Meet Michelle Caplan

We're taking a little break from mood boards until later today because first, I would love for you to meet my friend and talented artist Michelle Caplan. This lady really inspires me and since finding her online in '05, we somewhat grew our freelance careers together, mostly through the internet. We met right around the time when I left my 9-to-5 and launched decor8, so having Michelle to walk alongside on this online journey has proved to be a genuine source of encouragement to me. I know her words will stimulate you as well; she presents lots of great advice, so gather 'round your monitors -- Time to meet Michelle Caplan!

"This is a bench in my entry that is in constant rotation. It serves as a sort of storage space for finished pieces, and they are mixed in with other art pieces and objects. It is a fun idea to see it constantly changing." -MC

decor8: Hi Michelle! For those that aren't yet familiar with you and your work, can you give us the basics?

Michelle: Sure! I'm Michelle Caplan, a 30-year-old Mixed Media Collage Portrait Artist living and working in Los Angeles, CA.

decor8: Great! Now let's talk about your roots. What is your background and education?

Michelle: Born in London, moved to Monte Carlo when I was 3, and then to Los Angeles when I was 6. Then in 1998, I was off to NYC to attend the School of Visual Arts (SVA). I graduated in 2000 with a BA in Graphic Design and started to work in the publishing industry designing book covers.

decor8: There's lots of talk about formal training vs. "real world" experience amongst artists these days, and I see real value in both. Since you went the formal route, what do you think art school gave you (besides a degree) that you may not have received had you not attended?

Michelle: Attending SVA forced me to leave my familiar surroundings in LA and relocate to NYC, which was a great place to learn and live. There was so much to see and feel and hear that I would never have experienced had I stayed in LA at that time. The experience of art school prepared me for the real world experiences that were, and are, to come. I needed a degree to qualify and get my first job, which set me on the path of honing my computer skills and learning a sense of balance and design. Also, the endless critiques that scared me so much in school, have definitely helped me to get past outside opinion, and to help me focus on expressing myself without censoring or second guessing every stroke of the brush. I don't think that my graphic design sensibilities necessarily came from school, however being around so many talented and varied people certainly was inspiring. Also, the opportunity to learn from some amazing contemporary designers and artists was priceless.

Works by Michelle on display.

decor8: You're no longer in the publishing world, but out and about as a freelance artist. What do you like most so far?

Michelle: The best part of being a freelance artist is that I genuinely love what I do. All of my hard work reaps a direct reward on my family's life. The hours I spend experimenting with new surfaces and mediums is fun and beneficial to my craft. I live for the feeling I get when an idea is sparked and I can work out in my head how I will execute it. I can be at lunch with friends and all I can think about is getting into the studio and creating whatever the inspired piece is. That kind of giddiness is rare, and I try not to take the freedom I have for granted. I have a wonderful husband who works very hard for us and has supported me fully in exploring my artistic dreams.

decor8: Can you tell us more about the creative process?

Michelle: I love the stories I can tell through my work. I search out discarded photos and create stories of who I imagine the people may have been. Being able to use my imagination in such a way is so much fun. I gather clues from the image and the persons demeanor, clothing and surroundings. I make assumptions and take guesses.

decor8: In addition to your own pieces, you work on commissioned onces as well. I know, because you created one for my husband that is proudly displayed in our home. :)

Michelle: Yes, in complete contrast to the pieces I do on my own are my commissioned works. Clients give me their photos and tell me all about the subject, which have ranged from grandparents to children, to pets. They are so excited to have a personal piece made. Their enthusiasm drives me to hunt for the perfect papers and items for their pieces. The opportunity to create a narrative for someone's personal photos gives my work a completely different dimension.

Wedding commissions by Michelle Caplan.

decor8: Other than your clients and the ideas that you come up with on your own, what else inspires your work?

Michelle: My fellow crafters. I want to learn everything from sewing to crocheting to wire-wrapping jewelry because of the AMAZING talent that I see all over the web and at the fairs that I do. Seeing the ingenuity makes me want to get my hands dirty. It is easy to get stuck in a rut and I really try to make sure that I am always looking and experiencing work outside of my own.

decor8: Speaking of the web, you have a few blogs. How has blogging assisted you as an artist?

Michelle: Blogging has had a HUGE impact on my business. Just by opening myself up and sharing with those who are interested in my work I have met some of the most incredible people who have supported and inspired me. On my own personal blog, I'm able to share my work with people from across the country and around the globe. When I first started and set-up my stat counter, I would check it incessantly to see where readers were located. I was so mesmerized to see Poland, Germany, Switzerland and Australia among other places on the list. That is an audience I never would have been able to reach in such a small amount of time without a blog.

decor8: So true! And you have a another blog that is less personal and more focused on the whole arts and crafts world. Can you share a little about that with us?

