Monday, October 28, 2013

Steve Bassett

by Kita

In talking to Steve Bassett this week, I discovered a soul that has a good mix of transformation and confidence, absolutely essential traits in any performance artist. With a passion for music that started in childhood in Long Island, he's stuck to his guns there, working endlessly to create work he cares about, largely influenced by groups like the Beatles and the Grateful Dead. He studied music composition in Albany, NY, before moving to Northern California. In 1994, he settled himself in Salt Lake City. 
  What I notice the most in his music, is that I can't help but picture him as a positive, and pretty enlightened soul. Even his moodier pieces seem to portray an image of understanding and confidence. It's no wonder that I have found him to be a popular artist, and man, in the Salt Lake Valley. 
  Most of all, I'm excited to share this unique perspective with everyone of you readers. This is a man to pay attention to, with a medley of worthwhile messages, and a variety of wonderful songs for your listening to pleasures. 

The Interview: 

Kita: What kind of artist would you describe yourself as?
Steve: I have been playing music since I was 7 and have always been fascinated about the range of emotions and experience that music can convey. I studied music in college and am interested all types of music from classical to rock. That being said, my music is heavily influenced by the Beatles and the improvisational aspects of the Grateful Dead.
Kita: What first got you into art? How about music?
Steve: I heard the Beatles and that was all it took. I started learning guitar and, soon after, started writing songs.
Kita: Where, how, or why do you find your inspirations at?
Steve: Inspiration is everywhere, you just have to train yourself to notice it. Most if it comes from interactions with people or observation them from a distance.
Kita: Do you prefer to do your own thing or work with others?
Steve: I like working with others because you can create something that is bigger than what each of you could achieve on your own. Very often, I have a clear vision of what I want to achieve and then work with others to refine it and add to it.
Kita: Is it performing or creation that really does it for you?
Steve: The two are very different. Creation can be very time-consuming and frustrating. You can’t rush it, and you have to trust that the ‘aha’ moment is around the corner. Performing is about working and preparing so that, when you are on stage, you have a laser focus that transmits your music and your lyrics. Working with a band, it’s about having the band work as a single organism that is responding effortlessly to each other.
Kita: Do you ever get stage fright? How do you deal with that, if you do?
Steve: I don’t get stage fright. Ever. A long time ago, I realize that if I practiced ahead of time, and had the confidence and focus when performing, the audience would accept me at that moment.
Kita: How about the day-to-day aspects of life? Is it rough to mix with your work?
Steve: I am predisposed to experience things creatively, and that is a nice tool to have. Actually applying creativity does take a certain mindset, a certain vulnerability.
Kita: How about the business side of art? Do you find they harmonize easily for you?
Steve: The business side is not nearly as much fun. Booking gigs, promoting oneself, using social media for marketing is just a necessary evil to be able to get your art out to people.
Kita: What are your biggest struggles or hardships relating to art? 
Steve: Having the discipline to regularly create a space where creativity is possible. Another struggle is to intentionally refine your art, to be able to offer something new to the world.
Kita: What were you goals when you first jumped into this? How about now?
Steve: To share my music with the world, to explore my own notion of creativity, have fun and make a few dollars here or there.
Kita: What's your favorite part of art? Least favorite?
Steve: I love the way art forces you to think, to reexamine your preconceptions. Ultimately, art can help create a larger, more inclusive world for you. Of course, sometimes art can be nothing more than enjoyment or a release from the stress one might feel. I am not too keen on that type of art though. And, sometime art can make you uncomfortable if pushes you into an area that is dark for you.
Kita: How do you find the music community has received you? How about the larger SLC area arts community?
Steve: Salt Lake has an amazing music community and I feel honored to be an active part of that. I feel very much like they are my extended family. I try to give back as well by hosting house concerts and working with IAMA, so there is a lot of good energy being shared. All of this is true of the larger arts community. We are truly blessed to have so much art available to you.
Kita: How about those closest to you?
Steve: I think my friends and family see how passionate I am about creating and performing music and, even they don’t always understand it, they respect me for it.
Kita: Do you enjoy working with others? What kind of settings do you enjoy doing so in?
Steve: I enjoy both leading a band and sitting in with others as well. Because of my education in music, it is easy for me to join another artist and play some leads with them. As soon as I understand the melody and chord structure, I am off to the races.
Kita: What's the typical process from start to finish of getting a song ready to go?
Steve: I usually start with a melody and a line or two of the chorus. That’s a little backwards for many people. From there I flesh out the melody and outline the verses so I can tell a complete story. After everything is fine-tuned, I play the song endlessly, tweak it more, until the song is really inside me. Then I get and perform it.
Kita: If you could go back and tell your beginner self one thing, what would it be?
Steve: Master finger-picking while you are young!
For more info on Steve and his band, check out:

If you have anyone else you'd like us to chat with, leave a comment below! 

Monday, October 21, 2013


                                                                            by Kita

 Kel-Z is a beautiful bubbly lady, with a big smile and a shock of blonde hair. A more positive soul is hard to find, but let's not forget she's pretty industrious, too. Her photography has taken the Salt Lake Valley, and even the Wasatch Front, by storm. With a keen eye, a camera in hand, and a surprising ability to create whatever she needs for a shoot, she's quickly become one of the most celebrated artists around. 
  Variety is a big part of her work. Even though Kel-Z herself is one of the most naturally cheerful people I've ever met, she's certainly never able to be pigeonholed. There's newborns, there's art, there's a huge swath of moods and settings. It all mixes together in her mind, and what comes out in the end is truly beautiful and unique. Variety doesn't just apply to her photography, though. It also covers her entire life. She paints, is a make up artist, and belly dances. 
  Almost everyone I've talked to in the area has nothing bad at all to say about this lovely lady. Her work is a mixture of all elements of life, a true catalog of the journeys that life can and often will take you on. In short, I could not more earnestly recommend you take a minute of your time to read this interview and check out the links to her work below! 

