Introducing ScrantonMade Artist Jenn Bell

Saturday, September 29, 2012

We’re thrilled to introduce ScrantonMade artist Jenn Bell. She’s not only hilarious, she’s a tremendously talented artist, an enormous inspiration and one of our all around favorite people.

Hi Jenn!

You studied jewelry design at Kutztown University.  What kind of jewelry did you make and how did it lead to where you are today?
My jewelry was very sculptural, a little creepy and pretty uncomfortable. Enameling, fusing glass to metal is connected to jewelers because historically it was used to imitate jewels. I did not take advantage of that idea, but I did become enamored with what enamel did to my creepy sculptures. During all of this I was making little color samples, with little wire work drawings on them and turning them into pendants.  People really liked those. Like, buying them off me liked those. Which was a great way to support my habits in college, but not so much as a real life adult.  There wasn't
a full line of products behind these pendants. Until a fellow Scrantonian who I only knew as the fellow who really liked puppets opened performing/gallery/dance party space. And he only knew me as another artist girl and asked if I wanted to take a month on his calendar and I said yes, thinking I’d turn the pendants into little wall hung pieces. And people really liked those. In a supporting real life adult type habits sort of way.

Have you always been into the arts and making things?
I still get bitter when I go into AC Moore. If that place was around when I was a kid I would’ve stolen my parents credit card and quit grade school.  What was available was the craft section at McCrory’s and I would hack those “god bless our home” samplers into whatever. I had a pretty serious embroidery floss habit. I built model cars and model buildings with my dad. Drawing intimidated me. No one ever told me it was a skill, that if you practiced you got better. So I’m still mediocre at that. I got sent to detention in high school because I would skip classes to work on quilts or drafting or painting. I recently had a conversation about deciding on what to be when you “grow up”,  we decided the best question to answer was :   As a kid, what were you willing to get in trouble for. . . . .. . figure out how to be that.

early Jenn Bell jewelry

Tell us about the tile making process from start to finish...
I start with a sheet of copper. I sift a layer finely crushed glass onto to one side. That gets fired to 1500 degrees.  While that side is getting covered in glass the other side is freaking out, getting dirty and patternednd with oxides from the heat and air and what not. I don’t clean this, I just enamel over it and that’s what creates those backgrounds. Then I arrange tiny copper wires into the shapes – circles, flowers, rain drops. The wire is sort of like those noodles from that wierd Mrs. Grass box soup, really thin and flat. The enameled tile, with the wire work gets fired and the glass becomes all melty and the wire sinks in. I mix colored crushed glass with a clear substance called “klyr fire” to make a paste, and pack it into the wire work. Then it gets fired again. Then I use automotive silicone to attach a wooden block that my dad cuts, sands and stains to the back of the tile and then you hang it on your wall. 

works in progress
lots of copper

front and back

How did you turn your art into a full time occupation?
I drank a whole lot and ignored the fact that I was still waitressing and didn’t have insurance as my friends got promotions and checkups.  I’m half kidding. I just never stopped making after college. I moved back in with my parents for a bit and set up a studio in the basement and would just sit there. Sometimes I didn’t make anything, but sitting in that space that I carved out for myself let me not forget what I wanted.

And all of that is more important than reading business books or figuring out book keeping. There’s accountants for that. And in the age of the world wide web there’s information on shows and shops and online markets everywhere. I’m not google.

If you never stop making, you’ll overflow and have to put it out there.

Luck = opportunity + preparation.  Creativity = 99% perspiration+1% inspiration.
I think Ben Franklin, Thomas Edison or Einstein said this stuff. I”m really bad at trivia, and fact checking.

watching and waiting

What has been your greatest business experience thus far?
My best business experiences that I am constantly reminded of are all the jobs I had at small businesses growing up. Watching my parents run a business for 25 years also helped.  I worked at a place in Philly that made custom ordered purses and that really showed me what a small scale production line was about. Before I accepted that jewelry was not my calling I worked at a fine jewelry store that taught me a lot about  packaging, marketing materials, shipping and displaying, which is incredibly helpful when dealing with my stores and galleries. Waitressing taught me how to hustle and talk to strangers.

