Cozy, soft, and colorful. Three words that instantly evoke warmth, much like the rainbow wall hangings we are currently obsessing over. And today, we’re pleased to bring you behind the scenes of the maker who’s responsible for the best fiber rainbows this side of the internet! Meet Mandi Smethells — artist, mother, and color-lover.
Anjelika Temple here, Founding Partner and Chief Creative Officer at Brit + Co, and lifelong fan of all things fiber and rainbow. As part of our Holiday Shop in partnership with Etsy, we spent hours curating our favorite pieces and giftable items for the season, and time and time again, Smethells’ gorgeous weavings found their way to the tops of everyone’s lists. Today, I’m excited to be able to share more about this weaver’s creative process, her career path before donning the title “full-time artist,” and how her daughters inspire her to make beautiful things on the daily.
Brit + Co: First, the basics. Where are you from? What did you study? Ground us in your roots.
MS: I live and work out of my home in St Paul, MN. I am originally from Minnesota, but studied art in college in Wisconsin. I graduated with a degree in Fine Art with an emphasis in printmaking from the University of Wisconsin- Eau Claire in 2004. After nine years living in Wisconsin and Minnesota, my husband and I moved to Minnesota in 2013. We have two daughters, ages seven and 1.5. We live in a 1920s bungalow with our cats and a dog.
B+C: Did you always know that you wanted to be a professional artist?
MS: I have always known I have a passion for art, but I did not consider it as career path until a year into college. After I graduated, however, I struggled to find a way to apply my art degree to a career. Where I am now, working as a full-time artist, was always a dream, but most of my adult life I wasn’t sure it would ever happen. It took many years of balancing a full-time job with art making to get me here.
B+C: I realize the term is a little outdated, but do you have a day job? Or are you a full-time artist?
MS: I did for a very long time, up until Feb of 2018. Now I am proud to say I am a full-time artist.
B+C: What types of day jobs did you have before you were able to focus fully on art? Tell us about your career path.
MS: Shortly after graduating, I began working in retail. Eventually this led me to working for a fantastic Minnesota based modern furniture company. I spent five years there, and did find the process of working with textiles, color and pattern to be very creatively inspiring. I would even say that is what motivated me to start creating art much more frequently than I had in the years after graduating.
B+C: What was the turning point like when you realized you could dedicate your time wholly to your artwork? Was it scary taking that chance on yourself?
MS: Eventually I was working so many hours outside of my full-time job, and combined with motherhood, I barely had a moment to breathe. While I fully enjoyed everything I was doing, it was becoming increasingly obvious, with my art business rapidly growing, I had to make a choice. At that point, I had probably waited longer than necessary, so I was relieved to be making a choice that would bring more balance to my life, and allow me a little more creative freedom with my time. There were moments it was scary… mostly because others were scared for me! But I was pretty confident in myself.
B+C: Why do you love to make things? What’s your north star?
MS: When I am not making things, I am thinking about making things. I have a beautiful sense of calm when I am working… it is very pleasurable. I also find immense joy in making objects that bring others joy.
B+C: Tell me more about what drew you to weaving. And how did you hone in on your specific aesthetic and style?
MS: I have always been attracted to fiber and textiles but never found a craft that I felt I could be creative in the way I wanted to be. I started weaving on a whim, after my twin sister showed me some woven wall hangings she was admiring. I decided to try to make one and was instantly obsessed. I have spent countless hours working with fiber: experimenting, making mistakes, exploring color. My motivation is to make something new for the world to enjoy.
B+C: On your website, you mention your daughters as inspiration. Tell us more about that.
MS: Having children, especially as they get older and start to interact with the world, has changed my view on art. I watch their reactions to seeing new pieces I make, and I strive always to get a smile, a “wow!” or a “I want that.” They are so honest with their reactions, and it is just a human reaction to something joyful or beautiful. They aren’t thinking if something is sophisticated or not; they just tell me if it makes their heart skip a beat, and that has inspired me to make beautiful things.
B+C: What advice do you have for artists and designers considering making products and selling them on Etsy?
MS: My biggest piece of advice is to make something that has personal meaning for you, and that is your own design. The most rewarding part of my job is that my biggest source of inspiration surrounds me: my life. I don’t need to look much further, and that enriches my entire existence. Unique items (and you are a unique person!) will stand out on a busy marketplace like Etsy.
Favorite Quote: “More coffee please”-Me
Trivia About You: I wanted to be an entomologist when I was in high school.
Go-To Karaoke Song: "Zombie" by The Cranberries
Favorite Art Tool: Yarn!
Late Night Snack: Pretzels
Currently Reading: The Girl With the Lower Back Tattoo Amy Schumer
B+C: When you get creatively blocked or burnt out, how do you reset? Do you have tips you can share?
MS: I go to a thrift store or a craft store to look for an new unique material I have never used before. Avoid looking at artists in the same medium, try to find something inspiring outside of art… nature, fashion, music.
B+C: If you could give younger you a piece of advice, what would it be?
MS: Everything you do, every job you take, every skill you learn, even if it seems like a waste of time… you will value it someday and it will contribute to what you become.
I think we could all use a few more fiber rainbows in our lives :) To learn more about Smethells, head to MandiSmethells.com or check out her Etsy shop. Some of our favorite shoppable items are below!
Earthy and Knotted Fiber Rainbow Wall Hanging
Colorful Rainbow Patch Iron On Embroidered
12" Rainbow Fiber Swirl
Bright Fiber Arch Statement Necklace "Sunbow"
Handpainted Watercolor Wabi Sabi Rainbow
Fiber Art Rainbow "Blue Lagoon"
Whimsical Fiber Art Mobile with Rainbow, Sun and Rain Cloud
Pastel Large Fiber Rainbow Wall Hanging with Pom Poms
You can shop more joyful goodies in our curated Holiday Shop. And for more maker inspiration, check out the Creative Crushin' archive and stay tuned for our next edition. Happy making, shopping, and holiday-ing!
Author: Anjelika Temple (Photos courtesy of Mandi Smethells)
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