Our first artist interview of 2020 is with paper artist Marnie Karger from Crafterall! You can find her work in her Etsy shop and her website, and follow her on Instagram and Twitter.
Can you tell me a little bit about yourself, your journey with art, and the story behind Crafterall?
My name is Marnie Karger, and I live near Minneapolis, Minnesota. Creating for and managing Crafterall is my full-time job, and has been since 2007. I work from home, which I share with my husband, our two daughters, and our retired racing greyhounds. I’ve loved all things art, but paper has been the most consistently available and accessible media in my life. While I had originally planned that Crafterall could be an outlet through which I offer all sorts of crafty and artistic pieces in all sorts of media, it has become home solely to my papercut works, and I haven’t looked back since.
What is your creative process like when you approach a new piece?
Ultimately, when creating a new design for an actual place, I try to marry as much accuracy with artistic aesthetic as possible. I want the finished piece to be both a realistic representation of the actual location, as well as something beautiful to display. This requires my working process to include finding clear maps of the area, as well as creating the cutting lines that will have some sense of balance in color and scale.
I’m not afraid to admit that I also geek out a bit when investigating depth contours, and I love learning about how a lake or ocean floor is shaped by nature, time, and human intervention. When I create something entirely from scratch, I put to use the knowledge I’ve gained from all this map-reading, and incorporate realistic contours into my imaginary locations. Like writing fiction, when I create new places, I’m employing verisimilitude in my designs so that they look like they could be real, even though I’ve made them up.
What are your go-to art supplies and products that you wouldn’t be able to live without?
Paper is and has always been my main medium. Rather than draw or paint on it, and rather than fold or sculpt it, I cut and layer it to create my art. It’s not a typical form of illustration, but my pieces still tell a story of sorts — a story of erosion, glacial retreat, gravity and elevation, and acts of civilization that shape the look and legacy of body of water. I try to keep a hefty stock of cardstock in a rainbow of colors so I’m always ready to tackle a new project with a full palette.
The designing happens on my computer, and then I send them to a digital cutter plotter machine (Silhouette), to cut each layer, one at a time. So I’ve come to rely on these machines for the most intricate and consistent parts of the work.
From there, I use a dry adhesive to stick the layers of cardstock together — I’ve probably gone through hundreds of miles of this stuff, one handheld cartridge at a time. Finally, each piece gets a thorough inspection, and I clean up any rough areas with my straight blade. It wasn’t that long ago that I hand cut all of my pieces with a straight and/or swivel blade, and I return to this technique from time to time to keep those skills fresh.
Can you talk a little bit about your imaginary island pieces?
I’d love to — thank you for asking! These pieces are the product of me doing my own thing and scratching my creative itch. Instead of working on an actual place, I let my imagination run wild with these, and guide a tiny swivel blade through the cardstock to form tropical islands, surrounded by soft sandy beaches, and adrift in gem-colored waters. Maybe it’s a combination of fulfilling so many “regular” orders and living in a state where there’s snow on the ground for nearly half the year, but I feel like there’s a warmth and a relaxing vibe that these pieces exude. It’s refreshing for me to work each one without knowing how it will turn out, and to end up creating a vibrant eye-catching, one-of-a-kind piece.
Just as I learn about the history and current status of a lake when I’m designing an actual location, with these imaginary islands, I get to create a story about them as well. It’s a bit like world building, and it’s tough not to let my mind wander when considering the formation of and future for these created places.
What have been some of your favorite custom commissions that you’ve worked recently?
As always, I love bringing to life a beloved lake or shoreline for someone. Playing a role in the creation of a meaningful gift for someone continues to be one of the most fulfilling parts of my work. Recently, I’ve worked on a couple of pieces where the buyers have shared loads of details about the place (from the specific depths in the lake, to wee bays in the shoreline that maybe don’t show up on most maps), and working with these people to make the designs extra specific makes the pieces extra special.
For the last few years, I have created artworks that become prizes for winners in a sailing race in Wisconsin. Working with some of the race organizers, I’ve created several new, challenging designs that depict the major lighthouses and scenery of the racing venue.
I’ve also really enjoyed making some gifts for my kids, including layered, papercut versions of their favorite TV and anime characters. Projects like these help stretch my skills and broaden my artistic horizons.
Do you have any tips for small business artists about selling on Etsy or online in general?
Yes! In short, make good art and do your homework. Do what you love, within whatever boundaries you have, and work to make it as good as possible. When you’re not creating, do your research. Investigate what others are doing well in your medium, from the quality of the work itself to the expression of the artist behind them, from the appeal of the photography to the efficiency and professionalism of the buying experience.
There is SO MUCH information out there to help you with this process. From Etsy interviews and trend reports, to packaging tutorials and bookkeeping help, there’s really no excuse not to get to know what to do and what not to do. While some of my techniques come from experience and trial and error, many things I do today are based on tips I learned over a decade ago from the Etsy forum and Featured Seller interviews.
Certainly, it has to be stated that you need to manage your business, whatever size it is, in accordance with whatever rules (taxes, business codes, shipping rules, etc.) govern your area, but it can’t be overstated that you can only succeed by trying. Make mistakes, learn from them, and grow. Oh, and enjoy the ride! Every day, I nearly pinch myself with disbelief that I’m making a living by making art. I love what I do!