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Breakfast with Allison

This week’s Breakfast date introduces us to Allison Strine, the artist, blogger, and mother otherwise known as Elizabeth Beck‘s best friend. If you’ve ever doubted your creative path, read on. Prepare for an omelet of reinforcement and inspiration!

CC: Please give us an intro to who you are, what you do, and your family headcount.
My name is Allison Strine. I’m a wife, a daughter, a sister, and a mommy, and mostly I’m one of the luckiest people on the face of this Earth. It’s a bit ironic, considering the fact that for first 30-odd (and they were odd) years of my life all I wanted was to be someone else, anyone else. I never thought of myself as having a single creative bone; instead I delivered pizzas, worked with horses, and later became a television editor.

CC: Tell us about your collages, jewelry, and what’s up in your Etsy shop.
AS: Okay, I totally stumbled onto being a “real” artist. I had spent several years being very involved in the scrapbooking and altered arts industry, focusing solely on doing work for publication. I really loved seeing my work in print, especially in highly regarded mags like Cloth Paper Scissors and Somerset Studio. After a while, I started feeling like I was losing myself, doing work that I thought editors might like, instead of listening to my art heart inside. So after a short art break, I whirled through a spurt of creating highly personal little figures that talked. Since they were part lady and part bird, I came up with the brilliant moniker of LadyBirds (I know, it’s shocking, but true). A friend mentioned Etsy as a possible outlet for me, and I started a little shop. It wasn’t easy to shush the “what-if-no-one-buys-them” naysayer inside of me, but I’m so glad I did! That was about two years ago, and now I’m proud as can be to be one of the top selling artists on Etsy. LadyBirds are also sold to almost 100 girly gift shops and galleries all across the country, and I’m lovin’ it!

LadyBirds were born from a desire to bring joy and some healing feelings to my little world, all on an artist’s canvas. First, I make a colorful, textured, layered background, the kind that you have to look at closely to see everything that is there. Kind of like me! Using patterned tissue papers, transparencies, specialty papers, paint, and whatever else I can get my hands on, the background comes to life. When that dries, it’s time for the next step.

I like to let each LadyBird evolve of her own volition. There are so many negative messages sent to women about our bodies, and it is important to me that they are made of all shapes, from massive silhouettes to pencil thin bodies, and their skin and feathers come in every color imaginable. The whole process is so random that I marvel every time a finished canvas looks right to my eye. I’ve been known to blindly reach for paint colors, thumb through odd catalogs, and play a game to see if I can use something from the mail of that day in each piece (thank you Pottery Barn). I am big on recycling, and this makes me feel better about all that junk mail!

Each piece is a tiny world of detail, colors, sizes, and shapes that emphasize inner beauty and individuality. When the LadyBird is finished, I look to see what she’s saying. I’m listening for that quirky, sometimes-irreverent, sometimes-touching, but upbeat message that most of us think — but never think to say about ourselves. I want to make art that sends a positive message to my daughter about what it means to be a girl, to help her to understand that she is much more than what others see on the outside.

CC: What prompted you to start a blog? What keeps you going?
When I finally called in a website designer, it was important to create a site that changes frequently, to keep the look fresh. So the home page of my website is actually my blog, and although I find myself showing the artwork that I’ve spend money on more than anything, it’s still fun!

CC: You came to art later in life than some. How did you discover your artist self?
If you’d told me five years ago that I’d become an artist, and create collages that actually speak volumes to people, and sell my work to lots of women all over the world, well…you better believe I would have thought you were crazy! I’m learning so much about myself during this phase of my life; chiefly that I really do have my own voice, and that lots of people feel the same way I do, and that that I’m not the only one to go the whole day without putting on a bra!

CC: Where do you do your creative work?
: Ahh…I’ve taken over a huge hunk of our basement. One section is for my studio, with a couple of big tables, and bookshelves for supplies, and my new favorite thing — an idea board that takes up the whole wall. Love it love it love it! I also have a big “factory,” as my helper Lisa and I jokingly call it. It’s really a corner of the basement dedicated to storing LadyBird items like soldered pendants, prints, magnets, and greeting cards. There’s a soldering station set up for creating new LadyBirds, and of course a shipping section!

