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


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.

Inspiring : Ruchika {ceramics}


ruchika - tile - two potted plants

ruchika – tile – two potted plants


Ceramicist Ruchika Madan learnt to say no the hard way, but it was one of the best realizations she ever had. “I was initially so eager for work, I found it very hard to refuse projects that I didn’t want to do, or wholesale production orders.

“Eventually I figured out that if I just worked on what I really wanted to, stayed true to my own pursuits and values, the work sold just as well or even better, and I was so much happier.

“I still don’t do much production or any wholesale and only take commissions that fall into my current way of working and style. I want to go into the studio excited to work, not dreading the slog through some tedious project.”


ruchika - leaves and vine mug

ruchika – leaves and vine mug


Ruchika’s career has taken a few twists and turns, but always the focus was on creating something. Originally studying metalsmithing, she changed focus to ceramics early on in her studies, and graduated from Maine College of Art in Portland. Wanting to work as a studio potter but stuck without a studio meant working as an assistant to another ceramicist (which she says was great for honing skills), while doing restaurant jobs on the side and textiles at home to support herself.


“I have always been a maker – it’s just what I have always done and in some ways, my career has just been a long continuation of the same person I was as that little kid.”


Over the past 20 years, she has split her time between teaching, making and exhibiting, and for the last 10, had her own retail studio space next to her friend and jeweller, Jade Moran in Somerville, MA. During that time, she also worked as product developer and designer for her family business, Achla Designs, a manufacturer of garden products. “At one point we had a ceramic line, which I worked to develop with a factory in Poland. It was a great experience to trouble-shoot and learn more about designing for specific production methods.”


ruchika - tile - two fish

ruchika – tile – two fish


ruchika - fish and waves plate

ruchika – fish and waves plate


With the arrival of her second child at the end of last year, Ruchika decided to close her retail space. Now she continues her work from home, with an office upstairs and a clay studio in the basement. “I have plenty of space and my garden right outside.”

It’s her garden and what happens in it that provides much of the inspiration for her work – birds, worms, baby carrots and fresh sprouts all make their way onto her platters and tiles. Strong clean forms come through, with plenty of emphasis on line and texture. “I love to work in series, creating a body of work with images that come from a theme, or recurring preoccupation I have.”

“Most of my work is made from white stoneware and porcelain clay using a variety of forming techniques, including wheel-throwing, slab-building and slip-casting.  The surface is created by incising and carving, and brushing, stenciling, and trailing slip. The glaze and underglaze materials vary the line quality and colors. By applying the glazes to selected areas with a brush, some areas can be shiny, while others remain softly matte.”


ruchika - little oval dish - peapod

ruchika – little oval dish – peapod


ruchika - carrots

ruchika – carrots


“I think the hardest thing as an artist is having to just muddle along and make your own way. You have to have drive to become reasonably successful and/or financially solvent. You are a one-man-band – production, marketing, accounting, janitorial…


“Sometimes people have mentors, but I didn’t so much, and 20 years ago there were no fabulous tools like Etsy or Squarespace or mobile phone credit card readers that make tasks manageable, even easy.”


“Just learning to take photographs – (slides!) of your work was such a huge obstacle before you could even move on to the next thing. So I just buckled down and figured it out. Now it’s so much easier to hang a virtual shingle out and you’re open for business, and I’m happy to be able to take advantage. Outsourcing and hiring help is also possible once you are more established or have a bigger budget, but watching my parents in the family business doing it all and building up to the successful business they have today, taught me what could be achieved on your own.”


ruchika - box tile - nestbuilders

ruchika – box tile – nestbuilders


Throwing children into the mix was a hard adjustment. “Being a studio artist is a solitary life – I mean mentally more, but physically too. I spent so many hours working full-time alone in my studio for many years before kids came along. It was hard to adjust and I go crazy when I can’t carve out any time for that. I resort to dead of night when everyone is in bed. I figure I’ll sleep when I’m dead! Right now with a 1 and 5 yr old is the biggest challenge. I often feel I am running on a hamster wheel.”

