Interview with Fiber Artist Mandi Smethells | Maker of Imaginative Fiber Wall Hangings

I’m so excited to introduce everyone to fiber artist Mandi Smethells! Her imaginative fiber wall hangings are just the thing to brighten a room. You can find Mandi’s work in her Etsy shop, and follow her on Instagram and Facebook. Mandi’s work was also recently featured in the Mollie Makes magazine!

Fiber Art Wall Hangings by Mandi Smethells Speak to the Beauty of Nature | Minnesota Based Fiber Artist | "Being a mom, and observing daily the wonder and imagination of my children is my biggest inspiration." #fiberart #wallhanging #sculpturalwallhanging #fiberartist #homedecor #interiordesign #interiordesigninspo #wallhangingideas #cozybedroomideas #livingroomdecor

Can you tell me a little bit about yourself and your journey with sculptural fiber arts?

I am a full time fiber artist living in St Paul MN. This “job” is a dream come true and something I have been working towards since the moment I decided as a child I wanted to be an artist. I only discovered fiber art a little over four years ago, and I have been obsessed ever since. I spent several years working in weaving techniques, and felt driven to discover new ways of working with the fibers and colors I loved so much. Eventually the sculptural elements I was adding to my weavings started to stand alone and are now the wall hangings I create.

Fiber Art Wall Hangings by Mandi Smethells Speak to the Beauty of Nature | Minnesota Based Fiber Artist | "Being a mom, and observing daily the wonder and imagination of my children is my biggest inspiration." #fiberart #wallhanging #sculpturalwallhanging #fiberartist #homedecor #interiordesign #interiordesigninspo #wallhangingideas #cozybedroomideas #livingroomdecor

What is like as an artist/creator in Saint Paul?

I feel so fortunate to be a fiber artist in this vibrant community. Neighboring Minneapolis has a wonderful Center for Textiles (I teach a few classes there), and there are so many incredible artists working in the area. The seasons of Minnesota impact my work as I “feel” different colors and shapes associated with the weather. It’s inspiring!

Fiber Art Wall Hangings by Mandi Smethells Speak to the Beauty of Nature | Minnesota Based Fiber Artist | "Being a mom, and observing daily the wonder and imagination of my children is my biggest inspiration." #fiberart #wallhanging #sculpturalwallhanging #fiberartist #homedecor #interiordesign #interiordesigninspo #wallhangingideas #cozybedroomideas #livingroomdecor

Where do you draw your inspiration?

I definitely have developed a collaborative relationship with my older daughter who is nearly seven. We have brainstorm sessions to discuss colors and shapes, and she will even sketch ideas to work off of! She will tell everyone she meets that she suggested I make a sun. Being a mom, and observing daily the wonder and imagination of my children, is my biggest inspiration.

Fiber Art Wall Hangings by Mandi Smethells Speak to the Beauty of Nature | Minnesota Based Fiber Artist | "Being a mom, and observing daily the wonder and imagination of my children is my biggest inspiration." #fiberart #wallhanging #sculpturalwallhanging #fiberartist #homedecor #interiordesign #interiordesigninspo #wallhangingideas #cozybedroomideas #livingroomdecor

 

Fiber Art Wall Hangings by Mandi Smethells Speak to the Beauty of Nature | Minnesota Based Fiber Artist | "Being a mom, and observing daily the wonder and imagination of my children is my biggest inspiration." #fiberart #wallhanging #sculpturalwallhanging #fiberartist #homedecor #interiordesign #interiordesigninspo #wallhangingideas #cozybedroomideas #livingroomdecor

Do you ever receive custom requests?

I frequently have the opportunity to create pieces based on beautiful spaces, often nurseries or children’s rooms. I truly enjoy imagining the families spending time in these spaces with my work, and it brings me joy.

Fiber Art Wall Hangings by Mandi Smethells Speak to the Beauty of Nature | Minnesota Based Fiber Artist | "Being a mom, and observing daily the wonder and imagination of my children is my biggest inspiration." #fiberart #wallhanging #sculpturalwallhanging #fiberartist #homedecor #interiordesign #interiordesigninspo #wallhangingideas #cozybedroomideas #livingroomdecor

Fiber Art Wall Hangings by Mandi Smethells Speak to the Beauty of Nature | Minnesota Based Fiber Artist | "Being a mom, and observing daily the wonder and imagination of my children is my biggest inspiration." #fiberart #wallhanging #sculpturalwallhanging #fiberartist #homedecor #interiordesign #interiordesigninspo #wallhangingideas #cozybedroomideas #livingroomdecor

What has business been like on Etsy?