The Interview:

Kita: What first got you into photography? 

Kel-Z: A general art class that I took in College my first year. I actually had no idea I was good at it until this point. I always loved looking at old photos of my family and thinking how cool they always were. 

Kita: Why photography?

Kel-Z: You can change the mood of an image with just the flick of your finger, you can control the world your subject is in and the overall mood of the photo can be Powerful.

Kita: Where do you find most of your inspiration?

Kel-Z: I find a lot of inspiration from movies, music and other creative artists. Everyday objects as well. I once saw a grocery bag floating on the freeway and as the cars drove by it filled it with air and rose higher. That gave me the thought to make balloons out of those bags then a dress and then a whole recycle theme to a photo that you can see here:

Kita: Is finding models hard? Maybe finding people with the right "look"?

Kel-Z: There are always people wanting to shoot with me and I always pride myself on shooting real people, real sized people and women as my models. This world is always a good inspiration to me to create something unique and fun.It is very rare that a model doesn't fit what i'm looking for,  If no one is willing to model for me then I will use myself as a self portrait. 

Kita: What's the typical process of a photo shoot, from planning to releasing, like for you? 

Kel-Z: I get inspired and then contact a model. I usually shoot within one month of my inspiration. Shoots typically take 1-3 hours depending on type and then 2+ hours in post processing on the computer editing. I post and share images within 2 days of the final product being done. There are some ideas I have had for years and just are unable to work out a model for my vision or weather delays it etc. 

Kita: What are your biggest struggles?

Kel-Z: I feel like we are our own worst critics, I love shooting but finding the time to put in the time editing on the computer is my biggest struggle. And I really HATE to reschedule things due to weather!!! One of my pet peeves!!! Also gear is expensive and I always want the new cool toys... but it makes working for it and buying it that much better. I do have a hard time editing and doing computer work when My husband and dogs just want to cuddle and play!!!

Kita: What were your goals when you started?

Kel-Z: To make Very creative highly stylized photos that make people think when they look at them.

Kita: How about now?

Kel-Z: Making a living at photography in whatever way I can, As well as documenting people LIVING their lives and different stages of life. I find the everyday very interesting and documenting the times in which we live with MY twist on them. 

Kita: What other art forms have you tried? Have they influenced your photography at all?

Kel-Z: I am a self taught makeup artist, belly dancer and I dabble in abstract modern painting as well. The makeup have appeared in my photos and help me to keep seeing things in different ways. Painting has helped me know that I cannot fully control everything.  See a painting of mine here: dancing is something I have done since the age of 3 it comes so naturally to me it flows from me. I hear a beat and cant help but to MOVE!!

Kita: What's your favorite part of being a photographer?

Kel-Z: Creating something that will last many lifetimes. I see photography as any other form of art and the images I take now will be around for years!!! And have the potential to become classic in the art community. I love meeting new people and shooting a variety of people. I love to see families grow before my very lens!! I have shot some families for over 7 years now each year its so fun to see!!

Kita; Least favorite?

Kel-Z: Lugging around a almost 6 pound peice of equipment around my neck lol!!! I need a massage badly here soon!!! And when people copy my work to the tee. I am flattered that they love my work but re making a photo that someone has already created is just not cool!!

Kita: How do you find you've been received by the arts community along the Wasatch Front?

Kel-Z: I feel like I have been accepted by everyone. Lots of people know my work and knowing that people are looking at my work and looking forward to seeing what i'm coming up with next really drives me! 

Kita: How about the people closest to you? Are they supportive?

Kel-Z: I have the BEST family and friends who support me through and through. They attend my gallery showings, they encourage me to keep going, they always refer people to me as new clients and pass out my cards!!
Kita: With the recognition you've received, do you ever have weird experiences as a result? (Like running into fans in the grocery store, or similar) 

Kel-Z: Yes, I run into my fans ALL the time the most recent time was at Best Buy!! They recognize me from all my self portraits I have done!! I love it they are always so nice and encouraging and excited to meet me!! 
OK time for the weird experience... I was out shooting with a friend at the Great Salt Lake of me modeling in my belly dance costumes. There was a couple out in the water and I noticed their shoes were floating away in the water but they were too far for me to reach so I just let them float. I get a TEXT message a couple day s later asking me to return the shoes I had stole!!! The people had recognized me and went to my website to get my phone # to text message me. That was the only weird thing. It ended up being a BIG misunderstanding  and we are all over the lost shoes!! 

Kita: How do you find the balance between business stuff and art stuff to be? Is it rough maintaining both?

Kel-Z: Business stuff and art stuff is all the same for me. It is all work in one way or another as well as fun so I don't separate the two in my mind. Now work and personal life that's a whole other struggle!!

Kita: After everything you've gone through, if you could go back in time and tell your beginner self one thing, what would it be?

Kel-Z: This is what I tell people who are starting out in photography: Shoot everyday and edit everyday. Learn to shoot FILM and its processing in a dark room.( that show I started and so many of the techniques in editing apply directly to the dark room experience)   Learn the rules of lighting etc. and I find that my result is the same in 100 photos as it is in 400! Your time is valuable and make the most of it so you can produce quality work.

 I choose to mentor 1 new photographer a year or whenever I feel like I can teach someone for the better of the art form. I am SO proud of my girl Bridget who I mentored over that last couple years she is doing amazing fashion photography! See her stuff here:
And I am currently meeting with new photographers for mentoring sessions coming up the end of this month. That's the thing you can ALWAYS learn as well as get better no matter how experienced you are in your craft!!

