UrbaBags – The Best Handbag

I mean…THE ABSOLUTE BEST!

UrbaBags is an Etsy shop owned by Constance Jacobs, a wiz in design with cork! Her bags are colorful, functional, and so well made that she deserves awards for her craftmanship!

The original blog below (after the asterisks) was published on July 29 2018 but I had to just add an update!

The bag I first ordered from Constance that prompted the blog was going strong for almost three years! I use it everyday and absolutely love everything about it…the cork fabric, the craftsmanship, the functionality, everything! Every time I would think that it was time to get a new everyday handbag, I would scour Etsy and other artisan/handmade sites for one that would call to me. None ever called.
But a couple of weeks ago, the zipper finally gave out and I had no choice but to prep this one for retirement and add a fresh handbag to carry my daily essentials. Because I am going to be traveling more and needing to stash my handbag into a carry-on bag when flying, I wished for a bag that was small but roomy.
For some ridiculous reason, I scoured the handmade sites again looking for the best bag. UrbaBags was, of course, at the top of my list, but she didn’t have anything in her shop that matched my vision. I almost, almost😳 (yikes!) bought a vegan bag from a corporation and just couldn’t make myself do it so I thought back to the fact that the bag I was carrying now was a custom order from UrbaBags.
I sent Constance a message and after a bit of back and forth, she worked her magic… in my absolute favorite shade of purple, in fact…and created a fabulous crossbody bag in eggplant purple! It is awesome!

She even sent me a wallet prototype that will be in her shop soon!
One of the reasons I love working with Constance is because of her creative mind and ability to make the designs she conceives come to fruition.
I usually hesitate to ask for a custom piece from an artist. I really do not like doing custom pieces myself and in fact, rarely accept custom requests anymore. If someone likes my art and pottery, I feel like they need to trust in the piece I will authentically be inspired to create for them.
So, I hesitated asking Constance for something I didn’t see in her shop. But then I remembered talking to her a few years ago about her always sketching out designs to try. I thought I would just ask and see if there was anyway she was working on something that would fit my needs. In fact she was and she was excited to have a customer ready for it!
This also speaks to the power of the word “no.” I trust that Constance would tell me if the pieces I was looking for was not something she wanted to create. As an artist and at this a very long time, I have realized that just like one of my customers having the power to ask, I have the power to refuse. It’s that simple. No hurt feelings, just honest conversation about what possibilities exist. That’s good business.🙌

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Constance and UrbaBags

Eco-friendly and handmade,
it’s a fabulous way to carry a journal!

Walk the walk is what I aspire to do with my green living commitment and green-wearing is a big part of that. As we focus on selling my Eco-Stained Paper Collection online, downsizing more, moving again, and step into a new phase in our life as our children flee off to college and adult life, I am making more conscientious decisions about my purchases.
Beyond deciphering the difference between “Do I need this?” and “Do I want this?” is the question, “Is this eco-friendly?” In my mind, eco-friendly covers the item, its packaging, its origin, how it was made, its life span, and what happens at the end of it’s lifespan. The ideal piece to me is made by an individual (preferably one that is identified) with sustainable and/or conscientiously harvested materials, has little or no additional packaging, is durable, and can be repurposed in the future. That’s quite a wish list that few items can brag about. So what I try to find are pieces that have as many as those qualities as possible.

My newest love is my purple cork handbag, handmade by Constance Jacobs of UrbaBags. When I began scouring the Internet for my next favorite bag, I knew I wanted it to be made of sustainable materials. I am vegan so my choices don’t involve animal husbandry, but I try to make choices with no impact on animal habitats and natural food sources either.
The great hand-crafted online marketplace Etsy has led me to some of my favorite artisans and pieces. It is the first place I look when I need gifts that I don’t create myself or when I need, perhaps even want, gifts for myself. It was there I went to browse for a new bag with a few specific credentials: vegan, purple (of course), and handmade by a named individual.
I don’t exactly remember the path that led me to refine my search to “purple cork crossbody” but I hit the jackpot with that one and found UrbaBags. Woo Hoo!
UrbaBags fit my design craving as well. I knew I didn’t have time or needed the distraction of stitching my own handbag as I have done in the past, but I still wanted it to have uniqueness that I had a hand in. UrbaBags offers a selection of beautiful cork fabrics and even a choice at the overall composition of the many styles offered. Constance Jacobs is the maker and she actually went above and beyond by sending me pictures of mock-up combinations and complementing lining fabrics, zippers and hardware. By “above and beyond” I really mean we shared 31 messages back and forth! Her personalization in my piece went a long way in elevating the value of my one-of-a-kind hand bag and I am beyond pleased to use my purple cork crossbody daily. It just makes me happy!

I thought it would be fun to chat a little more with Constance, so she graciously accepted my invitation to share a bit about herself and her story behind UrbaBags.

Our Chat

Rachelle: Hello, Constance!
I am so excited to carry my UrbaBags everyday! It made my last trip go smoothly since it was able to stay slim and light while holding a lot. When I needed it, my iPad Mini, fit nicely in it without me having to take my journal or any of my regular contents out. Plus, I absolutely love its feel. The biggest surprise is that it withstood a down pour that I got stuck in. The skies opened up without warning and I was just sure my bag was going to be ruined. The fabric acted similar to a water repellent and dried almost immediately. I just fell in love with it even more!

Besides telling so many people I see about my bag, including my mother who is in search of the perfect crossbody, I wanted to see if you would have a chat and share a little behind the scenes of UrbaBags for my blog.
What do you think?

