Inspiring: Barbara Gilhooly {maker/artist}

Barbara Gilhooly’s work is seductive in its multilayered colours, its bright patterns and flowers, its hints of mid-century style. And she amazes with her variety of mediums and breadth of skill – painting, printmaking, wire and wood sculpture, just to name a few …

Barbara Gilhooly - balls for the wall

Barbara Gilhooly – balls for the wall


Barbara Gilhooly - balls for the wall

Barbara Gilhooly – balls for the wall


Rich with layers and lines and beautiful, beautiful, delicious colour, her work is reminiscent of Stig Lindberg and Lucienne Day amongst others. There are several motifs that Barbara returns to again and again – circles, botanical elements, and buildings.”Circles have been with me the longest – over 20 years. I identify with the obvious references of the shape; centered, wholeness, sphere, etc. However, the attraction for me is the playful quality a circle or sphere evokes. I appreciate the fact that a circle/sphere is both an organic and a geometric shape, and I’m interested in contrasting and blending the industrial and the natural world.”


Barbara Gilhooly - acrylic on canvas

Barbara Gilhooly – acrylic on canvas


“My compositions are intuitive and evolve from the act of doing, not planning. It’s not to say I have no thought about what I am creating. It is a more trusting place of being ready to plunge into the work without fear. It isn’t always pleasant, and sometimes many days of work get painted over. But, I find comfort in knowing the work underneath is still necessary and vital to the finished piece.  The hidden layers are revealed through sanding or scrubbing. It’s related to so much of our lives – what we don’t see or notice still matters.


We all have layers that aren’t visible and I find discovering the depth of these layers the most interesting in people and paintings.


Barbara Gilhooly - botanical paintings


Barbara Gilhooly - botanical paintings


After winning a scholarship to  Univ. of North Dakota (and being the only one in her family to go to college), she then went on to receive her MFA in printmaking and sculpture at Colorado State University.

“I was in kindergarten when I realized I could draw well beyond my classmates. I never thought of any other profession.” But Barbara says that making a career in art requires more than ability. “It’s my priority, profession and passion. Early in my career I chose to focus on making a schedule that puts my studio time on top of the list.”

“I’m disciplined when I’m in the studio. I learned that just because my studio is in my home I don’t do house tasks during studio work time. Being an artist is being a business person as well, and I also use half of my time on marketing and business tasks.”


Barbara Gilhooly - 100 x 6" (selection)

Barbara Gilhooly – 100 Six Inch Paintings (selection)


One of her favourite pieces was a work titled 100 Six Inch Paintings. “I wanted a large impactful piece, but was concerned about how difficult shipping such a large work would be, so I decided to create 100 small paintings that would cover the largest wall in the gallery. I painted these on birch panels and carved into the surfaces; each one is unique and complex.”

“It was important for me to make each 6 inch panel a standalone piece and not dependent on hanging with the others. I learned so much in working on so many pieces at once. I learned how to finish a work and become much more disciplined. I would critique the nearly finished work at the end of each day, then use post it notes to jot down what each work requires to be finished and stick the note right on the painting. During the two months that I painted these 100 paintings, I would then come to the studio in the morning and take each painting with the post it notes and finish them one by one. Then move to the next batch. I painted flat on a table and would work on as many as 10 to 12 at one time.”

The finished paintings were then hung in four grids of 25 paintings in each grid. Barbara said they were a big hit, discovering in the process that having a more affordable size for collectors worked well with the other larger works in the show.

“I’m often asked how do I make so much good work. I’m prolific because I have been in the studio making things full time for over twenty years. It’s like any profession that requires skill – it involves practice, practice, practice.  I compare it to being a chef.


“There’s a point in a chef’s career when you are trained and have the years of experience to create dishes without rules or recipes because you know ingredients and how to use them. It’s very much what I do with my work.


I know the ingredients, which are the elements of art. And the recipes in art are the basic principles. I don’t have to think about those formal aspects anymore, I work intuitively. (I cook that way too!) You have to work, make mistakes and put the time in the studio. Much of the work I paint on a panel is painted over. But, it’s still not a wasted day because when I sand through, the layers will reveal some of that history. I paint over panels a lot! It’s editing and being honest with what isn’t working. Another tip that works well for me is to make decisions about work in progress at the end of the day. I use post it notes to jot down my next steps for each work, and the next morning I know exactly what to work on for each piece.”


barbara gilhooly


“The other half of your work is running your business. It’s a reality and a necessity for success. Find a source to guide your way through the business side. There are many resources online – I’ve worked with Alyson B. Stanfield the Art Biz Coach, and others. Set aside time to learn and devote to marketing your work. There is no one way to be successful – my partner and I like to say ‘Let me do it my own wrong way’!