Michelle: Sure! My second blog, Creative Swoon, has given me a forum to share the people and things that really blow my mind and inspire. I have met a lot of really cool people through Creative Swoon as well. In supporting each other we help to grow our own businesses. I have to say that learning about the blog world and meeting people like you on eBay really started me on my current path. You introduced me to blogging when you first purchased a piece from eBay and then posted about it in the very first days of decor8. I started reading your blog regularly and that is where I discovered Etsy.

decor8: It really is a very large circle of life, isn't it? Outside of blogging, how do you market your work?

Michelle: The best way is to talk about it and share as much as I can. In addition to blogging, I post images from my life and of my work on Flickr, and I have a MySpace page. I also get involved in a few of the local craft fairs in LA such as the Felt Club coming up on July 15th, and the Ventura Fourth of July Street Fair in Ventura, CA. I keep an ongoing list of my upcoming events in the sidebar on my blog so that people who would like to see my work in person can keep track of upcoming shows.

Michelle at her booth, Felt Club, August 2006.

decor8: Despite all the good times, there are bound to be some bad, especially online because it invites the critiques of those we've never met. What are some things you dislike about being online with your work?

Michelle: The haters! People who can't find a way to support their fellow crafters, artists and bloggers and be happy for them when they have a good day. In this community, we all have good days and mini victories. I'm always so excited to see one of my contemporaries get a glowing review, or to open a magazine and see their wares or read their story. I don't understand the negative people.

decor8: So true! I believe that if you do your best work, you will draw others like you and that's really the point, to create a pool of supportive, positive people that want to make progress together. Now, you mentioned Etsy earlier and I'd like to chat about that a bit further because I know many decor8 readers are toying with the idea of launching their own store there. Can you tell us a little about your experiences so far?

Michelle: Joining Etsy changed my business completely. The seller fees are completely affordable and they strive to support and grow the community. It is also a much safer buying and selling environment than eBay. My confidence in actually being able to call myself an artist has grown as well. In the eBay days, I was still experimenting and it was hard to really feel like I had the right to take the title of this profession as my own. It has been three years since my first portrait and my process is so much stronger and that confidence has helped me to market myself. It is like one giant chain reaction. First you create something, then present it to the world. Then each one you create gets better and better in quality and then you get so excited you want everyone to know! You have to be willing to take the good with the bad, and taking that risk will make you stronger. Etsy is a great place for all of that!

Some of the papers Michelle uses in her home art studio.

decor8: What are some of your goals for the rest of 2007?

Michelle: Branching out from online competitions and really going after the galleries. I would love to do shows outside of Los Angeles and on the East Coast. I am proud to say that I had my first solo show open in April, and have been participating in other shows at places like The Hive Gallery in Los Angeles. I also sell online in my Etsy shop and have several retail shows in the works. I am also starting to investigate the art rep road. I have never thought about finding one before but have heard some great stories from local artists who have found success taking this route. I am really excited to share that sometime this summer I will be on an episode of HGTV's Design on a Dime. I created a portrait for the homeowners whose space was being renovated for the show. Kahi Lee came to my house and we filmed a whole segment about collaging. It was SO MUCH FUN!

Kahi Lee (left) and Michelle Caplan (right).

decor8: Aren't you also experimenting with other materials?

Michelle: Yes! I have recently started to experiment with creating pieces on wood which I am very excited about! I am learning to sew which I hope leads to applying my artwork to original handmade one of a kind items such as tote bags, pillows and pouches.

decor8: Wow, those are great goals, congratulations! What is the best advice that you can give to artists who want to earn a living doing what they love?

Michelle: Just do it. Take the dive and go for what you truly want. Start off small in whatever your medium or genre is, and just start creating. Get online and share, and look around and see what others are doing. Open an Etsy store. It is totally affordable and impossible not to be inspired by the community on that site! Don't put yourself in a category and then feel like you have to stay there. I straddle the fence between fine artist and crafter and the variety of projects keeps life interesting! Dont be afraid to ask questions to people who you admire. This is a very giving community and everyone has been there in the beginning stages and will have useful advice if you find yourself stuck in a rut or disheartened.

Another glimpse of Michelle's home art studio.

decor8: You've mentioned once about teaming up, can you explain what this is and how it has helped your business?

Michelle: Yes, teaming up is a great way to stay motivated. I have a dear friend, Hannah, who has her own line of jewelry called HannahMade. Our products dont compete so there is no fear that one will overshadow the other. We are constantly bouncing ideas off of each other and driving each other to push as hard as we can. She and I do a lot of the fairs together and so we share a common goal of making our both look the best it can and that our product is top notch. It also helps to have someone as passionate about your work as you are. We can share the fears of talking to potential clients, and when I am not thinking fast on my feet, you had better believe Hannah has the answer to the question, and vice versa. The point is, the more support the better!

decor8: Thank you so much Michelle for stopping by decor8 and sharing your journey with us.

Michelle: And thank you Holly so much for this opportunity and for all of the inspiration you share with all of us everyday. You have definitely been a huge part in changing my direction with my business, and your continued support of the indie community is unwavering!

If you have questions for Michelle, please feel free to comment below so she can reply. Thank you!

(images from michelle caplan)