Tell us a bit about yourself.
I’m Camille, woodcrafter and owner of RedOnionWoodworks. I live with my husband and two little kids in an off-the-grid, 450-square-foot cabin at the dead end of a gravel road in rural western Oregon. As a genuine country girl, I spend as much time as possible outside or in our huge greenhouse oasis, nibbling on fruits and vegetables grown by my husband (a farrier by trade).
I am lucky to be a member of a family and a community who has always supported local businesses and environmentally friendly practices. With RedOnionWoodworks, like the rest of my life, I take sustainability very seriously, using only locally-sourced wood including trees taken out of backyards by arborists and hardwood logs salvaged from industrial logging operations, reusing or repurposing shipping materials, and applying non-toxic finish on all my cutting boards and serving trays.
I’m a pretty sensible, rational person in general, but Etsy is the first place that my commitment to restraint as a consumer has failed completely. I see things all the time on here that grip me with an uncontrollable “you must buy me” even though I didn’t know that I needed or wanted a new purse, belt, or whatever. Fortunately, I am happy to support and have a direct connection with folks doing it the handmade way and giving back to their own far-flung communities.
Apart from creating things, what do you do?
I raise Nubian dairy goats, so I spend a lot of time doing barn chores, milking, and making delicious fresh cheeses. I enjoy many of those clichéd farmstead activities like baking crusty loaves of bread, hiking with my heeler dog, and preserving summer produce. I also browse thrift stores and help my mom at the local farmers’ market, where she’s been selling baked goods and organic vegetables for 27 years (easy to keep track because that’s how old I am). Mostly though, I hang out with my kids, trying to foster in them a sense of curiosity about the natural world.
What first made you want to become an artist?
I was not a particularly creative kid. After graduating from college with a degree in geoscience, I was burned out on academia and sitting in front of a computer, so I changed directions drastically. I started working a part-time job splitting firewood by hand, helping operate a small sawmill, and organizing a barn full of rough-sawn lumber. I also apprenticed in a woodworking shop, using many different power tools and spent a lot of time finish sanding custom furniture. I had no previous experience with woodworking, but after seeing the whole process from standing tree to piece of fine furniture, I fell in love with the craft. The concept of producing something that was beautiful as well as functional was a bit of a revelation and a motivator for me. It took a couple years for me to build my skills and develop my ideas that eventually went into Red Onion Woodworks.
Please describe your creative process.
My entire creative process and production model is dictated by the wood itself, starting with board selection. I choose slabs with an eye for, above all else, shape and character of the natural edge. Other considerations include color and figure (the seemingly three-dimensional textures of smooth boards). My wood source is a friend who is wonderful but a bit disorganized, which actually works out well because I end up spending a lot of time burrowing through lumber piles and finding perfect boards tucked behind piles of old farm equipment. It’s kind of a treasure hunt.
I don’t yet have my own shop, so I haul all my tools around in a giant Makita-blue duffel bag. It’s a sparse but functional collection: a power hand planer, a belt sander, a cordless drill, a cordless circular saw, and a cordless jigsaw. Gotta say that lithium-ion batteries are an off-grid girl’s best friend. In the summer, I work outdoors, which is pleasant as well as inspirational, but I move inside for the fall and winter. I can’t complain too much about the transient conditions because I have the freedom to do what I love.
When designing, I consider each board individually. My wood of choice is bigleaf maple because it machines well and has great character. The nature of figured maple, however, is that its beauty is a product of irregular patterns in the grain (crotches, burls, etc.), which are the areas that have the most cracks, bark inclusions, and strange knots. I find many of these supposed defects to be aesthetically pleasing, so I often leave them unadulterated in my serving trays. My favorite part is the last step, putting on the finish, when the figure suddenly pops into 3-D.
What handmade possession do you most cherish?
Definitely my house. My husband built it with timbers that he milled (some from our property) and many other salvaged building materials. None of the windows match, and the bathing facilities are outside, but that doesn’t bother me; in fact, sometimes it’s nice to shower under the stars. I’m kind of a conspiracy theorist about having too much plastic in everyday life, so a lot of wood, glass, iron, ceramics, textiles, and books fill the cozy living space. Except for a couple of chairs picked up at a garage sale, all our furniture was made by us or various family members. We have a plan to someday build a “real” house, but for now, I am very happy where I am.
What advice would you give to artists who are new to Etsy?
Spend a lot of time browsing and shopping on the site. Pay close attention to what catches your eye and what appeals to you aesthetically. Know that your product won’t appeal to everyone, so focus on catering to a target group of consumers. Don’t monitor your competitor’s every move because you should be trying to do something unique, and there are probably enough customers to sustain both shops. Most importantly, make something in a category which isn’t already over-saturated.
What are your favorite features on Etsy? What new features would you like to see?
The Etsy community is so supportive. Every time I have a question I go straight to the Forums, and the answer is always there. When someone marks my shop as his or her favorite or sends me a nice convo, it makes my day a little brighter. I also recently joined a great team, TeamT International (Go TeamT!), and that has been an awesome experience. The fact that I can forge real relationships with teammates, customers, and other sellers all over the world is pretty darn cool.
I wish I was able to search through all my favorite shops at the same time. This would allow me to find possible purchases more easily as well as pick out items for treasuries from shops that I already know and like.
I’d also like to post pictures of my materials and production methods on my profile page.
I believe in some kind of Etsy karma. I buy plenty of stuff here, and whenever I get compliments on my purchases, I send people to Etsy. In fact, I’ve told just about everyone I know about this site. I make treasuries that feature other people’s beautiful things in the hopes that what’s good for other sellers is good for me as well as the whole Etsy organization.
I am just so thankful to those behind-the-scenes Etsy Admin, working hard on everyone’s behalf to make the buyers’ shopping experiences so pleasant and easy. With this convenient venue for sellers to showcase products, it’s kind of been, “If you build it, they will come.”
I do have a Facebook page where I post pictures and tidbits of information. If you “like” it, I promise not to bug you too often.
In ten years, where would you like to be?
I hope to be living in a slightly bigger house on the same property that has space for luxuries like a closet, a couch, and an indoor shower. I’ll be working away in a well-stocked shop, crafting fine furniture and other home accessories. Ideally, I’d also like to have a good cheese facility where I can age artisan hard goat cheeses to feed my good friends and growing family.