You can find more of Barbara’s brightness at


Inspiration : MonicaJ {crochet}

monicaj - lace rock collection

monicaj – lace rock collection


Monica Johnson’s friend Jennifer used to visit her house regularly. “She saw me creating paintings one at a time, and stacking them in a corner; creating more and stacking them in a corner. And one day she asked me, what are you planning to do with all these paintings Monica? And I said, well I really don’t know… I just enjoy creating them. That’s when she told me about Etsy. Then every time I saw her she asked me, did you open a shop yet? My answer was always no. Until one day I thought I would give it a try… and I have been there ever since [and that’s a long time – MonicaJ started on Etsy in 2007 – JG]. I am very thankful that she convinced me to try – I have loved having my own shop, talking with wonderful customers and meeting so many awesome Etsy artists.”

Now making her home in Oklahoma, Monica considers herself lucky to be have been born into a family of makers and artists. “It was my mother who had the time and patience to teach us everything she knew about art, crochet, sewing, painting, cooking, gardening etc. I grew up in the country and loved it. We were very involved in 4-H and always had lots of projects to take to the fair every year.”


monicaj - soft brown

monicaj – soft brown

She is a compulsive maker. “My dreams are filled with crochet patterns, and many times I wake up and sketch new designs and patterns. I am an obsessive creator and a collector of supplies. The list of quirky goes on… lol.”


But it’s this kind of simple passion that can be problematic too. “For me, my passion is creating and only creating. So everything about having my own business was a challenge. But I kept working at it, learning something new everyday and looking up answers to all my many questions.” And so her business has come about bit by bit, gradually piecing things together over the last eight years.


monicaj - curly in soft gold

monicaj – curly in soft gold


monicaj - light grey with glass beads

monicaj – light grey with glass beads


It’s the rocks themselves that are her key inspiration. She searches out and collects them wherever her travels take her, choosing them for their colour and smoothness, and occasionally going to great lengths to find exactly the right one.

With their immense variety of sizes, shapes, textures and colours, each rock has its own distinctive personality. It is this that inspires each unique lace design, along with her ever-growing collection of vintage crochet patterns. But it’s mostly the stones. “I usually have a picture in my mind as to what I want the lace stone to look like and then work on the piece until it matches my vision. Each creation is its own unique challenge, because each stone is unique.”  The quality of finish for each piece is important to her too, and she spends just as much time working to make the lace fit properly, and to make the back of the stone look as interesting as the front.


monicaj - light grey ruffled

monicaj – light grey ruffled


monicaj - linen with green leaves

monicaj – linen with green leaves


With their simple, muted background colours and gentle lighting providing contrast to the rich textures of her crochet, it is her photos of the work that make MonicaJ stand out in the sea of Etsy.  “Photos and descriptions are so important. I started out with lots of ideas about backgrounds for photos which ended up to be way too busy looking. It helped a lot to simplify. It is important to have your eye go directly to the item you are trying to sell and not immediately to your background. If you are trying to show detail, the macro setting is very important.”

“As far as styling, I am very into blending colors, most of the time keeping with families of colors or complimentary colors. And since my items have a big nature vibe I sometimes use pieces of nature for props. The descriptions are so important as well; I try to write what I would like to know about the piece, and include as many details as possible. I always include measurements.”


monica's toolbox

monica’s toolbox


Monica finds it important to diversify her offerings too. She completely understands the desire to make things (she knows this from first hand experience..!), so she also offers a comprehensive guide of tips and techniques so others can make their own beautiful crocheted rocks. And while the lace stones are a focal point for her business, she admits they can be out of the reach of some people’s pockets, and so offers a range of notecards featuring beautiful photos of the stones.

After many years of effort, it’s all coming together for her. Her fantastic work has been featured several times in Better Homes and Gardens, in Belle Armoire Jewelry Magazine, and online at Interweave Crochet MagazineCrochet Rising and the Etsy blog.

Monica’s best piece of advice? “To take one day at a time.”


You can find Monica’s Etsy shop over at MonicaJ.


Inspiration : Zero Pumpkin {Pauline Teng – plushies}

The creatures of Zero Pumpkin Land live in the dark corners of Under-Your-Bed and Inside-Your-Closet, only venturing out to reveal their true selves at night. If you manage to catch one they will swear to be your friend and promise you kisses, but only for so long as you stare them in the eyes. As soon as your back is turned, they will swap your deodorant for flyspray and steal the icecream out of your fridge.


zero pumpkin - stanley the shocking cat

zero pumpkin – stanley the shocking cat


Pauline Teng manages to wrangle these mischievous things out of her collection of fabrics, coaxing them with jelly beans and cake.  “My work place is my wonderland that I call Pumpkin Land. There is a big artist’s table for me to draw on and another small Japanese table for me to sew on, and lots of books and other stuff.”


zero pumpkin - bay bay the blue ocean bunny

zero pumpkin – bay bay the blue ocean bunny



“As a kid I drew a lot on the walls.”


