Monday, April 9, 2007

Smack of Jellyfish ... Alaska, USA

Artist: Sarah Asper-Smith
Business: Smack of Jellyfish
Web site: and
Location: Alaska, USA

What do you make?
Right now I’m selling cards from a children’s book that I have written. I came up with an idea for it last winter at my cabin in Haines, Alaska. There’s not much to do at the cabin, with no running water or electricity, so I end up reading novel after novel. In one of the books that I bought from my very favorite bookstore, The Babbling Book, I read the term “a business of ferrets” and thought how fantastic language can be! Loving any excuse to drive to town, I went to the library to start researching this idea of collective nouns for animals. I didn’t realize what a beautiful project it would turn out to be when I first began. I looked for an animal for each letter of the alphabet, (ants, butterflies, crows) and then set to work trying to find their collective nouns (army, flutter, murder). Once I created the illustrations for the book, I saw the possibility for cards; what better than to write a note in a card that celebrates language?

Where and when do you do your creative work?
I get to do my work here, there and everywhere, which I love! I’m very portable, working on my PowerBook and Wacom tablet for illustrating. Right now, I’m sitting in a coffee shop in downtown Juneau with a soy latte and some zucchini bread. I also love the library, for it is on the top of a parking garage, and there is a conference room with two walls of windows that looks over the ocean. Yesterday I watched ravens and gulls riding the wind, with only feet and a pane of glass separating us.

Do you have another "day job"?
I am a graphic designer by trade, which is why my work is informed by the same clean lines and deliberate typography that I use in my work. I do a lot of work for non-profit organizations in Southeast Alaska: brochures, posters, and the like.

Where and what did you study?
I received a degree in art from Earlham College, a little Quaker school in Indiana; my focus was art history. I ended up coming home to Alaska for a couple of semesters to study Northwest Coast Indian art. I had been working as a graphic designer since high school, and continued to do so through college. Studying art history informed my work, however. I’ve recently realized how growing up among the formline designs of the Northwest Coast must have seeped into my being, for I love strong, clean lines and bold colors.

What inspires you and what motivates you?
Hmm...two very different questions...
I am inspired by the ocean; nature is certainly present in my work, which must be another symptom of growing up in Alaska. I am inspired by other people, great artists and friends, my Aunt Molly, who is a powerful force to be reckoned with. Writing by hand brings me uncommon joy. Strong emotions usually require me to write, and it really all comes back to writing..being connected to paper through pen. Just about all of my artwork has a word focus, so language, yes! Language inspires me, and the expression of language. The way people use language, its imperfections and inconsistencies?, its beauty.

As for motivation...I think most artists will tell you that its something they have to do. If I weren’t doing this, I would be expressing myself in a different way. I’m certainly motivated by the possibility of only doing this; I live cheaply on a houseboat with an allowance for wine and good cheese, and it would be amazing if I could support myself by illustrating children’s books and creating and selling cards. What a dream!

When did you start doing this?
This particular project took off in December of 2006, when I showed prints from my book at an art gallery and started to sell the cards. I joined Etsy to sell cards, and have since started to sell them wholesale.

Do you remember getting into art as a kid?
I have a vague recollection of an Easter egg painting contest when I was probably 3 or 4. I dipped my egg in every possible color and it came out looking like a beautiful gray river stone. I ended up winning a gift certificate to the Red Balloon toy store, and I suppose that must have been the beginning of my love of color.

When and why did you decide to start your own business?
I’ve had my business for several years because of my graphic design enterprises, but Smack of Jellyfish is new this year, for this new venture in my life.

How did you choose the name for your business?
A Smack of Jellyfish is probably my very favorite collective noun that I found. I love the image that it creates in my head. Not to mention, jellyfish are pretty and so much fun!

What do you love most about your work?
I love the connections that my work has brought to me. I love meeting people who somehow connect to the work. One woman had a distinct memory about the term “a murder of crows,” while others find the language as fascinating as I do. I have met wonderful artists through Etsy, and have found businesses who are just as excited about having the cards in their stores as I was to make them!

What's the most fascinating place you've been?
In elementary school in Juneau, every class has Seaweek. We would go out to the rocky shores at low tide, peer into tide pools, and stare at all of the creatures living there. An anemone would grab at your fingers, and sea cucumbers roll off of your hands when you try to pick them up. Sea urchins have hundreds of little thread-like feet that move themselves across your skin. I’ve admired galleries and museums full of art in different parts of the world, but I’m not sure they can beat the magic of the tidal zone.

A book you love:
This is such a hard one. I’m not one to pick favorites. I’m a Libra, so I see the beauty in everything. I love Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides, Isabel Allende is fabulous, Even Cowgirls Get the Blues by Tom Robbins. Type by Ellen Lupton. Those have stood out in my mind, but mostly I love the feel of a new book. I definitely judge them by their covers, and I love books with beautiful covers and new book smell.

What is the most interesting thing about you?
Although it seems like old hat to me at this point, I suppose people would be most interested in the fact that I live on a houseboat in the ocean in Alaska. Her name is Molly Whuppie after my favorite heroine. Molly Whuppie was pretty damn tough, which I must aspire to be, as it takes some hardiness to live without a working toilet or shower. I climb onto my roof with cans of diesel to heat the place, and this winter, when it was really cold, the harbor froze around the boat, which was nice because it kept the boat from rocking in the wind. It’s a cute boat, with multi-pane windows, and an arched roof. The inside is decorated in yellow cedar and brass, with beautiful art on the walls and lots and lots of books!

What achievement are you most proud of?
I’m proud that I’ve established myself as a designer and artist; I’ve created my own company, which is basically me. Having that freedom enables me to do the really neat things that I didn’t have the time or energy for when I had a “real job” like take the ferry to Haines on a Wednesday or spend the afternoon answering interview questions in a coffee shop.

What advice would you give women starting their own business?
Only do the things you want to do. If it’s not fun for you, it’s hardly worth the trouble to have your own business.

What's the biggest challenge you face in your work?
Money is a challenge for me in my business work. Having enough, making sure I ask for it, and making sure it comes in after I have. I don’t like the trouble that comes along with money, but it’s something I am working on, because I sure do love to have it in my bank account!

What do you love to do in your free time?
I love to laugh with my wonderfully talented friends, to cook great meals with goat cheese and fresh herbs, to play Scrabble and Boggle with other word nerds, to have bonfires on the beach and drink red wine, to read great books with delicious plot lines, to take long walks when the sun is shining and to write letters by hand while drinking hot tea.

What are you working on right now?
I work with three fantastically talented boys in an artist collective called Alaska Robotics. We are producing works individually, but also as a group, and trying to create profitable lives as artists. This summer we’ll be setting up a small shop to sell our cards, t-shirts, art prints, and DVDs.

What do you hope to achieve next?
I’d like to get my children’s book published, and I’d like to illustrate more children’s books. I want to take a driving trip down the coast.I want to find all of the cutest stores in towns and see if they’re interested in selling my cards. I want to continue this quest to create art and get paid for it, make connections with talented people, and have many adventures.


  1. This has been the brightest spot in my day, reading this interview! I love the energy and vitality this lovely lady exudes :)

  2. Reading her interview is like being in under the warm sun compared to my grey office. I wish of the same things, and enjoy simple pleasures too. I love your clean cards. So witty & cute!