Want to book a shoot? Purchase a print? Contact Kel-Z at

Be sure to check out her Facebook page here:

Have anyone else you'd like us to interview? Let us know in the comment section below!

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Cat Palmer

by: Mandy

If you live in the Salt Lake valley and are a follower of photography, then chances are you’ve heard the name Cat Palmer.  A veteran photographer and member of the local arts scene, Cat has taken part in the Utah Arts Festival and has shown her art in several galleries.  She is also the curator and director of the Urban Arts Gallery at the Gateway Mall in downtown Salt Lake City.  

When we arrive for our interview, she and several volunteers are in the midst of setting up the new “Day of the Dead” exhibit, coinciding with the Halloween season.  Though busy greeting patrons and directing volunteers, she is gracious enough to visit with us in between carrying out her duties.  

Not only is Cat in charge of the gallery, she runs her own photography business.  Aside from creating her own art pieces, she shoots weddings, engagements, families, and senior photos.  Already a success, the ambitious mother of two still has big plans for her future as a photographer, and we have no doubt those plans will be coming to fruition very soon.

Mandy: What kind of photography do you do?

Cat:  I’ve been shooting since I was fifteen, so if you want to do the math, that’s like eighteen, nineteen years ago.  I picked up a camera, I just started with black and white photography, shooting homeless people in the streets of L.A.  I grew up in California, I went to Orange Coast College.  I moved out to Utah, and I switched to digital right around 2006.  So my first exhibit picking up a camera was with film, and that was right at the end of 2003, and at first I was just taking pretty pictures for the sake of pretty pictures, and it wasn’t until 2006 that I started getting really politically angry, and I started focusing on political shooting.  I started getting worried about being known as a political photographer, because that certainly wasn’t what I wanted to be known for, and that was when the University of Utah had me come do their women’s week, because of politics.  I realized I was worried that that was all I was being known for.  I had done an anti-war series with a soldier in Afghanistan, and I did a “Peace to the Middle East” series, and so from there, I started focusing on women, because that was something I wanted to be known for.  I wanted to be known as an artist and photographer empowering women.  In 2007, I shot my nonviolence series, but I was still in the throes of being known as a political artist at that point.  In 2009, that’s when I started being known solely for empowering women, and I started doing these self esteem shoots.  I had thirty-something women get naked for me to do this whole, “Keep the Politicians Out of Our Vaginas” series, and with that instance, because it was a political shoot, but it had to do with women’s rights, I was okay with that.  I was okay being known for that.  So that’s kind of where I’m at as a photographer, but that’s just one side of it, that’s my artwork.  I have a second side, which is the business I run, where I shoot weddings, families, senior photos, just the regular cool and boring stuff.  So those are the two different things I do. 

Mandy:  When you first started doing photography, did you picture yourself where you are now?

Cat:  No, I’m much happier where I am now than where I pictured myself.  I was silly, I was a teenager.  I didn’t know what it meant to be a fashion photographer, but my dream was to be doing editorial, like the real fancy couture stuff, which is funny, because I have no fashion sense, and I kinda don’t give a stinking crud about the fashion world now.  I dabbled in it a little bit, I don’t know, seven or eight years ago, and I hated it.  So I stay out of it.  I think it’s not for me.  I feel like it undoes everything I’m trying to do for women, and it gives a very false sense of what beauty is.  It gives a very false sense of how you need to look perfect, and I hate the fashion world.  So I stay out of it.  I will dabble in it, when certain people ask me a certain favor, but you’ll notice all the big photographers in Salt Lake City are all mainly involved in the fashion world, and I hate it.  So that’s where I thought I would be at this point.  I also shot for SLUG for awhile, and for other magazines in the area, because I thought that would be really fun.  But I really sucked at it!  So, I realized my creative process is very specific to me, and it’s not always on.  Sometimes, it takes me six months to get my creative process on paper.  I thought it would be fun to shoot for SLUG, but I had to resign because I couldn’t turn my creativity on and off within 24 hours.  That’s a certain type of photographer that can do that; not me.  So no, that’s not where I’m at, and I’m in a much happier place, and I’m thankful that I’m not shooting fashion.

Mandy:  Do you have any goals or ideas of where you’d like to be now?

Cat:  I do, it’s funny. A couple of years ago, I realized I had met all my goals, and I thought, “I need new dreams.”  I had achieved the dreams I had always wanted to have, which was to be a mom. I was staying home with my kids at that time.  I was doing photography full time, which was where I wanted to be; a full time artist. I had quit my day job, I was a mom, I had two great little kids.  I was happy.  So it took me about a year to finally come up with my goals.  I really want to tour with an exhibit, I want to hit up some galleries in New York and L.A., and tour some major cities in between.  I finally have a body of work that I feel is worthy to tour.  It’s taken me a long time to get to that point, to where I feel it’s something I could submit and do.  At this point, my plate is too damn full, so I’m not in a position yet to do that.  I have it ready, I just need to find time to do that.  I’m hoping maybe in December or January, I’ll have that time.

Mandy:  I really liked your, “I Have a Secret” series.

Cat:  That’s the one I want to tour with.  I feel like it’s solid. 

Mandy:  How did you come up with the idea?

