Tell us a bit about yourself (name, location, affiliations, personal stuff).
My name is Mary Helt, and with my partner, Chris Sittel, we make t-shirts, totes, and votive candle holders under the name maryink. We live in Nashville, TN, which is where we grew up, but hadn’t lived in for 15 years until we moved back last summer. We met at a party almost five years ago when we were both in town, when Chris was a screen printer in Florida, and I was a photo stylist in New York. Pretty soon after we met, we started making t-shirts whenever I would come for a visit. Which was pretty often. Eventually, we had enough trips between us to earn free tickets to Europe! After doing the back and forth for a couple of years, we moved to the Caribbean for a short spell. It was beautiful, but we made the decision that in order for our little business to grow, we needed to move to a more convenient place. Nashville was an easy choice for a small creative business, and we live in a neighborhood that has loads of self-employed, creative types. We have two cats Buster and Vivian, who are best friends and painfully cute.
What is the first thing you can remember making by hand? How and why did you make it?
Mary: I remember making animals out of thumb prints, à la Ed Emberley, who remains an inspiration to me today. The combination of animals and stamp pads, two of my favorite things, made it a perfect art form for me.
Chris: I made comic books as a kid, and first made silkscreens to make posters and t-shirts for school plays, and for friends’ bands. I enjoyed it so much I’ve been doing it more or less ever since.
What inspires you? Where do your ideas come from?
Mary: The past. Stories and fairy tales. Cute animals. Children’s books. Nature but also cities, and all the little elements that make both, like trees and houses. Hippies. All ephemera. 60’s and 70’s interiors. Art instruction books. Old French & Czech movies. Surface design and everyday items from far away places such as Scandinavia, Benelux, and Eastern Europe. I think of the places I’ve been, and imagine the ones I hope to visit some day. Oh- and music!!! We listen to it constantly while working, and sing songs when the mood strikes.
Chris: I mainly get inspired by typical things: art, music, reading. Ideas usually come from thinking about what types of things we haven’t done yet.
What are your favorite materials?
Mary: Sheer, soft cotton and dye-discharge ink, cotton canvas, kraft paper, vintage plastic, exacto knives, beads, computers.
Chris: Art supplies and printmaking equipment of all kinds, inks, paint pens, & transparency film.
What have been the most valuable lessons learned from other artists on Etsy?
Take the best pictures you can. Approach your craft as something fun, but also work at it like your life depends on it. Be prompt with convos and shipping if you can, although I know well that it’s easier said than done sometimes.
Why should people buy handmade?
Mary: Buying handmade helps people make lives for themselves that maybe they didn’t think possible until you started buying their stuff. And even though many sales of handmade articles are online, it’s much more of a personal exchange than forking over money to your local big box store.
Chris: Handmade things are made with more care and make more of a statement about one’s own uniqueness.
What features/services would you most like to see on Etsy?
Being able able to answer conversations without logging in would be cool. Some advanced search features would be rad, like being able to put parentheses around a phrase. Other than that, any new features will surely be great, as the site is already a beautiful thing.
Apart from creating things, what do you do?
We keep busy with craft fairs, which was a big motivator for us to move when and where we did. We’ve been fortunate to do Renegade Craft Fair, Indie Craft Experience, and Art Vs. Craft so far, which has given us a chance to sell our wares, meet people & get a change of scenery in fun, big cities. Gardening and playing music are our favorite things to sneak in when we aren’t making things or getting our stuff out there. Riding bikes is fun, and there is a beautiful bike path nearby that we like to frequent. It’s set up in a way that no buildings are visible: great for pretending we are somewhere else in the world. On a hot day, a friend says it looks and feels just like the countryside in India. We also like to spoil our cats and visit friends in the country.
Read any good books lately?
Mary: The last book I read was The Glass Castle by Jeanette Walls, which is an amazing story of familial craziness and perseverance. I have a limited attention span for books lately, so the books I have been picking up have lots of pictures! Some I like are: Moomin: The Complete Tove Jansson Comic Strip by Tove Jansson, Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi, I Like You by Amy Sedaris, and a book by an ad man filled with motivating one liners: It’s Not How Good You Are, It’s How Good You Want to Be by Paul Arden.
Chris: J.G. Ballard – Quotes, Printmaking History & Process, and The Psychic Soviet by Ian Svenonius.
In ten years I’d like to be…
In ten years, we’d like to be practicing our crafts, working with interesting people, traveling to new places, & living happily ever after.
Check out the Handmade Video Portrait of louchelab and read the Storque article here!