Welcome to Speak With Your Craft, a (semi-)regular feature that profiles the many creative individuals in my life and my attempt to shed light on what inspires them. I also want to expose readers to crafts, talents, and skills that may be slightly offbeat or unusual. This week, I bring you Nicole Totino-Clark. Nicole is a farmer, mother of two, and one of the first people whom I met when I began farming. She made the word "magical" a regular part of my vocabulary. I can also count on her to enthusiastically discuss what to make for dinner by 7:30 in the morning*. (*This is an immensely important quality to have in a friend and co-worker. Subsequently, I'm largely distrustful of people who cannot speak passionately about food.) Nicole's creativity is unreal - she's one of those people who sees something such as a cozy wool sweater, a backpack, or wooden buttons and then produces a much better version with her unique, thoughtful aesthetic. She's seriously crazy talented and the effortlessness and ease at which she makes things prompts me to both cheer for and scream at her. Is this a normal reaction to have to a friend? Probably not, but find out more about what makes her crafting talent tick:
When did you first realize that you like to create?
Probably before I was born. At least as early as pre-school.
What do you mean before you were born? Did you have creative influences at home?
I spent a lot of time with my grandmother as a child, and she was a painter. We were always going to the museum and painting with her. My paintings were always quite good, even in preschool and kindergarten. My mom still has some that are framed at her house and I am always impressed! I remember being 5 or 6 and finger crocheting headbands for everyone I knew.
What experiences have influenced your style?
I went to a Phish show when I was 16 years old and fell in love with homemade patchwork clothing. I went home and started making clothes the next day. I had never used a sewing machine before. My mom gave me the users manual and I went to town. And, I started knitting when I was 23. That opened a whole new world of fiber arts. I started farming when I was 25 and then decided that was my greatest love in life, until my husband and beautiful children came along. The next year, I learned how to spin wool. And shortly after that I learned to needle felt. Everything that catches my eye inspires me to craft something.
Describe your process. Do you map things out? Just go for it? How do you carry out your ideas?
Sometimes I see something out in the world and sometimes not, and, sometimes, a lightbulb goes off and I go for it. Sometimes it works out and sometimes not. Sometimes I practice neurotically until I get it right. And, if there is an instruction manual, I rarely read it. I also don’t like to follow patterns.
What's your most prime example of just going for it? As an observer, I think it was when you starting making needle-felted fairies - where in the heck did that come from, a hippie convention?
Definitely the fairies. I was always inspired by the simplicity of Waldorf toys and dolls. I had seen some fairies and just LOVED them. The first one I made was embarrassing. The next one I made was magical for me to look at, even though I had made it. Sometimes it feels as though my talent in crafting is not in my own hands. When I make something, like the fairies, that are just so beautiful, I am often shocked that it was me who made it. It’s really a gift that I am very lucky and grateful, and at times, embarrassed to have.
What’s one of your favorite projects?
I have two at the moment: needle felting and sewing coiled rope bags. The rope bags evolved from a fiber arts class that I taught with a good friend of mine. In her series during the class, we were doing coiled baskets and trivets by hand. I was wondering if I could do them on my sewing machine because I love the spiraling of fiber to create a vessel but do not have patience for doing it by hand! It worked! I have used many different types of rope and finally found one I love. I like making something that looks really beautiful but is also functional!
How has your creating or crafting changed since having kids?
I feel like my creativity has exploded since having kids. I don’t know why that is because I have way less time to actually make stuff! I guess if I think about it, children require so much energy from their primary parent. That being me, I feel like I need to hold onto something that's just for me tightly. When I focus on art, I am able to focus in such a productive way because I know my time is limited and sacred.
What level of artistic fame would you like - based on a very scientific scale of, like, Beyonce fame at the top to I’d-like-to-pay-the-bills fame? Somewhere in between, both, neither? Does this matter to you?
Haha! I think Beyonce fame scares me. At the same time, I wouldn’t mind being able to go to a tropical beach for the weekend in my private jet anytime I desired. The thing about art is, if you don’t have any money, you usually can’t make art unless you are selling art. My goal is to make a living that can support our family and also support my creativity. Supplies are not cheap and neither is my time. I have to hire a babysitter most times to be able to sew for it to be sustainable for me. Otherwise, I am sewing every free moment I have and that's just stressful.
Woah. That answer got real. I feel like we could talk about the whole creativity-for-fun vs. -for-profit thing for a little while, but let's save that for another time. Here's a lighter or softball question, as they call it in the ol' media world: What’s the latest magical thing in the works? As in, is there some project and creation on the horizon that you’ve been wanting to tackle?
I am hoping to outsource some natural dyeing to a woman in Vermont and am hoping for many more colors for rope!
That's super cool! Since you clearly are a crafty, action-driven person, what is the best piece of advice/quote that you’ve received about creating? Or, conversely, what would you recommend to other crafters and artists?
Follow your heart. To believe in your own worth and talent. Every person doesn’t have to like every piece you create. Don’t let negative feedback stop you!
Bonus: What food are you craving right now/what are you going to have for your next meal?
Well, its 6:30 a.m., and I am nursing a baby. What I should have is a farm salad (I’m also a farmer and we have access to greenhouse greens) with some poached eggs on top. What I really want is a stack of French toast made with Vietnamese cinnamon and gluten-free bread, cooked in coconut oil, smothered in butter, and topped with a slice of bacon and an egg from one of our hens. Yeah, that sounds great. I hope you wanted it to be that specific.
Well, that was fun, wasn't it?! Thanks, Nicole! You can find her handmade goods, including coiled rope bags and pie plates, at her site, ColeMamaCreations.com
Have an idea for Speak With Your Craft? Know some interesting makers, crafters, cooks, bakers, food growers, woodworkers, herbalists, photographers, writers, actors, musicians, painters, fiber artists, and creative forces in your life? I have friends lined up in the near future, but I'm open to suggestions! Leave a comment or contact me: speakwithyourfood [at] gmail [dot] com. Remember, makers or creators need not fit into a neat box to be featured. So, here’s to more creating, crafting, listening, learning, and collaborating!