Cat:  I was pregnant with my first son years ago, and I started on it, just wanting to tell my own silly secrets, really dumb ones.  Like, “My husband does all the ironing and sewing,” or, “My floors used to give me anxiety, but now I let my kids eat off of them.”  Stuff like that.  Nothing terribly deep or dark.  As I was getting more into it, I realized I wanted to tell my bigger and darker secrets, the ones I didn’t want everyone to know.  The only way I could feasibly do that was to collect enough secrets from enough women that I could hide my secrets within the exhibit.  So it was literally self-serving, how I started it.  From there, it was just going to be my artwork, but I decided that could only be so interesting.  So I invited seven other female artists, pretty well known female artists, to come participate with me.  Once I had enough secrets, I would have them look through them, and they would decide which ones they wanted to make artwork out of. Years into this project, someone told me about PostSecret, and I looked that up, and it was really cool.  It’s a different project than what I’m doing, and it’s funny, because some people think I’ve ripped them off, but I live in a hole.  I don’t hear of things.  So I looked into that project, and it’s much cooler than what I’m doing! Mine’s female based, and people don’t send me in their cool little art projects.  I’m a marketing whore, and I printed up like, seven hundred postcards with my logo all over them, and so people would just send me those.  It’s a much different project, but it’s similar in that people are sharing secrets anonymously.  I did round two just recently, and I’m already into round three, so I’m always just collecting secrets. 

Kita:  As an artist, what would you say your biggest struggles have been?

Cat:  Oh wow. Well, a few of them.  I often feel like a fraud and like I don’t know what I’m doing. So, I always worry that people are going to call me out of that, or catch onto that.  Also, I was in a marriage where he was very jealous of my success in the art world, and I would hear negative comments about my work almost daily.  I almost walked away from it all a couple of years ago. So those have been huge struggles, and not having the support from my family and loved ones. My family thinks it’s really strange, what I do.  They don’t really understand it.  But as an artist, you have to realize you’re not creating work for other people and what they might like.  I do it because I enjoy it.  It does help other women, but I know the stuff I create, not everyone’s going to like it.  And that’s good, because then I feel like I’m doing something right.  If it creates controversy or upsets a few people, then I know I’m doing something right.  So those are some things I face.

Kita:  You mentioned that your family doesn’t really support you the way you’d like, but how about the arts community here?

Cat:  The arts community here is amazing.  Salt Lake City, if I really start talking and thinking about it, I will cry.  This is an amazing arts community.  My ex-husband and I were in the Arts Festival two summers ago, together.  He was an invited artist, and I was a regular juried in artist, and the arts community knew that we were going to need two of everything.  Most artists don’t have two of everything, so people came and would bring us things that we were going to need to our studio.  They’d say, “You’re going to need this, and you’re going to need that,” and so people were just dropping stuff off.  The day of set up and the day of shut down, people were just showing up to help us set up and take down.  We didn’t even ask them, they just showed up.  So I feel we have one of the strongest, tight-knit communities.  It’s not like this in L.A. or Orange County.  We just have an amazing group of people.  Recently, I wanted to raise some money for a supporter of mine.  She collects my work, and I’m her family photographer, and there was just a situation where I wanted to raise just a little bit of money, a tank of gas, for her, for this trip to a funeral.  The arts community came together, and we gave her three tanks of gas.  That was within thirty minutes of me posting it on facebook.  I had artists stopping by, and collectors, all just donating money to this woman they’d never met.

Mandy:  You were talking about how you were collaborating with other artists on the, “I Have a Secret” series.  Do you like to collaborate a lot?

Cat:  No, I actually don’t like to collaborate my personal work with anyone.  The only person I’ve collaborated with was my ex-husband, but I actually am not really fond of the idea.  I’m a little bit of a control freak, and I learned from collaborating with my ex that I’m really protective over my work.  He was a person that would give and take with his art, and he was able to be a reactionary person.  He never had an idea of exactly what it would be when it was finished.  He is a very very talented artist, the work he does is amazing.  I am a very particular, almost OCD type of person with my work.  I know exactly what I want it to look like when I’m finished, and I’m not a give and take artist.  So he and I just had really different styles of how we approached our artwork.  So I’m not really keen on collaborating my personal art.  I think if I wasn’t such a control freak, I’d probably be better at it.

Mandy:  What made you get into photography in the first place?

Cat:  You know, I don’t really remember exactly why.  I was just signing up for classes, when I was fifteen, in high school, and I just fell in love with it.  Our teacher “M,” M as in Mother…His last name was Muelmeister or something weird so nobody could say it, so we just called him “M.”  He was a really great teacher, and he taught at a college level, and my senior year I was taking two classes from him, and one was a freelance photography class, and he let me write my own curriculum that year.  I shot nudes for the first time, and he accepted it.  He was just amazing.  He got me turned onto Diane Arbus, said that my style reminded him of her.  So I checked out her stuff in a library book, since we did not have the internet back then. 

Kita:  Do you mostly just do photography? Or is there another job?

Cat:  I am the curator and director of the Urban Arts Gallery.  I basically book artists.  We run a program out of here; “Connect,” an arts program for artists.  I literally just do art, photography, and the gallery, so my whole world is art.  I don’t have a social life outside of it.  My only friends are within the art world.  I don’t even know what to do outside of this! 

To check out more of Cat Palmer's photography:

Upcoming Events:

Now - November 10: Day of the Dead Art Exhibit, Urban Arts Gallery. 137 S Rio Grande St, SLC inside the Gateway Mall  

Tue - Sat: 12:00 pm - 8:00 pm
Sun: 12:00 pm - 6:00 pm

October 18, 6pm: Opening Reception, Day of the Dead Art Exhibit

Is there an artist you'd like us to interview?  Questions or comments?  Let us know below.