Your business is hugely influenced by traveling and taking your pieces on the road, what is your favorite part of selling at shows and least favorite part?
My sister did a show with me this year and at the end, after we had packed up, she looked at me, totally disheveled and dirty and said “thats a lot of work”. The load in, load out, and set up for shows is my least favorite part. But it’s just labor. I’m used to it. I’ve got set up down to six hours and I only go through six or seven Bandaids.
My favorite part, and it really does make all that previously mentioned nonsense worth it, is hanging out with the other artists. Followed closely with a tie, by getting to travel  and meeting the people who support art and are really excited to buy and talk about their collections and what art means to them.

What is your inspiration?
Colors and textures.
Shapes and stories.
Humor and sentimentality.
Old stuff.
Well designed stuff.

Do you have any events or shows coming up?
September 29-30 Peters Valley Craft Fair, Sussex County Fairgrounds, NJ
November 5, 6, 7   Sugarloaf Craft Festival   Oaks, PA
November 29-December 31.  Marquis Art and Frame, Scranton PA
December 9,10,11 CraftBoston Holiday  Boston, MA

Introducing ScrantonMade Artist Alicia Grega of SubVerse Aphrodesia

Sunday, September 23, 2012
We are thrilled to introduce ScrantonMade artist Alicia Grega of SubVerse Aphrodesia.

Hey Alicia!  

Tell us a little about yourself, your background & occupation....

I’m a theatre geek at heart because while I love the escape of a good story and its ability to help us transform, there is no greater rush than having all of your senses engaged in a live, community forum.
Everything else I’ve gotten into over the years – arts journalism, jewelry making, teaching, photography – has been about diversifying my skills to ultimately become more marketable, but within a framework of personal values that’s more about growing a nurturing quality of life than it is about making money in order to consume according to someone else’s values.
My ancestors are Eastern European immigrants who moved to NEPA for the coal industry but I grew up all over the country. I settled in Scranton in 1999 and it’s meant a lot for me to give my children (Miranda Anais, 16 and Frances Maia, 14) roots and a place that they’ll be able to call home no matter where life takes them.

It seems you have your hands in a little bit of everything- from theatrical production, to acting, to writing, to photography, to fine art prints, tile making and jewelry- what will you be featuring on ScrantonMade?

I’m planning to feature a few of my Scranton specific items that have been well-received with a new idea or two, keeping the focus on simple, affordable pieces ScrantonMade shoppers can give as gifts or keep for themselves. I’ll continue to maintain my full inventory of more complex and one-of-a-kind pieces elsewhere.

Specifically, I’m working on building my inventory of historic Scranton map/postcard pendants and tie tacks, abstract Scranton architecture tiles, lotus root jewelry, bowtie necklaces, and/or a new polymer clay series of jewelry (probably mushrooms).

When did you start making jewelry and how has the work evolved over the years?

I’ve always been interested in design and fashion and started exploring photography shortly after joining the staff of Electric City in 2001. I had never thought of myself as the craft sort however, and it wasn’t until the fall of 2009 that I began making jewelry.
I had received a grant from the Pennsylvania Council on the Arts to do a series of presentations on the NeoVaudeville movement and resurgence in Burlesque/Cabaret-style aesthetics. I was looking for some kind of merchandise I might offer beyond the rock ‘n’ roll show standards and started making pieces that reflected the retro-Victorian and DIY aesthetics my research talked about. People liked it and I discovered I liked it.

Making things with my hands continues to prove a refreshing diversion after staring at a computer screen eight or more hours a day.

What is your favorite piece (or line) and what inspired its creation?

The latest thing I’ve done is almost always my favorite. I’m a sucker for gemstones and artisan glass in general and love beading patterns with different textures and sizes of stones in complementary colors. This summer I worked with recycled glass and African trade beads. Most recently, I created a series of vintage-inspired cocktail hat/fascinators in conjunction with a jazz age speakeasy benefit party we held for the theater.

Do you offer custom work and what types?

Yes. I love a good challenge. Tell me what you have in mind and if it’s in my skill set, I’ll get right to work on it. I’ve taken orders for wedding jewelry and party accessories and created custom-blended color clay or resin flower pieces, as well as personalized gifts. My abstract architecture tiles developed out of a commission last winter.

What are some great things about being an artist in Scranton?

