Saturday, September 1, 2012

Mary Spagnol - Cinderwood

Mary Spagnol, an eco-artist from Cupertino, CA, has been interested in reducing, reusing and recycling for as long as she can remember.  A seamstress by temperament, she began making cloth napkins to replace paper ones back in the 1980’s. She has napkins, placemats and tablecloths in every color and for every occasion and no paper products at her dinner table. In addition to tableware, Mary designs and creates a wide variety of clothing and accessories.  Currently, inspired by the up-cycled fabrics from San Francisco’s couture design houses, she is creating gorgeous handbags, totes and messenger bags. Some of these bags have found their way into local boutiques. Others are found on her website:

Bay Area Eco ArtWhat brought you to eco-art?

Mary – I have been interested in conservation, ecology, and recycling on the one side and in the arts in general on the other for as long as I can remember.  My formative years coincided with the beginnings of earth-awareness and Earth Day (back in the early 70’s) and I have always done what I can to lessen my impact on the environment.  My children wore cloth diapers (most of the time), we put solar panels on our home, we have our own organic garden, we compost. I believe if we all do what we can, together we can make a significant difference.  

I have been involved in arts and crafts all my life. I began sewing when I was six years old and have never stopped.  Creating with fabric is my true passion.  When my children went off to college and moved out of their rooms, I moved in with my sewing machines and fabrics! It is wonderful to have a dedicated workspace.

Bay Area Eco ArtWhat is your history? Have you always been an artist?

Mary – I have always loved the creative process, but I cannot claim to always have been an artist.  I earned my degrees in English and taught writing and literature for years before leaving that profession to enter the technical world as a writer. Even though I was writing technical manuals, I learned about the creative worlds of bookbinding, graphic design, printing and publishing. I left all that behind to become a full time mom when my second child was born – still the best job I have ever had.

Being a mom was the ultimate release for all of my creative energies.  No one loves to create as much as a child, and I took full advantage of my kids’ creative curiosity.  Our home was a warehouse of craft supplies and the dining room table was always messy with the latest project.  One year my kids and I rented a stand at the De Anza Flea Market and under the banner (homemade from scrap fabric) “Kids Can” they sold a wide variety of crafts they had made. That was during the Beanie Baby craze and my kids sold over $200 worth of homemade Beanie Baby beds!

When my kids entered elementary school, I served as Art Docent in their classrooms and, as such, taught art history and created art with the children.  As a room mom, teachers welcomed me into their classrooms, as I brought with me all kinds of art projects:  sock snowmen (and snow women), puppets out of kitchen utensils, edible stained glass cookies, painting like Jackson Pollack, and much more.  Art in the classroom was more fun than I could ever have imagined.  

When my kids were in high school, I began a new career as a costume designer and worked with the school’s theater group. I worked as a professional costume designer, for approximately ten years. During this time, I added jewelry making to my skill set and about twice a year had successful home shows to show and sell what I had made.

Bay Area Eco ArtSo working with children has been an inspiration to you.

Mary – Yes. I have been very fortunate to be part of a community that both loves the arts and cares about the environment. Cupertino embodies both of these values. In fact, in 1994 I was commissioned by the City of Cupertino to put on an environmental puppet show for the city’s school children. The purpose of the show was to raise awareness among young children and empower them to take action to reduce waste. Even a child can take action and make a difference. Along with my friend, who teaches choir at a local high school, we wrote an original script, which included environmentally oriented songs for the children to sing and musical instruments made out of old milk containers, soda cans, and other discarded items for them to play.  I made puppet characters, including Mother Earth and Tree, using, in part, old shirts and cardboard toilet paper tubes.  For the month of April and in celebration of Earth Day, we took our traveling show to 13 different elementary schools. The shows were interactive, a great success, and so much fun!

Bay Area Eco ArtWhat inspires you now?

Mary - About three years ago, I discovered the upcycled fabrics from the couture design houses of San Francisco through the non-profit organization FabMo.  These fabrics are so exciting to me!  They are like an artist’s pallet for the seamstress – so many beautiful textures and colors!  Often when I look at a fabric I will see what it will become: a handbag, part of a fiber landscape, or even a teddy bear.  These fabrics are more beautiful than any I could afford to buy and they are finding a second life in my handbags and totes.  Because the fabrics come in limited quantities and sometimes very odd sizes, they present an exciting design challenge, which I love. And because these fabrics would otherwise go to the landfill, everything I make from them is eco-smart.

Bay Area Eco ArtWhat advice do you have for aspiring artists and crafters?

Mary – Explore everything that excites you! Experiment and don’t be afraid to make a mistake and throw a project away. Talk with other artists and craftspeople and share skills and ideas. And always reduce, reuse and recycle!

Monday, August 27, 2012

FabMo Selection Event September 6, 7 & 8

If you don't know about FabMo you don't know about one of the most amazing resources for eco-friendly artists in the Bay Area. FabMo is a fantastic non-profit located in Mountain View. Their mission is to divert designer materials that would otherwise be headed for landfills into the hands of local artists, crafters and teachers.

At FabMo's monthly selection events you can score designer fabrics, upholstery, leather, carpeting, tiles, frames, buttons, zippers, trims, wood flooring and more. Everything is available for nothing more than a modest donation!

The next FabMo Selection event is taking place on September 6, 7, and 8. To attend you must schedule an appointment on the FabMo website. Appointments can be scheduled starting one week before the event each month. This month FabMo has received an amazing array of leathers, 4 boxes of pants samples ranging from corduroy and denim to ladies dress pants, there is also a selection of Summer Hill fabrics with both large and small samples available for the taking.

If you have been thinking about making jean tote bags don't miss the September FabMo Selection Event! Schedule appointments starting Thursday August 30th. Here is the link - You are signing up for "FabMo Selection Events".

Unique Leather

Variety of leather pieces ranging from a few square inches to square feet!

Interesting vinyl and leather including rainbow cow hide!

Pants Galore

Perfect for upcycled jeans bags!

Beautiful Summer Hill Prints

Summer Hill

Large sections of Summer Hill fabric samples

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Ashley Grant - Upcycled by Ash

Ashley Grant is an Artist & Crafter in Menlo Park, California. She focuses on upcycling but that is as far as she limits herself, after that it is a craft free for all. She is most well known for her gorgeous wallets and unique upcycled jean bags. Her talents however do not end with the sewing machine. Ashley makes wine bottle glasses, t-shirt jewelry, creatures out of men's neckties, coaster from showroom flooring samples, dominos out of rocks, and whatever else her craft crazy mind dreams up.

It is refreshing to find an eco friendly artist who talks the talk and walks the walk. Ashley's home is filled with upcycled and freecycled items. Every room has at least one and some are almost entirely "pre-loved". There is a craft table in her garage that she pick up for free on the side of the street. She and her stepchildren painted the chairs and invited all the neighborhood kids over to paint the table. That table and those acts perfectly encompass the essence of Ashley.

Bay Area Eco Art - What drew you to upcycled crafting?

Ashley - I've always been concerned about the enviornment. I grew up in the mountains with a true appreciation for nature. To be honest though, I know a good opportunity when I see one. I started my crafting right after the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. I had this crazy idea that I could use twitter to get celebrities to send me thier pants. I woud then upcycle them into messenger bags and sell them online with at least half the profit going to Nature Conservancy or the National Wildlife Federation. It worked. I got donations from three actors the most famous being Alyssa Milano from Who's the Boss and Charmed.

Before I started my business I had never even heard the word upcycled. I kept saying recycled and a good friend kept correcting me, "recycled is for garbage, upcycled is classy". I loved the concept so I went with it.

Once I started things just sort of happened. People would contact me and offer to trade me materials for products or even to just send me materials or equipment they were no longer using. One woman sent me rhinestones, lace, and sequins from professional figure skating costumes. A year later the same woman sent me an airbursh. My sewing machine was a donation from my Grandma. It's some fancy computerized thing she used for quilting, I treat it more like a tank.

Bay Area Eco Art - What is your background? Have you always been an artist?

Ashley - No. I have always loved art and making things but I wasn't an artist. I have a BA in Speech Communications and I worked for about six months in Advertising. After that I took off for eight years teaching skiing and traveling around the world. In 2008 I decided to end the nomadic lifestyle. I went back to school to study graphic design. I became seriously ill that same year. I was diagnosed with Lyme disease and ended up essentially housebound for two years. I know that sounds really depressing but I am a much better, much happier person after the experience. I learned so much during those years I was sick, and I accomplished more of value during that time than I had ever accomplished in my whole life.

Bay Area Eco Art - What or who inspires you?

Ashley - Pinterest. Seriously, I spend hours there just looking at different things people make. I rarely look at anything other that the DIY & Craft category.

Bay Area Eco Art - Where do you want to go with what you are doing?

Ashley - I love crafting but even more than that I love inspiring and teaching others. I run the Bay Area Eco Art meetup groups and I teach a lot of the workshops. I want to do more of that. I will always be a "craft geek" (that's what my boyfriend affectionately calls me), but I want to make a difference with my skills. I want to share my passion for eco friendly crafting and art with others. I think that Bay Area Eco Art is the perfect avenue to do just that. I am also starting a project with children teaching them different projects and business skills by setting up and online store that they stock and run with my guidance.

Bay Area Eco Art - Do you have any advice for aspiring crafters?

Ashley - Believe in yourself. If you don't, no one else will either. Trust your gut and do what you love. You will be a happier person for it.

Find Ashley online:

Monday, August 6, 2012

Getting Started

We are just getting started here at Bay Area Eco Art. After meeting and collaborating since the start of the year we are finally ready to start launching ourselves on the internet. Please bear with us as we take on this monumental task!

Stay tuned for local artist features, teaching & business workshops, tutorials, inspiration, guides to local art festivals, reviews and much more. We are striving to create a community with a passion for eco friendly art and lifestyle. We hope you will join us on our adventure.

Chan Luu Style Bracelet
using repurposed beads and shank button