But of course the children are inspiring too. “It’s interesting to see what my 5 year old seems to have inherited genetically. He spends hours at our kitchen table, “his workshop” cutting things out with scissors and doing various projects. At my parents house, he has commandeered the shoe closet under the stairs as his “studio” and set it up with a tiny table and chair and suitcase full of supplies.”

They spend a lot of time as a family making art together. “My husband is an artist too and we draw a lot in our family – we have a giant sketchbook we work on together and really, we spend a lot more time doing art purely for fun. My inspiration has always come from my activities – my garden, my time in Maine etc., and the stories we read and animals we study, projects we do – all of it percolates into my studio work.” Ruchika also uses the time with children to focus on aspects other than studio work, like setting up her website and some other side projects in design, including fresh products for Achla, as well as patterns through Spoonflower. And of course, working in her garden.


ruchika's garden outside her studio

ruchika’s garden outside her studio


You can find more of Ruchika’s beautiful ceramics in her Etsy shop, ruchika.


Inspiring : Whimsy Milieu {craft}

whimsymilieu - intense euphoria

whimsymilieu – intense euphoria


Jacqueline Chan finds inspiration everywhere, from the curiosities of the natural world to delectable French patisserie and everything in between. Wooden rings with painted diamonds, colourful leather concoctions of necklaces with names like “Sweet Success” and “Intense Euphoria”, illustrations of dogs and sharks and pouches with handprinted abstract patterns all find their way into her repertoire. She never stays focused on one medium (“my heart is pulled into many different directions and I love working with different materials”); so it’s really no surprise that she calls her business Whimsy Milieu.


whimsymilieu - wooden diamond rings

whimsymilieu – wooden diamond rings


Working out of her home studio in Orange, NSW, Jacqueline has made it her mission to spread happiness to the world; and what she makes is designed to do just that. Her aim is for you to “surround yourself with whimsical things that make you happy.” Producing work that achieves this goal makes her happy too.


“I love it that this job of spreading happiness doesn’t feel like work at all, as I wake up every day to do what I love and fall asleep at night thinking about more ideas for my business.”


Materials and process are a joy for her, even more than the designing. “What I love most about making is the process. Although I always feel intimidated before I start, when I actually do start, it is just exhilarating. It’s also enlightening when I make mistakes but work out how to overcome them.”


whimsymilieu - sweet success

whimsymilieu – sweet success


whimsymilieu - blockprinted pouch

whimsymilieu – blockprinted pouch


For someone who is as consistently inventive across wildly differing mediums as Jacqueline, it is surprising to realise that her life has gone in a big circular loop. She grew up in a very creative household in her home country of Malaysia, always drawing and crafting. “I remember making cards with my mother to sell at the school fair, and also representing my school in many art competitions.”



But life shifted, and “somehow, I ended up studying engineering at university and eventually became an engineer.”


However, you can’t suppress your true self forever. “The urge to lead a creative life started bugging me incessantly and I went back to university and obtained a degree in design. It has certainly enabled me to look at the world with new eyes.” During their studies, her and her friends started making things to sell, and it was this small taster that fuelled Jacqueline’s dreams to start her own business. Whimsy Milieu became a reality in 2012.


whimsymilieu - blockprinted pouch

whimsymilieu – blockprinted pouch


whimsymilieu - amazingly awesome

whimsymilieu – amazingly awesome


“I have learnt a lot through this journey – not only in terms of creativity and business, but also about life and relationships. It is such a blessing that doing something I love also enables me to live a more meaningful life and to spend more time with my loved ones, wherever they may be in the world.

“However, one of the most important things that I learnt is not to compare myself with other designers/artisans – we are all different and we satisfy different needs of all our lovely customers. I am very happy to create things that make people happy, and I also hope to prompt awareness of living a more creative and meaningful life.”

You can find more of Jacqueline’s creativity in her Etsy shop, WhimsyMilieu, and on her own website.


whimsymilieu - snowy mountain wooden rings

whimsymilieu – snowy mountain wooden rings