The calendar is flipping to December, and that means we're close to reaching the peak of the holiday shopping season. If you're stumped on gift ideas, head to The Joe this Sat. Dec. 1, for City Paper's second annual Crafty Bastards fair. Dozens of independent artisans and makers will be on site selling handcrafted art and goods, from pottery and jewelry to textiles and candles.
We talked to nine of this year's local vendors about their work and what inspires them and their creative process. Here's what they had to say.
- Ruta Smith
- Danielle Fabrega is the face behind The Town Serif, A whimsical line of stationary and gift items
The Town Serif
Danielle Fabrega, creator of The Town Serif, is all about keeping it local. Her creative model is based on the mantra of "love where you live." Her handmade gifts and paper products celebrate life in the Lowcountry and beyond, with a mishmash of other playful pieces. A brightly colored handmade print of the Charleston peninsula, holiday cards with a Charleston cityscape enclosed in a snow globe, a magnolia flower keychain, and an enamel pin depicting a bag of stone ground grits are just a handful of the items you'll find in her collection. "Initially all of my products were Charleston-based, but now they've kind of evolved into more of a whimsical line of stationary and gift items," she says. "I think it's really important for people to shop local and shop small. I love, as a recipient of gifts, getting something that feels custom and handmade as opposed to mass-produced goods. I think it's a special touch."
- Kim Graham
The Town Serif started as a made-to-order calligraphy business following Fabrega's own wedding in 2013. She looked at the calligraphy embellished envelopes she'd ordered and inspiration struck. "I started taking online classes and taught myself everything I know. It took lots and lots of practice. At first this was just a side hustle." She'd been working in advertising and now found herself balancing a career, her calligraphy venture, and motherhood. After her second child was born, she decided to become a full-time creative.
- Ruta Smith
Over the years, The Town Serif has evolved into a three-prong business encompassing calligraphy, workshops, and a product line. With Charleston's reputation as a premier wedding destination, it's no wonder that calligraphy is The Town Serif's bread and butter. Her workshops give her the chance to share her craft with others. "I love hands-on interaction with the community," she says. At Crafty Bastards, Fabrega plans to highlight her product line: "My goal is to create more of my products which is why I'm excited to do holiday markets like Crafty Bastards. It allows me to get out there and see how customers respond to and interact with what I make. I was able to do it last year, and I'm excited to do it again."
- Alison Ross’ wire creations are inspired by the lines in nature
Alison Brynn Ross Illustration & Design
Alison Ross quickly realized that she was not suited for the traditional 9-to-5 corporate job in a cubicle. Although she still does graphic design and illustration work on a freelance basis, Ross' three-dimensional wire taxidermy animals are her main creative focus. The pieces combine Ross' comfort with using wire as a medium and her lifelong affinity for nature.
"Wire is something I've played with off and on. It's kind of taking line drawing into three dimensions. It's just a medium that's always made sense to me," she says. "I've always loved animals. I was a kid whose mom got her VHS documentaries, and that was the highlight of Christmas. So just the lines of nature have always interested me."
Achieving a minimalist aesthetic is key for Ross, and she has strived to cut down the amount of wire she uses while still retaining the clarity of her designs.
"I think the wire creates a really nice simple and modern aesthetic where you can kind of capture the character of the animals," she says. "I try to keep things as simple as possible. So over the years, pieces have gotten more simple to try to capture as much of the character of the animal as I can without having a distracting amount of wire."
Despite the intricacy and detail that is on display in all of Ross' pieces, she has a relatively straightforward process for all of her designs. Ross uses steel wire and opts to hand twist all of her shapes rather than using heat and soldering. And instead of sketching out her designs, she mostly relies on freeform.
"The simplest way is I'll build a profile first, and using the concept of bilateral symmetry I'll flesh them out more," she says.
The personal connections that people have with specific animals and the responses they can evoke have been central to the success of Ross' wire taxidermy.
