The first quarter of 2020 has been a busy one here on The Avid Pen. From artist spotlights to interviews with the founders of some of my favorite brands and female owned small businesses, I have been so excited to be able to share an inside look into the lives and inspiration of these exceptional women.
All of your ginger jars are made by hand. Tell me about the process of creating one of your ginger jars?
Yes! We use a slip casting process to make our ceramics. First, we create or work with an artist to create a master object and then cast plaster molds of that object that we then pour clay into.The clay sits in the plaster molds for about half a day, and then we take apart the molds and release the object. From there, it has to dry out and be cleaned up quite a bit by hand using sanding files. The raw clay pieces then go into the kiln for about 12 hours, and when they come out, they are white hard ceramic pieces called “bisque.” The bisque is then glazed by hand using our glazes. They are fired again for about 12 hours, and the glaze melts into a glassy coating around the ceramic piece in the kiln. If the piece has gold or silver accents, real 22K gold or while gold which is suspended in oil is painted on by hand, and then fired one last time. The oil burns off, and the metal is fused into the glass coat.
What do you think sets the Glassy Glow Beauty Tonics apart from other supplements / skincare products available on the market?
Our Glassy Glow Beauty Tonics are the first ready to drink beauty tonics made with the World’s most powerful antioxidant: Astaxanthin. Along with this powerhouse ingredient, all our ingredients are not only clean and minimally processed but also super effective — showing results in as little as 4 to 8 weeks with continued use. Our collagen comes from cod fish because through clinical research, we discovered that marine sources are the best kind of collagen for skin health and is 15x more bioavailable than other sources like bovine. Unlike other tonics or supplements, our Beauty Tōnics are inspired from Eastern medicine and are also formulated with botanicals and superfoods used for centuries in China to help with whole body wellbeing.
Other than our formula that sets us apart, we are also one of the only skin supplements that are made ready to drink and that come in liquid form. It makes it truly more convenient, enjoyable, and more effective and tastier than taking pills.
What sets Weezie towels apart from other brands?
Where do we begin?! In our hundreds of hours of focus groups, it became crystal clear that consumers prioritized softness and absorbency in their towels. Too often, one comes at the expense of the other – soft towels aren’t absorbent, and vice versa. To solve for this, Weezie uses an innovative spinning technology that spins air into each and every fiber, which ensures a towel that is equal parts soft and fluffy. On top of that, our materials are the best of the best: 100% organic long-staple cotton. Even better? It’s OEKO-TEX certified, meaning it’s free of harmful chemicals.
We were incredibly thoughtful about not only about towel construction, but also aesthetics. We rounded the corners for a more elevated design, and included a discreet hanging hook for more effective drying. We also offer seamless online customization so that our customers can create a towel unique to them. We truly believe we created the perfect towel, and hope it brings as much joy to our customers as it does to us.
For those who are new to food photography and the art of prop styling what is the most important thing you’ve learned in the process of styling and photographing the delicious dishes on HBH?
It’s all about your personal style, I like the food to scream “Eat me!” So that to me means real, as in messiness on the table, a bite out of the food. It’s all about playing up the emotions of the dish, seeing the melting cheese, or melted chocolate on the pan when you make chocolate chip cookies and really highlighting that.
I love how vividly your describe each character in the novel. Are any of the characters in The Vineyards of Champagne based on people you know or have met in real life?
I often do base characters on people I know in real life – though not people very close to me, interestingly enough. In The Vineyards of Champagne, Blondine’s father – Gaspard Blé—was based on a very entertaining (but cantankerous) vintner we stayed with while in the region. And I’m often inspired by historical figures, people who wrote journals, that sort of thing. I tend to “see” the characters in my mind, in a very cinematic way, but I always have to write for a while—a long while—before I figure out who they are, and then I have to return and re-write the beginning chapters when I wasn’t so sure of their characters.
After graduating from the university and pursuing a career in interior design you fell back in love with fine art and painting. What do you enjoy the most about combining your love of interior design and art when creating a painting?
I think what’s really cool about making the transition was I kind of imagined what kind of room the painting will go in while I’m creating the new piece. When I worked in interior design, we would always look for art for the walls as a last step and we were trying to make it fit into the interior. Since it was the last part of the design process instead of the main focus, so we would always struggle to find the right piece. So that’s why I decided to make the switch from interior design to creating art. I love how art can transform a space and enhance the overall look of your space.
Your goats milk for your soaps is sourced directly from your farm where you raise your own goats… What is it about goats milk that makes it an ideal base for your soaps?
The majority of soap is made up from fats (oils and butters or lard/tallow). I used olive oil, coconut oil, rice bran oil, castor oil, avocado oil, shea butter, mango butter, and cocoa butter typically. Sometimes I use other recipes with other oils and butters as well. Then you have a liquid component. Most often this is distilled water or any kind of milk (coconut milk, almond milk, goat milk etc.)! I use 100% goat milk most of the time from my sweet nanny goats (Layla, Hei Hei, and Moana). FYI you have to use frozen milk or it will burn during the process so I milk all summer and freeze it to be used the rest of the year. Goat milk makes the soap, as mentioned previously, creamier and richer in my opinion. Then of course you can’t make soap without sodium hydroxide (lye). It truly is an amazing chemical process to take those ingredients and combine them in a precise way and the end result is soap! I get a lot of satisfaction in using my soaps and having others purchase and enjoy them as well because my family and I worked through the whole process! I do all the milking of the goats and the making and packaging of the soaps. My children are in charge of daily feeding and watering of the farm animals. My husband helps with spring cleanup and pen maintenance (which can really be a challenge if you get an escape mastermind)! My goats and their milk are kind of the keystone of my whole business!
Research is one of the most important parts of the writing process, especially when using real people and events in a fictional setting. What do you enjoy the most about researching for one of your novels and how much research do you do before you start writing?
Because my novels have all been set in the period between the 1920s and the 1940s, my whole life is a process of research. I read a lot about that time, especially biographies, but the most fun is visiting the places where I’m planning to set a scene. Often a location can inspire an entire novel. When I was thinking about The Words I Never Wrote, I visited the House of the Wannsee Conference in the west of Berlin. This terrible place where the holocaust was planned is in an exquisite setting by a lake, and as I walking down the leafy road, past a series of expensive villas, I thought how dramatic it would be to shelter a Jew there, right until the noses of the SS.
How long did it take you to come up with the recipe for each of the cookies that not only tastes good, but is also both began and gluten free?
Perfecting our recipes was a long process; almost a year or so of baking, taste-testing and listening to feedback from others until I finally felt the recipes were perfect. Once I had my base recipe hammered down, it takes about 3-4 months to launch a new flavor.. We value the feedback from customers and continually work to improve our recipes. The most valuable lesson I learned early on was to participate in as many grocery samplings as I could – it gave me access to unfiltered feedback from strangers and helped me understand what consumers (and future customers!) were looking for.
What has been the hardest accent you’ve ever had to do, and how long did it take you to get the accent just right?
I often fear having to do an obscure accent from a distant land…but honestly, the hardest accents for me are some of the American regional accents, which American listeners are often quite familiar with – so they really know when you aren’t getting it right, LOL. The toughest of these have been two that I’ve done for different Kristan Higgins books – Maine and Boston. Both have very specific aspects to the accent that create a sense of authenticity, and I felt determined to do them justice for the author and her listeners. But I’ve been incredibly fortunate to work with actor, narrator and coach extraordinaire, PJ Ochlan when faced with a challenging accent. He’s phenomenally supportive and exceptional good at getting me where I need to be on an accent. From there, I spend however much time I have between coaching and recording speaking in the required accent – and only in that accent (yes, I really did have a spat with my daughter without dropping the French accent I was working to master…).
Occasionally though, there are accents that try as I might, I cannot master in time for recording. And if I have to choose between performing the accent in a distracting manner, or dropping it and delivering the character authentically, I’m going to go with the latter. I’ll confess that this happened with Swedish. Such a beautiful, melodious accent, one that can easily dip into caricature…and for most audiobook performances, caricatures are inappropriate and distracting. I chose to be true to the character’s intent and personality, rather than reach for an accent I didn’t think I could reliably deliver without making her into a parody.
Your work features abstract work on canvas and paper, figures and kids at play. What drew you to these particular subjects?
My first love is abstracts. I love how a piece of abstract art can communicate emotion, how it can really complete a space, and how you can see something new every time you look at it.
Figures are something that I always wanted to explore, so a couple of years ago I decided to commit to the 100 Day Project and really experiment with this subject. It was so freeing to try out all kinds of styles and media and just really have fun with it! I love figures and am finally revisiting the subject and what that looks like for me.
And my kids at play is just so fun! This non-traditional take on portraiture is truly inspired by my own kids. I want to capture the energy of kids in their element—fully absorbed in play or whatever is capturing their attention! It’s been a joy to create special pieces for parents and loved ones.
It’s freeing to know that there are so many artists that paint multiple subjects and we don’t have to be confined to one area. For me, each subject exercises different parts of my brain, and I’ve learned that I need that in order to avoid getting burnt out and to stay inspired.
Tell me about your process.
The couple, a family member, or friend will hire me to paint one or two of the scenes at the wedding/event. I’m in constant communication with the wedding planner about the whole wedding day. I like to get to the venue 2-3 hours before the wedding begins to set up, get everything mapped out, and start painting. As the guests arrive they see me painting and I act as an element of entertainment. They will come back to check out my progress throughout the night. I always paint the background first, then the guests, and the couple last. I finish the painting at the end of the evening and leave it with the couple to take home.
You offer both online and in person workshops for groups of four. What do you enjoy the most about teaching the craft of creating beautiful cupcakes to others?
I now run group workshops and one on one courses. I love to see the joy on students faces when they see the results of their work. I enjoy the interaction with my students and like to think I run a very informal workshop. I love to share my knowledge. I am self-taught and through hard work have built my hobby into a global business and want my students to be able to make a success of their dreams to.
In respect of my online courses this came about by popular demand. I had so many followers from across the world that could not partake in my local courses that this seemed a natural progression. It was very scary when I produced my first set of courses and I still get very nervous on filming day. However, with the support of my Mum (she calls herself the producer.) and Matt my amazing videographer I think I have pitched the courses just right. I have had nothing but positive feedback from my online courses so must be doing something right.
Tell me a bit about the Menagerie Collection and how it was inspired by The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel.
I think we can all agree that aside from Midge Maisel’s fabulous wardrobe, her NYC apartment is the highlight of the show. Entering through the front door, you immediately see a wall of what looks like de Gournay hand painted silk chinoiserie wallpaper that is elegant beyond words. The expense of a whole wall is beyond reach for the average person. But what if one original painting could produce an equally elegant impression? Well, that’s what inspired me to create my Menagerie Collection, full of blossoms and birds in muted pastels and neutrals. They were so calming and pretty, I hung them in my bedroom until they sold.
When did your love of flowers and floral design begin?
My mom was a floral designer and both my grandparents on my fathers side immigrated from Italy and he (my grandfather) would make these gorgeous cakes. My family is Swedish on my mother’s side, and my grandmother had the most gorgeous garden. Over the years I helped my mom in her own garden.
Growing up my dad worked for Nabisco and my mom Madonna, I always say she was the first Madonna, and every time my mom and dad would go into grocery stores, my dad told her that she should bring some of her arrangements into the grocery store. So, she asked one of the store owners, and he wanted 200 arrangements for Mother’s Day. So we ended up converting the garage into a floral workshop and my mom would show us how to make the arrangements and we would help her. This continued on for years and years.
She eventually decided to start doing weddings… and she was amazing at it. I would help her when I could during high school and college. After my freshman year in college I was invited to be a professional figure skater and we were based in Paris and would tour all around Europe. During the day (in Paris) I didn’t have much to do, so I would just migrate to all of the French flower shops and they sort of adopted me and they would teach me their designs and techniques.
What I loved the most about them, is they would have all the flowers out like a flower bar. They wore black aprons, their shops were small, but so beautiful. So, I called my mom and told her that we needed to open a flower shop. There was a shop that was near where I lived (in Paris) called Les Fleur, and I knew that was what I wanted to call our shop.
After 18 months of being on the road, I was homesick and my mom had come out of remission, so I knew it was time to come home. I went back school at Boston University and I would go home as much as I could to help my mom out.
Was your chateau in Pays de la Loire the first one you looked at when you started your search for a home base in France, or did you look at several châteaux?
Actually, my husband and I were looking for a nice house with a big enough garden where we can create the potager (vegetable garden) and be able to be self-sufficient. I looked at every possible website for the houses up for sale and one day I came crossed the chateaux for sale in Limoges area where I am familiar with the name because of my china collections. I was very tempted to buy a chateau, but we didn’t look at châteaux to buy and instead looked at many farm houses and manoir, like the Georgian style mansion because we really like the architectural appearance of it. Our house was sold as a “Maison de Maitre” (master’s house). We purchased our house in 2013, but our house wasn’t on our list of houses to view when we found it. We didn’t even know it has classified as a chateau by title until after we purchased it. Chateau means the big house in the countryside. Our house is the biggest house in our village therefore came with the title of chateau which was a pleasant surprise.
As a lover of all things French, I’m so intrigued by your Provence collection… What was the most memorable part of your visit to the region?
I was so captivated by the way Provence felt. It was so refreshing and laidback, and the light was unlike anything I’ve ever seen. I was also fascinated by the mistral. It’s a weather pattern unique to the region where there isn’t a cloud in the sky, and yet a very strong and sustained wind blows for days on end. The mistral can be brutal in winter, but when I went, in late September, it was refreshing and definitely unlike anything I had experienced before. It’s also what makes Provence so sunny and clear—which contributes to that unique light.
Although you’ve worked with oils and acrylics, you work primarily with gouache. What drew you to this particular medium?
A few things drew me to gouache. Firstly I participated in a series of classes taught by Maysey Craddock. Maysey is a phenomenal artist from Memphis who works primarily with gouache on found paper bags! (Definitely check her out!) I grew very attached to gouache after experimenting in these classes.
I love gouache because I can layer it like I would with oil glazes. That being said, this is very unconventional as gouache is meant to be used in very dense opaque washes. Secondly, oil glazes are beautiful and I would by all means prefer to use oils over any other medium, but the toxicity just makes me nervous.
Acrylic paint is the most difficult medium in my opinion! I do use it occasionally as a base/undercoat under oils.