I am so very busy with orders and all the other facets that are a part of being a “one woman show,” and Etsy has made it so simple for me to manage listings, shipping, sales data and marketing. I value anything that makes my life easier, and I do find a lot of new customers through the Etsy marketplace.

Fiber Art Wall Hangings by Mandi Smethells Speak to the Beauty of Nature | Minnesota Based Fiber Artist | "Being a mom, and observing daily the wonder and imagination of my children is my biggest inspiration." #fiberart #wallhanging #sculpturalwallhanging #fiberartist #homedecor #interiordesign #interiordesigninspo #wallhangingideas #cozybedroomideas #livingroomdecor

SHOP MANDI’S WORK


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Fiber Art Wall Hangings by Mandi Smethells Speak to the Beauty of Nature | Minnesota Based Fiber Artist | "Being a mom, and observing daily the wonder and imagination of my children is my biggest inspiration." #fiberart #wallhanging #sculpturalwallhanging #fiberartist #homedecor #interiordesign #interiordesigninspo #wallhangingideas #cozybedroomideas #livingroomdecor

 

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Past Your Porch Light: The Soft Sculptures of Etsy Artist Jessie Cunningham

Past Your Porch Light: The Soft Sculptures of Etsy Artist Jessie Cunningham

It is my pleasure to introduce Etsy artist Jessie Cunningham from Ontario, Canada! Jessie’s shop, Past Your Porch Light, is a charming place where “grizzlies wander and owls take wing.” We both hope you enjoy this artist interview and can give Jessie’s shop a look-see!

Each creature you sculpt seems to come from a dreamland! Where do you get the ideas for your soft sculpted creatures?

That kind of dreamy quality is something I really value, in art and in life, and I’m so pleased that it comes across. For the most part my inspiration comes from where you’d expect, nature and wildlife. I grew up in Canada with access to the woods behind our house and as a child I’d climb trees for hours exploring that world. I had notions of being a professional animal watcher or leaving home to make friends with orcas off the coast of British Columbia, and while I grew out of those somewhat unrealistic ideas (mostly) I’ve never lost my fascination with the animal kingdom. There’s a magical quality to those sort of unconquered areas of life that I can daydream about for hours, personalities or stories I can imagine creatures having, and more and more that’s where my creations find their beginning.

Past Your Porch Light: The Soft Sculptures of Etsy Artist Jessie Cunningham

That dreamland and the details in our own natural world play the biggest parts – I can obsess over conveying the weight in a grizzly bears footstep, or capturing the posture of a badger pausing to listen to its surroundings before moving on. Other times even a song or scene in a film can spark an idea.

Past Your Porch Light: The Soft Sculptures of Etsy Artist Jessie Cunningham

Why did you decide to use this soft sculpting medium for these creatures and not another medium? How long does it take you to make one of your soft sculptures?

It’s been a slow process of discovery but the love and obsession was immediate once found. I’ve tried many kinds of art since I was young, I knew I wanted to create but not always what or how.  When I first dabbled with fabric I worked with faux fur- it’s great stuff but messy and can be difficult to maneuver, which is ultimately why I discovered felt as a medium.

Past Your Porch Light: The Soft Sculptures of Etsy Artist Jessie Cunningham

Past Your Porch Light: The Soft Sculptures of Etsy Artist Jessie Cunningham

Wool felt sort of happened to me when I was dealing with some health issues that restricted me from using more labor intensive materials, it was something I could easily pile next to me on the couch on a bad day and sew by hand. During that time I watched a lot of nature documentaries, and one day was struck by the image of a polar bear. Their silhouette and posture is so distinctive, almost otherworldly, and I knew I wanted to somehow capture that, and the feeling it gave me, and make it into something tangible. That iconic shape became the focal point of that first soft sculpture project, and those are things I pay close attention to on every new undertaking. While I still integrate previous mediums into new works, wool felt has really taken root with me. It may change, it will definitely evolve, but for now I’m really enjoying finding those shapes and feelings in felt.

Past Your Porch Light: The Soft Sculptures of Etsy Artist Jessie Cunningham

How did business on Etsy start and how has your experience been so far?

I found Etsy more out of necessity than because I had a plan. I posted something I’d made on another website and to my shock it became popular very quickly, people would message asking how to purchase and I needed to scramble to figure that out. The business aspect is the area I’ve struggled with the most – I didn’t go into this established as an artist, or even as the person I was going to be, it’s been something I’ve grown alongside of (sometimes clumsily, I changed my brand name a few times.)

Past Your Porch Light: The Soft Sculptures of Etsy Artist Jessie Cunningham

I think a lot of artists get into this “JUST CREATE” mindset and maybe don’t put the effort they may have to into getting the art seen. For a long, long time that was a huge issue for me, but Etsy has taught me a lot. There’s a really resourceful community there rich with advice and opportunity, but I also think promoting off the website is very important too. Instagram has been my biggest help in that arena.

