Friday, September 21, 2012

Watercolor Schmatercolor

Whilst on a fashion blog hiatus, an idea arose, to try the old hands at watercolors.

Oscar Wilde once said (amongst many other things),

An idea that is not dangerous is unworthy of being called an idea at all

Watercoloring around the joint during the wee hours when all are tucked away sawing logs, is hardly dangerous at all, unless you consider staining your carpet with said colors a way to really live on the edge, but 'tis fun nonetheless.

And theres always room in life for a little bit of mindless fun, eh ?

Herewith a few of my watercolor creations :

You can follow my adventures in watercoloring via Instagram @ sevesnaps

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Jacket, Free People
Top, The Wasteland
Leggings, Urban Outfitters
Shoes, Matiko
Necklace and rings c/o Compass Rose Design Jewelry

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Meet Creek and Johnny van Houten, a husband and wife creative duo from San Francisco, who create unusual adornments from antique objects, such as the necklace and rings I'm wearing in todays post.

Creek van Houten, the founder and designer of the brand Compass Rose Design Jewelry was able to take some time to answer a few pressing questions for the blog:

Do you and your husband have a formal education in jewelry design and when did you both first start making jewelry ? Furthermore, were you both making jewelry before you met, or did you begin as a team ?
We’ve both always been makers but running a company together is an unexpected gift. I’ve made jewelry as a hobby since childhood and have done stained glass for about 10 years as well as a few community college classes in metalwork. When I met Johnny he was making an art car, which involved a lot of welding. He helped build AV systems for Guerilla Theater in Santa Cruz, and later for very fancy San Francisco folks. Meanwhile, I worked in the nonprofit sector and got pretty burned out after 10 years. After my mom passed away, I moved to the Netherlands and to get a business degree and work at a company where I wore a suit. Mostly what I did was shop at the Noordermaarkt antique market near my house and at flea markets where I could find them. When I moved home to marry Johnny, I was both planning our wedding and looking for a job. I made basic wire wrap antique button jewelry for all my bridesmaids and the jewelry orders started coming in faster than the job offers. I think our designs resonate because we use real antiques and see our work as a way to connect with history. Johnny joined the company last fall when it was clear that it was time to move forward from being a one-woman operation. I think it is a great surprise to him that his skills in electrical soldering and precision welding would be such an asset. He’s a real train aficionado and we’re both history nerds, so we work really well together.

Was there anyone or anything, be it a jeweler in your family to an artist you admire and are inspired by, that made you decide to become a jeweler ?
Both my dad and grandfather were dentists and made jewelry as a side hobby, as many of the tools and principles are the same. From them, I learned some of the basics of lost wax casting and the realms of invention made possible by the right tools. My dad was a dentist for 20 years then changed gears to invent a swim fin and later a chinchilla exercise wheel, which both sell internationally. I had an example of making an unconventional livelihood that works. I started selling on Etsy in early 2010 while I looked for a “real” job, and the orders starting coming in, which I found startling! I think it was well into the first year of selling my work that I realized it could be a “real” job. It took me almost 2 years to feel like it was ok to pursue this creative work, but the feedback from our customers has been helpful.

How did the idea of integrating found objects in your creations come about and where do you collect materials from ?
I’ve been a collector my whole life. My mom used to say there’s a Dutch saying for everything and mine was, "een vliegende kraai vindt altijd wat" – basically if you keep your eyes open (like a flying crow), you’ll always find something. My mom’s family came from the Netherlands in 1953 and I grew up around a lot of storied antiques: my great-grandmother’s brass tea kettle, my grandmother’s metal potato bucket and foreign coin collection; things that connected my family to a different time and place. I’ve been collecting treasures at rummage sales and antique fairs all my life, but did not see it as a skill until recently. I’m still working through some large stocks of skeleton keys, vintage labels and other tidbits from Amsterdam and Paris. We also get a lot of donations through great-aunts of friends. My eyes are always open. In terms of the fact that using antiques became upcycling and that steampunk became a thing - it’s sort of hilarious to find ourselves in the midst of a mainstreaming trend. I really like the steampunk community – a lot of overlap with Maker Faire and Burning Man: a generally well-adjusted, tech-savvy and sophisticated group. But I’ll admit that I’m much more interested in the authentic historical landscape than the fantastical one. There is just SO much quirk and mystery and delight in the actual story for me to get too lost in fantasy. I’m too busy learning about the invention of corset eyehooks (which allowed tighter lacing and more controlled silhouettes) or the way 17th century English country gentleman’s sporting attire translated into the birth of the modern phenomenon of the expression of individuality through dress in Paris after the French Revolution!

Would you care to share your creative process from start to finish, beginning from where you find the inspiration to create a piece to how you go about executing your projects ?
There are parts that are deeply intuitive and parts that involve practicality and precision. Originally, I worked with my own family junk drawer collections of coins and watches and keys and trinkets, but starting a company gave me the excuse to keep collecting, which involves learning. I’ve had the excuse to research fashion, innovation and art from the Greeks to the Edwardians, which provides a lot of design inspiration. We get our raw materials from yard sales, antique fairs, junk shops and from friends happy to see trinkets given a new life. We also tend to connect with lifetime collectors on Ebay happy to see people appreciating things they collected, a reminder that what we are dealing with is the safeguarding of memory and history. Wandering through aisles of antiques and seeing what catches my attention brings me to a place of centered focus. Both with finding antiques and designing pieces, I mostly try to get out of the way and allow the piece to be what it wants to be. I get a mental image of the design either immediately or sometimes overnight about what an antique will become. With such a practical background, it’s a joy to surrender to the creative process. Johnny and I do share an appreciation of Victorian and Edwardian history – the aesthetics of the political and social transformations that unfolded between 1860 and 1920. We both like finished pieces that are industrial and Victorian, but wearable and never messy looking. We use high quality Victorian buttons and mechanical watches; it takes about 500 to start creating matched pairs for earrings and cufflinks.

In a world where we are saturated with an industry churning out mass produced jewelry compared to smaller handmade pieces, do you ever feel pressured to compete with the growing demand of current trends instead of sticking to your unique brand of style and what would you say makes your collection different and stand out from the rest ?
We’ve definitely felt pressure from both hobby pricing (not charging for time or overhead and not thinking like a business) as well as designers who have collections produces on a massive scale, but there is a scale that feels comfortable to us. Being an independent family business allows us to connect with both the pieces and the people who appreciate them, rather than just moving product. It took me a while to realize that the indie-craft-diy-etsy movement is about supporting hobby rather than livelihood, so we’ve had to find our own way. We compete at shows and on Etsy with a lot of hobby pricing and overseas reproductions and we’ve definitely felt the pressure competing with designers who have their wares made overseas and have much larger production. We happen to have found ourselves in the midst of the steampunk trend, but our interest is much more in the actual history, so we see people across ages and subcultures enjoy our designs. Compass Rose Design has taken on its own feeling and identity and feels like something larger than the sum of Johnny and me, something that is owed the honor of authenticity. I can envision hiring production assistants eventually, but we are unwilling to compromise on the quality of our collections.

Thank you Creek !

Compass Rose Design Jewelry site
Compass Rose Design Blog

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  1. d00d.. your watercolors are SO freakin' good!

  2. omg those watercolours are fokin adorable omg. i love them. and yo gurl your outfit is awesome possum. lovin' that jacket 4ever and always.

  3. OMG I want a watercolor!! They are so cute :-) more more please
    btw your hair looks great

  4. oh...had no idea you that you do illustrations too. they're so adorable!

    I love watercolor.


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