Constance: So glad to hear your stories! Now you know why I fell in love with cork fabric. Something similar happened to me when I was first working with the fabric, and I was shocked when the bag held up when I dropped it into a puddle and the shape still held up and the bag looked brand new. Many of the photos on my website are the prototypes I wore to see how they held up, etc. — I never stop being amazed at how “new” they still look!

I would love to talk to you about my journey with the cork bags. I really enjoy making the bags –and I love being challenged to make the “perfect” bag for customers. I’m very flattered you want to tell my story!

A Little Bit About the Artist

Rachelle: Let’s start with sharing a little bit about you, your background, and what led you to start sewing.

I grew up around craftspeople, knitters, quilters and sewers. I had an aunt who lived on a ranch in Mendocino, California who did everything — quilt, sew, can fruit, make jam, you name it, she did it. My mother also is a sewer and knitter. Both women grew up in a time where sewing and knitting was a necessity, not an option. I learned sewing basics from my aunt and mother, but have to confess, I preferred buying from department stores and searching in local craft fairs rather than make it myself. I have always loved different and unique items — whether it’s clothing, jewelry, shoes, purses. I particularly like classic lines with a “kick” to them, so I was always snooping anywhere and everywhere to find items I liked.

I really started to be a craftsperson about 12 years ago. At the time it was all about sweaters. I never was able to find sweaters I Iiked — either the length was wrong, the sleeve length was too long, the fabric was icky — when I looked in my closet, I saw sweaters and tops I purchased but never wore. I stumbled on a knitting group where I worked at that time, and it was during Thursday afternoon lunch sessions that I taught myself how to knit. It was so liberating! I knit sweaters that I liked, that fit me, in the color and fabric I wanted. After a few years, I had knit so many sweaters for myself that I started looking for friends and family who wanted a sweater I could knit for them. I knit baby blankets, golf vests, scarves and hats — you name it, I knit it!

Handbags came into my life about 3 years ago. I prefer bags with classic simple lines that have practical pockets and zippers — I like to be able to get to my stuff easily. As a commuter, I also wanted bags that offered security so I didn’t have to worry about being in a crowded bus or train and worry that someone could steal something. Many of the bags I saw in department stores had a lot of hardware and zippers that were more decorative than useful, while others were outrageously expensive. There was one handbag line, Urban Oxide, that I had worn for years — it was the only line I had found that more or less my criteria for simple/practical/secure. But even then the line was limited to black, no colors, and the same fabric — recycled plastic — which was fine, except that I like color. I noticed over time the styles of the bag were changing, and when I learned the line was being discontinued, out of frustration I decided to try making my own bags. That was what started me down the path that led to UrbaBags.

As I had done when I learned to knit, I started reading books, taking classes and teaching myself how handbags are constructed, how to think about fabric, lining, hardware, all of it — I already had the sewing basics from my early days with my aunt and mother. I spent many hours perfecting the craftsmanship of making a bag — I believe handmade items can look professional and be of the highest quality, and I wanted my handbags to be top notch, from start to finish. I spent many hours searching for sources that offered quality products. Most of what I ordered landed in the garbage, but I finally found the right mix — much of the hardware I use in my bags is custom ordered from a company in Portland Oregon; I import my straps from Europe; my rivets come from a supplier in Los Angeles; and I recently found a manufacturer that I can order specialized color zippers from that will compliment all of the cork fabric colors I offer. Through it all, I kept designing bags that suited my criteria — classic and functional, and at the same time protected my belongings. I would design prototypes, make them and wear them to see if they met my objectives — if they didn’t, I went back to the drawing board, tweaked the design, and made another prototype until I got it right.

Cork!

Discovering cork fabric was the turning point. Up to that point, I was working with canvas, cotton/linen and laminated cotton. But when I discovered cork fabric, I knew that was the fabric for me! Cork fabric is not only lightweight and comes in many beautiful colors and patterns, more importantly, it is also eco-friendly, which is huge for those of us who are looking for leather alternatives. In fact, cork fabric is called “vegan leather” because it is as sturdy and durable as leather. Unlike canvas and other cotton-based fabrics, handbags made of cork fabric retain their shape, even if the bag gets wet or you spill a drink on it, you just wipe the bag down and it looks great. Cork fabric bags also withstand daily wear and tear beautifully — this is one tough fabric!

I also fell in love with wide range of colors and patterns offered. For the first time in my life, I could make bags in colors I wanted.  Again I felt liberated — I could make my own bags designed in colors I choose, in the size I want, with functional zippers and pockets. I love that I can get up everyday and choose a bag that compliments my outfit!  I chuckle when I tell people I now have more handbags than shoes!

I discovered when I wore my bags, women started to comment on them and ask me where I purchased the bag. When I told them I made them, many asked if I sold the bags —  that’s really what got me thinking about starting an Etsy shop, which I launched last December. All UrbaBags are made by me in my workshop — selling my first handbag right before Christmas last year was a very exciting moment!

I think my Etsy shop appeals to women who, like me, want classic and functional, yet unique, handbags. Customers are able to choose the design and color of their bag, as well as specific requests if they want to customize the bag even more — I’ve worked with customers who want the size changed or a new component (like a zipper) added. I am happy to accommodate special requests at no additional charge. I also offer customizing the strap length as part of each order because we all have a preference for strap length.

I continue to learn and grow from each order — some customer requests have inspired me to tweak and/or create new designs. But by far the best part of my Etsy shop is working with each customer to make sure they get exactly the bag they want using material that doesn’t harm our environment.


Rachelle: This fabulous, Constance! You are a fantastic story teller!
I absolutely love the style and comfort I have knowing that my UrbaBag is durable for daily wear and has its own defense system against our Florida rains. I wish I was so easily back to normal after getting caught in downpours!

