Thursday Thoughts: Chocolate and Steel

I have been planning on introducing a new feature for a few weeks now, and have finally settled on a name. This column will feature new artists, introduce you to new products, and review books, magazines, techniques, and products. So I present to you, sweet readers, Thursday Thoughts.
The first article in an ongoing weekly series titled Thursday Thoughts, will focus on a very talented artist. Please meet Christine Street, the driving force behind Chocolate and Steel. She has a shop on Etsy, a website, a blog, a DaWanda shop...she's a busy girl! You can find other links of interest scattered throughout the interview. Thanks, Christine - for agreeing to be first. For making the most majestic PMC creations. For sharing yourself with my loyal subjects (lol). And for teaching us a few things.
(Just to be clear, my questions are in purple, Christine's answers are in pink.)
~ What is your name?
Christine Street
~ Where do you live?
Los Angeles, CA
~ Who resides in your household? My home is filled with a husband, a 3 year old son, two adorable Chow Chow's (Roxy and Betty), and a couple neglected plants.
~ I've seen your Etsy shop, chocolateandsteel. I love the name! How did you come up with it?
The idea behind the name is the combination of opposites. Organic and sweet in design, industrial and hard in tangible form. I was browsing through MOMA in New York and saw a painting entitled "Chocolate and Steel". It struck me then that it would be a great name for a jewelry company.
~ Were you an artistic child? Who was your biggest supporter when you began making your incredible jewelry?
I always have enjoyed making things but never considered myself artistic. I grew up in a house that felt academics were most important and art classes meant you were taking it easy. I took my first "art" class when I was a senior in high school. It was ceramics. I really enjoyed it. From there the first classes I took in college were art classes. I dropped out of the liberal arts school after one year and enrolled in FIDM (Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising). I got my degree in Fashion Design and worked for several years as an Assistant Designer.
I started making jewelry about 9 years ago as a hobby. At the time I was working in retail part time and customers were buying my jewelry off of my neck.... and so the dream began. Once I started making jewelry I had 4 big supporters - my husband (boyfriend at the time), my mom, my sister, and my mother-in-law. My husband was and still is my biggest supporter regarding making this my career. My mom, sister and mother-in-law have been my best customers from the beginning. Back then I worked strictly with beads and wire wrapping. Once I found PMC my entire collection changed and I feel like I really found myself, my aesthetic.
~ You have some mesmerizing pieces in your shop. Where do you find the inspiration?

I spend a lot of time outdoors with my son. It's hard to say where I find inspiration because when I seek it I miss the boat completely. But, I am guessing that my inspiration comes from nature. I'm also inspired by mid-century design, good music (love Imogen Heap), and good art. My most productive creative days are always when it rains. Unfortunately Los Angeles is a desert and rains about 7 days a year, if that.
~ How often do you create? Is this your "full time", I mean, job - or do you have to work at a "regular" job? Well, it is my only job. Some weeks are more full time than others. My son is in preschool for 14 hours a week. So, I work while he's at school and then when he goes to bed at night. I basically work 3 hours, have a 3 hour dinner break and then work another 3-4 hours. When I put it that way it sounds really nice, doesn't it! But it is actually very exhausting. In some ways I look forward to the day that I can work daytime hours and actually have a nice relaxing evening and weekends every now and then. But the reality of that means that I would sacrifice all of this wonderful time with my son. The exhaustion is worth it for the meanwhile.
~ What is the process you use to create? Do you use molds? A kiln? If you use a kiln, do you own one? If so, what kind? If not, is there a specific model you long for?
I have many different processes depending on the piece. My favorite process is taking an afternoon to go the park and sketch. Many times my sketches evolve into characters. I take my illustrations and create stamps to stamp into the clay.
Other pieces evolve from just playing with clay and seeing what happens. I rarely use molds or store bought textures. With the popularity of PMC on the rise it just makes it that much easier for people to copy your designs. I prefer to create everything myself and keep it unique and original.
I do own a kiln. I have a Caldera and I love it. I long for nothing else:)Pebbles...Autumn
~ How would you categorize your style? Modern nature designs meet the wacky characters in my head. I guess that all leads to an aesthetic of fantasy.
~ Do you plan things out - or work in a more free flowing way?
Free flowing, for sure. The most planning I do is cutting out shapes on index paper to use as a template. But even that is rare.
~ How/when did you discover PMC? Did you work with other materials before that? If so, what? Did you sell other items - or are your gorgeous PMC creations the first artwork you've sold?
If I remember correctly I read about PMC on Rings & Things. I convinced my mom and dad to give me money for Christmas and my birthday so I could buy the supplies. I bought it, got nervous and it sat in my drawer for a year. Luckily none of the clay dried out so it didn't go to waste. I finally tried it after a year and failed miserably. I got nervous when the piece caught on fire and so I stopped firing and considered it done. The piece broke in half the first time I wore it. It was clear that I needed to take a class. I took a one day seminar at a local junior college and never stopped making stuff. I sold my first project that I made in that class the very next day. I then took an 8 week evening class and that really got my creative juices flowing.
~ What is the one thing you could not create without?
A toothpick
~ Where do you create?
Studio, I wish:) corner of my living room. My husband has been very understanding with how much space I now consume.
~ Do you ever have pieces that don't turn out right? What do you do with them? Yes. i have a bag of broken pieces that have been fired. I plan on sending them in to be melt down someday. I have another bag of broken pieces or rejects that are just dried clay, not fired. Someday I will send those in as well. And then any pieces that aren't great either get remade into something nice or sold at shows for a discount.
~ Where is your favorite place to buy PMC, tools, materials, etc?
My two favorite online places are Whole Lotta Whimsy and Rio Grande. I'm also fortunate to be in Los Angeles so I do a lot of shopping downtown in the jewelry district. But my biggest weakness is the tool catalog from Rio Grande.
~ Have you ever been published?
Yes. My jewelry has been used in photo shoots for People Magazine and Men's Health.
Currently I have a piece featured in Craft Magazine.
In December I was mentioned in the LA Times twice. I was so excited:)
Also, I have several pieces featured in the book, "Picture Yourself Making Metal Clay Jewelry"
~ Is there anything that gets in your way of creating? Is there anything you wish you could change/move around in order to get more creative time? so much gets in the way. computer work, taxes, promoting, listing, photographing, cleaning up, organizing... the list goes on and on. I would love to get some help but it's very hard to let go. I'm used to doing everything and might be a tiny bit controlling about it. Yes, I can admit it. Maybe someday though.
~ What's in the background when you're jamming on new pieces? I usually work in silence, oddly enough. I always bring my iPod to the table with my headphones and then start working and forget to turn them on. But, when I do remember I listen to Imogen Heap, Cat Power, Amy Winehouse, Fiest, Kate Earl.... as my husband labels it "Lilith Faire", chick music.
~ Out of everything you've made, what is your favorite piece? Why?
This ring called Petals. I think it perfectly embodies what I love about creating. The effect is natural, sweet, and simple. Designing something interesting and managing to keep it simple is really difficult.
~ What advice would you give someone wanting to create with PMC? With all your experience, is there a special tip/trick you've learned and care to share?

