Interview provided by DIME. Photos by Sara Barnes
As Denton Independent Maker Exchange (DIME) gears up for the opening of it’s brick and mortar store in April, we caught up with DIME leader and accomplished water-colorist Mandy Cave. Mandy’s abundant enthusiasm will get you excited about her work, the store, and maybe even about creating some art, yourself.
How did you get into watercolor painting?
All I knew when I moved to Denton was that I wanted to be an art major. It wasn’t until I took my first watercolor class that I learned to love it. One day in class my teacher showed us the work of famous watercolor painters, and I recognized a couple of them from my childhood. As a kid my parents had a painting of a dog laying on a bed framed above their headboard. I would lay in their bed for hours staring at the painting. When I got a little older, I found my new favorite painting of a young lady sitting in a yellow field, reaching out toward a house in the distance. It turns out that a watercolor artist, Andrew Wyeth had painted both of them. After that I starting realizing how much I’ve always been drawn to Watercolor. Whenever I go to the bookstore, I find myself wandering over to the kids section to flip though the illustrations. Most of my favorites are always watercolor artists. Maybe I was hardwired to like it and just never saw it until later.
What is your favorite thing about watercolor?
There are these little moments behind the scenes I enjoy so much. I feel like all watercolor artists must like them. Like when I’m about to clean off a brush in a fresh jar of water. When I tap the brush loaded with color on the side of the jar, color floats and dances around in the water. It’s magical. Right now I am learning how versatile watercolor is. I can use it to make these huge, realistic, fine art paintings, or I can make small, simplified illustrations. Both are so fun! The illustration thing is really new to me. I’m just now exploring it.
Your custom family illustrations are the cutest thing ever. Can you explain how you go about making those?
It is an opportunity to make friends. I get to know details that are important to people. One family I’m about to paint owns chickens. The wife asked me if I thought it would be silly to include them, but I told her I think those details are what make a family unique. I can’t imagine leaving things like that out. Some people are really open to share about themselves, like the origin of their pet’s name and the way their son likes to gel his hair. I love it! Then they send me photo references and I compose a drawing that feels fitting for their family. After I make the drawing in a sketchbook (and do a lot of erasing and re-drawing), I transfer it to watercolor paper with a projector. Watercolor paper is delicate. If you use an eraser on it, the tooth of the paper gets damaged. The projector prevents me from damaging the final painting. Then, the best part, PAINTING! I use this ridiculously small 4 haired brush to outline the edges of a sweater, the tip of a dogs nose and everyone’s tiny eyes.
You recently had your work featured on the prestigious Design*Sponge Blog. What was that like?
It was such a fun opportunity to be found by people I wouldn’t have met otherwise. Folks from California to Maryland. One gal who found me through Design*Sponge told me about her dream of documenting her family every year, just like her grandmother did for 65 years of marriage. It’s funny because I’ve been interested in capturing the changes in one family over a long span of time. Thanks to Design*Sponge, our little dreams met.
How did you become involved in DIME?
The postcards for the Bazaar’s are adorable! That’s how I first found out about DIME. I couldn’t make it to the Summer Bazaar but when I saw the cute postcard with the fall leaves, last october, I made it a top priority to be there. Graduation from College was coming up and I was nervous about the end of campus days, surrounded by artsy students. So, I did everything I could to make new friends at the Bazaar. I signed up to be on the e-mail list and made sure to go to the Christmas party. That night, we got to laugh at how everyone wrapped their gift in brown kraft paper and we ate chocolate cookies. After that, I jumped at every opportunity to hang out with Shelley and Rachel. I was eager to be a part of the creative community.
There are so many great artists around town. When I was getting started, Anna Tovar, also a DIME watercolor artist, met up with me to talk artsy-business over some killer breakfast nachos at Loco. The whole DIME group is inspiring and it’s contagious.
In addition to being a DIME artist, you are the newest leader on the DIME leadership team. Can you give us a little incite into your role?
Rachel, Shelley and Nikki are so fun, it feels more like play than work. Right now, I’m transitioning into my role. The most exciting thing I get to do is post on the DIME Facebook page about all the Artist’s who get into the DIME Summer Bazaar.
Where can we purchase your work?
You can find my custom illustrations at MandyCaveWatercolor.Etsy.com. I’m going to debut illustrated prints and cards at the Summer Bazaar on June 8th. After that, they will be available on my Etsy Shop and at the DIME store. The home for my fine-art portfolio is mandycave.com
Do you have any advice for aspiring Etsy sellers?
Yes! My 1st piece of advice is “Get Smart!”. There are a bazillion helpful articles about setting up shop as a small art biz. Etsy has a ton of blog posts, Dave Ramsey has solid financial advice, Jon Acuff has great advice about pursuing your dream, DIME teaches Etsy classes and the list goes on. Read up on all your business/art heroes. Wisdom is at your fingertips if you search for it.
My 2nd piece of advice is “Start!”. It is scary to begin a business, but don’t let that keep you from diving in. There is a lot to learn about taking photos of your product, writing descriptions of your work, how to be your own boss, keeping a schedule, doing your own taxes, blah di blah... But let’s be real, you can’t be awesome immediately. You just have to start and learn as you go. And you don’t have to quit your job at Starbucks to do it. My last semester of school I was working at Panera Bread and I started my Etsy shop. Somedays I didn’t feel like sweeping bread crumbs, but then I read something Jon Acuff said. “Your day job is practice for your dream job.” After that, I swept the floors with a little skip in my step. I needed to be a a good barista before I could be an entrepreneur. I started toasting bagels with gusto and paying attention to guest’s preferences. Because of it, I learned customer service skills that I use for my Art & Illustration Business.
My 3rd piece of advice is “Don’t Listen To Your Negative Thoughts!” They simply aren’t true. Sometimes I think things like “There are enough artists out there already.” But that is absurd. If we don’t share our negative thoughts, we become convinced of silly lies. You have to use your talent because no one else can use it for you.
My Last piece of advice is “Make Friends!” Finding Creative Community is so valuable. Otherwise, creative energy wanes and you will quit. Care about other people around you. Pay attention to what they say and learn from them. They are your greatest resource.