Monday, September 23, 2013

Interview with Ally Shaw of Feral Strumpet

Our team blog has been quiet for a bit as we've been adjusting to our new team leadership and structure.  Join the conversations in our team Forum if you haven't been there for a while!  We are working to make the team more active and promote our fabulous members, and we need everyone to pitch in!

But now you are in for a treat!  I've interviewed the fabulous Ally Shaw, the creatrix behind the Etsy shop Feral Strumpet.  I just adore Ally's aesthetic, her use of vintage fragments and her beautiful attention to detail.  Each of her designs is so very special, yet they are also coherent; you know right away they are hers!  She's been kind enough to tell us about herself and her work.

Photo of Ally Shaw by Gordon Fraser, taken with an antique collodion camera

Dru:  When did you start designing jewelry? Tell us about your journey to being a successful Etsy seller.

Ally:  I started designing and making jewellery as a teenager. Originally the owner of the local bead shop taught me the basics. I think at the time she was just giving me something to keep me out of trouble, but it ended up being my livelihood! That shop is still open almost 30 years later-- The Bead Shop in Laguna Beach, California. In the US I taught writing to college students but when I moved to the London it was very difficult to find work. I had all kinds of jobs before moving to Yorkshire, where it was impossible so I decided to try to sell what I make on Etsy. This is the best job I’ve ever had, in all ways.

Tribal Hoop Earrings in Brass, by Feral Strumpet

Dru:  Your work always looks as though there is a story behind it. From your blog, it looks as though many of your jewellery designs are based on sacred places. How important is spirituality to your work? And how does your artistic process typically play out?

Ally:  I’m very interested in the landscape and fairy tales and myths, especially as they relate to the places near me. I love to go hiking and researching ancient wells and standing stones-- there are quite a few of those nearby. I get many new ideas while walking out on the lunar landscape of the moors-- the heather is in full bloom right now-- purple haze! It’s one of my favourite places to be.

Most creations start with colours and textures, and as they take shape in my hands they suggest stories I’ve heard, or certain aspects of Goddesses, and once I know that, it’s easy the finish the piece and describe it. I would hope there is at least sincerity in what I make, if not spirituality. If it is not sincere,
it goes back to the “works in progress” box.

Wicca Handfasting Earring and Necklace Set, by Feral Strumpet

Dru:  Can you describe your favourite design, and why it's your fave? 

Ally:  I love the Black Hearted Love necklace. It was the first design I made for myself that I wear all the time. Three years ago, a friend of mine saw me wearing it while wringing my unemployed hands, and she asked why I didn’t just sell my designs. It has been one of my most popular designs. No two are the same as they are made with fragments of antique and vintage rosaries I’ve salvaged, and hand carved lacquer hearts. I try to pair stones and Czech glass elements, inspired by the skulls and glass tears of nuns’ rosaries and other prayer beads across different faiths. I especially enjoy replicating the aged patinas on the metals I use so it becomes a harmonious artifact. It is one of my designs that has appeared on the Front Page of Etsy-- so I feel it is almost a defining design for my shop.

Black Hearted Love Necklace by Feral Strumpet

Dru:  I see you are also a tribal belly dancer as well as a writer! How do your different artistic pursuits relate to or inform each other?

Ally:  Writing, making jewellery and running the Etsy shop are all really solitary, sedentary pursuits. I took up belly dancing to have a social, physical outlet that would be more glamorous and fun than just going to the gym! I fell in love with it, especially American Tribal Style belly dance and Gothic Fusion. I think my work making things and talking about them in my shop has become an extension of my work as a writer or storyteller. That’s part of the reason I love Etsy, is it allows for stories.

Witch Ball Grimoire Bookmark, by Feral Strumpet

Dru:  How often do you work shows? Is that a growing aspect of your business, or do you prefer selling online?

Ally:  I love selling at Eastercon, the British Science Fiction Association annual convention. It is the only show I really do currently. The con is full of fans of genre fiction and readers and people who really get the idea of supporting indie, fan-based businesses. Other than that, I focus selling online as it really is just me, and my wires, pliers, hammers and anvil. Selling at shows requires transport and helpers which I don’t always have. I’ve sold at shows where it just wasn’t a handmade market or it wasn’t well publicized. I think it would be difficult in Yorkshire to make ends meet only doing shows. I can reach people all over the world, night or day with my online shop-- it’s hard to compete with that!

Gothic Crucifix Cross Necklace by Feral Strumpet

Dru:  What are your goals for your business going forward?

Ally:  I plan to increase my smithing skills and hope to expand so that I can actually hire a helper or two. Right now I am working at capacity-- it’s wonderful but I would love to have more time to design new pieces.

Men's or Women's Rings by Feral Strumpet and modeled by Sarah

Dru:  What are your hopes for the Folk Reveries team? Is there anything the team can do to support you and our other talented artists?

Ally:  The Folk Reveries Team is the most inspiring team on Etsy for me. It is full of storytellers and artists who have a very seductive aesthetic. Anytime I want a dose of creative energy, I browse the shops there, especially the illustrators, painters and printmakers on that team, and I’m instantly back in touch with this dark, wild woodland folktale world that fuels so many of my designs. I would love to see some sort of collaboration happen between team members, joint storytelling that might take shape in blog posts or online galleries. I really feel supported by this team and am very grateful for that. Thank you for giving me the chance to talk about my work!

Please join me in thanking Ally for this glimpse into her world!  And please visit her shop, about page, blog and twitter!