Past Your Porch Light: The Soft Sculptures of Etsy Artist Jessie Cunningham

Do you have any future plans for your business and do you plan on adding any new creature designs to the shop?

At any given time I have about 6 new creature designs in a prototype stage, with dozens more on paper and loping around my mind. As for future plans, they range from developing a better understanding of color combinations and design to something as ambitious as having a studio space. I’m still very much in my beginning stages so I’m mostly happy to continue to learn- but I also have some very cool collaborations coming up as well that I’m pretty excited about.

Past Your Porch Light: The Soft Sculptures of Etsy Artist Jessie Cunningham

Past Your Porch Light: The Soft Sculptures of Etsy Artist Jessie Cunningham

Jessie also sells enamel pins in her shop along with her soft sculptures:

Past Your Porch Light: The Soft Sculptures of Etsy Artist Jessie Cunningham

Past Your Porch Light: The Soft Sculptures of Etsy Artist Jessie Cunningham

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Handmade Eco-Friendly Brooches from Dariakash

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Good morning everyone! Today’s artist interview is between myself and Dariaka from the Etsy shop DariakashDariaka’s shop is based in Prague, Czech Republic, and she loves to create fun, eco-friendly brooches from recycled material.

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How did you become inspired to make your mixed media and paper mache brooches?

All my life I’ve always loved to sew, glue, cut, and invent new things. I always liked to embody my ideas in something created by my hands. As a child I sewed clothes for dolls, and invented houses and furniture for them. Then I began to sew for myself, to alter my mother’s old clothes or stuff I bought from a second hand shop. I loved to make original accessories for myself – earrings, necklaces, rings, but most of all I loved to make brooches. My friends wondered why I would make such interesting things for myself and not sell them, but I did not even think it was possible. I had another profession at the time – I was a sound engineer and always had a lot of work, and never time for anything else.

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Despite lack of time,  I always dreamed that my accessories would be worn by other people. Finally one day I met someone in the street that wanted one of my brooches. I clearly realized that I must change my life and do what I wanted to realize my dreams. It was then that I went to another country, began to paint, changed my profession (now I study film animation) and began to make brooches.

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Why mixed media? Because I have always loved trifles – beads, buttons, badges, pieces of fabric … As a child I brought whole pockets, wrappers, pins, stones, most of which I found on the street. Now I am always out at flea markets. I’ve got the idea to connect all these little things in my brooches. A perfect base for me is paper mache, because it seems to me alive, in contrast with plastic. At the same time this technique is very affordable if you compare it with something like ceramics, which requires a roasting oven.

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What kinds of materials inspire you the most? What kinds of materials inspire you the most?

I am most inspired by paper and paper mache, which gives me a kind of artistic freedom that I love. I can make beauty from nothing – there is always an empty egg box, from which I make sculpting bases for brooches- there are always old newspapers or magazines, with which I can paint on or make collages on brooches with.

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What kind of process do you go through in order to create one of your brooches?

For me it’s important to just sit down at the table and start working. To begin to sculpt, to spread out all the scraps I have, to put all the beads in front of me, to open magazines, to start to cut eyes, boots, hands – and then the ideas come – all the pieces begin to connect. Even when I have a concrete idea and I clearly imagine the brooch I want to make, thought the process it always becomes something else because suddenly I see a button that I like, or paints will mix to another color, and then I’ll choose another fabric, and decide that the bird will not have jeans but a shirt.
I do not believe in waiting for inspiration, to me it never came just spontaneously. I am confident that I must work and always look for inspiration, and then only through the process are my ideas born.

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Can you talk a little bit about the eco-friendly aspect of your brooches?

Once long ago I watched a documentary about how our planet is already overcrowded by garbage, which influenced me very much. After that I did not hurry to throw out old stuff. If I did not like my jeans anymore, I would alter them into a skirt – if a chair was broken, I would made a shelf from it. So it is with my brooches – I just don’t throw out the old buttons and beads, magazines and newspapers, the remains of fabric after reworking a dress. With these materials I make a completely new and different thing that brings me joy – a new brooch.

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I also try not use any chemical additives when working. Paper pulp, from which I make the basis for my brooches, consists of egg boxes, wheat flour, potato starch and water – that is all! I also use a non-toxic glue and paint. I had the idea to combine the stained glass technique with paper mache, but because of the presence of lead in solder and toxicity of pastes for soldering I abandoned the idea.
Of course what I do is but a drop in the ocean, but I believe that every little bit helps.

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Make sure to visit Dariakash on Etsy and follow her below!

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