Friday, January 11, 2008

Catherine Witherell Interview

Today my interview is with Catherine of Happy Day Art

Catherine can you tell us a little about yourself.

I live in the San Francisco bay area. I'm 49 years old, have been married 21 years and have 2 kids. My daughter is 14 and my son is almost 13. I was born in Canada from Hungarian immigrant parents who escaped their county in 1956 and went to Canada because the U.S.'s borders were closed at the time. About 5 years after the Berlin wall fell in 1989, I was talking to my dad about it and he said he didn't believe that it ever fell. He felt it was just a story, since he was so strongly affected by the experiences he had in the 40's and 50's. When I turned 30, he felt I should know what had happened to him and he told my sister and I the parts of his story that he could stand to tell us. He was raised in the Roman Catholic Church and he spent time in a concentration camp himself and was exposed to diptheria, smallpox and typhoid in his lifetime.

You are a very talented Jewelry designer, is this something you have always been interested in?

Thank you! No, as a teenager I liked to do a little bit of bead stringing but I didn't get into REAL jewelry making until after I turned 40, in 2001. When I was 32 my husband and I lived in Salem, Oregon and I took ceramic classes at the "Pottery Barn", a little house in the center of the historic part of town. I became very passionate about throwing pots and spent up to 30 hours a week there practicing. I still make pots, and I found I was a passable sculptor too. One day, while sitting around thinking of things that would be fun to do, I thought "Hmmm, I 'd love to be a goldsmith".

How did PMC (Precious Metal Clay) change the way you made jewelry?

When I found out about PMC I was really excited. It was an epiphany in a way and I felt like the Universe was giving me the way I could be a goldsmith. The current definition in wikipedia of a goldsmith is: a metalworker who specializes in working with precious metals, usually, to make jewelry.

When and how were you first introduced to PMC?

Right around that time in 2001 I heard of a class at the Mendocino Art Center on the coast of California and about a 3 1/2 hour drive from my house. They were offering a 2 day class "Intro to PMC".

What is your favorite jewelry piece so far, I think your bird houses are amazing and I do love that little monkey!!

My favorite right now is the two-sided filigree heart necklace with the red resin inside. It is a combination of an old traditional looking style of metalwork, like they used to use in iron work, and new materials. I really like trying to make something that looks old style, Greek, Roman, and Medieval but I like to mix it with new materials and modern images or colors and I am interested in adding some resin. But, I really like the monkey too.

I see that you are going to be teaching at ARTFEST, this year. How does that feel?

You know, it is a new dream come true. Only over the past two years did I realize I wanted to do it. One year at Artfest Teesha Moore encouraged all of the attendees to start a blog. After I did, my self confidence as an artist grew from all the feedback I was getting.

What is your take on the subject of students copying your style after a class? I have asked this question of others but I keep seeing this topic come up.

Copy me. I don't care, or rather, thank you. I am flattered that you like my style so much that you would want to. When you are learning something new I believe it's very hard not to want to copy your teacher and so I think you should. After all that's why you chose that class, something inside of you was awakened by that teacher or that artist. Go straight into whatever you think that is. It's fine if you are going to make this object or image for yourself or for a friend. Make one, make 30. You can sell them to your own customers. You don't even "owe" them, but it is a courtesy to acknowledge where you learned the technique or whose work inspired the design. It's a small world, everyone will figure it out anyway. Word will get around.
The best way is to make as many of the copies you can until you get it out of your system. Let them go. Give them away, sell them or bury them in the backyard. In the process your style will emerge and your skills will improve. Gain more skill. The more you work, the more your art will change and it will be yours. The artist you were copying will be an influence, not a competitor.

Catherine, I think that was so well said, thank you.

How many times have you attended ARTFEST?

Four times.

Have you had any articles published about your art, awards given etc…? If so how does that affect you as an artist?

2007 was a very big year for me. I was contacted by Belle Armoire and my first article "Mixed Media Picture Pendants" was published in "Belle Armoire Jewelry 2" in March. In April they asked me to do another one called "For the Birds PMC Pendants" for "Jewelry 3". That one was a wopping 7 pager and I wrote it and photographed the steps. What a rush it is to see your work in print.
Then, PMC hit a milestone in 2006, 10 years. For the 11th year the PMC Guild decided to put out a book the "Annual #1". Two of my designs are in that book. 56 artists were chosen from over a thousand entries. I am still on Cloud 9.
I consider every time my blog climbs another 1000 hits to be like an award, and certainly when my classes were chosen to be part of the line-up for Artfest 2008 I felt like I had won the Academy Awards.
The latest award in my opinion was becoming a "typepad featured blog" on January 3rd, 2008 I loved being appreciated by Typepad for using their service the way they meant it to be used.

Does your family now consider you to be famous?? How do you handle the celebrity???

My family teases me about being famous. My husband says things like "I remember Catherine when she was just Catherine" or he addresses me as "the artist formerly known as Catherine". He pretends to plead "Please remember us. We're just the little people now kids". It's really funny to me. They are making fun not of me or the "fame" aspect, but to address it. They don't want our life together to change, or me to find other things more interesting than them.
How do I handle it? First, I strive for it, and of course, I eat it up. Sometimes I feel anxious because now, this thing I started about 18 years ago -let's call it "creative expression"- has changed and evolved into something very different. The more success I've got, the more I want. It's a trap to think the fame is what is valuable. It's possible to judge yourself by yesterday's accomplishments and come up short. I'm most happy when I have an idea and I think it through just for me. The most beautiful things I've made were made because it was a challenge and I thought it would be fun.