As one who has made a ton of handbags for myself over the years, I created based on my criteria of space, pockets, and security as well. Although I have used many manufactured bags before, I never felt like any of them suited my needs both aesthetically and functionally. I have handmade by others, but often they lacked the sophistication that I craved. Once I found you and UrbaBags I was hooked. I know we are going to have a happy handbag relationship long into the future with multiple bags!

So, is there a certain tool in your workshop that is most important to you besides your sewing machine? Something you cannot live without?

The Must-Have Tool

Constance: Thanks for the kind words — this is fun!
I can’t live without my rivet setter. From the beginning I liked the look of rivets in my bags — they set straps securely in place and at the same time they are an understated design element that doesn’t compete with the cork fabric and bag design. I can’t live without my heavy-duty rivet setter!

Rachelle: Is there an element that you make sure to include in each bag you do, even with all the customization that you provide?

Constance: I never veer from the basics I want my bags to embody: simple design, functionality, security. All of the requests I’ve received to modify bags so far have been about size, color, and adding a zipper pocket, which doesn’t conflict with those objectives.

Rachelle: With my eco-staining art, I love almost every aspect of creating but of course there are parts I don’t really like doing and then there is my favorite part of the process. What are your least favorite parts of creating and what is your favorite part of your process?

Constance: I love most aspects of creating my handbags, but one of my most favorite parts is choosing the fabric lining. That may sound easy, but it actually requires some thought! Some of my customers make specific requests about the color or design of the lining they would like, so I make it a point to match the lining fabric with the customer’s expectations. One of my pet peeves about most handbag linings has always been they are boring and made from flimsy material. I believe the inside of bags should be as interesting as the outside of the bag, as well as being sturdy, so I put a lot of thought into the lining.

My least favorite part of the process is sewing the tab onto the end of the zipper. That step comes at the very end of the process when the zipper is already attached to the bag. I have to negotiate a tight, small space to sew a straight seam, while at the same time controlling and moving the bag while sewing. As a perfectionist, it sometimes, it takes a few tries before I’m satisfied with the finished tab.


Rachelle: Your story just keeps getting better! Who knew a rivet setter could be so…riveting!

Thanks for your time! I love getting to know you and I know my readers will too!

Are you working on any new projects now; perhaps accessories to add to your line…hint, hint: a slim wallet perhaps? LOL!

Constance: No plans for accessories at this time, but maybe in the future. I have a long way to go before I exhaust the many designs that are still in my head. At the moment, I’m focussed on designing the perfect large crossbody bag. On the one hand, the larger the bag, the more stuff you can put in it and that makes the bag potentially very heavy. Also, adding a top zipper limits the width of the bag at the top — if you place lots of stuff in the bag and then try to zip it shut, you can’t. So I’ve played around with adding a zipper, not adding a zipper, what kind of inside lining works best, etc., and I’m still not completely satisfied.  I always wear my bags to “test drive” how they hold up and what needs to tweaked. But if I do start to make accessories, a slim wallet in purple will be the first item I make!

A Little More About The Artist

Rachelle: Let’s get to know a little more about you. Do you have any hobbies? What was the last great book you read? Is there a flower or other plant elements you would love to have in a garden?

Constance: I love history. One of my life goals is to visit every presidential library. So far I’ve been to three, and have plans to visit the Truman and Eisenhower libraries in the spring. I tend to read biographies and autobiographies. I recently read a memoir written by Elizabeth Keckley, a slave who bought her freedom, headed North, and ultimately became Mary Todd Lincoln’s dressmaker and confidante confidence. I discovered her when I visited the Lincoln Library and spoke to a docent. Keckley writes of her experiences while the Lincolns lived in the White House, the day Lincoln was assassinated, and how Mary Todd Lincoln was so broke after she left the White House that she recruited Keckley to help her sell her dresses in New York to raise money. Wow! Who knew?? I am also currently reading Stephen Ambrose’s biography of Dwight Eisenhower. Here’s a gem: Eisenhower’s wife Mamie never got out of bed until noon. She believed all women over 50 should lounge in bed until noon. As First Lady, she conducted official business and planned events from her bed. Amazing!

My favorite, favorite flower is fuchsias. I love the variety of colors and how delicate the flowers are. Fuchsias are very beautiful but they can be touchy — they have to have the right sun exposure or they won’t thrive.

Rachelle: Share a little about your local love of where you live.

Constance: I live in a 100 year old house in Oakland, California, a city that is changing before my eyes.  As more people move to the San Francisco Bay Area, people are discovering Oakland as an alternative to San Francisco. What I love about Oakland is the diversity and tight-knit neighborhoods — things I hope don’t disappear as rapid growth continues at full speed. I also love how centrally located I am.  I can jump on public transportation or in my car  and go to San Francisco or Lake Tahoe.

Well that’s a wrap, or shall I say…this post is in the bag! To see Constance’s designs and shop for your own fabulous one-of-a-kind UrbaBag, visit www.etsy.com/shop/urbabags. You’ll be glad you did!

Flower Power… Fresh & Painted!

Flower power! When did you first realize that flowers are magic? Even though I have always loved flowers, I think it was the day we picked out lavender roses for our wedding that I felt the magic from them. That was over 31 years ago!

As a young child, I loved planting flowers with my mother in our flower boxes out back. In middle school, we used flowers in science experiments as we learned botany. In high school we poked flowers through chicken wire to make gorgeous floats for the homecoming parade. Of course, there are so many times when I was given flowers…corsages, get well wishes, and birthday blessings, but I really remember that first lavender rose I held in my hand and felt the magic of beauty and promise… for the days that lay ahead.