Monday, October 14, 2013

Zell Lee

by Kita

Nestled in the SLC valley is a quickly growing business, providing some of the most intriguing and beautiful pieces of jewelry that I've ever seen under the name of Asana Natural Arts. It's the kind of jewelry that catches the eye, and makes you look twice. Those aren't fake. Real butterfly wings and beetle wings are assorted into some lovely shapes and patterns, perfect to wear as earrings, necklaces, or even to hang on the wall. The genius is born from the mind of Zell Lee, a petite firehouse, who started her own business and is well on her way on the road of success.
  Having grown up in an artsy family, Zell tried her hand at many different forms of art. Ever attracted to the thought of working with her hands, she tried piano, and even some carpentry. But the delicacy of working with butterflies appealed to her, and soon her work turned into jewelry making.
  For Zell, having her work recognized is one of the most satisfying sensations. Luckily, she's well on her way. With a keen business sense, and a work ethic to envy, she's quickly taking over the Wasatch front. You can find her jewelry in all sorts of shops. Don't make the mistake of assuming her to be too focused on the business. All of her butterflies live out their natural days on butterfly farms, something she stumbled across during a vacation.
  Keep reading for more information, and find out where you can get your very own jewelry by Zell Lee, owner of Asana Natural Arts.

The Interview:

Attacus Atlas Moth wing earrings
Model: Kimberly Bucki
Tetzloff Photography

Kita: Where do you first run into butterflies for art?

Zell: So the butterfly farm I ran into was while I was on a cruise, in Florida. It's in Key West. I graduated from BYU, and decided I was going to take myself on a trip, and my mom actually came with me. So we stumbled across the butterfly farm, and that was a really unique experience. It's really cool to see all these butterflies flying around you, and you can see them hatching. But afterwards, I walked into this gift shop, and it was gorgeous. They had all these butterflies in these cool displays. I was really inspired, and just moved. So I started with the butterfly art, and I branched out into these other things. But I just remember that feeling when I first saw it, and I wanted to get involved and be a part of that.

Mandy: Where do you get your supplies?

Zell: All over the world. So, I make info cards about every butterfly, and about the preservation farms. The farms are located in their natural environment, wherever they're from. Usually they span regions between several countries. The farms do a lot of good things for the butterflies. They protect the areas around the farms, and they'll collect eggs around the farm and lay them on leaves at the farm. Their survival rate goes from less than five percent in the wild, to over eighty percent at the farms. And then they release them back out, but butterflies live very short lives. A few weeks, or some live as short as a few days, so some will die on the farm before they are released, and those are the ones I get. It's all regulated by US Fish & Wildlife, and there's an international organization, C.I.T.E.S.. They regulate everything, and nothing I get is endangered.

Kita: How do they ship them?

Zell: The butterflies close up around their bodies. If I'm going to do a framed item, it's a really delicate process to spread the wings back open. You have to soften the wings, and then I'll use pliers. If I'm using it for jewelry, I can just break them off.

Mandy: How do you keep the shape?

Zell: They're all laminated. Now, I have my own machine, but I used to go to Fedex Office and use their machine for hours. I would keep to myself, and I wouldn't ask, because then they couldn't tell me no. That was before, when I wasn't making nearly as many. It's pretty thick, and I make sure it's a fully sealed border. For the hairclips, I make sure you can bend the whole thing and that it just pops back. You could never do that with a regular butterfly wing. The whole butterflies are the hardest, because lamination is static. I will place all the wings, and then you go to put the top down, but if you don't put it down fast enough, they'll just to the top of the page and move position. So that's the hardest part, getting them to stay symmetrical, and getting them to not touch each other during lamination, because I'll do a whole bunch at the same time. If you're going to cut them, you just have to a really fine hand, and make sure there's no jagged borders. I didn't think it took a whole lot of talent, until my mom helped me, and my sister, and they just butchered it. I'm the only one who can make my product the best.

Kita: If you're making the full body ones, and they do get messed up, is it hard to replace them?

Zell: Well, once you laminate it, it's permanent. So, before I ever laminate anything, I'll have to make sure it's perfect.

Kita: How do you get them to lay flat?

Zell: Well, I have a board that has a crack in it, so the body can sit in the crack. The whole wing is really fragile, but the colors can rub off if you brush it with your fingers or the pliers, so you just have to be really careful.

Kita: So how did you get into the jewelry making then?

Zell: Well, that's funny. I started the business making only framed items. That's what I thought was really unique. I didn't learn about butterfly farms until I stumbled across one on vacation once. I was so fascinated about it, that I started doing research on what people were doing with the butterflies. They had a gift shop, and would frame these butterflies, which was really pretty, but the more I looked into it, the more I realized butterfly artists only worked with other butterflies. I had been pressing flowers, and making my own frames, but I really wanted to combine all nature into one. So I would do my own flower arrangements, with a butterfly in it. That made it really unique, I've never seen it anywhere else. I started doing that with my mom, since she has a garden, and so much experience with the flower arrangements. She makes all of those now, since she makes them far better than I ever could. For a few years, I did some shows, and people would like the framed items, but they always asked for jewelry. I didn't want to jewelry, since I felt that everybody did jewelry, and that it wouldn't be as unique. I really resisted, but now I sell far more jewelry than anything else. I finally gave in, and the more jewelry I made, the more my business grew. I do like the jewelry now that I'm in it.

Kita: What were your goals when you finally gave in to doing jewelry?

Zell: When I started, I didn't really know what would happen. I've always worked with my hands. I love making stuff. I've been a seamstress since I was fourteen, I've made furniture, I've played piano. I love making stuff with my hands and working with my hands. I've always been an entrepreneur, too, and I felt this was a good niche, one that was unique and something that my mother and I could do. And then, interest grew, and I was selling lots and doing well. I still have a full time job, which makes my life crazy, but once I get my masters degree, I'm quitting my job and doing this full time. I basically do it full time already, but then I'll just have one full time job. My goal has definitely evolved, where it's not just something I do because I enjoy it, but I'm also making it my income.