CC: How has motherhood changed you creatively?
Start with the fact that I never thought of myself as creative, or an artist. But when my Olivia, age 11, turned about 2, I discovered pottery. Oooh, the feel of the clay, the challenge of trying to throw a pot, I fell in LOVE. I think I’ve figured out that I have a bit of an obsessive personality because I soon found myself with a potter’s wheel and enough clay to keep me and Olivia busy all day. After Ethan (now 8 years old) came along the clay went away to be replaced with crayons and Play-Doh for a couple of years. Now, I love that with my basement studio, there’s a place for my kids to comfortably paint, and draw, and do rub-ons, and bead, and do clay, and make a mess! If only I could train them to clean up after themselves. Actually, if only I could train ME to clean up after myself!

CC: Do you have a schedule for your creative work? How do you manage to fit everything into your busy life?
Considering that I’m writing this at 11:19 pm, when I’m *supposed* to be long asleep, you may not think I’m great at the big juggle. Heh… Most weekdays Lisa and her two dogs join me and my dog in the morning. After a visit with Lily the guinea pig, Lisa starts with creating items for shipping while I do the correspondence and Etsy work on the computer. That’s why it’s extra great for me to paint with Elizabeth — if I don’t force myself away from the computer, I can spend the whole day working with my images on the computer, and doing LadyBird business stuff.

CC: What do you most hope to accomplish with your artwork?
It’s so funny — I feel like I’ve accomplished far more than I ever would have expected two years ago. On the one hand there’s no WAY that I’m satisfied, and realistically there’s only so much time and energy available for me to spend on LadyBirds. Part of me really wants to go after licensing my work, and part of me thinks I don’t want to spend the time doing even more business-ey non-art stuff. I really want to be featured in a national magazine, but at the same time I’m not submitting press releases. I don’t know — is it wrong to say that I’m just letting the winds sway me?

CC: Where do you find inspiration?
I think inspiration is everywhere, from artists whose work I admire to the colors of the blouses in Chico’s catalogs. But really, the best inspiration is my art pal Elizabeth. She and I paint together at least once a week, and I recommend that kind of inspiration to everyone who’s pursuing a future as an artist. We bounce ideas off of each other, we push each other, and we motivate each other to keep creating and growing in our art.

CC: What is your greatest indulgence?
What an oddly difficult question! I actually feel like my whole business-ey life is my indulgence. If it weren’t for an incredibly loving and undemanding husband (“the house looks fine, honey, we don’t need to have the laundry folded”), and relatively low-maintenance children I would never be able to spend my days in LadyBirdLand!

CC: What are you reading right now?
I’m all over the place with my books this week. Okay, here’s what’s on my night stand right now. I just finished the autobiography of Gordon Ramsay, a tough guy chef who knows how to work as hard as necessary to get what he wants — I admire that ethic. I’ve also got a book about the last Russian tsar — for some reason the story of Nicholas and Alexandra has always enthralled. There’s a Magic Tree House kids book, and for me, the childhood classic Wind in the Willows.

CC: What advice would you offer to other mothers struggling to find the time and means to be more creative?
Find that time, girls! The laundry doesn’t have to be perfect, and you are worth it! Make yourself happy with art!

CC: Thank you, Allison!

5 Comments Post a comment
  1. Cathy #

    you and elizabeth must have so much fun together!

    i ‘potted’ from a very young age through college. i couldn’t have written my thesis without regular late night jaunts to the clay studio to work out frustrations on the wheel, or prepping some clay – a very satisfying bit of constructive violence – so i am right there with you about getting your hands into some clay! a not so secret desire of mine is to have a home clay studio and kiln in the shed, but where would we put the lawn mower? ah, someday…..

    love the personality that shines through your art, allison!

    September 26, 2008
  2. yeah for allison! i have one of your magnets stuck right next to my computer and have ordered several custom pieces from you! i love your work and have thoroughly enjoyed reading more about you. i want to come on a play date with you and elizabeth!

    September 26, 2008
  3. rah!!!
    i’m so proud of you for all that writing you had to do late at night to get this interview done!!!
    you rock …. e

    September 26, 2008
  4. Allison, I think it’s great that you’ve followed your creative bliss in such successful ways. Having inspirational hard-working models (like Ramsay) is an important part of that. I wish you continued success and satisfaction. Way to go!


    September 27, 2008
  5. Juliet Bell #

    This is just so awesome! I love your colors, and your late self-discovery – truly inspiring…and your kids will have such great memories.

    September 28, 2008

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