Fast forward 20 years later and I “accidentally” discovered a way to use flowers to stain paper and make beautiful art. After a steady five years of devotion to plant elements, I took that technique, which is actually an age-old concept, and developed it into an art, that for the first time in decades of being an artist, actually manifested into a style that was truly mine.
Now, plant-staining is on the back burner for me. I have taken that art as far as I want to go with it and I am back to focusing on pottery and teaching art journaling, both art loves that I have embraced for several decades, even before they became hip!

Flowers are a consistent theme in my work. Daisies are my favorite; more specifically, purple daisies. As much as people know my obsession with purple, they know my spirit flower, if there is such a thing, is a daisy. Daisies symbolize innocence and purity a belief that stems from an old Celtic legend. Freya, the goddess of love and beauty in Norse mythology, holds the daisy as her sacred flower. The daisy then is associated with childbirth, motherhood, and new beginnings.

I didn’t have daisies in my wedding bouquet, but it’s one of those many things I feel I have grown into over time, perhaps not worthy of their loveliness until I too became a mother, or at least looked at each day as it was full of new beginnings. In an odd and contradictory way, the more I grew into myself as a woman, the more I grew away from the refined connotation of the lavender rose to the free-spirited barefooted jubilant character of the daisy.

The power of flowers is a whole study that I really just enjoy learning about. I peruse books, read stories, sculpt daisies out of clay, and paint them constantly. I display them, fresh, almost daily, on the bar perched between our kitchen and family room, bringing smiles to my heart as I pass them through multiple trips to my studio.

In our own individual worlds, we give power to what we choose and we energize ourselves by what we choose. I give flowers the power to energize me, whisper sweetness to my heart, and shout beauty to the world on my behalf. I give them the power of my soul to spreading kindness. From flowers, I receive the power of inspiration and nourishment for my individual expression. In my world, true Flower Power is the strength to plant, nurture, and grow my individuality. The true power of Flower Power is blooming, blooming true.

For an extra bonus, below is a link to a watercolor painting tutorial…”Daisy Love!” Come paint with me!

Throwing it Back to My 1967 VW Bug!

Rachelle's VW Bug - Painted to High School Perfection

Is this not the best?!!! Lol!
In June of 1986, I graduated high school and drove this sweet ride!

The father of one of my closest friends put this baby together from different parts. I basically “rented” it for the year. Knowing that I was going out of state for college, and it would never make it to SC from PA, Mr. West, let me use it until I left for Carolina (Go Gamecocks!)
The first week I had it, at the beginning of my senior year, the engine caught on fire!

I was captain of the tennis team and had stayed late after practice to plan some things with the coach. When I started it up, the engine sparked and then the back, where the engine lives in VW Bugs, went full fire. A friend of mine grabbed me out of the driver’s seat (thanks, Drew) and I grabbed my racquets from the back seat. There was no way I was going to let those burn!

Churchill High School Tennis Team Fall 1985



That was a Friday afternoon. Mr. West had a new engine and new back put on by start of class on Monday morning! Ha!

There were enough parts of the same year to label this a 1967 Bug, at least for the vehicle registration and insurance information. It had one of those large wire steering wheels and fabulous old fashioned dashboards with round gauges that looked like the inside of cups. Since I was going to drive it for a year, the very important senior year of high school, I sprung for a brand new radio with cassette player! It was very spiffy!
In the winter, I braved the cold as long as possible and, when I could bear the chill no longer, Mr. West connected the heat…a hot cylinder pipe that blew burning hot air from under the driver’s seat. If my leg touched it, it burned it so much that it would leave a welt. There was no controlling the heat. If the car was running, the heat was running. There were many days it was so hot in there that I had to drive with the window down in below freezing temperatures just to be able to breathe.
I loved that car!

One day while I was at work, my friends decided my Bug needed a make-over. They bought spray paint and sprayed each section of the car a different color, then personalized it with my nick name…Dish (in reference to the body builder Rachel McLish, but that’s a whole other story.) I came out of work to find my Bug painted…p-a-i-n-t-e-d! Every section, painted in a different color!
Talk about “rock star” status…that was epic! Once I got over the shock, and the fear that Mr. West was going to throw a fit, I embraced that wild and crazy fabulous work of art on wheels like it was my own personal Picasso! But the real treasure, was the gift my friends’ gave me in that crazy antic…a story of connection to them and a beloved time in my life.
And…I really loved that car after that!

My VW Bug was painted to high school perfection.

We used to go to the drive-ins all the time that summer after graduation and, since the price of admission was per car not per person, we would stuff it full. That sweet little thing that was a two sitter with a compact back seat ended up carrying 10-12 people to those movies. (Mom, I know you are reading this…it is 34 years later and the statute of limitations on being grounded has expired!💜) I swear we looked like the clown car at the circus when everyone peeled themselves out of it to sit on the roof and the ground around it to watch the movie. I feel like we were watched Top Gun at the drive-in a lot that summer!


Senior Year 1985-1986
Two of my other friends had Bugs that year and we even took a yearbook photo together, posing proudly with our buddies and our Bugs.

Memories like these are definitely priceless, as are the years that float in between. Our youngest child turned 18 yesterday and not only is it hard to believe that all four of our children are now adults, but it is hard to believe I am so many years removed from being 18 myself.

Some of these guys are ones who painted my VW Bug!

The phrase the days are long but the years are short is such a true and real sentiment. I long for the days when our children were little, would curl up on my lap for stories, and we would look at pictures together. I told them stories about my Bug, well most of the stories about my Bug, from the time they were little and over the years they have gotten me little trinkets as presents because they know how much mine meant to me.

They have given me stickers, a book about VWs, and Renée even gave me a toy VW Bug painted with daisies on it that sits on my desk in my studio to this day.

