Talent Scout

Archive for November 2009


Book Review: The Creative Habit—Learn It and Use It for Life

The Creative Habit by Twyla Tharp, one of America’s greatest choreographers is a book I refer to over and over for creative guidance.  Whether you are a painter, musician, business person or simply an individual yearning to put your creativity to use, The Creative Habit provides you with the tools.  My favorite is her chapter on scratching for ideas and starting with a box. (in my case it is a drawer) Do you have any book recommendations?  I would love to add more to my list.

The Creative Habit: Learn It and Use It for Life

Original Art Under $100

Here is a good example of  “the parts are greater than the sum.”  To stay fresh, I continually try new things with materials, techniques and color ( yes, I know it’s hard to imagine) hoping it will lead to new discoveries.  My best results happen when I approach each project with a beginners mind and without any set outcome.  Usually I end up with pieces and parts or fragments that I really like.  So I decided to pull some of the best fragments  cut from larger pieces and sell them at very affordable prices.   They are all unframed using mixed media textiles, paper and some text.  Please email me directly if you are interested.


Fragment 1, 8 x 10, $90-- SOLD


Fragment 2, 6 x 8, $75


Fragment 3, 5 x 9, $65


Fragment 5, 7 x 10, $75


Fragment 6, 4 x 8, $45


Fragment 7, 4 x 7, $45


Fragment 8, 5 x 6, $45


Fragment 4, 6 x 8, $75--SOLD

Follow Your Gift of Curiosity

I read a quote by Eleanor Roosevelt a few days ago – “I think, at a child’s birth, if a mother could ask a fairy godmother to endow it with the most useful gift, that gift would be curiosity.”

Following my curiosities is an ongoing practice.  I often stop short from  digging deeper or trusting the journey.  This story serves as a reminder that following my curiosities can have unexpected results.

In an earlier post, I showed you some metal letters that I discovered and loved because of their nice metal patina and well, that they are letters.  When I inquired at the shop, I found out that they are used on utility poles. I’ve never really paid attention to utility poles unless I saw a lost cat or dog posting.  Curious though, I went home and did some research on why they are hammered to the poles in the first place. I found, they are serial numbers used to inventory the pole and keep track of its inspection, treatment and age.  Why is this important?  Well I guess poles fall and hit people so they need to be properly maintained.  And knowing their original purpose informs my work.  Something perhaps about identity, age or even strength.

aluminum utility pole letters

Although I usually like buying vintage things for my art, there were only a few letters from the alphabet in the shops inventory.  After some research online I found a manufacturer still making them in Minnesota.  I requested a few samples and soon received a package with an enclosed letter from the owner.

I was touched that someone would take the time to write such a personal letter.  We chatted on the phone and he shared with me that he loves art and is a writing a book.  After brainstorming a few ideas, he offered to send me a care package of letters for free. It was his way of contributing to the arts.  All he requested was that I send him a photo of whatever I create.  The first piece I completed is titled, Letting Go of the Words.  There will be more. Sometimes these things have to just sit for awhile.

Marilyn Stevens, Letting Go of the Words, 2009

Marilyn Stevens, Letting Go of the Words (detail), 2009

Series 4, Inspired by Others: Conversations with Artist, Emily Johnson

Getting inspired is an ongoing quest for artists. In my conversation with Emily, typically she is drawn to techniques and materials artists use in their work rather than their design inspiration.  Emily shares two of her favorite artists that have inspired her work and process.

New York artist, Biba Schutz was the first to lead Emily on her path to jewelry making.  Accustomed to weaving paper and fabrics, Emily felt a natural connection to Biba’s metal weaving techniques.  Similar to Emily, Biba  combined her various fields of study to create a totally unique look in her jewelry.

Biba’s work is mostly constructed from oxidized sterling silver, bronze, and copper, giving warmth and depth to her organic look. She creates a form by manipulating wire as if it were thread. Schutz’s feeling for sculptural form is so strong that for some years she could not decide to work as a sculptor or a jeweler.


Pendant Design by Biba Schutz

Michael Zobel is Emily’s biggest influence.  Designer, Michael Zobel was born in  Tangier, Morocco, raised in Barcelona, Spain and apprenticed in Germany. Zobel is recognized for highly individual, strong and masterful crafted jewelry of timeless beauty.

Emily has been fascinated and inspired by his techniques and his generous handling of materials. The combination of different metals with and on top of each other, the free use of colors and forms, of geometry and organic sources, of precious stones which has been a signature of his work from the beginning.


Cuff Designed by Michael Zobel

Thank you Emily for sharing these great artist.  This concludes my series of 4 artist conversations with Emily Johnson.  Emily’s parting advice, “maintain a sense of play in your work.”  I would love to hear your comments on Emily’s work, the format and content of these posts.  I plan to feature artist conversations monthly. In between view postings on fresh finds and authentic stories about my work and other discoveries.  The next artist feature will be in December featuring Ingrid Restemayer.

