Tell us a bit about yourself.
Born in South Korea, I was left on a doorstep in Seoul when I was a few weeks old with my name, Soon Ae, pinned to me. At the tender age of six months, I was adopted by my American parents who named me Kara. I was and still am über shy, and the way I connected with people throughout much of high school was to draw life-like pencil portraits of my fellow students. I carried my drawing pencils around in a weird faux-croc, box-like purse which contrasted sharply with my Catholic school uniform.
I wound up attending the School of the Art Institute of Chicago where I got my BFA in painting and drawing, and now I can’t imagine living anywhere else. I was never comfortable with my art, which was figurative and based upon memories of people in my life. Recently it dawned upon me why I’ve always enjoyed drawing in a sketchbook so much. A sketchbook can be closed, which is much less terrifying to me. One night I was aimlessly wandering the corners of the Internet when I ran across some images of hollow books. It just clicked with me. A book. A safe. A secret spot. So I researched methods to do it myself, starting out with an X-Acto blade. Later, Santa brought me a scroll saw. Eventually I started making cutouts in books for flasks, which tickles my funny-bone.
I must say it is pretty darn satisfying to make real money after years of the tortured-soul-starving artist gigs. I finally feel comfortable in my current occupation as a hollow-bookmaker. I recently quit my day job as a security guard at the Museum of Contemporary Art here in the lovely city of Chicago. Standing somewhat idle in those sleek galleries of conceptual art exhibits, in the moments between my “please don’t touch” statements, I came up with the concept for my shop, born out of a desire to get my hands on something. Today I live with my husband, John, along with fond memories of my dear cat Angelo, who passed away five years ago.
Apart from creating things, what do you do?
I love to travel. I reluctantly shrugged off my workaholic tendencies and put my Etsy shop on vacation last February so that I could escape the Chicago cold and spend a little time on the beach. When my husband and I aren’t traveling, we have dinner at home, watch the original Star Trek reruns, spend a little time on each of our computers, and then watch a movie. On weekends we sometimes go out to breakfast at our favorite local diner and maybe have dinner at a Thai restaurant in New Chinatown that we love.
What first made you want to become an artist?
My Norwegian grandmother practices the art of Rosemaling, a Norwegian style of decorative painting that never quite rubbed off on me. Most of the other people in my family claim they have no artistic talent by saying, “I can’t even draw a straight line.” Well, I can’t really draw a straight line without a ruler, and they let me into art school — go figure.
When I was in preschool, my best friend’s mother was an artist who worked at home. She had a big drafting table where I once saw her drawing a huge ship when I came over to play. At that early age, I realized that being an artist was something you could do for a living. Sometimes if we bothered her while she was working, she would stop and do a couple quick line drawings of flowers for us to color. I remember doing all kinds of craft projects at their house. From then on, I had it in the back of my mind that I wanted to make stuff at home for my job, just like my friend’s mom. But I also wanted an indoor swimming pool, which I learned cost a lot of money, so for a little while (until I was 9 or so), I resolved to become a lawyer.
Please describe your creative process.
I usually start by judging a book by its cover. Then everything just falls into place and I put my nose to the grindstone and craft, craft, craft. My customers also inspire me by letting me in on some of their secrets. I’ve been asked to create a hidden spot for countless objects: flasks, handguns, iPhones, flash drives, engagement rings, condoms, lingerie, a diary, and a spy glass for a little girl who was crazy for Nancy Drew.
What handmade possession do you most cherish?
Sometimes when I dream that I’m in some kind of troubling situation, a winged horse comes down from the sky. I hop on and we fly away together. Then when I was at the Minnesota Renaissance Festival this year, I saw a winged horse sculpture that looked just like the one in my dreams and just had to have it.
What advice would you give to artists who are new to Etsy?
Be sure to put the most relevant keywords about your products in the first sentence of your Shop Announcement, because this is what turns up in Google search results. As a newbie, I had “Welcome to my shop” as my first sentence, until a seasoned seller in the Critiques section of the Forums pointed out that nobody is going to search Google for “Welcome to my shop.” I was nowhere to be found on Google until I wrote “Hollow Book” at the beginning of my announcement. Also, make sure to flesh out your profile. People want to get to know you because, after all, they are coming to Etsy to buy from an independent artisan.
See and be seen in the Etsy Forums. I can’t tell you how many times a customer has told me, “I found you in the Forums.” It is also a great place to get valuable input by asking for a critique of your shop. Also, do a daily study of the Etsy homepage treasury products and you’ll start to get a feel for what makes a great photograph. Take advantage of all five photo slots, and use Picasa or some other photo-editing program so you can crop, pump the contrast, sharpen, and tweak your photos to perfection.
Additionally, I suggest staying hydrated at all times.
What are your favorite features on Etsy? What new features would you like to see?
I love the Etsy Forums. As I mentioned above, the advice from my fellow sellers has been extremely valuable to my business. But even more than that is the camaraderie which is so comforting, especially now that I’m self-employed. A new feature I would like to see is an enhanced profile page where sellers have the option to add photos of ourselves and our work spaces.
How do you promote your work?
In ten years, where would you like to be?