One of the neatest things I am appreciating with the passage of time is the merging of memories decades separated. It is the sharing of stories that give our children a glimpse into a past they never knew but shaped us, their parents, in ways they know so well.
I wish I still had that Bug to show my kids. Oh, there’s no way in the world I would let them drive that old thing as it would never be safe to ride on the roads of today, but it would be a fabulous yard sculpture for unique curbside appeal and provide priceless photo ops to bridge the generations of time.

Happy 18th Birthday, my baby boy and Happy High School Graduation to you and the rest of the Class of 2020! May you always, always, hold dear snippets of this year, as unusual as it is, and find the wonder of it to share with your own children one day.

Tea Tongs… The Unnecessary Necessity

You know I never thought much about tea tongs until about a month ago when I saw a fellow potter in a social media group post about them and offer the idea about including them in mugs we sell. Tea tongs are used to pull saturated stringless tea bags from cups after tea is steeped.

In so many ways, I am a purist…I refrain from using templates and molds, stamps and decal transfers. I just believe that my art is my art. It is the product of what I create using the rawest of materials I am willing to forage. Now, I know that there are several artists that dig their own clay, mill their own watercolors, mix their own glazes, etc and I do not do any of that.


I learned from spending over five years perfecting my plant-staining technique using natural plants as my color source that creating my own art materials in “back-to-earth” methods is a full-time job in itself. So, again, I am only talking about how much raw I am willing to explore so that I still have time to create the art growing in my inner soul.

What in the world does this have to do with tea tongs, you may ask. Well, in my head, a lot! It has to do with the idea of commercializing a piece of art to sell it and to me, when an artist chooses to use a prefab piece of design, like a stamp someone else made or a decal someone else produced, then they have moved from art to craft and more interested in creating a piece that “looks” close to perfect versus one that exudes individuality from the artist. I see the value in both, but I am just not about craft or look-a-likes and all about art.

Again…the tea tongs connection? When I first saw that post by my fellow potter, I thought of giving tea tongs with mugs as a sales ploy. It is one more thing that people are using to “sell” their pieces instead of the piece selling itself or making the connection between the artist and the collector. I look at those prefab, almost perfect, stamped images or decal transfers on pieces and see commercial product production not art. I see the same thing when attaching a set of tea tongs.

But, then I reflected back to the many tea house experiences I have had. I love tea houses! Some I have been to are quiet and dark for a quaint and private ambiance that leans into zen meditation while others are fresh and lively with lavender and flowers all around for a feminine retreat. They all have one thing in common though…no tea tongs! Ha! They usually serve loose tea in a tea pot that you pour through a strainer to hold back the herbs and leaves. I haven’t ever had tea made with a tea bag at any of those places. But I have had sugar cubes that I have served myself from a sugar bowl to my tea cup with…wait for it…tongs!

So as I was sitting and thinking about the gimmick of the tea tongs, something that is definitely unnecessary in the tea drinking experience, I had a rush of memories back to many delightful visits to tea houses and to the people I shared those rendezvous with. Some are not here with us anymore, some are people I see only a couple times a year, and some are with people that are in the next room, but it doesn’t matter where they are in this particular moment; what matters is the blessing of the memory with them, and what got me to those memories is thinking about tea tongs.


So now, while supplies last, when you purchase a mug from my shop, you will also receive a set of tea tongs! Yes, they are completely unnecessary and, no they are not a sales ploy. In my world, tea tongs are not just for pulling your saturated tea bag from your cup, but they pull memories of delightful visits from your often overwhelmed and busy mind so you can visit with them for a bit while you enjoy your cup of tea from a one-of-a-kind mug as unique as your memories.

Enjoy!

Torching a Raku Piece

I love flame! At least I love controlled flame in a creative artsy setting.
Two of my fabulous students last semester gifted me with a torch and I have been enjoying finishing up my Raku pieces with the added touch a torch flame brings. With a bit of flame and a Raku fired surface, the metallic glazes get even more delightful.

Take a look at the finishing of one of my “Medusa” sculptures. Love it!

Fly Swattering Art!

So it’s Friday night and what am I doing… editing a video for an online art class; a free online art class! My RachelleEason.com Shop is updated and the kiln is cooling, so, of course, my thoughts would go to Fly Swattering!

Fly Swattering Art is a favorite of my students, of all ages, but especially the adults! I have used this method for years in my studios and it is always a hit. The trick is using colors that go together because they will blend a lot.

Needing something to do that is a great family activity or fabulous for an art date with yourself or others…Try Fly Swattering Art!

Enjoy the video!

Fly Swattering Art!
Dress for a mess and have some fun!

Lessons Learned From Slow-Cooked Oatmeal.

Many know that I do not cook. Like really…do not. For the 29 plus years we have been married, Chris has done the majority of the cooking. If he didn’t cook, one of the kids usually did. After all, we homeschooled and cooking was a great way to learn multiple skills. ?
Every once in a while, I would get a great wave of motivation and decide I was going to cook there by contributing my solution to the great cooking dilemma of our family…what shall we eat.

Instant Pot Love…and Loss

A couple of years ago, I purchased an Instant Pot and I stuck with cooking a bit. Then I got distracted by life and my husband started to use the Instant Pot more and more. I regressed back into oatmeal being my one contribution to our eating regime; and that was even a rare occasion.

