Tell us a bit about yourself.
My name is Catherine (Cat) Ivins and I live in a little house at the Jersey shore (no, I can’t see the ocean, can’t smell the ocean, can’t walk to the ocean, could bike to the ocean if I wasn’t so lazy, but I can be at the ocean in about 10 minutes if I drive really, really fast). I have one hubby, one daughter and one dog. My design studio is called Olive Bites (after my pup, who doesn’t anymore) and I have 2 Etsy shops, Uncorked and Polarity. I seek to use repurposed, recycled and sustainable materials in new, unique and beautiful ways. I work with cork, steel, cedar and other industrial materials. I want to deliver a unique view of something we have all seen before and hopefully get people thinking about new ways of seeing and using the things in their own lives.
Apart from creating things, what do you do?
Honestly between business and family I have about 10 seconds left over everyday! But since I love my business and my family it still makes for a very full life although I do miss books, movies and basketball! I am working on creating a bit more balance and having more time for social things (which I tend to avoid anyway) and time to take better care of myself. I do like to grow things and spend time at the ocean and time at our local reservoir where just this morning I saw fourteen turtles lines up on a log from largest to smallest! Made me come home and do a little turtle research, and I do spend quite a bit of time googling things I can’t live without knowing about.
What first made you want to become an artist?
I never thought – I think I’ll be an artist or I need to be an artist or I need to be anything really.
My studio has grown organically from my own need to reuse the things that have outgrown their original purpose (the thought of the things that I have owned cluttering up our beautiful planet in landfills gives me nightmares). Most of the things I make I do not sell- they are not really sell-able, just usable. And the things I do sell I need to be both sustainable and beautiful- I need them to have art in them.
I usually prefer the term designer because artist (to me) kind of implies someone with some kind of innate skill set that I do not have. Lately though I have been trying to “wear” the word artist and see how it feels. Not to label myself or pen myself into any certain way of being in the world (although it does allow you to be a bit more temperamental and crazy than other people- a definite good thing!) but just to connect this word “artist” that I love and admire to myself is a very big thing.
Please describe your creative process how, when, materials, etc.
Inspiration is everywhere. I am inspired by texture and color and music and crowds and piles of junk. Flea markets and junk heaps are my favorite places. I am always thinking, “What should this thing be next?” Maybe because I have reinvented myself so many times (and had so many 2nd… and 3rd chances) that I need to reinvent everything else. I am also inspired by time alone. I crave it. I try to set aside one full day a week to just work on new projects and when I don’t have the time to do this I get really grumpy and no one wants to be near me!
I am a bit of a pack rat (so I only buy what I need or really, really can’t live without because I will not be parting with it any time soon) so I always have lots of materials around to experiment with. I usually have some idea of what I want to be working with, turn on some music, have some chocolate handy and just see where things end up. There are typically a lot of distractions and some things never get finished- which is ok because it is really all about the process anyway.
What handmade possession do you most cherish?
I have a lot of handmade things in my house and I can feel the energy and love that has gone into those things. You can have a beautiful house, but it truly takes handmade to make it a home (sappy, but true). I have some gorgeous furniture that my husband has made. I have lots of goodies that my daughter has made me. My favorite is maybe a mosaic table top my daughter and I made from shells and glass. We have also been doing a lot with chalkboard paint lately because we love adding words and feelings in unusual places.
Name your top five books, movies, songs/musical groups, and web sites besides Etsy.
Anything by Haruki Murakami (especially The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle), Alice Munroe, John Irving, Augusten Burroughs, Barbara Kingsolver, J.K. Rowling- too many to list
Terms of Endearment, Moonstruck, Sophie’s Choice, Crooklyn, Pan’s Labyrinth, To Kill a Mockingbird, the Harry Potters, most of the Pixars, The Notebook, A Christmas Story- too many to list
Kella MacPhee Photojournalist
Corona Evans Illustrations
What advice would you give to artists who are new to Etsy?
Really develop (not in the sense of flawless because we are not machines and we are not seeking that- one reason I love cork so much is that it is such a terribly flawed wood- but just because you can make it doesn’t mean you can sell it, so make it good) your craft and make it unique. Use the best camera you can get your hands on and really work and rework your pictures. Be creative with them and work to develop a cohesiveness with your photos (I think this will come naturally over time if you make what you love and have your own unique vision). Join a team, make treasuries (or if you can’t catch the openings- just make them for yourself in your poster sketch- it will give you a great feel for what is out there and what works in photos) and work to promote other sellers because it will all come back to you in many positive ways. If you want to sell handmade then buy handmade. Read the storque articles- there is a ton of great advice there.
What are your favorite features on Etsy? What new features would you like to see?
My favorite are the Treasuries- which are totally addicting and an ingenious way for Etsy to have amazing and unique front pages. Most of the sellers I am friends with on Etsy I met through our mutual love of making them- although I don’t get the chance to as much these days. Also I love the Heart system – which is a giant web of goodies I could spend hours weaving my way through. I would love to be able to more easily manage my multiple shops rather than signing in and out all day and use the same email address for both, rearrange my shop items and make changes to multiple items more easily and organize my favorites.
How do you promote your work?
I have a blog that I update at least 3X a week and I submit my work to design and shopping blogs on a regular basis. I tweet (uncorkeducation on twitter). I am also in two other indie selling galleries that feed to Etsy. I do shows and promote my Etsy shops at those. I advertise on a couple blogs and am always switching to new ones when I find something that is reasonably priced and looks like something my customers might read or that I love and connect with. I collaborate with other sellers – the positive response in my Polarity shop for my new artist series of lockets has amazed me. Promoting and supporting other artists has a way of working its way back to you in surprising ways. I also find that whatever you do to promote yourself has to be continually evolving because what works for you now will eventually stop working. Positive thinking and right action definitely work, too!
In ten years I’d like to be…
Living in a barn we have renovated in the woods somewhere (but not too far from family and the ocean) making really cool new stuff out of really cool old stuff. I am maybe too spoiled to be living totally off the grid, but less is more is definitely the direction we are heading.