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  • By Sarah J. Bartholomew

Artists share their stories at the Atalaya Arts Festival

Editor’s Note: This article is part two of a series.

The Atalaya Arts Festival is an annual event held at Huntington Beach State Park which attracts artists from across the country. This year’s event ran from Friday, Sept. 27 to Sunday, Sept. 29. These artists told their stories of inspiration, travel, and even the hardship of venturing into the career field of creativity. 

Kyle Keeler is a glassblower and resident of Asheville, North Carolina. 

Do you like to travel to shows, is that your preferred method of selling [art]?

So, I do about 12 shows a year, um and then I have actually majority of my work in galleries all over the U.S. and uh online we do a lot of stuff on Etsy. So, I try to work in all the markets that I can. I’ve been trying to get more into Instagram . . . but that’s the only uncharted territory right now, and I think that could be a, from what I’ve been hearing, that’s been successful for a lot of people.  

What would you say is your favorite thing to create? 

My favorite thing to create would probably be uh, so I have a lot of different things. It keeps me from ever being bored. But my favorite thing to make would probably be the pendants, just because the variety of the designs you can do- I never get bored.  

Karen Edgar, an illustrator who also made handcrafted guitars spoke about her art. 

What was the inspiration behind Bathing Beauties (a charcoal rendering)? Because that one was my favorite. 

That was actually from a family snapshot of my husband’s family that we found in a box of old photos. And the woman in the middle is his grandmother. On the back, it was dated 1916. And um his mother, she was the youngest of eleven children, so at the time that picture was taken, she hadn’t been born yet. She [husband’s mother] looked identical to her [husband’s grandmother]. 

What was the inspiration behind the guitars? Do you make those as well? 

I do, and I’m a musician, I’m not really a guitar player, I’m a fiddle player, but I was collecting instruments from all over the world and realized that you can kind of make an instrument out of anything. And then I did some research into cigar box guitars because I had drawn a picture of a young fellow playing a cigar box fiddle and I thought a guitar would be easier to make than a violin. They initially started out as cigar box bodies, but since then I’ve morphed into a lot of different types of things that I can use for the resonators. 

Have you ever made yourself a cigar box fiddle? 

No (laughing), no I’m a little intimidated, I haven’t tried it yet.  

Do you have any advice for someone who creates art but isn’t maybe ready for a show or is intimidated by this kind of performance aspect? 

I would just say to follow your heart and don’t try to second guess what you think other people are going to like. Just stay true to who you are and do what you like. Because then if nobody else likes it, you’ve done something that you love. 

Courtney Tomchik from Clemmons, North Carolina is a raku ceramic artist and was kind enough to share her creative process.

What got you started in art? 

My family has an art background. My mom was a jewelry designer and sculptor, so I followed her around, and then ended up always doing something, but I have a ceramic degree from Appalachian State University, in Boone, North Carolina and that’s where the clay started. And then I started taking continuing education classes in clay to keep my abilities and learned the process of raku. Raku is a Japanese firing process that is done with gas, you bring your materials up to a temperature, I usually work between 1,800 and 1,900 degrees, take the top off, pull the ceramic pieces into a metal container with newspaper, take off the oxygen away, and starve it of oxygen . . . and that’s  where I get all my beautiful colors and variation in metallics! 

Do you have any advice for any artists who are intimidated by, or of coming to a show and presenting their own work because they haven’t received publicity before? 

So my advice would be to just jump in, but also talk to people. Come around to art shows, talk to people- most people are forthcoming in giving information out. I mean, all of us had to learn from the ground up and a lot of what I did- luckily I grew up in a family where my mother did shows, but, when I started doing shows, I kind of had to start from scratch. So different shows for different mediums: you know, you can’t go and say “this show is great for me”, but if it’s a show for jewelry and not ceramics, that’s not apples to apples. So you have to like, try it and maybe start out small and go bigger and do your thing. But you do have to have stuff- you need to have professional photography, you need to be juried into shows depending on if those are the types of shows you want. You need to have a display, a tent, weights, I mean there’s a lot to it that the business end of it, no one even talks about. I wish art departments would actually do a class on selling your art. 

Absolutely, I completely agree. 

So, I think that when you get out in the public and you sell your work, you’re really putting yourself out there because it’s so emotional- it’s from your heart and soul. I think it can be very intimidating, but you got to be able to just go for it and know what you’re doing is good and it’s from your heart. People may not like it, but you just gotta motivate [yourself] through it. 

Continuing on through the crowds of vendors and visitors, I met John Parkinson, a custom furniture maker from Durham, North Carolina. 

Can you tell me about all of your travels as you created and studied art? 

Yeah, I originally served my woodworking apprenticeship in the UK from age 16 to 20 and um, I became what’s known as a journeyman woodworker from there, going from company to company, refining my skills, and probably about fifty years ago I decided to work for myself. By that time, I was living in Austin, Texas and my business plan was “I’m going to make furniture and people are going to buy it!” 

And it’s worked out very well, I should add (motioning to an award ribbon). You mentioned that going out on your own, kind of on a limb, can be inspiring, exciting, and frightening. Can you tell me about how you got over the hump of the fear? 

Yeah… I guess I’m still getting over it to some degree. But you just gotta push yourself, out of your comfort zone to do that. And it’s not easy. But by getting out and meeting people, just telling people at parties and gatherings what you do, it’s a good way to spread your name. Big thing is: always have business cards with you. 

For any aspiring artists, maybe intimidated by coming to a show or presenting their artwork, what would you say to them? 

Just do it. You can never start too soon. I wish I had gone out on my own 20, 30 years ago. I was always hesitant . . . to leave a full-time paycheck, to go into the unknown, I completely get that. But, so what? If you fail and you have to go back, at least you tried. Just do it now and get your name out there.  

Lastly, but certainly not least, Chawn Murrah shared his inspiration and gave some advice to aspiring artists. 

How did you become an artist? What was your inspiration? 

My inspiration was, I’ve been drawing and painting since I was a kid at six years old, so it’s just in my blood. I love art! I’ve been working in the art business for over 20-something years. Twenty years primarily painting, I work with a wholesale art community where we sell originals to the trade, um major department stores  . . . I just started selling my own stuff.  

Can you tell me about your favorite pieces? 

This is my favorite piece right here (motioning to the piece which is included in his photograph), The Falconeer, because I call it, the series, Spirits. I take multiple layers and apply different paints- mediums. I start with acrylic, I bring them up with several layers, and in the end result, you see the figures and I bring them up, also.  

Do you have any advice for new artists or anyone who is intimidated by participating in a show like this? 

Yeah! Well, follow your dreams, take that step, and you never know, you never know- I always thought that, when I was a kid, I couldn’t be an artist and have this be my main source of income. And I had to learn from, you know, seeing other artists that people live off it.  

Thank you to all the artists who shared their work at the Atalaya Arts Festival, as well as those who shared their stories. For those who are interested in attending next year, more information can be found on the South Carolina State Parks website. 

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