I love lack of distraction in Scranton. There is plenty to do if you go out and look for it, but you’re not constantly being bombarded with the random stimulus of a larger city. It’s easy to live simply and stay productive here. And I love the natural beauty of this region and the rhythm of the four seasons. Also, because we’re not overwhelmed with choices here, you can really feel the impact of the work you do here whether it be a theatrical production, arts & crafts show, or volunteering for First Friday Scranton.

What have been some of the struggles?

Like everyone else probably, my main struggles have been financial. I’ve been fortunate in that the last couple of years I’ve been able to make enough of a profit to justify the expenses of teaching myself how to do what I’m doing. But I feel there’s so much still beyond my reach. I really want to be working more with metal but the equipment and supplies are a serious investment. Likewise, I could happily dive deeper into millinery – I’ve been a big fan of hats since childhood, but I’m not quite sure Scranton can support a specialty hat boutique right now.

I rely on my day job to support my children and that consumes a lot of the time I might have used to take my other initiatives to the next level.

You are involved in so many projects!  How do you fit it all in?  

I work before work and I work after work and usually work through my lunch break. But when you love what you’re doing, it doesn’t feel so much like work, it feels like you’re making something beautiful or a program with the potential to entertain or inspire. I listen to a lot of audio books and podcasts while I work, which helps ease the tediousness of tasks like beading or toning photos.

Still, I don’t feel that I’m doing it all very gracefully. When I’m working on a show, weeks will go by when I don’t work in the studio. I see my friends at the theater and other cultural events, but I don’t “go out” much anymore. And I do have weekends when I just collapse on the couch, let my eyes glace over and succumb to whatever awful teen television my kids are watching.

Necessity is a big factor. If you want to make a living as an artist, diversification is essential. The market and trends change quickly and the more you know how to do the better able you’re going to be able to survive.

How has the art community in Scranton evolved since you have been a part of it?

The art community was really riding a positive wave from the turn of this century that seemed to peak around 2004 and then dip slightly before washing up in a heap of challenges brought on by recession. And it’s not just Scranton – artists have been struggling nationwide to get people to give up big box discount consumption and support their local efforts of a more meaningful and higher quality, if more expensive.

What do you love most about selling your handmade wares?

I love the challenge of breathing real tangible success into an abstract concept or vision. I love looking at something, saying, “I have no idea how to do that,” and then learning how to do it and making it happen. I love making something available to people that they didn’t know existed or didn’t know they wanted or didn’t know they could afford.

Upcoming Events:
First Friday Exhibit at GreenBeing, downtown Scranton
Opening Reception October 5th; running through October

Dionysia '12: Apocalypse (2nd annual Jason Miller Playwrights' project invitational)
Sept 20-30th
The Olde Brick Theatre, Scranton
Click here for tickets

Connect with Alicia
Twitter: @svaphro
Instagram: aligrega

Alicia's favorite blogs/ publications

CREATE: A Book Binding Workshop at Artworks

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

I recently attended a fun book binding workshop taught by the talented Samantha Nardelli at Artworks in downtown Scranton which was sponsored by Artworks and GreenBeing

The class was in the art studio at Artworks which is cozy and well-lit; a perfect spot for a small creative workshop. In this class, we learned the basics of book binding and each created our own “long stitch” bound book out of recycled materials, watercolor paper and fabric. Here is a sneak peak of what we did. 

Long-stitch bookbinding is exactly like it sounds: a book bound with long stitches that connect the book pages to the spine. We used watercolor paper with deckeled edges which are perfect for sketching and painting books, journaling or recipes. 

The books we created had fabric covers and were made of four signatures, or sections, each individually stitched into the cover to create a loose spine. We used a deckeler (but a ruler will also work) to make a deckeled (feathered or rough) edge giving it a very handmade look.

The binding process involved hand-sewing each signature into the fabric cover after creating a set of stitch holes with an awl (bookbinding tool used for piercing the signatures- pictured above).

{All put together and ready to be bound!}

The hand sewing itself took about 30 minutes or so and soon we all had our own handmade book, ready to be used for whatever we like.

The happy class!

I'm using mine as a fall recipe book. I've already added my latest recipe for stuffed poblano peppers. Yum!

Stay tuned for a step-by-step tutorial!