In September, our Instant Pot broke and my cooking days went back to nil. However, December came and an undeniable desire for a traditional holiday season swept over me. Cooking was going to have to happen.
Without the help of the Instant Pot, I had to stay in the kitchen and actually monitor what was cooking. The strangest thing happened…


Cooking Up Joy

I enjoyed it! I get bored with the everyday kind of cooking and fancy myself as more of a creative cook. Being vegan, recipes that have interesting ingredients intrigue me and it is fun to alter traditional cuisine with foods like jackfruit, agave, and nut cheeses.?
As much as I have been enjoying cooking, especially with the fabulous purple cookware Santa brought us, it wasn’t until yesterday and today that I realized there is a bigger lesson to take away from stirring something at the stove; stirring steel cut oats to be exact.
My signature (Lol) dish of strawberry oatmeal was put on hiatus since our Instant Pot broke. Of course, there has been the instant oatmeal in a pack that our children seem to enjoy, but I have never been a fan of that stuff. Yesterday, I discovered the neglected canister of steel cut oats in the pantry and decided it would be the perfect base for the cranberry peach sauce I wanted to make.

Everything Cooks Better in Purple

Do you happen to share this habit I have? I tend to not fully read the directions for anything before I start; even the three line directions on the back of an oatmeal container. Once I had the water boiling and the oats stirred in, I finally read that it would take 25 to 30 minutes to make. Definitely not instant; not even quick. It was to cook uncovered with occasional stirring. With my kitchen wisdom that I have recently discovered at my ripe age of fifty, I realized that if I left the kitchen, this oatmeal would sure to burn and my new purple pot would be scorched forever.

You could probably say I really stayed to prevent the purple pot from an early demise. So, in essence, everything does cook better in purple since I won’t leave the kitchen and take the chance of burning something in my purple pot!

During the 25-30 minute span of stirring occasionally, I reflected a lot and learned a few things…

Embracing moments is as simple as sharing love with our (four!) dogs in between stirs. (Milo thought he could get a taste. Picture above.)
Nurturing myself in mind and spirit can be done by occasionally stirring while writing in my journal.

Fresh cooked food puts healthy eating on a different level than grabbing prepackaged items even if they are geared to be healthy like packaged vegan yogurt.

Our current culture of “being busy all the time” has skewed our perception and fed the notion that convenience foods are necessities.

It is refreshing to take the time to do something so simple yet so satisfying.


It is energizing to live slowly.


My epiphany came when the words I have been trying to vocalize about my art and the inspiration I hope to relay through my plant-stained papers and pottery were realized during those moments of stirring, petting, writing, and pouring my delectable yum into one of my favorite purple pottery bowls…

Slow down. Connect with moments. Savor each day.

And the oatmeal with homemade sauce made of fresh cranberries and jarred peaches, was so absolutely delicious, I made it again today.

When Your Battle Plan Needs Changed.

Seven years ago, our life changed with a literal heartbeat… my husband’s. Health-wise, most all is better now, but it has taken a very long time for us to get back on our feet. His heart event and subsequent job lay-off effected our whole family and our security as we knew it. To this day, we are still unsteady.

But, it is time. It is time to embrace our reality as it is. Holding on to the idea that our life is about climbing out of the metaphorical hole in which we seem to dwell has held us back.


Facing Reality

The reality is…this is our reality.
The more we thought that we needed to get back to where we were, that our lives were supposed to look the same as they did before these two events occurred, the more we were held hostage to the notion that we were the same. As fluid, ever-changing beings, we grew through these unwelcomed events. Just like a piece of art I could never make twice, we evolved through the process and came out changed from who we were. 

Being on the wrong path doesn’t mean there aren’t good parts to embrace.

Sure we have had some highlights over the last several years. We moved back “home” to Lakeland, Florida. I am an invited artist to Walt Disney World. Two of our children graduated high school (homeschooled all the way) and are now in college.  We have enjoyed family days at the nearby gulf coast, traveled to art shows and teaching engagements all around.  We got to spend more time with my folks before my dad passed away.♡

It’s the low parts that we have let define us though. My husband and I realized a couple of years ago that things were happening that looked good but they were not necessarily good for us in the long run. Things that looked good to the public came with a lot of personal sacrifice and financial burdens. The “magic” we thought we were embracing turned our world upside down and dug us into a deeper hole.

So, we regrouped, changed our focus, invested in ourselves, and went forward with better armor.


Warrior Pose


This “warrior artist” photo is my current profile picture on Facebook. It seems fitting for entering this new year. My caption reads…Entering 2019 with fierce determination to succeed in my business, finally climb out from this seven year hole that continues to try and swallow us, reclaim joy in my personal life, embark on serendipitous adventures, and bask in the here and now. My word is…steps.

Onward.

With all the necessary elements in place, it is this year we finally can take the steps forward. Hence, my word for the year… steps.


Good Plan, Wrong Goal

I thought I had the battle plan organized and was executing it with all the right moves. I had done my research, zeroed in on my desire and foreseen potential, and hired the right people to get me to the winning side. When my plan began to come to fruition, I realized the actions were not wrong, the goal, the one that I had been working toward for years, was wrong.

It would be easy for me to label the experience as a “crash and burn” episode, but I feel that would belittle it. The experience was an eye opening education and just like my degrees I worked so hard to attain, this learning was invaluable. It lit a fire under me and not only is sending me down a path I feel I am meant to be on, but brought me back to the roots that continue to hold me tight to the ground.
I am more in tune with myself than I have ever been and, in turn, feel I have more to give to others than I have ever had. I finally feel what other women in their fifties have described as a “coming of age.” It is not only a realization about myself, but the fortitude to live it authentically.

Steps to Take When Your Plan Needs Changed

So, here are the specific steps I can offer when your battle plan needs changed.
1. Take a moment, or two, or many.
It may be cliché but truly press pause. Take a breath. Try to find a place of peace and tranquility to reflect. Life can be overwhelming, especially when trying to change directions.

2. Go toward the next step, not run away.
Going toward something different for the sake of it just being different is often a form of running away from what has been going on instead of going toward something that is actually going to benefit you. Reflect, plan, act.