In 2004 as a grown up, she started drawing and creating her menagerie, but it wasn’t until 2009 when a friend sent her a link to Etsy that it all started to snowball. Now, she splits her time between freelance graphic design work and Zero Pumpkin during the week, and on weekends she teaches at an art centre. It sounds like a fairly busy life – but Pauline admits she tends to just roll with whatever’s happening. “I won’t say I am a disciplined worker, I just enjoy what I do now. The best thing is I can’t stop creating what I love, and when you see people like your work so much that makes you happy.”


zero pumpkin - buzzy the bumble bee ice cream cat

zero pumpkin – buzzy the bumble bee ice cream cat


zero pumpkin - cookie the romantic clown cat

zero pumpkin – cookie the romantic clown cat


While creating and maintaining the ZP collection is an important part of her life, she is not in a position at the moment for it to become full-time. “In Malaysia people don’t appreciate handmade stuffs so much, and it’s hard to survive. That’s why as an artist here we need to have more than one job.”


zero pumpkin - damian the devil cat

zero pumpkin – damian the devil cat


The branding of ZP has grown organically. Although occasionally she swaps skills with friends, most things she has learnt by herself. Her background in graphic design certainly helped, and her best advice is to keep it simple. “All aspects of presentation need to be related to your products. And for photographs always stay with a clean background so that your products will stand out.”


zero pumpkin - fernando the red batik fox

zero pumpkin – fernando the red batik fox


zero pumpkin - isaac the oriental cat with the lion mask

zero pumpkin – isaac the oriental cat with the lion mask


Her best piece of advice?

“I should say always stay positive, enjoy and love what you do.”

You can find more of Pauline’s fabulous creatures in her Etsy shop, ZeroPumpkin.


Inspiring: Elly MacKay, TheaterClouds

I can’t get over how delicate and lovely these images are from Elly Mackay, the artist behind theaterclouds. They glow like warm memories of childhood, viewed through a magical peephole.


theaterclouds - she brought back the gift of the season

theaterclouds – she brought back the gift of the season


Elly is part craftsperson, part theatre-designer, and part photographer. She has been fascinated with tunnel books (books with consecutive cut-out pages that you expand to create a three-dimensional scene), Victorian paper-theatre and zoetropes ever since she can remember, and as a teen began making dioramas with moving parts and selling them at a gallery in Toronto. After completing school, she went on to receive a Bachelor of Fine Art from Nova Scotia College of Art and Design (where she met her husband), and now works from her home studio in Owen Sound, Canada. There, she weaves her magic with ink, paper and light, within the miniature wooden theatre her woodworker husband made for her.


theaterclouds - solo

theaterclouds – solo


“My creative process usually begins with an idea and title; the image follows close behind. I have a big whiteboard in my studio and I play with themes — weather, creatures, botany, etc. I do really loose drawings there, and I keep them up for a while to see what comes from them.


theaterclouds - sun leaves - page from the picture book fall leaves

theaterclouds – sun leaves – page from the picture book fall leaves


“I begin an illustration by sketching. I then build the layers. For the most part, I use ink on Yupo paper, a plastic paper. It has strength, and no grain. It catches the light quite beautifully too. Spraying it with different oils, alcohol, and rolling over inked areas creates unusual surfaces.

“When everything is in place I set up the lighting. Different filters, direction and type of lighting create different atmospheres. I also use the opacity/transparency of the Yupo paper to create shadowed areas or areas that beam with light. Sometimes I get multiple images from the same scene with quite different moods.  It is also nice being able to alter just one aspect of an illustration.


theaterclouds - when it is rainy and grey

theaterclouds – when it is rainy and grey


theaterclouds - the shadow teller

theaterclouds – the shadow teller


“I have a fluid process. With layers to create the setting, individual characters, lighting, filters, camera lenses and settings, there is lots of play that goes into getting my images and sometimes interesting surprises.”


theaterclouds - they tied their hopes to a string

theaterclouds – they tied their hopes to a string


theaterclouds - two families

theaterclouds – two families


theatercouds - on the back of a tiger

theatercouds – on the back of a tiger


Lately, she has been turning her attention to writing and illustrating books, and to date has illustrated two books, as well as writing and illustrating three of her own books – If You Hold a Seed, Shadow Chasers, and Butterfly Park, and . I highly recommend you watch the video about Elly’s process and thoughts about her book, If You Hold a Seed.





