MaryAnn Anderson of Backwoodscreations, a former Medicaid policy writer for the state of Maine's Department of Health and Human Services creates absolutely gorgeous animal figures made from fabric and stuffing sculpted, and shaped around an armature!
What struck me immediately about her work was just how well she is able to capture the animal’s expression, (especially in her cats), and I was blown away by how low her prices are for the product she offers. With items easily worth $150 apiece, the artist seems somewhat shy when asked about her most expensive sale, particularly humble about her sculptures.
“Most of my work is moderately priced because I want it to be accessible to a wide range of people. I have had several paintings that have been commissioned and sold for decent prices by an unknown artist (me). I sold a couple of commissioned paintings for $200-$250. It was work very different than what I sell on Etsy. More traditional portraiture (corgis) done in acrylics on canvas.”
This downplaying of her profitability of these pieces could very likely be because she feels, as many artists do; that the work chooses her rather than the other way around, although these may be where her biggest potential lies in terms of financial viability.
“I currently do some pickup consulting work here and there but most of my money comes from making and selling the product of my creativity. The fabric animal sculptures are what have given me a precarious toe hold into the possibility of making a decent livelihood out of doing what thrills me. But I also create work that has meaning to me in many different forms. I think of it as listening to the everyday sacred. I am a steward of this earth. It is up to me to protect it, love it and take care of it. I make the animals that talk to me. Some talk more than others. The materials used sometimes just lend themselves to being what they are. The basic shapes are a jumping off point.”
When asked how she captures the cats' expressions so realistically, she answers, “Honestly I don't know.” Notice the cat at the top which seems to be staring longingly at you to take him home. Not only expressions are captured, but if you notice some of the other cats you'll see that body language is also expressed quite realistically! Perhaps work like this is divinely guided. It has often been theorized that artists enter a type of meditative state while working which gives them (us) an exceptional receptiveness on a metaphysical level. I know what she means when she says these animals “talk” to her. This is an experience of being that seems etched upon the “collective unconscious” for artists since the beginning of time, unique in the form in which it comes, yet Universal.
How did she learn to make these sculptures? By learning the basics, and then with lots of experimentation.
“No one taught me directly, “here, this is how you do it”. They are an accumulation of skills gathered over the years. Knowing how to sew and what a dart does as well as how to be forgiving to oneself during the process is important. Working with fabric and embellishment was not a far stretch from what I learned as a child from my mother. Many of the hand skills that I use today I learned from her. She was a lot more traditional in their usage than I am, but she gave me a firm foundation in "just do it". Mastery comes with doing. So I keep doing to get that mastery of my medium and techniques; always ongoing and never will stop.”
About a year ago after having worked in the Medicaid system for some time, she decided life was too short to wait any longer to start living her dream. The answer for her was not only to change what she was doing for a living, but to change her whole sense of priorities, and to re-evaluate what was really important in her life underneath all the window-dressing.
“I needed to use my creative energies or perish. I also had a dear friend get diagnosed with cancer and live six more months. He had always said "I will do it when I retire." That was a really big wake up call for me. So I quit (the) security and ran open-armed into the future. I needed to use those skills I had put myself through college 25 years ago to get. I had gotten a degree in painting from Maine College of Art after deciding RISD was too expensive. I had been denying my creative needs for years and it was time to STOP!
When I was working a “socially acceptable” job and was making decent money with benefits and all the trappings that went along with it I was miserable for the most part and didn't really grok to (realize/acknowledge) that fact. When I made the decision to quit that, a sense of peace came over me. I knew I was making the right decision. I figured I would try it until my bank account got to a certain figure. That was over a year ago and the figure hasn't been hit. Part of the reason for that is my life has become much, much simpler in needs and desires. I don't have to buy things to work (clothes, shoes, lunches), nor am I on the road commuting two hours a day. The less "things" I have or buy the happier I am, and the more I am able to stop and appreciate what I do have and the natural beauty in the environment around me. When I worked (in a traditional job), buying things is what I did to make me happy. Now I don't do that because I am happy with how I am living and what I am doing.”
MaryAnn currently sells her work at Spiralworks Artisans Gallery (soon to be known as River Roads Artisans Gallery) in Skowhegan Maine. She also does custom work through her own website and her Etsy store. The artist is working on getting together her portfolio to go show her work to other brick and mortar stores. “It is hard to sell oneself I think. But if I want to stay doing this I have to invest that time in myself.”She has had the most success locally through word-of-mouth.
“I have learned tons on Etsy from people on the forums, usually people much younger then myself” says MaryAnn. “I have picked up tips on how to use the internet to help get exposure for my work. I knew I wanted to be successful but there is also a realistic side to me so I am just finishing up a class on writing a business plan. That has been very helpful in looking at short and long-term goals, pricing, recordkeeping etc. It was free and reinforced some of the things I already knew and is also giving me an opportunity to network with other creative women in central Maine as well as learning good business practices. Even mistakes are valuable tools. I can kick myself for making bad choices but in the end they work to my advantage because I learn from them. Plus I have found some helpful blogs such as Luann Udell’s blog http://luannudell.wordpress.com/ . She has great business tips for many things.”
The artist reflects on what her most important take-home message might be. “My best lesson, I don't know who taught me; maybe it was learned over time, is that I can't and won't be everything to everybody. Some people absolutely do not like my work. I on the other hand don't like everybody’s either. But I have to have respect for it, their process and their voice. Hopefully they will have the same for mine.”
Books that have been particularly helpful to MaryAnn that she can recommend are The Artist's Way by Julia Cameron, and she is currently reading Art & Fear by David Bayles and Ted Orland.
“I have just started that but it looks like it will help with distancing myself from my inner and outer critics. There is also a book similar to the Artist's Way which looks like it might be good to work through and that is Fearless Creating by Eric Maisel. I have a list! and not enough hours in the days.”
As far as new techniques she would like to tackle, MaryAnn is interested in learning Lampwork someday.
Her plans for selling to holiday shoppers are to continue to keep a wide range of price points, package nicely, and ship promptly. “I also stick in a thank you card to everyone who buys” says MaryAnn, “and for those people who are frequent buyers I slip in a little extra perk here and there.
Future work, like the birds, will be more embellished, I think. These ones currently are about shape and line. Now I need to “ice the cake” so to speak.”
When asked what her long-term goals are for her business, MaryAnn had this to say. “To make my living from my work and have it speak to those around me, well also those in the rest of the world too.”
I can hardly wait to see what she does with dogs!
For more of these lovely creations or to place a custom order, go to:
Backwoods Creations Etsy or
To learn more about the artist and activities she’s involved in, read her blog:
Backwoods Creations Blog
Article written by Pippit