We hope to introduce you to all the great etsy sellers to be found right here in Toronto. Here at the T.E.S.T. blog, we plan to interview them all. This is the second in our series, an interview with minouette.
Tell us a little about your and your shop.
I've always had varied interests. When I was younger some of my favorite subjects were art on the one hand, and physics on the other. I decided that it was easier to pursue art on my own, than it would be to attempt to be a modern-day amateur scientist. So I work as a marine geophysicist by day and printmaker by night. ;) What that means is that my profession involves building machines and going to sea to image what is below the ocean floor, which keeps the spatial-numerical left-half of my brain occupied. But I couldn't survive unless I kept the pictorial right-brain happy, so I need to create art.
I make a lot of different things. My shop "things from secret minouette places" is filled with block prints on paper and on textiles. Part of magic and beauty of printmaking is the possibility of making multiples. This allows me to create original art at a very reasonable price. I've been focusing mainly on linoleum block prints. I do this by drawing an image in reverse on linoleum and carving away the negative space. I use a tool called a brayer (like a paint-roller) to apply ink to the lino block. Then I take my paper or fabric, lay it on the inked block, and burnish the image onto it with another tool called a baren. The baren was developed for Japanese woodblock prints. Mine consists of a flat, but textured disk, wrapped in a bamboo leaf. To make another image, I simply apply more ink to the block and repeat. I also make things from the printed textiles, like pillows, stuffed animals and ornaments.
In your Etsy profile it says you have been printmaking since you were a child, starting at the Art Gallery of Ontario. Over the years, what do you think were some of the most important learning experiences you had in developing your craft?
Those classes at the AGO were a big influence on me. It's much easier to learn some things when you are a child. I think starting young was a great help to me. I've got more experience than I would otherwise. Also, I find that things like registration (lining up multiple blocks or screens in different colours to produce a multi-colour print) or never carving towards myself are now instinctive.
We have some great resources here in Toronto!
On Vancouver Island, I did a workshop in paper-making by hand. Making paper by hand is meticulous and painstaking. It's not something I have done often, but learning about paper and how it's made was a really valuable experience. Paper can make all the difference to a print. The fibres in hand-made paper point in all directions. The fibres in machine-made paper are aligned in a single direction and hence, it is stronger in one direction than in the other, and if it gets wet it deforms asymmetrically. I love Japanese kozo paper, especially the handmade variety.
I also attended a "Moku-hanga Woodblock Printing Bootcamp". Anyone who has carved wood might understand why it's called bootcamp - this is hard physical labour! I learned a lot which I apply to my lino block prints.
I feel like Childhood and Wonder are major elements in your work. Why do you think that is?
That's a really interesting question. While I decided, as I mentioned, that I couldn't be a modern-day amateur scientist, I'm really interested in Cabinets of Curiosity (or wonder - the wunderkammer) kept by avid amateurs from the Renaissance up until 19th century. People had huge collections of natural wonders: rocks, gems, fossils, butterflies, shells, bones, all sorts of plants and animals, real and imaginary. Science and magic were still intertwined. These collections both fostered myth (such as narwhal horns passed off as unicorn) and the development of descriptive science (including geology, paleontology, botany and zoology). I think of my shop as a Cabinet of Curiosity. It's filled with specimens from natural history (with the odd harpy or unicorn thrown in for good measure).
I also feature characters from the history of science, which is all about wonder.
Of course, I also love myth and fairytales. If the cabinet of curiosity represents a sort of proto-science, the myth is like the proto-story, the basis for the stories we tell again and again in different ways. Also, I think the same part of me which enjoys mathematical symbols and puzzles, enjoys symbols in folklore. I enjoy considering how things like zodiac cycles were attempts to explain astronomical observations.
I guess my work throws all of these things together.
What 3 skills or traits do you think makes you such an exceptional printmaker (well, I think you are exceptional!) ?
Why, thank you!
Um, well, I'm focused and stubborn, I have good dexterity, and I'm an experimentalist, all of which are very useful traits for the scientist too. Being focused and stubborn, means I am willing to put in the time and attention to detail. For me this is the right way to prepare an experiment or a lino block. Carving is a skill. It takes practice, but having flexible fingers is lucky. Being an experimentalist means that I have good problem-solving skills and a willingness to try different things to make the image in my head a reality. I pull a lot of proofs as I carve and am willing to change direction and vary my plans. I experiment as I go.
You’ve been creating and selling for a long time compared to some of us. What advice do you have for new crafters/artists or people who are new to Etsy?
I've been creating a long time, but only selling for a couple of years. In terms of creating my advice would be to try! Create what you want - experiment until you find what you enjoy and what works for you. Don't sell yourself short or make barriers for yourself. I'm a big believer in the handmade movement and buying local. Etsy is a great venue to allow buyers and sellers to find one another and avoid the mass produced. I think the main thing to recognize for a new Etsy seller is that it takes time to build up a clientele. Finding a group or street team of like-minded individuals, a community within Etsy, is really useful. Don't neglect to read FAQs and check out some of the great off-site tools like craftcult, craftopolis, and Google Analytics.
What’s next for Minouette?
Hmm... well I have to keep some secrets! I do have some collections of things I am working on. There will be more "Imaginary Friends of Science". Maxwell wasn't the only one with a Demon. I'm thinking I need more fungi, not just the Fly Agaric. I'm considering a western zodiac to go with the Chinese zodiac. Broadly speaking, there will be more multi-media and perhaps more media in general.
Check out more of minouette's work in her shop. You can follow her blog on either LJ or Blogger. Her flickr photostream is here. You can also follow minouette on twitter. She also writes magpie & whiskeyjack where she gathers favorite things.
Interviewed by anotherangle, November 13 to 16, 2009.