North Carolina enjoys a vibrant community of makers, artisans, craftsmen, and artists. At the Our State Store, we travel the state hunting for local artisans who create special, handcrafted goods, and we're giving you a behind-the-scenes glimpse at the creators of some of our most popular products. Sit a spell with us as we introduce you to some of our favorite North Carolina makers.
No matter where you are in North Carolina, do something quirky, and you might be described as "so Asheville." There must be something in the air in this mountain city -- sweeping vistas, colorful public art, rustic homesteads, chic galleries, drumbeats echoing amid vintage building facades -- it's all so Asheville. Residents are known for supporting their neighbors' small businesses, from locally produced goods to farm-to-table foods. In the first half of the 20th century, artistic institutions like Black Mountain College drew like-minded souls to the Blue Ridge Mountains. Today, the hills are abuzz with the hundreds of artists, musicians, jewelers, designers, and crafters who call the region home and each other neighbors.
It's little wonder that Kelcey Loomer was attracted to the area. Growing up in a family of artists, Kelcey never had the moment where she decided to be an artist; she just always was. She moved to Asheville more than twenty years ago to attend Warren Wilson College, where she met now-husband Alex, another Asheville transplant from Chicago. Today, the couple runs Seed & Sky, a little studio that creates wearable art in the form of jewelry. We spoke with Kelcey to learn more about her life and work.
What is your background in jewelry making? What about art?
My background is in art. I belong to a family of artists and was surrounded by the arts as a child. My mother is a potter, and I grew up watching her throw pots in her home studio and helping her sell her pots at craft fairs. Because it has always been a part of my life, there is no moment that I can pinpoint when I decided to be an artist; It's just always been in me. I studied printmaking, book arts, and illustration in college, which helped foster the artistic life we currently have.
How did you get started with Seed & Sky?
After years of making artwork meant to be hung on walls, I started dreaming up new and creative ways to make my artwork more accessible to people. I began experimenting with merging my designs into jewelry, because I loved the idea of my work being something you could tangibly touch and hold. It took a lot of trial and error (lots of errors!) before figuring out how to bring my vision to fruition. I officially launched Seed & Sky in 2011 while still being a stay-at-home mom. Once my kids started school, and the business became too much to handle on my own, my husband Alex left his job as a carpenter to join Seed & Sky.
You have a family business. Tell me about Alex and yourself. What are your roles?
In addition to being a wonderful husband and father to our two children, Alex is the one who keeps Seed & Sky organized and running smoothly. He does all the stuff my "artistic" brain isn't great at: taxes, managing our wholesale accounts, and customer service, and often he is the one who travels to vend at the many art fairs we participate in. My side of the business focuses on creating the artwork, building all of the jewelry, and managing our social media accounts. Thankfully, our strengths pair together nicely!
Tell us about your studio space and describe your workspace. Do you prefer organized chaos or everything in its place?
Right now we have a small home studio that isn't open to the public. We are actually looking into the possibility of expanding into a studio in a more public place. We always weigh the pros and cons of different types of workspaces. I love our current situation, but it would also be nice to be working near other creative people and have the ability to let people share in our process more.
At the moment my workspace is a total disaster! That said, I try my hardest to keep it organized and clean. It is a very tiny space so when it is not too cluttered it feels more spacious and airy.
What is your process for a necklace, start to finish?
Each piece of jewelry starts as an original painting of mine. My favorite medium is fluid acrylics, but when the inspiration hits I will use pen and ink, gouache, watercolors, and occasionally even my iPad to paint! After the design is complete, I scan it and turn it into tiny museum-quality prints. Then, I cut and glue the prints into our cast settings. Ultimately, it is the resin that protects the artwork, giving it that glass-like finish.The hardest part of the process is when I hand mix and pour a liquid resin into the jewelry because resin is tricky to work with. Bubbles and dust are the enemy of someone working with resin. The studio must be the perfect temperature. If it is too cold, I end up with tiny bubbles in the jewelry. Conversely, if the studio is too hot, the resin loses its dome and spills over, and the piece is ruined. But when you get the resin just right, it is beautiful.
Where do you find inspiration for your illustrations?
I grew up without a television in my home, so much of my childhood was spent outdoors building forts or reading in patches of moss in the woods. As an adult, I still take deep pleasure in being out in nature. I particularly love these North Carolina mountains; I never tire of them. I also love camping and hiking and seeing the stars. My artwork is largely inspired by the connection I feel to the natural world. I love hearing about my customer's connections to the natural world too. It is satisfying as an artist to hear the stories and memories that your work evokes.
Do you have a favorite piece? What makes it your favorite?
My favorite piece is often the one I just made. I love keeping things fresh and coming up with new products and designs. However, I do have a few "oldies" that I pick out for my own jewelry collection. One favorite is my zinnia flower design. Alex and I built our first home ourselves, and after it was completed, the land around it was like a construction wasteland, all packed red dirt. To fix this, we planted a huge patch of zinnias in the front yard. The zinnia design always reminds me of that first year in our own cozy home. It was a sweet time in our lives, and I picked lots of flower bouquets for every room in our house.
What are your most essential tools?
I have a few favorite paint colors and paintbrushes, and I love my square sketchbook. I like to paint on a medium thick and lightly toothed paper. My sketchbook is where I paint to loosen up and formulate ideas. Sometimes a painting starts in my sketchbook and ends up becoming the final painting. I try to paint on a gessoed board, but sometimes the informality of my little sketchbook inspires me. Sometimes I bring it to art fairs where we let people get a feel for my painting style and to see some behind-the-scenes previews.
What would you say is the most memorable reaction to your work?
It is always very touching and memorable when one of my pieces evokes the memory of a person who has passed on. My cardinal design in particular often reminds people of someone dear to them. Each time this happens, I feel honored to be able to offer something that brings them closer to those they have loved.
What advice would you give to yourself of five years ago?
Stop trying to reinvent the wheel and seek out some mentors. In addition, a lot of cities have fabulous (and sometimes even free) resources for artists and entrepreneurs.
What do you love about North Carolina?
I came to Asheville 20 years ago to attend college. I fell in love with the geography and rich history of the mountains, and the friendliness of the people here made me feel right at home. After all these years I am continuously inspired by the vibrant arts scene in Asheville. I have formed many deep friendships with amazing and talented artists, and I feel supported to do what I love from my community here which is such a huge gift!
You can shop our collection of Seed & Sky Jewelry, with some exclusive pieces like the Cotton Blossom Necklace and the Moravian Star Necklace, here at the Our State Store. Check out the full line of Seed & Sky Jewelry on their website, plus you can follow their Instagram and Facebook for some serious eye candy.
All images courtesy of Seed & Sky Jewelry.