Introducing ScrantonMade Artists Amanda and Kathie of The Fanciful Fox

Saturday, September 15, 2012
We're excited to introduce mother and daughter team, Kathie and Amanda Fox of The Fanciful Fox. If you're a Scrantonian, you're probably already familiar with the soapmaking duo as they've been operating their luscious-smelling vegan and fair trade shop in Scranton since 2008.  If you haven't yet had the pleasure of experiencing their products, you will be in for a rare and luxurious treat.  

photo: GreenBeing

Hello Amanda!
Tell us a little about yourselves and your background.  

I’ve known Kathie for my entire life, mostly because she’s my mother. I grew up constantly working on projects her. We began doing crafty type things when I was young, and began making candles around the time I was eleven. Our candle making hobby grew into a bath and body care making hobby, which grew into an obsession, which grew into a career for the both of us. I’ve lived in the Scranton area for my entire life, and Kathie has been here since she was a young teenager.

How did The Fanciful Fox go from being a dream to a real life bricks-and-mortar store with a full line of products?

The Fanciful Fox just happened. It turned from a joke to reality so quickly that neither of us remembers the moment that we decided to actually take the leap. We fell so in love with the business that our product lines almost developed themselves, and we’re still thankfully growing. Whenever we see a need for a specific products in our lives or in the lives of those around us, we figure out how to solve the need.

Describe the different types of products that you make.

Our brand includes a very wide variety of bath, body, and home products. The list includes items such as liquid and bar soaps, lotions and creams, face and hair care, room sprays, soy candles, dog shampoo, an old-fashion men’s line, and even tattoo aftercare. We believe that covers a little bit of everything. 

We know that The Fanciful Fox is completely dedicated to being a vegan and fair trade business.   Tell us about why this is important to you and how it informs your business decisions.

As individuals, we find our ethics sway every decision we make in business. We both live vegan lifestyles, so it’s a no brainer that our store reflects those values. We live by the idea that all living beings both human and non-human deserve respect. Veganism and fair trade goes hand in hand for us, and we’re striving to share the message of restoring dignity to the supply chain. 

What is the best thing about being a small business in Scranton?

There are so many wonderful aspects of being a small business in Scranton, but the best has to be our community of other small businesses. Teamwork is a beautiful thing.

What are some of the challenges?

As wonderful as being a small business is, it’s also hard to compete with big business. That’s probably the only drawback. People are still becoming educated on how the “big commercial” supply chain works, and sometimes it’s hard to show the value of a handmade product in comparison to a factory made or mass produced product.

What is your dream for your business?  

Our dream is just to continue to thrive and grow. All either one of us wants to do for the rest of our lives is make soap. We are just very content making our customers smile through their bath experience.

Amanda- We’re so impressed that you were just high school when you a launched your business. You’re such an inspiration to young people in our community.  Do you have any advice or words of inspiration you’d like to share?

I’m very flattered, but I’m just following my passion like everyone else. I was fortunate enough to figure out what I was in love with young in my life. The only words of inspiration I can share are rather cliché, but I would just advise everyone to just do what they love and love what they do. By making our lives enjoyable and bringing love into every aspect of our lives we can change the attitudes of the world.

Do you have any upcoming events?

Yes! We will be vendors at Green America’s GreenFest the last weekend in September in Washington, DC.

Follow the Fanciful Fox
Twitter: thefancifulfox
Instagram: thefancifulfox
Pinterest: thefancifulfox

Amanda & Kathie's Vegan Rockstars

Introducing ScrantonMade Artist Valerie Kiser of Valerie Kiser Design

Saturday, September 8, 2012
We are thrilled to introduce ScrantonMade artist Valerie Kiser of Valerie Kiser Design; a company that specializes in unique design for sustainable apparel, home decor, wall art, accessories and print media. 

Hi Valerie!

You seem to have a lot going on! Tell us a little bit about yourself, your background and the projects you are currently involved with...
At the end of August I started teaching a Fibers and Related Media course at Marywood University. Valerie Kiser Design is launching a new collection of t-shirt art in a few weeks. The most obvious project is The Pop Up Studio! We have planned ten events for this year alone and are a week away from hosting our 8th community art event, The White Party. The Pop Up Studio also plans to work with UNC (United Neighborhood Center) developing interactive art installations with high school students in Lackawanna County. Three of four Pop Up members sit on the UNC Youth Auxillary Board. Two of us sit on The Iron Furnace Task Force, a committee with a mission to restore The Iron Furnaces into something similar to the ArtQuest Steel Stacks in Bethlehem, PA.