Kita: Was there a turning point when you decided to make it a full time job, then?

Zell: Probably when I started making the jewelry. As time has progressed, I figure out what people want. I did realize something. Either you make something that you want, and it's more like a hobby, or if you want to turn it into a business, you have to make what other people want. So some of my favorite products don't sell nearly as much as the jewelry itself. Some of my favorite products are like, the decals, where I laminate the whole butterfly, but there's a sticky backing, so you pull it off and you can stick it to anything. I think they're really cool. I make drawer knobs, and the framed items. The things I thought were more artistic just don't sell, so the turning point really was when I decided, "Okay, if I want to make this a business, I need to make what people want more." And they're quality items, that people want more. They don't look for flower, butterfly frames, because they don't know it exists. So online sales is a totally different ballgame than local shows. If someone sees it at a local show, they might buy it on impulse even though they had no idea that butterfly art existed. Online, they have to search for it. So it's definitely a learning game, and once I learned to make what people want, and go in that direction, I was really able to make it more of a business.

Kita: How does having a normal job work with this as well? Is it hard to balance the two?

Model: Sienna Leilani
Sienna Leilani Photography

Zell: It is now. I had this great position, and it was really flexible, at the university I work at. Super, super flexible, so I could work on both at the same time, and they were okay with that because I always got my regular job done. But they made some changes, where the company moved me to a different location. Instead of being at a campus, where it was slower, I work for the online department, and we enroll ten times as many students. So, then my business kicked off, because I started doing farmers markets in May and June, and that's about when I got transitioned, so it's been stressful. I also bought a house, and moved in in June, and that was necessary. Before, we lived in an apartment, and it was very small, so when customers would come over, it would be infringing on all my roommates' space. It wasn't a good way to do business. I needed more space for my business, and so that's been good. I can have customers come over, I have them over a few times a week. If they're local, I'll tell them to save on shipping and come over to get them instead.

Kita: How about running the business side versus the creation? How do you find that to be?

Zell: It's a struggle. It's hard being a one man business because you wear all the hats, you have to do everything, you can't be lazy in anything. Especially legally. Not only paying taxes, but getting the butterflies. You need to be licensed to import them, so if I'm bringing them from out of the country, it's a lot of paperwork. So when I started ordering internationally, and contacting suppliers in China, it was crazy. I've learned a lot, even though it's kind of intimidating. I just had to learn by doing. But it's hard. There's parts I don't like. I bet every artist would agree, it's fun to do the art side of it, but not the business side. I hate figuring out the taxes, and doing all the paperwork. All that stuff, I put off. So it's definitely a struggle. I would like help sometimes, but the very few times I've reached out, it takes more time to teach someone to make it, and I could just make it myself, and make it better. So, at this time, I just do everything.

Kita: Do you have a favorite part of owning a business?

Zell: I would say that it's when I get positive feedback and when people recognize my stuff around. That's the most gratifying thing. Especially with butterflies. They have a lot of significance. They mean change, or growth, they're very common at weddings and funerals, where it's a big moment of change for people. So they're so important to a lot of people, and I feel like it has a lot of value to it. So I'm able to pass on this natural and beautiful things, it's a gratifying thing, for sure. People will email me butterfly stories, and it's really inspiring.

Kita: Do you talk and interact with a lot of local artists, or are you pretty isolated?

Zell: It depends. I have talked with a few other local artists. I follow Peach Treats the most, and have met with her, and she gave me advice since her business is farther along than mine is. I also talked with Kimiko, who does origami stuff. I tried organizing this art show, last year, around Christmas time. I was going to have this show in someone's house, with twelve artists, who were all going to invite their contacts and each have their table space, and we'd have a little party. There would be a DJ, and we'd serve wine. I thought this would be a really cool event. That was the strongest I ever pushed to work with other artists, and I pulled back pretty soon because, artists vary a lot, but they aren't always very professional. If they're doing it as a hobby, it's one thing, but if they're doing it as a business, like Peach Treats is, they're a very different person and they handle it very differently. So, very few were very serious and willing to do anything to help. Very few would contact me and help me advertise before, so after that, I backed up a little bit, because I'm still growing and developing my business. Every artist is kind of on their own level, so if you find someone on your level, that's great. So those are the ones I try to collaborate with the most.

Kita: What about the bigger arts community? Have you enjoyed your time playing around in that?

Zell: Yes, I went to a couple of events at the Utah Arts Alliance. Once a month, they do an artists connection night, and I brought some stuff, and you vote on your favorite thing of the night. An artist would be featured to do a speech, and that was pretty cool. Honestly, right now, I just don't have a lot of time to reach out. Once I don't have my day job, I will, and I want to reach out more locally. I definitely have a lot more interest after this summer, doing the farmers markets, and Craft Lake City. It's built up more of a customer base, and gotten me more into the arts scene and that's good.

Kita: So what's been your biggest struggle?

Zell: It goes back to what I was saying about not always being able to make what I want to make, and having to get things ready for shipping instead. I also miss having free time, to work on other art, like playing the piano. I just don't have time for anything anymore. It can be frustrating because right now in my current situation, I have less time for other things. It's pretty much regular job and art job.

Kita: So, I'm guessing since you worked on this with your family some, that they're pretty supportive?

Zell: Oh for sure. It's a good business, and all my family is happy about it. When my friends see how I've grown, they always comment when they come over. It's fun to share, too. I do enjoy it, and they're happy for me, and I'm happy in my life. For my mom, it's a really good way for us to talk and have something to share. I think she does it to support me.