To see more of  Emily’s work or find retail locations please visit her website.

Series 3, Why We Love Her Jewelry: Conversations with Artist, Emily Johnson

Series 2, Working Habits: Conversations with Artist, Emily Johnson

This is my second post, in a series of four conversations with Emily Johnson. See my first post for an introduction to Emily’s background and how she got started in jewelry making.  Following  will be two additional posts about what draws people to Emily’s work, people who inspire her and advice for young artists getting started.

Where do the ideas for your work generally come from?

Most of my work develops from playing with materials.  I love to have little bits of gold in different shapes and colors spread out across my bench.  It allows me to play with different compositions of gold on silver.  Once I come up with an idea for a new jewelry composition I find that variations on that idea just flow out the piece.  My entire cells and windows collection can all be traced back to a single necklace I made a few years ago.  Everything else has just evolved out of that one idea.


Window Pendant by Emily Johnson

What determines what project or problem you turn to when one is completed?

I usually find that ideas for new pieces pop into my head while working on another piece, so I can just move from one piece to the next.  I also do a lot of custom work and orders for galleries, so much of the time I do have a schedule of due dates to stick to.

Have there been times when it’s been difficult to decide what to do next? What do you do?

I am sure every artist goes through points when they are just not feeling inspired.  I find that the best solution is to just keep on producing, if you stop it can be so much harder to get back into the habit of making.  If I am not feeling inspired I make my production pieces and I make a lot of them!  Most of my work is made one at a time and I don’t stock duplicates.  But I do have a few pieces that sell well and are pretty easy to make, so I like to keep a decent stock of those on hand.  With these pieces I make them in an assembly line style: cutting out all the pieces at once and then soldering and finishing them one after the other.  I find this kind of monotonous work to be rather inspiring.  Just working with the materials usually sparks some new ideas or an evolution of a previous piece.

I do keep some notes books with ideas for future designs that I can reference.  but I’m not really much of a sketcher.  Since I’m a sculptor I’d rather just translate my ideas directly into three-dimensions, skip the middle-step.  If it doesn’t turn out exactly as I thought I just turn it into something else!

How important is rationality versus intuition in your work? Are there two different styles in your work (one more rational, one intuition):

I don’t think that there are visually two different styles in my work, but I do think that sometimes my process is rational and sometimes intuitive.  Some days (when I don’t have custom orders breathing down my neck) I just let the jewelry flow.  I pull out whatever materials I have one hand and see what develops.  Other days I am much more rational and production oriented.  For example, when I have a show coming up a usually sit down and do an quick inventory of what jewelry I have on hand and then make a list of what I am missing and need to create.  Or a list of what I have been selling the most of lately and stock-up on pieces along the same lines or price points.



Do you think it’s important to go with your hunches or trust your instincts?

I think it’s important to strike a balance between trusting your instincts and doing what’s safe.  It’s important for me to get a little crazy with designs every now and then and not worry about if I think it’s going to sell or not.  On the flip side, I have to think about what’s going to sell and create pieces that can be my bread and butter.  Those pieces can help to financially support the crazier, labor intensive pieces.  Crazy pieces can often inspire a more wearable, toned down version.

Do you have better success with a methodical, rigorous approach to your work?

I find lists to be very useful.  I usually have a few lists on my bench of jewelry that I should make because it always sells and also lists of jewelry I need to make because it was ordered.  I am methodical in that I create lists and check the items of one at a time, but I do not create the pieces in any certain order.  If I feel like doing production, I do it.  If I feel like working on a custom, I do it.  Most importantly, if I feel like creating something new, I do it!  Creativity isn’t always with us, so when it is, use it!
I am also methodical in the way I create each piece.  I do each step in the same order each time.  If it worked in that order the first time, it’s bound to work just as well the next, hopefully…….


Do you think about work during leisure time?  Did you ever have important insights during this time off?

Currently I work full-time and run my jewelry business.  I think it’s safe to say I think about jewelry all the time.  My day job is a gallery director of a custom design jewelry studio, so I really do think about jewelry all the time!  I go to my studio almost everyday I am not at work, sometimes even on the days that I do work.  I do make a conscious effort to take time off, but most of my friends are also in the jewelry business, so even during leisure time the conversation often turns to jewelry.  I think if you are a working artist you almost never really turn it off, so of course important insights develop in our leisure time.

How many hours of sleep do you usually get?  When do you do your best work?

I aim for 8-9hrs every night.  I need my sleep and have a tendency to get sick and run-down if I don’t get it.  I find that it is very important to stop working on the jewelry/business at least two hours before I plan on going to bed.  Otherwise I just can’t shut my mind off.

You can see more of Emily’s designs on her website.