Photo Credit: Chala Jan

I see that you have a degree in Fiber Arts. What inspired you to study fiber art and what does fiber art entail?
I graduated in 2000 from Savannah College of Art and Design with a BFA in Fibers. I enrolled into SCAD as a painting major but my freshman year I saw work coming out of the Fibers Department and I really resonated with the materials and methodologies. By the end of that first year, I had taken Intro to Fibers and declared my major. In that program, I was exposed to amazing technology as well as the basic fiber fundamentals like screen-printing, repeat pattern design, dyeing, weaving, sewing, 3D fibers, felting and papermaking. I was able to explore options in fine art, studio production, entrepreneurship and commercial textile design. I choose to graduate with a Fine Art Portfolio but ironically I started screen-printing some of my original designs on ready-to-wear fashions to make some quick money. It was well received and I’m ready to launch my newest collection almost 13 years later. 

When and why did you start your own business?
I officially became Valerie Kiser Design in 2010. I needed something here in Scranton that I could get behind, believe in, and be proud of and was tired of hearing people say things like “that will never happen in NEPA” so I started my own company. It was the best career decision I have ever made.

What have been some of the struggles?
There is a long list of things that didn’t work out for me. But looking back on my past I would say that cliche phrase “everything happens for a reason.” I think you have to problem solve through your failures and in the end you come out more skilled and confident in what you were doing in the first place.

Photo Credit: Chala Jan

Tell us a bit about why you hold the standards of your designs being made and printed in the USA...

Putting my designs on USA made products has been something I have been passionate about since 2000. Back before I was able to buy wholesale, I was buying products at Walmart and everything I purchased there was made in the USA. Now pretty much everything in Walmart and every other store in America is made in China.

Around 2003 I was able to open my first wholesale account with a popular American apparel company. As they gained their own success and high product demands, their costs increased and selections were limited for wholesale customers like me.

Today, it can be more challenging to find the product I am looking for with the color and style I want. Luckily, I am able to use a few different companies that offer USA-made, fashionable, high quality and affordable pieces. The next best thing to USA-made for me would be certified organic or some eco-fiber. For me, ethical practices in manufacturing and production are important and priority. If I ever use a product not made in the States it will be labeled as such. 

What is The Pop Up Studio? When’s the next event and where?
The Pop Up Studio hosts different themed events that “pop-up” in a new place, date and time. The collaborators are myself, my husband David Bosley, Ruth Koelewyn, and Mike Muller.

Our mission is to engage the public in unique participatory, spatial, and formal works creating singular sensory experiences based on the qualities of the venue and the milieu of the surrounding neighborhood. We also hope to highlight and bring together the opportunities, resources, and people pushing Lackawanna County forward. And to create an imaginative space where people can challenge their conceptions of art in playful and experimental ways.

Photo Credit: Chala Jan

Who and what is your inspiration?
Other creative people, interior design and textiles; fashion, cityscapes; and the amazing shapes, patterns, textures and color combinations you can find in nature.

What is your dream for your business?  If you could see anyone wearing one of your designs, who would it be?
I would love to see something of mine printed in a national publication someday. Nothing is more rewarding than seeing someone on the street wearing my design. 

Photo Credit: Chala Jan

Photo Credit: Chala Jan

Any events coming up?
The Pop Up Studio will host our next event, The White Party, at the Century Club of Scranton, Sept 15 from 7-10PM. Next month, we will be co-hosting an event with The Anthracite Heritage Museum called The Bonfire at The Iron Furnaces on Oct 20 from 8-11PM. Our last event for 2012 will be a Pop Up Studio Murder Mystery Fundraiser sometime in Nov or Dec.

Valerie Kiser Design will be at The Waverly Comm’s Artisan’s Marketplace, November 17-18th.    

We invite all ages to get involved in our projects. If you are curious about The Pop Up Studio visit our website

Follow Valerie:
Twitter: @vkiser
Pinterest: v/kiser

More on Valerie:
The Pop Up Studio