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Featured Seller: Bella Puzzles Too

Apr 2, 2012

by Bella Puzzles handmade and vintage goods

Tell us a bit about yourself.
My name is Lara Braithwaite. I make custom wooden jigsaw puzzles. My two shops on Etsy are Bella Puzzles and Bella Puzzles Too. The first shop is dedicated to small art puzzles made from vintage illustrations or client photos. The second shop is where I sell custom puzzle guest books for weddings.

I live with my daughter and our pet, Mr. Cat, just outside of Portland, Oregon. In my home studio, I do all my designing, correspondence, and packaging of puzzles. I cut the puzzles in my garage workshop during my daughter’s school hours, listening to audio books or NPR while I work. When my daughter is home and awake, it’s mother-daughter time. I do all the computer and packaging tasks after the kiddo has gone to bed.

Apart from creating things, what do you do?
I grew up near Portland but was away for nearly two decades. Now that I’m back, I’m busy exploring Portland’s food, art, and culture. I’m also spending many hours a week escorting my daughter to all her activities, reading on a wide variety of topics, and teaching myself to cook my favorite foods. I like playing with jigsaw puzzles, of course. My favorite hobby is writing down all the unintentionally funny things an 8-year-old kid can say.

What would be the title of your memoir? Why?
Photos I Wish I’d Taken. I regret lost photo ops! This is one of the reasons I’m so obsessive about photographing each puzzle I cut, the rooms I live in, some of the better meals I eat, and most of my kid’s activities. Wannabe Librarian is another possible title. I love books and information and keeping detailed records. It would be nice to have some archival skills for dealing with all these photos and books in my house.

Where does your inspiration come from?
There is nothing like a meal and conversation for making me scribble notes on napkins, receipts, or my arms.

What does handmade mean to you?
It means you’ll be able to see that the work was done by hand. There will be some small irregularity that makes it more precious, more human. I have an antique Chinese scholar’s cabinet that I adore in part because the maker’s tool marks are visible here and there.

Who has been most influential in your craft?
Wooden jigsaw puzzle makers of the Depression era set a pretty high bar. A few puzzle historians have taught me most of what I know about making puzzles. The rest I figured out as I went along or learned from talking to other contemporary puzzle makers. It’s not a widely known or appreciated craft. Without the support and interest of two or three dedicated customers and family, I might not have persevered beyond my first few years as a puzzle maker.

How would you describe your creative process?
Scribble or sketch ideas on left forearm until I run out of available space. Transfer the most legible ideas to notebooks, calendar, or computerized lists. Promptly forget about all but the juiciest idea. Figure out how to make that one idea a reality. Make sawdust fly.

When it’s a custom order, there is a lot of back and forth with the customer to make sure I know what they want and that they’re going to love what they receive. I genuinely prefer the custom orders. They give me a chance to interact with my clients and make the experience more personal.

If you could peek inside the studio of any artist, designer or craftsman (dead or alive), who would it be?
It would be fun to visit the New York City studio of PAR Puzzles in the 1930s. They were masters of custom puzzle making, with a reputation for excellence, mischief, and creativity.

I’d also like to pay visits to the studios of my friends on the Full Time Etsy Crafters Team. I know some of them do all their work on small desktops, some work in their garages, and others work in shops or studios they rent outside their homes.

What handmade possession do you most cherish?
It’s a tie. First on the list is my daughter’s collection of drawings. They are usually of pirates, prisoners, or Darth Vader. She used to have me do the drawing for her. I have some of those directed drawings saved, too. At those earlier ages, she was only interested in astronauts and scuba divers, so those make up the bulk of the older collection. (Ask me about space capsules and buoyancy compensators!)

I also cherish old photographs of my family. About ten years ago, I paid long visits to both of my grandmothers (now 86 and 92) to digitize their collections of family photos and collect stories about them and about their childhoods. These are all the more priceless because they were taken by family members.

How do you get out of your creative ruts?
If I’m seriously stumped for an idea, walking is good. Walking and talking is better.

What’s the most important question a couple should ask about their wedding vendor?
I have two. As a person who prefers to buy things that are well-made, beautiful, and useful, my first questions would be: “Is your product/service going to make my wedding more memorable for us and for our guests? Is it something we can keep and treasure?”

What’s the most memorable custom item you’ve ever created for a wedding?
The custom puzzles made with photos are the ones I remember best. I’ve made some with professional engagement photos, others from vintage family photos, and everything in between. It’s fun to see the clients’ faces on the work I’m doing. I’m definitely interested in knowing my clients. Hopefully when I’m browsing my photo archives and see a photo of their puzzle a year after I made it, I think, “Oh! That’s Lindsay’s puzzle! I wonder if she had a great time at her wedding?”

Where would you like to be in ten years?
I hope I’m living in a quirky old house with a huge kitchen, a library, and a woodshop. Each room will be full of bookshelves and as much art as I can squeeze into it. Puzzles will be plentiful. There will be sawdust here and there, and drawings on the fridge.

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