3. Listen to your gut.
You know that achy, sometimes jabbing, feeling in your stomach that gnaws at you until you either listen to it or you move on in spite of it? Listen to it. You know your situation better than anyone else. Advice is grand, but only you know deep inside of you what you should do.

4. Imagine scenarios. Play out possibilities
I am a visual person and it helps me to create scenarios that may occur on the paths of various options. I write, draw, paint these possibilities. It’s not about the writing or the art, but about releasing the thoughts that are filtering through your head. You can talk out these possibilities too. Find a friend who is going to be honest with you and talk out “what may happen” depending on which path you take forward.

5. Be flexible in your plan.
Set a course but allow opportunity for wonderful serendipity along the way. Often it’s these pockets of the unexpected that end up bringing you to where you are supposed to be.


If you run into set-backs in your new plan, as you most assuredly will, realize the difference between obstacles in a road worth taking versus the cliffhanger on the road you were on. “Should’ve, Would’ve, and Could’ve” are not invited to this plan. They were lessons learned and your growth from them guides your next moves.

Oh and number six is the most important step…

6)Take a picture of yourself! Get dressed in something that makes you feel empowered. Strike your warrior pose and snap that shot. I promise you that will be a visual that will bring you back to your plan if you fall wary and need reassurance. I even had my “Artist Warrior” made up into cards that feature my mantra on the back.

Create • Journey • Inspire

Onward.


Pottery Urn For My Dad – Sculpted Stoneware…A Narrated Video Stroll

My mind still talks to you.
My heart still looks for you.
My soul knows you are at peace.
~ Author Unknown


Today marks the one year anniversary of my father’s passing. As I sit in my mother’s kitchen in the wee hours of the morning, knowing that in just a few hours we will be at a mass in his honor, I can’t help but think that at the wee hours of the morning a year ago, he was still with us. Then, later in the afternoon, in a literal heartbeat, he was gone.

It’s been a year that is not quite like any other years I’ve lived. Memories have been triggered in unexpected moments… sounds, movie scenes, and in visits with old friends. The year has flown by in so many ways, making it still seem surreal that he is gone.

Please join me for a narrated story stroll of the pottery urn I sculpted for my father.

In Focus and How I Got Here

Steps to Focusing

Once I decided to focus on eco-staining, a sense of relief set in and a direction began to be planned. The steps to getting in focus were not straight-forward and structured for me. I struggled with the traditional techniques of planning. Scheduling, list making, and goal/objective planning were steps to focusing that often caused me to trip.

My steps to focusing had to be ones that fit into my natural way of being. Sustainable within my life as an artist, wife, and mother.

Deciding the Focus

Deciding on what to focus was one of the biggest challenges we faced. I say “we” because it does take the support of those closest to you to make this kind of commitment. My husband and I had many conversations about which door to walk through…pottery, mixed media and intuitive painting, or eco-staining. There were pros and cons to all, and of course, financial risk.

It eventually came down to very basic statements about each. Pottery is my personal release and it always felt like creating for volume was intrusive to that feeling. Plus, I broke a ton of pieces traveling back and forth to shows. Mixed media and intuitive painting were mediums that seemed like everybody was doing and, even though each artist created their own work, in my mind it was becoming a medium that was homogenized. I admire the artists and appreciate mixed media and intuitive painting, but they don’t ring true to my artistic spirit.

Door number three, eco-staining, was by far where my heart was, after pottery. Eco-staining is an age-old medium with minimal exposure in the art world. It was personal and ignited my artistic passion while connecting me, as well as my audience, to nature. I had cultivated this art for years when we lived on our farm and it was the perfect time for me to take it to the next level. I never thought we, my art and I, would grow into this amazing journey. It only did so, with focus.

Lessons are learned the hard way.

I remember sitting in my studio early on in this focusing journey and looked over at my glass kiln. It was calling and beckoning me. I had beautiful dichroic glass I added to a recent supplies order and it just was itching to be made into something pretty. I got it out, scored, cut, and designed a beach scene tile. Then I did a tree tile. Then I thought, “Oh this would be a great class!” So then I put together a class…pictures, class description, scheduling, promo ad, etc.
If I had thought before I did and asked myself if the time I would spend putting all that together for the glass class would be worth taking time away from eco-printing, I would have said no. Instead, I went forward like I used to; excited to teach the class and have others enjoy it, but with no purpose toward my goal or bigger picture. It was a lot of time distracted.

I sold my glass kiln after that class.

Then I got rid of a lot of other things. Some things were banished to the garage; out of sight, out of mind. Some things were sold and some things were given away. Boxes and boxes of fabric were given to a local teacher so I wouldn’t get distracted and teach a “Sew Your Own Backpack Class” again. Old fashioned washboards for wet felting were tucked way back in the closet behind winter coats, something us Floridians do not need often. If it wasn’t out in the open calling to me, I was better focused on my goal.

Scheduling

Scheduling and structure do not equate to focus in my world and that was an expensive lesson for me to learn. I continually bought hard copy planners, books, and activity journals that were specifically orientated to achieving creative dreams. Nothing helped and I found myself wasting more time trying to fit my life into those little boxes instead of living my life my way but with my style of focus.
I had to identify qualities of myself that were authentic and learn how to gear all the energy of those qualities to my goals. So I went back to my journal and reflected. It was okay to “rachellesque” the situation because I am the one accountable. It’s not school. I do not have to show my planner or lesson plans to anyone. The only one that has to be able to function successfully to attain the goals is me.

Through reflecting and writing in my journal, I found confidence in my traits, whether or not they were considered good by others. For example, I do not like time. There aren’t any clocks in our house. If you want to know the time, look at your phone. Because we are not allowed our phones “on stage” at Disney, I wear an iWatch when I show at there for the single reason that I get notifications if my kids call or text.

