During the holiday season, frenzied buying at crowded shopping centers is part of the package. Some tough souls proudly call Black Friday a family tradition. But, come on — everyone needs a break from the mall madness to uncover that truly one-of-a-kind gift. Turns out, you can find it from hardworking artists right here in East Dallas.
Lynn Wilkes Armstrong
Both Hands Studios
Gift idea: Pottery, airplant holders, “dress-up” vases
Price range: $12-$100+
Where to find it: etsy.com/shop/bothhandsstudio
Many people travel the world looking for something — food, art, love, God, themselves. When East Dallas neighbor Lynn Armstrong travels, either with her husband or by herself, there’s one thing she’s always on the lookout for: textures.
Textures have been a defining part of Armstrong’s pottery ever since her wrists gave out and she couldn’t paint the surfaces of her ceramic pieces anymore. But the change has been a positive one in her artistic journey, she says.
“Styles change, things change; I’m sure it’ll change again before it’s all said and done,” she says.
To create texture, she uses patterns such as lace or knit and presses them into a piece of clay to make a mold. Then, she presses the mold into a new piece of clay to make the surface of the clay look like pieces of lace or knit.
“So it’s almost like I’m printmaking with clay,” she says. “When I get the clay rolled out into big, blank slabs, I start to get excited about what impressions to put into it.”
Some of her favorite products are vases she calls “dress-up vases.” She uses lace to create texture, and then fashions the textured clay into a dress-shaped vase. Recently she began making small heart-shaped vases, which she sells along with a tillandsia or “air plant” from her husband’s greenhouse. Her husband, Chuck, has been gardening for decades, so combining their talents was a natural fit. Armstrong always has been an artist. She was in the first graduating class at Booker T. Washington High School for the Performing and Visual Arts. She began working with ceramics at the University of Texas at Austin, where she graduated with a Bachelor of Fine Arts with a concentration in ceramics.
“It’s been ceramics for me for a long, long time,” she says. “I like the way it transforms into something functional and permanent. That it changes from wet clay into something you can drink your coffee out of; it’s magical to me. Opening the kiln is like Christmas for me, every time.”
Gift idea: Handprint or footprint impressions
Price range: $18-$70
Where to find it: pintsizedprints.com
East Dallas neighbor JulieAnn Bever wanted to preserve her three children’s prints to remember the size of their sweet little hands, so she picked up an impression kit from the nearest crafting store and gave it a valiant try.
“It was such a mess,” she says. “It was hard, and it was frustrating, and the result doesn’t look good either.”
She tried again with the same result and thought, “There has to be an easier way.”
She consulted her artist sister and found out there was: Ditch the kits and go for the real stuff — white modeling clay.
While experimenting with that, she started to wonder if other parents had run into the same issues, a thought that eventually led Bever to create her business, Pint-Sized Prints.
She began asking her friends if they were interested in preserving their kids’ prints. The response was so enthusiastic that Bever determined that her business idea probably had a market in Dallas.
“So I did it with my friends first, practiced a lot and then decided to start doing it as a business.”
Through trial and error, she found out the clay cracks if it dries too quickly, so her dad built her several airtight bins to keep the pieces in while they dry, so they will harden without cracking.
“It really turned into a family affair,” she says, adding that her mom helped her decorate the studio and sometimes assists with the glaze or other tasks. Plus, Bever’s grandfather originally built the studio. He used it for woodworking before he died.
“It’s kind of neat that I get to work in the same space that he worked in,” she says.
The concept behind Pint-Sized Prints: Parents bring their kids by her studio, press a handprint and/or footprint (Bever says she has just about perfected the art of wheedling wiggly babies into handing up their prints), and — voila! — the parents’ job is done; Bever does the dirty work.
“And then they just get a nice, pretty impression in a box. So they get the end result, and they don’t have to deal with all the mess and the frustration.”
Her two biggest seasons are Christmas and Mother’s Day, but if people don’t want to deal with the Christmas rush, they can buy a gift certificate and book the studio visit for later. And it doesn’t have to stop at handprints. Bever also makes impressions for dog paws, thumbprints for the whole family and keys for people’s first homes.
“Now, I’m always on the lookout for what I can make an impression of,” she says. “And it’s all because I wanted to preserve my kids’ prints, because I just love the way little hands and feet look.”
Gift idea: Fine art photography prints or calendars
Price range: $20-$50
Where to find it: etsy.com/shop/Squintphotography
Sonja Quintero’s art form is a familiar one: photography. But her style is her own.
“If you look around at Flickr and Etsy, the trend for several years now has been kind of vintage-looking photography, which I do admire, but it’s not really my thing,” she says. “It doesn’t feel quite genuine to myself.”
Most of her work is whimsical with a touch of angst and ranges from urban decay to knick-knacks to haunting graveyard images. Certain pieces seem to catch consumers’ eyes more than others, without much rhyme or reason.