Keep your clay well hydrated. I use a shot glass and spray it with a mist of water. You can turn that over onto your clay when you are creating to keep it moist.
Also, sandpaper is your friend. You should buy a wide range of grits. Use it to get a really clean surface. And lastly, work fast.
~ What advice would you give another artist who wants to sell on Etsy?
Do not treat Etsy like Ebay. On Ebay you list something, people bid, and you ship it.
On Etsy, you list something and it gets buried. You have to use Etsy. You run your business and use Etsy as your e-commerce site, essentially. I do a lot of promoting to get people to my shop, and I don't mean promoting in the forums. I post comments on design blogs, I send out newsletters to people who sign up for my mailing list on my blog and at shows, I blog, I have a Flickr account, Facebook account, My own website and everyone that knows me knows what I do. And one of the most important promoting opportunities is doing shows. I prefer to only do big shows, but I'll travel from San Francisco to San Diego. I get a lot of repeat business from shows.
~ Is there another medium you would like to play with?

Yes, I would really like to learn more about metalsmithing. I have taken a basic class and enjoyed it.
~ Do you take special requests?

yes. I would say about 25% of my business is customized in one way or another.
~ Do you teach? Do you attend any of the shows, conventions, etc?

I do not teach. Speaking in front of groups scares me. My time is so limited so unfortunately I don't get to attend shows or conventions unless I'm selling there.
Whose work do you adore? What do you like so much about it? One of my favorite artist is Elsita. ( Her art is so beautiful yet odd. There is always some sort of distortion that makes me feel like we are really seeing what's in her head. I recently had the pleasure of meeting her and she is a wonderful person.
~ Do you have any other hobbies?
I have so many:) I love woodworking. Anything involving tools.
I also love to garden and I'm getting back into sewing. Although so far I'm just repairing clothes.
~ Do you have a blog? Is there anywhere else people can see your amazing pieces?

Yes, My blog is mostly about what I'm working on and what I'm doing. It's not strictly business. My website is here. I also sell on Dawanda (love it!) and a new site which is really cool called ShopFlick. ShopFlick is all about video shopping:
~ How can people contact you? C
hristine {at} chocolateandsteel {dot} com
~ Anything else you want to share?
You rock! Thanks for the opportunity to share.
Lady Bird Incognito
I hope you learned a few things from - and about - Christine. I fell in love with her creations the instant I saw them. Do yourself a favor and head over to her site and see what speaks to you. Show her a little royal love!

4 Royal Responses:

Creating Cupcakes said...

Congrats! You won my giveaway contest. Head over to my blog to see my email address, so you can email me your mailing address.

Dave Robertson said...

Hi Queen - - Wow, Christine learned about metal clay from us? Blush. :)


One Creative Queen said...

Hey Dave - I know! Christine is so incredibly talented - you guys should be honored she learned from you. ;)

Then again, I know from personal experience that Rings & Things is a great company.

Thanks for the comment!

Lisa said...

Wow, such gorgeous work! Thanks for sharing such a nice article!! I feel artisticly inspired now!! Take care, Lisa C.,

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