Me trying to fit into an hourly schedule, or breaking tasks into 2 hours slots, is ridiculous. It just doesn’t work. I work from my home studio. I do not punch a clock. I can work when I want, however long at a time I want, and I can break away to go get coffee or a cocktail with a friend, whenever I want.

Mind mapping

Mind mapping is another technique I put back into play. I taught mind mapping as an organizational tool to writing essays and doing projects when I taught middle school English. As a homeschooling mom, I used mind mapping to intertwine themes and topics across disciplines. We unschooled and didn’t use set curriculum, text books, or workbooks. We believe the world is our classroom, and engaged in authentic learning. Mind mapping helped me make sure that the kids were exposed to certain elements while they were naturally learning.
Once again, in my journal, I would start by writing a keyword somewhere and branching out my thoughts. I could add, cross out, rebranch a direction, etc. It is a working technique that allows me flexibility for the continual flood of ideas but plots them into play with my focus. If those ideas don’t fit, then they don’t go on the mind map. If after a while, some ideas don’t make sense, they get replaced. It works much better for me than a linear plan with concrete steps. I am a creative, after all.

Journaling

My Eco-Stained Journal is a useful tool in more ways then I have already mentioned. It is my sounding board, my brainstorming companion, and it is my voice from a different perspective. When I write, I change. I evolve. Never again will I be the same as I was when I wrote those words. By having those thoughts written down, I can look back and see what I was thinking and analyze the path I took between then and now.

Since I began this journey of focus, I have grown. My journal is my evidence of growth. I don’t write diaries. They are not word for word accounts of what I do. My journal writings are reflective and descriptive. I get inspired to write and when I return to read them, I get inspired in a different way. That inspiration keeps me focused on my goals.

Getting Off Track

Then there were times when I got off track, even more so than the glass class episode. After two years of showing my eco-stained art at Walt Disney World, one of the merchandising consultants found out that I was a potter. It was over a casual discussion about a display piece I wanted for my journals and I said I would just make it out of clay. “What?” he said.

Well, after I told my history of being a potter, the merchandise buyer then got wind, and asked me to do a production of pottery for the next EPCOT International Festival of the Arts with live demonstrations on the pottery wheel. And still present my eco-stained art.
I know better. I really do. But, I said, “Yes.” And I was excited about it. Really excited! Until a couple of months into creating all those one of a kind vessels while still finding time to switch creative gears and make my eco-stained papers. Without my undivided attention, creating in both mediums resulted in pieces I was not completely proud of and I felt like I sacrificed my artistic integrity.

From January to May, I showed seven days a week, with only a break of 9 days between festivals in February. I was playing constant catch-up trying to complete pottery pieces and eco-stained pieces to display. I was stressed, exhausted, and more than ever, felt defeated. Needless to say, they were not successful days.
That experience was, however, the kick I needed to reevaluate. It made me take the plunge and not only regain my focus for growing my eco-staining art, but investing money into building a business that wasn’t under anybody’s control but my own.

Consciously Redirecting

The launch of my new collections and the ribbon cutting of my new website a couple of weeks ago, brought my dreams to fruition. I am now selling my Eco-Stained Journals, Stationery, and Wall Decor completely online. I still continue to work 15 hour days, but they are from my studio, my purple chair, or the coffee shop down the street.
It is definitely a challenge. I have to constantly redirect my thinking and hold true to my focus. I have had to say no to opportunities and suggestions that may look like good opportunities to someone else, but my experience tell me are more distracting than beneficial.
Recently I have made two very definitive redirects after asking myself if the opportunities supported my goals. I did waste one entire day- 15 straight hours, on creating a “how-to” tutorial for an art project before it hit me that what I was doing was exactly opposite of my intention with my eco-stained journals. The other one came after a couple hours, a discussion with my husband, and the realization that going in that direction would put me right back into the chaos I was rising from.

Recap of How to Get In Focus

This is a rather long post. I guess somewhat symbolic of the long journey of focus I am traveling. If you would like to trying implementing some of my experience into your journey, I have listed the four main keys that exemplify getting in focus for me.

  1. Distraction Free Zone

    Get rid of everything around you that is “calling your name” to distract you. I do not mean kids or significant other. Although if they are, try to work out a way they know you need distraction free time.

    What I am talking about are projects and the like. I am getting ready to donate four huge tubs of baby clothes that I have been keeping to make quilts for each of my kids who now are ages 16-24. That isn’t going to happen.

    Ask yourself, “Does it support my goal?”

    Answer honestly. I recently read an article on social media and business posting. They said to ask yourself if the post you are considering putting online one for vanity or one that is relevant to your audience. I never thought of it as vanity before, but now I see that interpretation and it really helps in deciding if something supports my goal.
  2. Mind mapping

    Identify a keyword or keywords for your focus and branch off from there. Mind mapping is free thinking and free form; no numbers or lines. It is a visual way to organize those concepts that do support your goal.
  3. Journaling

    Reflect then write. Journaling will help you focus on where you’re headed and see how to get there. It is your mirror. When you see something in a mirror that you don’t like, you change it. When you like what you see, you go forward. Your journal is a place to reflect on changes you need to make as well as see the beauty in what you do.
  4. Enjoy

    The hardest part of my day is at the end of it. Stopping. There is always more to do and there is always more that I think I need to do…at that moment.
    Now that I have my art focus on track and beginning to bloom, I have to work on regaining some personal and family focus.
    I think that keyword is going to be “Beach!”

For a little more backstory, check out my post from August 9, 2019… Journey to Focus.