“One of my most popular pieces is this picture of a little Kewpie doll I found at a flea market. This lady had a huge table full of all these Kewpie dolls, and he looks pissed. He looks majorly pissed. I took a picture of it, and it ended up being one of my most popular pictures. When I look back at my Etsy, it just always seems to be weird, quirky stuff like that.”
Quintero has an interior design background. She received her degree from the University of North Texas and worked in the field until she quit last year to pursue photography full time. It was through interior design that Quintero found photography eight years ago.
“As designers, we had to go out and take pictures of the projects as they were going along, so one day I came back, and I was showing my boss some of the photos I had taken, and she said, ‘You know, these are really good. Maybe we should send you out to take pictures all the time.’ It was weird, because around that same time I had a friend who started doing some photography as a hobby, and she told me, ‘I think you’d really love this, and we could go out and shoot together.’ So between my boss saying that and my friend, it made me think, ‘Maybe there’s something to this.’ ” Quintero bought a film camera and started “the old-school way,” with the darkroom and the whole bit. She stocked up on a few how-to books and eventually took continuing-education classes.
“It was something I was passionate about from the very beginning, but always as a hobby. It was never something where I thought, ‘This is what I want to do with my life.’ I just didn’t see that I could do it financially anyway. I was doing pretty well as a designer, and even though it was stressful, I was making good money. Who’s going to give that up?’ ”
But then in 2010, cashing in wasn’t sounding so bad.
“I started thinking, ‘This is the only thing I really love doing anymore.’ ”
She started easing out of interior design, until finally calling it quits last year.
“My photography is just now getting to the point where it’s really picking up — almost to the point where it’s too much — but I love it.”
Napkin Art Studios
Gift idea: Pop art posters, cards or record covers
Price range: $10-$75
Where to find it: etsy.com/shop/napkinart
Jonathon Kimbrell created Napkin Art Studios the day after he graduated from McMurry University in Abilene with a fine arts degree.
“I was determined to have some sort of career in art, whether I worked with somebody or by myself.”
Today, Kimbrell works both by himself and with others.
“I’m a graphic designer, printmaker, painter, photographer, blogger …” Kimbrell lists. “I do pretty much everything but sculpture.”
His “bread and butter” is freelance graphic design work and gallery paintings, while his products on Etsy — screen-print posters and greeting cards, all designed in his snappy, pop-art style — are really more of a hobby than a money-maker. But around the holidays, when people are surfing the web for unique gifts, requests start rolling in.
Recently, Kimbrell has begun working closely with people in the music industry, making sets of record covers to replace covers that been lost or have suffered too many years of wear and tear. Kimbrell also makes concert posters for bands such as Polyphonic Spree that he sells on Etsy.
“Just an excuse to have my hand in anything that has to do with music,” Kimbrell says.
Kimbrell developed his Andy Warhol-esque style after a friend introduced him to the work of none other than Andy Warhol himself in high school.
“I do a lot of stuff that’s kind of a tongue-in-cheek nod to Warhol,” Kimbrell says.
He creates the style through screen-printing, which is complicated, labor-intensive, and often not worth the effort to many artists because it can be created digitally. (Although a digital print can’t really compare to an original, he says.)
“With the Internet, it has kind of become quantity over quality, so I have to fight that a little bit. With this, it’s all made by hand, so there’s a unique quality to it. You’re essentially getting an original at that point.”
Gift idea: A variety of manly things
Price range: $18-$70
Where to find it: manlymarks.com
Brandon Griswold is a manly man whose side gig unfortunately lends itself to femininity. A graphic designer by day and a letterpress printmaker by night, Griswold was determined to save himself from making hundreds of wedding invitations and baby announcements on his 1891 printing press.
“It’s a pretty labor-intensive, heavy duty, greasy, dirty craft, which is usually used for very feminine pieces,” Griswold says, “which are often beautiful works. You can make tremendous pieces with that; I just didn’t want to get into it.”
To combat the trend, he launched Manly Marks, a product line that’s all about men and what it means to be manly. The primary product is a hand-bound book that features an image on one page and a “manly mark” on the next, such as “possess courage,” “grow a beard,” “care for a woman” or “work with your hands.”
It’s a perfect adornment for a manly coffee table. The words and images are stamped from hand-carved blocks and pressed into the pages with the old-school letterpress. Other products in the Manly Marks line include coasters and an “Official Man Card.”
“You’re getting a unique product with what I make,” Griswold explains.
Aside from hand-chiseling custom stamps, Griswold also collects antique lead type sets. Griswold caught the “letterpress bug” while interning at Hatch Show Print in Nashville, Tenn., which houses more than 134 years’ worth of equipment, tools and accessories. It’s basically the Mecca of letterpress.
“It’s a living archive,” Griswold says. “So I got my start there. Through that, I learned a lot more about letterpress than I did in college. When I got back, I just couldn’t let go of it.”
His first project was Honeycomb Print Shop, which consisted mostly of posters and other crafty items — some of which he still sells — before he successfully campaigned on the online funding platform kickstarter.com for Manly Marks.
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