Kita: When you transitioned from other butterfly art to the jewelry side, did you see yourself becoming so successful?

Zell: Oh yes. Just because there was so much more interest. The more I come out with new patterns and get more unique, I get more support. People are really enthusiastic about it. And definitely when I started making plugs, I didn't think that it would have such a demand. Because they're actually a really high demand, I get tons of custom orders, and I was really surprised by that because I hardly know anyone with stretched ears. I definitely want to expand on what I offer with my plugs. I think I can do better. I'm definitely going to get some custom plugs made for me where I can create a bigger variety, with other nature things. I just got some tunnels, and I've been experimenting with resin. I hate resin with a passion. I really got into lamination because it's a quick and easy way to preserve something forever. But with the tunnels and the plugs, I need to figure out better ways to make it more permanent and long lasting, and for that, resin is just better. I'm going to start adding in seahorses and beetles, and other things along with the butterfly wings. I'm just always looking for ways to make my product better. I'm getting more skillful and coming up with new designs, but also getting better in quality and make it better for the customers.

Kita: What got you into art in general?

Zell: Probably my mom. My parents were both very hard working, and would do anything themselves before ever paying someone else to do it, if they could. And my mom is a big seamstress, so I got that from her. We had a lot of fun days just sewing in the sewing room. She actually made all of our kids clothes when we were growing up. They were all hand made. And when I got to high school, I mean, I'm so little, that nothing ever fits me, so I would just buy something and go home and alter it to fit me. I would hire myself out for services, here in Salt Lake, I make peoples costumes. In high school, I used to make people's prom dresses more modest, you know, by adding sleeves. So that was really fun. I also really liked wood shop. It's just fun, making something with your hands, for yourself. It's going to be better quality, and cheaper, and much more meaningful.

Kita: So I hear a lot of people have butterfly phobias. Do you ever run into those people?

Zell: People generally love the butterfly art. There's only been one or two who said they didn't like butterflies, at least to my face. But, the beetle wings are a whole different story. Even though it's beautiful, it's so half and half. People will say, "Oh that's so rad, I want to wear those!" And the other half will say, "I just can't get over the fact that that's a beetle, that's gross!" So it varies. Most people like the butterflies, but everything else gets a mixed reaction. Everything I sell comes with an info card, and I think that's really helpful. It talks about the butterfly and the farms. People usually assume the worst, if they don't know, so if I don't have a lot of signage talking about them, they'll say things like, "Oh, that's fake!" or, "Oh, you kill butterflies!" I think it's important they know, especially if they're going to be wearing the jewelry, and other people are going to be talking to them about it, they can know what they're talking about. They can say that the butterfly came from a farm, and what kind of butterfly it is, and what country it's from. I think they get excited about what they're wearing, too.

To see more of her great work, check out her etsy:

Or even:

And don't forget to like her facebook:

Have anyone else you'd like us to chat with? Suggestions are taken in the comments below!

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Chris Madsen

by: Mandy

One day, a successful business man in his thirties picks up a camera.  Something inside him clicks (no pun intended), and a desire is awaked from deep within.  As a result, he turns his world upside down in pursuit of his new found passion for photography and visual art.  In short, he wipes his slate clean.  He decides to leave a company in which he has a partnership.  He sells his house.  And he doesn’t even know if he’s any good.  This isn’t a quirky movie plot.  This is Chris Madsen’s life. 
Kita and Mandy were lucky enough to sit down with Chris in his office at the Utah Arts Alliance, where he creates visual art pieces from his photography shoots, and runs his new business, Square Pixel, LLC.  He talked about the variety of techniques he uses to get his signature dark and cinematic looks.  We also chatted about what drove him to make such a drastic change in his life, and how it’s paid off.  We both agreed when we left that the man has guts of steel. 

Mandy:  You’re a photographer.  What kind of photography do you do?

Chris:  I would describe my photography as conceptual.  It’s hard to describe because I don’t think my work is like anyone’s work.  It’s a little bit conceptual, a little bit dark.  I try to create images that will tell a bit of a story.  They all have pretty strong feminine qualities to them.

Mandy:  Yes, I noticed most of your work is of females.  Is there a reason for that?

Chris:  99.9% of my work is female.  I get a lot of inspiration from early Renaissance images.  Just the curvy, beautiful women.  Also, everyone seems to appreciate women, even women.  85%, if not 90, of my sales are to women.  I don’t have very many men buyers. 

Mandy:  When did you first know that you were interested in photography?

Chris:  I picked up a camera for the first time in my life about three and a half years ago.  Something just clicked inside, like this was what I should be doing.  I was partners in a company that I left, and eventually sold out my stock in.  Got rid of my house, moved into an apartment, got a studio, and just kind of redirected my life.  It was kind of late in life, but something just finally clicked.

Mandy:  Were you into art in general?

Chris:  Not at all.  I had no interest in art.  I mean, I had gone to school for graphic design, so I guess layout, but I had no real interest in art as a whole.  I was never really into it.  It was a major turning point in my life.

Kita:  What made you pick it up then?

Chris:  I think it was in the days of MySpace, when you could look at any photographer’s profile, and they always had tons of pretty friends.  So I thought, “Oh, if you have a camera, then chicks dig you.”  I thought it would get me a lot more dates, which has not worked still, to this day.  But I’m pretty happy doing what I’m doing.

Mandy:  Did you have any goals when you first started?

