*Note: First appeared on Quail Bell Magazine June 24th, 2015. Images and Artwork by Shannon Chrisman. Follow her work on Facebook!
If you were to sit down in Shannon Chrisman’s work-space, you’d find the table covered with amethysts, garnets, labradorite, cat’s eye beads (maybe an actual cat as well), and other precious gemstones. They’re all anxiously awaiting to become anything from earrings to a true statement necklace (come on, what’s a bigger statement than a copper lion with champagne cubic zirconia eyes?).Previously known as Crayons to Canvas, Aywen Creations officially opened in 2014 after Chrisman decided to move from her melted crayon art to professional jewelry. Drawn from fantasy and mythology, Aywen Creations’ Etsy page offers everything from everyday wear to custom engagement and wedding bands.
I talked with Chrisman about everything from her creative process, the inspiration for her work, and future plans for the shop:
When did you decide to become an artist and crafter?
I grew up in an artistic family, where creativity was never squandered. My mother was a well-known soft doll artist when I grew up and now works in the fiber arts. I suppose I’ve always wanted to be an artist like my mom. I idolized her work growing up (I even tried to teach myself to sew at the age of five) and have learned every skill that has caught my eye since.
What’s the average age of your customers?
There really isn’t an average age when it comes to my customers. I have multiple customers in their teens to their fifties! I am lucky to have so many supportive friends and customers.
Who’s a jewelry-maker you admire?
My mind immediately goes to SoMK from Deviantart. Her fantasy pieces inspire me deeply and I hope to own one of her works one day.
What kind of statement does your jewelry make on those that wear it?
Of course, I don’t want to misrepresent my clients or myself, but I would like to believe that my jewelry gives one an ethereal feeling, bringing fantasy to the real world. I want all of those that wear my jewelry to feel like a Faerie or an Elvish princess, which is the way my imagination saw each piece as I created them.
Where did you learn to make jewelry?I’m quite proud to say that I am, for the most part, self-taught. I learned by studying other artists’ works and applying it my own projects. I did learn a lot from the craft books that I picked up at Barnes and Noble (when I could afford them) and I took one class at The Visual Arts Center in Richmond, VA.
Why is art important in the world?
Oh, don’t get me started! I could rant about the arts and their undeniable importance for hours! The arts- ALL of them- allow for creativity to be released in incredible ways. What person wants to live in a dull, tasteless world? It is so important that parents allow their children to express themselves from a young age. Art is freeing and relaxing. So much of who I am as a person came from the arts. I’m an advocate to keep the arts alive in schools across the nation. I personally would have never made it through school -possibly even this far in life- without the music, literature, crafting and dancing that kept me going. The arts make people happy. The act of participating and enjoying releases endorphin’s in our brains that make us happy. Who would deny a person of that? I’ll stop here, simply because I could rant tirelessly forever on the subject. *Laughs *
Your jewelry doesn’t seem to follow any specific fashion trends. Why is that?I’ve never wanted my work to look like it was store bought or machine made. I want my pieces to be completely unique and one-of-a-kind. That’s what makes them so special to my customers. They often reflect one’s personality. I love that I can offer that. I love that all of my clients can have a piece of art that reflects themselves.You used to do melted crayon art on canvases, and then you began making your crayon art jewelry. At what point did you know you wanted to make professional jewelry?
Originally, the canvas art was a hobby that I enjoyed, which allowed me to de-stress. It inspired me to come up with the idea of cutting up pieces of the melted crayon art and inserting them in jewelry bezels. I was quite relaxing and it helped me financially… but it soon caught on as a fad on Etsy, the site where I post most of my work. My relaxing hobby was now a competition I wanted no part of. I gave up my unique style and decided it was time to focus on my dream career. I wanted to make high-quality pieces to last a life time. I wanted to create beautiful pieces that had meaning, such as an engagement ring, and experience the stories and the emotions of a soon-to-be husband or wife. I knew what I wanted to do with my life, and once I committed, I never looked back.
What is your favorite piece you’ve made to date?I would have to say “Jardin de la fée”. It was one of my first pieces and I have always been so proud of it.
What does “Aywen” mean?
Aywen is my pen name. I have used it for many years and it has a lot of personal significance to me. When it was time to make a name for the new business, I still wanted my real name to be anonymous, but I wanted those I’ve met online over the years to know it was me.
What’s something you’d tell aspiring artists and crafters?
Disregard mortal bindings such as money and peer pressure. If arts and crafts make you happy, then pursue them. They are a hobby to some and a way of life for others. Don’t let your creative spark go out.
You’re an advocate for small business. Have you always been supportive of buying from small business, or was it after starting your own?Because I was raised as an artist’s daughter, I have always been supportive for small businesses. It wasn’t until I owned one for myself that I understood how very real the struggles are and how heartbreaking they can be. I now buy handmade gifts for the Holidays and support other small businesses in what ways I can.
What are some frustrations you’ve had to deal with involving your craft or picky customers?
I have been lucky so far. I am hearing horror stories about picky customers on a daily bases, but so far the worst customer I had simply did not buy a piece I custom made for her. I have learned to always take a down payment for that reason. The most frustrating thing I have had to deal with regarding my craft was definitely the first month of work. I was self-taught and lost- at least- $200 in materials from my mistakes. However, I have learned and have not made such mistakes since.
What is your creative process for thinking of new designs?
Most of my designs are fantasy and lore related, so I like to do some research before I begin. Being a gamer girl has majorly helped my imagination flourish as well!
A lot of your work is inspired by folklore, science fiction, and mythology. What draws you to these topics and how do your translate them into your work?I have always been drawn to the fantasy genre. Most of my teen years were spent immersed in a fantasy book, playing fantasy games, drawing, or studying history and mythology. I don’t know how to describe the transition- It truly is a part of my imagination that I form into reality.Where else do you look for inspiration?
Nature. Skyline Drive in the mountains. Waterfalls and Weeping Willows. So many inspiring things can be found in nature. Just be sure to enjoy the view along the way.
What’s your ultimate goal?
I try not to give myself long-term goals because I am easily disheartened by my failures. My current goals for the next two years include getting my jewelry into storefronts in Nags Head and Hampton, expanding my inventory so that I always have at least eighty pieces on hand, and to -one day- open my own small studio and storefront.