Artist: Jennifer Schmitt
Business: Azure Grackle
Web sites: www.azuregrackle.com and azuregrackle.etsy.com
Location: Concord, Massachusetts
What do you create?
Original relief prints, primarily woodcuts, but I just began working more with linoleum. I'm also taking a class on monoprints and monotypes.
Where and when do you do your creative work?
I work mostly at home. I have a baby press that will take a plate up to 9" x 14". I work in my apartment, usually printing on long afternoons. Carving can happen any time because there is less clean-up, but more often than not it happens in the evenings in front of the TV.
Do you have another "day job" or did you leave one to pursue your art?
Yes and yes. Currently I work part-time at a local art museum on the Visitor Services staff. This allows me to both be out in the world and be surrounded by inspiring art, and also have enough time at home to get my own work done as well.
I left a job as a web designer 18 months ago, not sure what I wanted to do next, but I knew in my bones I needed to make a change. Having the luxury of some time to play and explore, I discovered that I am an artist and this is what I want to do.
Where and what did you study?
I majored in American Studies at Smith College and since then have taken at least ten creative writing (fiction) workshops. I thought if anything, I would be a novelist.
Where do you find inspiration?
I find inspiration in nature, history, good stories, other artists, Mary Oliver's poetry, basically anywhere my eyes are open.
What motivates you?
For five years I worked as a web designer in a research institute, and before that for a start-up company. I wondered why I wasn't excited by what I was doing. In annual reviews, I could never answer the questions "Where do you see yourself in five years?" or "What do you want to accomplish?". I finally realized that despite being a good job and a good place to work, it wasn't enough and I wasn't happy. So what motivates me? The desire not to go back.
When did you start doing this?
I started doing woodcuts in October of 2006 after a workshop by Marissa Swinghammer, although I did do a linoleum cut in 7th grade art class. It still hangs on my wall. (Thanks, Mr. Ardito!)
Do you remember getting into art as a kid?
Absolutely! I learned to knit from my mom around age five. In kindergarten, I got scolded many times because I would always mix the basic paint colors, especially white and blue for the sky.
When and why did you decide to start your own business?
I can't say I made a conscious decision, it grew from a very casual start on Etsy. I had a closet full of unused yarn and started to sell it off. I added beaded necklaces and knit cuff bracelets. Once I discovered the woodcuts and felt good about them, I started to sell them too.
How did you choose the name for your business?
When I signed up for Etsy, I wanted to use a new name. I had just visited Mass MoCA (museum of contemporary art) and stayed at a B&B that had turned their ugly cement garage into a full scale installation. They had commissioned an artist who covered it in giant grackles on a bright green background and cherry blossoms. There was something about it that I fell in love with. So fishing for names, I came up with Grackle. Then because I love colors, added Azure. I like how it looks. I had no idea it would become so important.
What do you love most about creating your work?
I love working with colors and how they interact. The colors that you think won't go together often prove to be the most interesting prints. I love the surprise that comes when you pull the paper off the block or plate. No matter how planned, you never quite know how it will turn out.
What's the most fascinating place you've been?
I've been to Greece, England, Ireland, Wales, Scotland, Hawaii. I love them all for teaching me new things. Hawaii has a special place in my heart because I trace the beginnings of the changes I've made in my life to that trip. But I think the most fascinating place I've been will be whatever is next.
A book you love:
Just one? Sorry. Here are a few:
Collected Poems – Mary Oliver
The Probably Future – Alice Hoffman
The Golden Compass – Philip Hoffman
Possession – A. S. Byatt
What is the most interesting thing about you?
In March, I started a collaborative printmaking project based on the Periodic Table of Elements. More than 90 printmakers from the US, Canada, Australia, the UK and Italy are producing 6" x 6" prints of the 118 elements using all sorts of printmaking techniques – woodcut, linocut, monotype, solar plate, etching, lithography, silkscreen, gocco. The project started on a whim after and has turned out to be fun and inspiring. Bigger than I ever imagined.
What achievement are you most proud of?
I'm proud I took the risk to pursue my art and make changes to build a life I like rather than stay safe and live without all the colors.
What advice would you give women starting their own business?
Just think of the next step and the next step and the next. Looking at the whole prospect can be overwhelming.
What's the biggest challenge you face in your work?
Believing that I can really do this. Finding the balance between overworking a piece and leaving it too simple because I'm afraid I'll ruin it if I add another layer.
What do you love to do in your free time?
Knit, watch TV, be mellow with friends, spend time with family, read, doodle, try new ideas, make a mess.
What are you working on right now?
I'm experimenting with monoprint techniques for my class. I'm also using local colonial gravestone carvings as inspiration for new blocks.
What do you hope to achieve next?
I'd love to be selling locally in a gallery, not just online. Mostly, I hope to continue to learn and (hopefully) watch my art grow stronger.