Series 1, Introduction: Conversations with Artist, Emily Johnson

This is part I in a series of four posts featuring conversations  with artist, Emily Johnson.  A brief introduction and background, Emily has her BFA from the Minneapolis College of Art and Design with a concentration in sculpture. Drawing upon her fine art background she segued into jewelry making,  creating her own company, EC Design.  With some additional technical training in jewelry making, Emily mastered her craft and now hand forges and fabricates all of her jewelry pieces in her studio in Northeast Minneapolis.  Her  collection includes unique and sculptural mixed metal jewelry often described as subtle, but edgy. You’ll see a playful mix of simple shapes and unexpected details.

Emily and I first met several years ago at the Women’s Art Institute’s  three week summer intensive studio. I was immediately impressed by her thoughtful and intelligent work as a young, emerging artist.  Emily and I crossed paths  again last winter at the Walker Art Center’s artisan jewelry event.  I fell in love with Emily’s beautifully crafted jewelry. It is elegant, yet casual. Something you can wear everyday. For those of you who know me you won’t be surprised that my favorite piece is this hammered cuff. I covet this piece and hope to own it some day.  Can someone please forward this photo to my husband?


Silver Cuff by Emily Johnson

Through this series, Emily shares insights on her working habits, the importance of maintaining a sense of play and advice for those just starting their creative lives. You can see more of Emily’s work on her website.


Emily Johnson, EC Design

Clothing as Artistic Expression

Many artists that I follow use clothing as a means of artistic expression.  The fabrics and materials with which they choose to work are very diverse ranging from horse hair to metal, and the processes are also multifaceted; crafts such as sewing, embroidery and knitting as well as industrial applications.  Two of my favorites, Annette Messager and Louise Bourgeois both have worked with clothing because of their psychological, social, political and gender connotations as well as their shapes, colors and textures.

Bourgeois said that when she was growing up “all the women in the house were using needles…the needle is used to repair damage.  It’s a claim to forgiveness.’

Louise Bourgeois, Untitled, 1996

Messager reflects on memory through language and her choice of materials and their manipulation. For example, she has frequently used dresses, embroidery, fabrics, stockings, veils, fishnets – all connected to femininity. The Story of Dresses expresses the essence of womanhood, but it does so with a half smile, with an eye for overdoing things.

Annette Messager, The Story of Dresses, 1990

The dress has influenced many of my works some more literally than others. Layers is an interpretation of a dress I saw in a display window at Colette in Paris.

The dress as my inspiration, Layers is a deconstructed dress form reconstructed into an unexpected new shape, layered with hand-stitched images, Asian textiles and text.  I  laugh that so many of my pieces reference a dress because my mom couldn’t get me to wear a dress if her life depended on it.  Give me a great pair of jeans any day.

Marilyn Stevens, Layers, 2006

A Hat Lady with Style and Substance

Is there a significant person in your life who has influenced or stimulated your thinking and attitudes about your work?

In my life, it was my grandmother on my mother’s side, Elizabeth Fleming, born in 1886 in a small town in Nebraska and who died at the age of 86. She continues to guide my point of view through her most notable attributes, a steady calm, love for fashion, independence, encouraging voice and rock star solitaire skills.(Ok, so I didn’t pick up any card playing skills)  A story that I often reflect on today is a milliner business that my grandmother and four women friends started in 1907, a rarity among women in those days.  My grandmother, age 21 is pictured below, second from right.


Uncovering some wonderful vintage hat forms, I immediately thought here’s one for the ladies.  A recent piece titled, Still Here features nine hat forms, each adorned with a line from a poem done in collaboration with my friend and poet, Zac Stafford. The words are stenciled, hand-wrapped in pewter and nailed on to each form.

Marilyn Stevens, Still Here, 2007

Marilyn Stevens, Still Here (detail)

An earlier mixed media pieces honors my grandmother’s natural talents and some of my fondest memories—sewing, playing cards, fashion and her undying support for my future. The white circles are a nod to the white powered donuts she served daily when I stopped on my way home from school. If you look closely you can see the old fashion hair pins. My grandmother didn’t continue long in the hat business but I do remember her being the best dressed woman in church, never without  a great looking hat.


Marilyn Stevens, Living History, 2003

My mother, the family archivist passed on many wonderful artifacts from my grandmother including  two depression era aprons.  You could see the grease stains, worn edges and holes, an indicator of much more labor intensive and difficult times.   I wanted to give them new life and dignity. One apron piece titled, Dwell in Possibility is based on a poem from Emily Dickinson.  It speaks to survival, uncertainty yet always remaining hopeful.  The second apron, I Am Not Done With My Changes, draws on an inner strength that gives purpose and meaning to ones life.

Dwell in Possibility-2

Marilyn Stevens, Dwell In Possibility, 2004

Not Done HR

Marilyn Stevens, Not Done With My Changes, 2004

Hunt & Gather

My favorite place to find inspiring materials is Hunt & Gather, a unique antique shop located in South Minneapolis. They really offer a wide selection of eclectic, unusual antique merchandise.  I love any kind of handwritten text, letters and fashion related items.  I never know when I might use them but they often push an idea forward or inspire something new.

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