As a budding biologist, it’s no wonder that when Amy Keller began working in photography she was fascinated with the physiology of her prints, how they manifested, and different ways they could be displayed.
Keller abandoned the biology degree she’d earned at Bates College in Maine and embarked on a 12-year career as one half of a photography team with her husband. But by the time their second child was born, Keller was looking for ways to reinvent her creative self – and get back to the craftier feel of the pre-digital printmaking she’d learned at New England School of Photography.
Keller found that the hands-on ‘encaustic’ wax-working medium captured her imagination and reminded her of her favorite stories from childhood. Childhood memories also transported her back to a time when she summered on Cape Cod, and so the themes running through her current line of encaustic work was established. Her company is called bumblebellydesigns.
Patch: Talk a little about the encaustic process - what's involved and what materials are used in the layering?
Amy: Currently, I am layering my own small painted drawings into the pieces to create the compositions. This allows me to accentuate the depth that the wax has. I sketch onto rice paper and then paint the drawings with gouache. I hand cut the elements for the piece and then place them, layer by layer, into the wax to build up the composition. I have started to play with silver leaf and aluminum powder and look forward to finishing up new pieces for the holidays.
Patch: There's a big difference between photography and the work you're producing now. Do you miss photography?
Amy: I do miss photography a bit. I loved getting out in the field and the freedoms inherent in photo shoots. Going on a personal shoot is very meditative and I still do try and get out now and then. I do feel that it will work its way back into my career at some point; I’ve used it in a limited way so far.
The beauty of encaustic mixed media is that the possibilities are endless. This is both exciting and daunting. Sometimes my head swims with ideas and if I don’t get them down on paper, I’m like a deer in the headlights - frozen by my thoughts. The biggest difference between shooting and my encaustics is that the the finished product is both sculptural and textural and has a unique physical depth to it. I also get to get my hands dirty doing it—and that’s one of my favorite parts.
Patch: How do you balance being a mother and working artist?
Amy Keller: The challenges that arise for me, being a mother and artist, are all related to time management. I like to set goals for myself each day and become frustrated when I can’t get it all done. So I’ve learned to just be happy with what I have accomplished and move on.
I wanted to be home for my children and feel fortunate that I can be. I just wish I had a wife sometimes to do the laundry, cook dinner, shop and do the hundreds of other tasks that go into maintaining a home and family.
Patch: What have you learned in terms of managing your own business? Is it tougher as a solo artist?
Amy: “Self employment means you're unemployed every morning you get up.” It’s a favorite quote of my Dad's, and it’s so true. You have to make it happen and there’s a lot that goes into that, so be organized so that your time is maximized. Watching your spending is also important: don’t bite off more than you can chew financially, especially if you’re developing something new and untested.
The only difference between being in my own business and being a part of a team is that it was scarier. I really thought I had a tough skin until I sat alone in my booth as I watched my work judged by the public - work that was solely my own, not shared with anyone. I also had to communicate and, as I learned, educate people about what it is that they were looking at.
Patch: How do craftfairs and markets contribute to your career - are they intrinsic to success nowadays?
Amy: Participating in art shows is something I really look forward to. I’ve met so many supportive artists and I do feel that it has been a great way to reach customers. The encaustic has a depth and luminosity that is very difficult to capture and convey in an online shop. I have customers at shows recognize my work from Etsy and say how great it is to see the wax in person.
SoWa Holiday was the first show I ever participated in and it really kick-started my business. Doing the SoWa Sundays has allowed me to connect with so many people, customers, gallery owners and shop owners that are looking for wholesale. I’ve even had international sales from SoWa Sundays (six pieces to a shop owner from Ireland for her shop in Tipperary).
I think shows are integral to my business beyond the connection with the buyer. Being able to spend the day fully focused on my work and discussing it with others is a great breeding ground for new ideas and sketches. I will often do work at a show when the time allows.