Tell us a bit about yourself.
Hi there! I’m Amanda Nolan, and I live off-grid in a yurt in the Maine woods most of the year with two mostly very sweet little girls, two goats, a cat, and a 120 lb dog named Finn. I grew up on Long Island, NY, and even though I traded pavement for pine sap more than a decade ago, I’m still easily fascinated by the artistry of spiders and the grace of newts nimbly passing through tiny lichen regiments.
This may sound strange and a little bit terrible, but I judge people by their favorite smell. It can speak volumes through olfactory memory and association about where a person’s been in life, and what little scraps of past they’ve deemed important enough to bring with them. Plus it gives me a heads up if they’re going to smell like licorice or something. I don’t like the licorice. I also don’t like red sauce on my pizza or syrup on my pancakes, and when I drive through the woods at night, I watch out for zombies on the side of the road.
Apart from creating things, what do you do?
My day job is running one half of a handmade consignment shop, so I guess I don’t really do anything that’s outside the realm of creativity, unless we’re counting bodily functions. Which I guess can be carried out creatively, but that would be gross.
I do create things besides soap, though. I knit well, spin badly, build gardens then neglect them, embroider tiny enough things to have a killer case of carpal tunnel syndrome, and I’m a trained marching snarist, but we won’t talk about that.
What first made you want to become an artist?
I don’t think many children announce a future soaping career. My kid has, but that’s just because she’s so very small and still thinks I’m awesome. When I was nine, I drew a picture of myself as a marine biologist (in a bikini, with a pet shark) and I would have gone all the way with it had I not fallen in love with my keyboard halfway through college and switched my major from ecology to English. English majors are supposed to do educationally irrelevant things, so I fell in love with saponification values and little brown bottles of stink. I smell so much better now than I did as an ecology major.
Please describe your creative process how, when, materials, etc.
I make cold process soap, which means I mix lye, liquid, and fat together, mold it, and let it sit on a shelf for a month. I love activating the lye with strange liquids, anywhere from apple cider to green tea, and I try to only use sustainably harvested vegetable oils in my recipes. At the yurt, I soap without grid electricity, running my stick blender off of a solar-charged car battery, sometimes even melting solid oils next to a wood stove.
I tend to soap when I’m hungry. So, any scents that I’ve created by my own intuition will have something to do with chocolate, baked goods, fruit, alcoholic beverages, or sandwiches. Anything else was a solid request from a brilliant, well-fed customer.
What handmade possession do you most cherish?
My great grandmother’s impossibly heavy, hand-stitched 19th-century Welsh quilt (she was a Welsh immigrant and seamstress) and my great, great grandfather’s general store ledger. The latter isn’t technically handmade I guess, but it’s proof enough of a home grown life. “April 9th, 1873: William Amesbury gave three dozen hen’s eggs in exchange for removal of lower left incisor.” Or at least it’s proof of home grown health care.
Name your top five books, movies, songs/musical groups, and web sites besides Etsy.
A Thousand Splendid Suns
Millions of Cats
The Roaches Have No King
Desert Notes/River Notes
Life of Pi
A Very Long Engagement
The Science of Sleep
Left Hand Luke
The Brothers Bloom
Off the Map
Noah & the Whale
What advice would you give to artists who are new to Etsy?
In a physical shopping experience, a buyer is able to use all senses in making their decision to purchase a product. On Etsy, we’ve got to cram that decision between the walls of five photographs and a set of words. Make sure your photos are super awesome and draw the buyer’s eye to the item in question, and try to verbally mimic a physical encounter with familiar comparisons in your description. Stories don’t hurt, either. Everybody loves to hear about where their recycled sweater kitten grew up. Don’t say it’s just me.
What are your favorite features on Etsy? What new features would you like to see?
I love the treasury, public favorites + connections; I would love an in-house shipping calculator with weights and buyer-chosen method options and combined shipment pricing consideration. And a ball pit.
How do you promote your work?
I don’t have any attack strategies mapped out, I just list as often as I can and relist when something sells. The key, I think, is loving my craft enough to be addicted to it, and getting all excited when someone lets me ramble on about it. Everything else just seems to fall into place from there.
In ten years I’d like to be…
I’ve learned to expect the unexpected in terms of the fine details of life, so wherever I am and whatever I’m doing, I hope I’m in love and laughing more often than crying. I’ll also need a pet shark.