory and browser cache were baked . . . in the oven of her kitchen in suburban Windsor, California.
But as we sat around her kitchen table, Angela didn’t surprise us in the least: she’s as dreamy and delicate as her pieces, and as wise, down-to-earth and scrappy as any maker with a happening career needs to be.
Kids rule much of her day, though her husband takes on the twin tasks of sounding board and shipping manager as the need arises. (And it does, often. The day we visited, a large stack of boxes lined the wall, ready to go to UPS.)
Over coffee (interrupted only by some very earnest seniors in their Sunday best distributing extremely condensed versions of the Bible), we talked about getting creative with what’s at hand, the thrill of vanquishing your inner critic, and the magnificent adventures that come from putting one foot in front of the other.
How did you start? You know the quote, “A person often meets his destiny on the road he took to avoid it?” (It’s by Jean de la Fontaine.) Well, when I grew up I always thought I had to have a degree to make money, and as a result, I put my desire to make art aside, taking the safe route, or at least the road I was expected to travel. It took me up to the very last month in college to declare a major (environmental planning). But then I ended up turning what could have been a simple project into a pretty elaborate piece of art and making it somehow fit the assignment. This was where I first tried my hand at clay, and loved it!
And how did that turn into your decision to open a store on Etsy? Frankly, I have an impulse control disorder. I find that sitting idle for too long just makes me crazy.
So I needed to keep my hands busy, and I decided to buy a box of clay one day after seeing some cool sculptures in a magazine. I thought I would see what I could do, and if nothing came of it, well, at least I’m still keeping myself engaged.
When the clay started taking on a life of its own, I started to wonder what I would do with all these objects and pieces. Maybe I could sell them rather than let them collect dust. It was in March of last year that I decided to put them up on Etsy, and I’ve had the chance to make some amazing custom requests for people that I might not otherwise have done.
Talk about your process. I use polymer clay. I have two different blends that I mix together. I originally started with just one clay, but I found it wasn’t strong enough to withstand the tumbling around it often takes in shipping. So I found a more durable clay that, when mixed with the other, gives the right balance between strength and flexibility.
I use almost anything that gives me the texture I’m looking for. I even have an interesting shaped mascara wand I use and despite their complaints, a couple of my kid’s kitchen toys. Whatever gives me an imprint I’m happy with, I add it to the collection. But otherwise, I mostly sculpt with my hands. As the case with the flowers, my palms make the veins on the bottom of the petals.
Do you want to start working in kiln-fired clay? Definitely. Working with a kiln is a whole other beast that I would love to spend more time with one day. At this point in time though, I’d love to see where polymer clay takes me.
How did you start doing tiles? I just happened upon the tiles and started to make them. I know there’s a woman who does larger versions of textured tiles that are kiln-fired, but my budget only allows me to use what I have, my kitchen oven and a baking sheet.
What’s it like to work with Etsy: do you build up relationships with customers? Yes, I definitely build relationships with other artists in the (Etsy) community. It’s also great to bounce things off them when I’m in a bind that has to do with the business end of things. I find everyone to be genuine and helpful. Besides, we’re all just trying to do what we love. As far as customers go, I’m lucky enough to have repeat customers. If they’re coming back, I’ll take that as good news.
What’s your biggest order? I am currently working on a custom installation of pods for a penthouse in LA that will span two walls. I’m very excited, it’s a direction I would love to continue going in. Also, there is a restaurant with about 18 pieces scattered across their dining room. I have yet to see it in person, but I’d love to someday!
Where’d the name of your store, DillyPad, come from? My kids, Lily and Davis, and let’s be honest, this place is more their pad than mine.
You’ve been blogged about all over. How does that make you feel? I’m still a little in shock that people are so receptive to my pieces. I have lived for so long with a ‘don’t try because you might fail’ type philosophy. It’s the worst thing ever and I do not recommend it! However, this last year has completely changed the way I live my life. Now it’s more of a ‘the more failures, the more chances for improvement’ mentality. But deep down, it’s still a little strange to hear compliments. We’re our own worst critics!
And your inspirations? Nature. When I go outside for walks, my kids and I are always finding really cool rocks or textures in flowers or seed pods. And the ocean: I could spend hours by the beach finding all sorts of things I would love to replicate.
Talk about the juggling you obviously do. Well, that’s definitely a work in progress. Once the kids are off to school, I get a few hours to catch up and play, but after noon, it’s a multi-tasking nightmare. If I can manage to get a few things made in the morning and packaged at night, it’s been a great day.
What’s next? I’d like to make a huge succulent wall panel. That’s one of those future projects that I’m itching to get time for; hopefully in the next few months I can get started. Also, I’d love to do more custom installations.
Who would play you in a film? Oh! My best friend says Zoe Deschanel because she’s kind of quirky and weird but still likeable. I happen to think she’s right about the weird part, but my taste in humor is way more crass than we can talk about.
Name some things that define you. Clay (Did I really just say that? Yes, I do love it though). Coffee (I drink it all day long). And definitely books (even if it’s only 10 minutes before bed. I like to imagine the mini-world of the characters I read about wonder where I am if I don’t read every night.). David Sedaris, Wally Lamb, and I have to say The Poisonwood Bible (by Barbara Kingsolver) is one of my all time favorites.
When are you happiest? When I’m with my kids, family . . . we’re all kind of goofy cheese balls. That saying about keeping your life with just enough dysfunction to give your kids a sense of humor . . . that about sums it up. But truly, they are my heart and soul.
All images of finished work courtesy of Angela Schwer
Editing by Regina Sarnicola