I know that you have some beautiful art journals, how much time do you devote to creating these journals and how much time using them?

I have about 7, in all different sizes. I have 2 that I draw new jewelry designs into before or after I make them. They are ongoing. Another is a pattern journal and when I find patterns I like I draw them in there or cut a swatch and stick it in. One is just for drawing in pencil or ink, mostly faces and hands. Three more are for experimenting with paint, pastel, watercolor crayons and mixed media techniques I am learning how to paint, in my own way. I take classes, look at other artist's work and it is a respite from the 3-D work I do. When I get back to working in clay, it feels fresh and I look at it in a different way. I also have a photo album that is like a portfolio of all the PMC work I have done.
HappyDayArt is the name of your blog, how did you come up with that and what does it mean to you?

I had a great dress once and on the tag at the neck where it gave washing instructions and fabric content was printed HAPPY DAY! I loved that dress and wore it till there were holes in it. It made me happy! I think we need to find or make constant reminders and prompts in life to stay happy. There are so many things and events in the world today that are sad and can bring us down. I believe it is in our power to keep realigning ourselves with a goal of being happy. Practice. "It's all in the mind" - George Harrison in "The Yellow Submarine"

How has blogging made you more recognizable as an artist and teacher?

At first I was shy and never commented. I posted things I'd made in a class. When I made better things I got comments and would visit those bloggers and get to know them through the information on their sites. I started commenting. They got to know me. We link to each other's blogs. It has become an exchange of ideas, sharing, and now I know a large community of artists who are kindhearted, friendly and inspiring. I have learned so much.

Has blogging influenced your art life? And if so how?

Yes. I use blogging to keep in touch with others like a diary and also a catalog of what I've made. When I look at my galleries, it really adds up. If on a day I have no ideas, I surf around and find inspiration. My confidence in my abilities has grown. Blogging is pretty immediate gratification.

How much time do you commit to your blog?

I think about it many hours a day. I post 2 to 10 times a month. I take pictures and resize them and formulate many posts ahead of time. Sometimes I plan a special post for over a week. I am working on part 2 of a post on 'being happy'. I don't mean to sound like a pollyanna because I'm not one, but I think if we, as artists, can get any kind of understanding or control over our moods we might be more productive. I can hardly produce any thing when I'm miserable. I soar when I am happy.

You once lived in a communal how has that influenced your life?

My philosophy of life is lighter than it was. I don't take so many things personally. I do more of the things I want to do. I'm not the center of the universe. I try to pay attention. I work on making my life and surroundings better. Ultimately, we are all alone inside our heads.

Is that something that you miss now, or are you just happy you had that life experience?

I don't miss it. I'm really glad I did it. It was brave, crazy, fun and unsettling at the time.

What are your three favorite books?

When I'm reading and I can't put it down, that is my favorite book. Then I am looking for my new favorite book.

Of all the great art you create what is your favorite thing to work on?

I don't know that my art is great so that is kind of a funny question. What is really interesting for me to work on? 1. Jewelry -any kind 2. digital artstamps 3. ATC's 4. Mixed media and collage 5. regular clay objects The order of interest changes when I switch mediums.

Catherine, what great surprises and art creations can we expect from you in 2008?

Well, that's going to be a surprise for me too, I think. I will teach 2 classes at Artfest in April and I am a vendor on 'Vendor Night'. It will be my first time ever doing that. I am going to submit my jewelry for the PMC Annual again and if I get a good idea, I'll enter the Saul Bell Jewelry Competition again. I'm teaching at a fancy San Francisco bead shop called Beadissimo in May and maybe again in the summer. I have new drawings that I want to translate into jewelry. I'm going to produce 8 artworks for the artist group "Project 8" hosted by Leighanna Light and I just accepted an invitation to join the Art Pub, a group of women career artists supporting each other in their professional artistic endeavors and career goals.

Catherine thank you for sharing with us today I can not wait to see all that you come up with in this New Year.

Thank you Denise. You are a good interviewer and you made me think.


shimmer & shadow said...

great interview! I am continually inspired by Catherine's world-view as well as her talent. She's also a wonderful friend.

Stacie said...

These interviews are ask really great questions!!!!!
yea Denise!!!!!!!!

ideagirl said...

To denise -- I agree you are a great interviewer.

To Catherine -- Wow. Your life has been so intricate and rich. I love how your brain works! And you are totally right about wanting fame and valuing it -- it's not about that, is it. It's about striving for your personal "this is me, this is who I am" best.

I find myself on a similar journey and it's hard sometimes not to equate what other's think or say to how I feel about my work.

Nicely done. I'm off to check out your work!


Britt-Arnhild said...

Lovely art. I would love to wear one of those. said...

Incredible!! I am totally loving these interviews!! She is an amazing artiste!!!

Minnie Helvey said...

that was a great interview... great questions/