Chris:  Well, when I first started, I had no idea.  I didn’t know anything about photography.  So after a while, when I realized that I really enjoyed creating these scenes, my goal became to get something into a gallery.  I probably had been shooting for less than a year, and I actually got the opportunity from Derek Dyer, the director of the Utah Arts Alliance, to display in one of their galleries downtown.  So I took, I think, three pieces and ended up selling one of them.  A pretty large one.  This guy was a passerby.  He was just walking downtown, by the gallery, and purchased it.  So that really sparked something in me to know that someone, somewhere, picked up a piece of my artwork, paid for it, and is hanging it in his house, looking at it every day.  You always kind of wonder what they’re thinking.  So those were my early goals.  Now, my goal is to make more, if not all of my living doing art.  It’s gotten to be maybe 20-30% of my income, and my goal is to make it 100%.

Mandy:  What else do you do?

Chris:  I’m a freelance graphic artist.  Mostly websites or retail packaging.

Mandy:  So from the time you take a picture to the finished product, do you do a lot of editing?

Chris:  Well, I shoot a couple of different styles.  I shoot digital, and they tend to be very heavily photo-shopped.  I can’t paint, but for me, I can sit down and create a scene the way I want to see it.  So even the term “photographer” is one I use very loosely.  I’m not so much a photographer as a visual artist.  I do a lot of other things, like Tintype, and/or Wet Plate Collodion, which is a technique from the 1800s.  I do Van Dyke Browns and cyanotypes, and I also shoot film, which, there is no editing process to. You get what you get.  So, I kind of jump back and forth with technologies.
Kita:  On a typical piece from beginning to end, what would you have to do to get it ready to show?

Chris:  You have a photo shoot. There can be a lot of time in that if you have to travel somewhere.  My process from there would be to come back and go through the images.  There may be several hundred from a shoot.  And what’s different from a commercial photographer, or someone who is shooting glamor, I’ll shoot five hundred images and I’m really only looking for one or two to work with.  I’m not creating an entire series. I’ll go through and find the ones I like, and I’ll start editing them.  I can typically spend four or five hours on a single image. You can end up with two hundred layers on a Photoshop file.  I really kind of just geek out at that point.  I’ll have my music on and just really get into it.  And sometimes you get hours into it, decide you’ve created some garbage, and delete it.  That happens pretty often.  So once you have the image created then it’s basically just getting it printed and framed.

Kita:  So how did you learn those older techniques you do?

Chris:  By just making stuff up.  I probably do so many things wrong, but it works for me.  I would buy books, YouTube videos; ask a lot of questions to people who were in the industry.  But a lot of it comes down to making it up.  For me, there’s not a typical editing process.  I would say there are maybe one or two things that I tend to do consistently, but most things I’m constantly just making up.  

Mandy:  You mentioned women already; do you have any other main inspirations?

Chris:  Well, I think women’s curves are beautiful.  I think a woman, her body can be so mysterious, but I wouldn’t say that my inspiration really comes directly from women.  It comes from a lot of stuff.  It comes from movies, music videos, when I’m editing, the music I’m listening to, the person that I’m working with, and what I’m seeing in them as I’m working with them.  So inspiration comes from so many places.  I’m inspired by a lot of other artists.  I spend a lot of time looking at other artists’ work that I admire.

Mandy:  Do you ever collaborate?

Chris:  I’ve used pieces for inspiration, or I’ve used pieces in the images, like jewelry, like Carrie Wakefield.  But as far as an actual collaboration where we sit down and work on the piece together?  No.  I’d be open to it, but one thing about my process being so scattered and inconsistent is that it does make it harder to do that.
Mandy:  What do you think about the art scene in Salt Lake?

Chris:  I think Salt Lake as a whole is a very fickle and unsupportive place.  I think the art scene is definitely improving.  I’ve noticed it from having a lot of friends in local bands and all the art stuff here, people just don’t support like they do in other places.  When I’ve been to gallery shows in other states, people are pretty excited about it and want to support it.  In Utah, you have those people, but not as much.  Also, Utah is a very clique-y place. You have this little group of artists here, and that little group of artists there, and they don’t really communicate.  They don’t share ideas; they’re not as friendly with each other.  There are a lot of big egos in Utah.

Mandy:  What would you say is your biggest obstacle?

Chris:  I think every artist will wrestle with wondering if he’s creating good enough work.  You become very self-critical as an artist.  You’re putting your work out there to basically be ripped to shreds by the public.  Basically, the better you get and the more known you get; the more people want to tell you vocally how much they hate you.  In a way, you know when you start having more and more haters, you know you’re making some waves.  It still doesn’t feel good when someone doesn’t like your work, because you’re putting your heart and soul into it.  I think every artist deals with that.  And then financially, I’d love to travel more, and shoot bigger concepts.  I’d love to have more gear.  It’s definitely not making me rich.  But it is helping me with my income.

Mandy:  Are the people in your life supportive?

Chris:  I actually have a lot of people in my life who are very supportive.  And actually it’s really nice, because I was in my thirties, late thirties even, when I decided I was going to be an artist out of nowhere.  And my family has been very supportive, and I have a lot of supportive friends.  I was lucky enough to have met Derek Dyer with the Utah Arts Alliance, which is where my studio is.  It’s a very supportive environment.  You’re around a bunch of creative people who care about art.

Mandy:  What would you be doing if you weren’t doing this?

Chris:  I have no idea.  I worked in manufacturing before I did this.  Before that, I worked in construction.  I’d probably just be designing.  That’s okay, it’s not a bad thing to do for a living, but it doesn’t inspire me like art does.

You can check out more of Chris’s art here:

Upcoming Events:

October 18, 7-10 pm  – An October Evening multi-arts show – Salt Lake Masonic Temple, 650 East South Temple, Salt Lake City

November  1, 5 pm-12 am – First Friday Las Vegas – Downtown Las Vegas Arts District
If you'd like us to interview a certain artist, or have something else to say, leave a comment below!