You can find more of her beautiful work in her Etsy store theaterclouds, and on her website,


Inspiration : Laurie Poast {ceramics}

poast - architectural wall installation

POAST – architectural wall installation

Laurie Poast grew up in a little farming village in Wisconsin, dreaming of the far-off places of her ancestors and pondering the magic of craftsmanship in the workshop of her father, the master luthier Ron Poast.

It was the architecture of her heritage in particular that captured her imagination – Norwegian, German, English – and all its forms that resonate with the history of the people that built them.


poast - amsterdam architecture

POAST – amsterdam architecture


Since studying fine arts education in Madison, WI, Laurie built on that knowledge of craftsmanship and history of art, and looked further to the historic architecture of other countries of migrants –  Switzerland, Italy, France, Greece and more. She is entranced by their distinctive forms; decorative and practical in varying degrees, but each with its own regional expression.

Translated into porcelain and stripped of colour, these tiny sculptures hint at stories of emigration and ancestral home; a kind of beautiful shadowland that has no presence except in memory. Singly, or grouped in cities, the works are elegant and intriguing.


poast - countryside houses set

laurie poast – countryside houses set


poast - french farmhouses

POAST – french farmhouses


Laurie worked with numerous American companies and arts organizations for several years gaining valuable business experience, and this eventually led into her to launching her own company in Norway, POAST Art & Design, which now serves over 300 contracted artists and interior designers.


poast - paris tree ornament

POAST – paris tree ornament


Her work has been featured in major publications and blogs including The Huffington Post, Homes and Gardens Magazine UK, Apartment Therapy, Sweet Paul Magazine, West Elm, Remodelista, Etsy Blog.





poast - porcelain cityscape - wall installation

POAST – porcelain cityscape – wall installation


You can find more of her work in her Etsy shop, POAST, and on her blog.

Inspiration : MeanderWorks {Marilyn Brogan, jeweller}

Marilyn Brogan’s jewellery exudes peace and beauty – her gentle lines put me in mind of clouds drifting by in a bright blue sky. Perhaps it’s a result of the workspace that she has surrounded herself with – a sun-filled rooftop studio with displays of cacti and succulents and other small collections of rocks, shells and tree debris gathered from her daily walks. Maybe too it’s the simple beauty of the handmade, and its presentation on a softly textured backgrounds. Whatever it is, it’s all a beautiful package.

meanderworks - cirrus earrings - patinated silver

meanderworks – cirrus earrings – patinated silver


meanderworks - silver cloud earrrings

meanderworks – silver cloud earrrings


She started her art career amongst the Blue Ridge Mountains in Virginia. First studying at Virginia Commonwealth University in their highly acclaimed sculpture program, she then gained a fellowship as a Core Student at Penland School of Crafts in North Carolina, and fell in love with metalworking.

As she says, she “followed a boy across the country to sunny San Diego”, and opened up a shop on Etsy, selling prints of drawings made at their kitchen table. With the vision of a home jewellery studio firmly in her head, over the next year or so she managed to accumulate the equipment and fundamental tools she needed. Pieces of jewellery increasingly made their way onto Etsy and in 2010, she moved her workspace from home to the rooftop studio that was once the piano bar of a historic hotel.


meanderworks - tourmalinated quartz ring

meanderworks – tourmalinated quartz ring


meanderworks - diamond stacking ring set -14k gold

meanderworks – diamond stacking ring set -14k gold


Being responsible to the environment is very important to her, and every piece of jewellery is constructed individually from recycled gold and silver, and from ethically sourced and traceable stones.

It’s obvious she loves what she does; the connection between her as the maker, the things she makes and the people who wear them is one she treasures – “I create each piece from raw materials to ensure that every one is unique, and so customers can share my passion, knowing that they have something made only for them.” And that love permeates through the making process too – “Metal is the best material – it’s so flexible and forgiving… Fine jewelry should be a work of art, not a mass-produced object cast and created by the thousands. That’s why all of my work is shaped, soldered and polished by hand.”


meanderworks - twig earrings - 14K gold

meanderworks – twig earrings – 14K gold


meanderworks - twig post earrings

meanderworks – twig post earrings


meanderworks - twig ring - patinated silver

meanderworks – twig ring – patinated silver


MeanderWorks was one of Etsy’s Featured Shops,  and you can find more of Marilyn’s work in the Etsy shop here.


marilyn in the studio

marilyn in the studio