Amy Karpowitz upcycles salvaged watch gears and other metallic minutiae in order to create steampunk jewelry. Photo: John Barkiple
Though it’s fun for me to meander through the Utah Arts Festival and form my own interpretations and criticisms about what I see, it’s a fascinating process to get the artist’s perspective on his/her work. Whenever I take the time to talk with an exhibitor while surrounded by his/her blood, sweat and tears made manifest through a wide variety of media, I always walk away with a deeper perspective. Like the eponymous Illustrated Man from Ray Bradbury’s collection of short stories, each picture, sculpture or piece of jewelry represents some unique history about the artist.
For the past three years, Amy Karpowitz has been upcycling salvaged watch gears and other metallic minutiae in order to create steampunk jewelry. She started with pendants, but has since expanded her arsenal to rings, money clips and even pocket knives. Desarae Lee specializes in hypnotic Gorey-esque ink sketches and watercolor portraits. Her work encompasses everything from gothic Victorian to circa 1960s science fiction. Eleanor Scholz burns amazingly detailed geometric designs into squares of wood, which typically elicits a double take from passersby. Her talents have not gone unnoticed by SLUG Magazine—Eleanor is also one of our artistic designers.
This year, I had the pleasure of chatting with these local ladies about their secret origin stories, the Utah art scene and staying inspired when the well of creativity seems to dry up.
SLUG: Was there a pivotal moment in your life when you knew you wanted to become an artist?
Karpowitz: Three years ago, I had discovered steampunk jewelry. I showed my boyfriend some pieces that I liked, and he told me that I could do that. I thought he was crazy, but he taught me a few metalworking techniques and we scavenged for some materials to work with. I made a bunch for my friends around Christmas, but I had so many left over that I decided to open up shop.
Lee: That’s a huge question! There wasn’t really a moment—I feel like I was born making things. I was the one who drew unicorns for my friends when I was younger! It hasn’t always been my ambition to be an artist—that came about during the last few years. I couldn’t stop making stuff! What I was doing in my spare time became what I wanted to do full time.
Scholz: I’ve always been in love with art and artists, but didn’t realize that I could do it until college. I took a digital media course and excelled at that in a way that I didn’t expect. I participated in a show that provided us wood panels and required us to make something out of them. I sketched on mine, and people would ask me if they were wood burnings, so I bought a wood burning tool and never went back. It’s like drawing, but more fun. It smells good, it has texture and sensations that drawings don’t. I also like the connection that it has to folk art.
SLUG: Do you plan your work out in advance, or does it evolve organically?
Karpowitz: For me, it’s about putting the right shapes together. Some of them I take apart, and some of them I build upon. Some start as a blank canvas, and I’ll match each gear until it looks right. Each piece has a lot of thought put into it.
Lee: Sometimes I’ll just have an amazing idea. For example, the piece with Jesus saving a one-armed Wampa came to me in the shower. Usually it’s much more subconscious. I’ll have bits of inspiration in my head, but it all comes together as I’m drawing. I just want to communicate with people, and this is how I do it. I’m not great at speaking or writing, but this is how I can get all the ideas in my head out to reach others, which I think is the goal of most artists.
Scholz: I start with a basic sketch of circles and angles. Then it’s just about massive repetition. The more the pattern is repeated the more complex, intricate and beautiful it gets. It comes naturally. I’ll sit with my compass and protractor which give me lines and designs, which gives me something to work from. I tend to build my designs around what I’ve already drawn.
SLUG: What helps influence you and keep you inspired?
Karpowitz: My inspiration comes from the shape of the gears and other materials that I work with. I started with the big pendants, but the more scraps I found, the more I branched out. I don’t have a set gameplan—I just put the pieces together in a way that looks good to me.
Lee: When I’m seeking inspiration, I look at vintage photographs. Most of them come to me subconsciously. I feel like if I think about it too much it will ruin it. I’ve noticed that a lot of personal symbolism—masks, cages, octopi—comes through in my pieces. I think those things symbolize something to me, however, I’m not sure what!
Scholz: Once I look over my work, I can see that they bear similarities to several different art forms, like Buddhist mandalas, Islamic mosaics and Christian stained-glass. I also share a studio with other artists, which definitely helps. I’ve found that sometimes I have to get away from making art. If art takes over, I stop feeling inspired, so I have to give myself breaks.
SLUG: What makes Utah’s artistic community unique?
Karpowitz: The people involved really put in an effort to make the art scene bigger and better. Whenever I go to an art show, I always see something that I need to have. That’s what’s great about Utah. I’m glad I was here when I decided to get into creating jewelry!
Lee: I love the people that run the Arts Festival. Everybody here is so nice and centered around the artists. Even though it’s a bigger festival, I still feel like I’m on a personal level with people who run it. Utah is full of talented and creative people. I’ve never really lived anywhere else so I don’t know if it’s like that everywhere, but there are some very talented artists living here—especially in Salt Lake.
Scholz: I like participating in the Arts Festival because everyone has a different background that they tend to project in their work. I also learn a lot about people based on how they respond to my work.
For a closer look and contact information, check out the following websites, and find more photos of the Utah Arts Festival artist booths here: