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.
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.
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