"You know how everyone says they have a 'spirit animal,' so there are certain animals that just speak to people," Ross says. "It's funny because there aren't always specific animals that always sell. But one person will want a flying squirrel, and one person will want an armadillo. It's always interesting to have those conversations with people and have the ability to bring them to life for people."
Ross takes commissions — "I don't do people, and I don't do words, but other than that, it's pretty wide open," she says — and, perhaps unsurprisingly, people's pets are a popular request.
"I do people's pets quite often, which is cool. I've done a full-bodied longhair dachshund and the heads of dogs who have passed away," she says. "So that one is very common."
As for her most unique requests, Ross says that while the aforementioned armadillo was "a little weird," many of her strangest designs are ones she comes up with herself.
"I have a scorpion," she says. "Insects are already quite different, because they don't have the same flow that mammals and birds have. I also did a parachuting squirrel. Someone had mentioned a squirrel to me, and I was trying to do a hot air balloon, and that didn't work, so he got a parachute."
- Sarah Kay returns to crafty bastards after participating last year
Penelope Design Studio
When Sarah Kay needed to find a creative outlet after moving to Charleston for a job, she referred back to her favorite class in college: metalsmithing. Kay, who graduated from Appalachian State as a studio art and art education major, began designing handmade earrings and necklaces under the moniker Penelope Design Studio.
So, who's Penelope?
"Penelope was actually my first dog that I adopted in Charleston," Kay says. "I found her on the street, and she actually passed away a year before I started this jewelry. I was trying to come up with a name for it, and it just kind of fit. I love thinking of her every day when I am making it.
"Everyone thinks it's my name. I wish it was my name! I wish my name was Penelope," she adds with a laugh.
Kay's jewelry is crafted from leather, suede, and cooper wire — materials she appreciates due to their versatility.
"You can really make anything with them," she says. "I primarily do tassels and just love that I can make a twist on modern jewelry. You see the regular tassels around, and I wanted to do a modern twist, a little more bold."
For Kay, the people and city of Charleston serve as daily inspiration for her work.
"I think it harbors the creative spirit in everybody," she says.
And that's part of why Kay is excited to return to Crafty Bastards, after participating last year.
"It was a really great turnout, and I loved meeting the other local artists in the Lowcountry," she says. "It's good to have everyone get together and meet new people and see how we can collaborate. I think that's a big part of the art community in Charleston."
- Ceane Bowers says that the pieces she uses in her work often ‘speak to her’
Deane V Bowers Art
Deane Bowers calls what she does "Eco-friendly and environmentally responsible folk art," but her work has a simple beauty that goes beyond that description. She takes discarded items like bits of metal, bottle caps, nails, metal scraps, nuts, bolts, washers, screws, and old cans and repurposes them, cleaning, sanitizing, and polishing them until they are shining works of art.
Interestingly enough, Bowers began as a more traditional artist, painting and later moving into ceramics. "I got to this point where ceramics were just too expensive," she says. "You're buying these 25-pound bags of clay, you're running a kiln, you're buying glazer, there's so much money piled into the pre-game before you've even made anything. And I just got so burned out and I felt like I was making a bunch of tchotchkes for people. And I wanted to find a medium that had a social benefit as well."
Found objects became her chosen form of expression back in 2005 on a weekend getaway that initially seemed to be ruined.
"We thought it was going to be beautiful, and it turned out that it rained the whole time," Bowers says. "I went out in the rain and started walking around and discovered the coolest metal wire and bottle caps in the parking lot, and I started playing with them. And it was so freeing."
Much of what Bowers gathers for her art today has been left behind by Charleston's rampant construction and development.
"I'm so much more in tune with what's going on with development in Charleston and what's left behind on a daily basis," she says. "This is stuff that's going into the waterways if it isn't picked up, and it's going to cause a lot of trouble."
As for how she finds what will work as a piece of art, Bowers makes the process sound somewhat mystical.
"It speaks to me and I have to go back and pick it up," she says. "I've been driving down the road and seen a big piece of metal and literally done a U-turn and gone back to pick it up. I always say the objects tend to find me. I'm drawn to something, but I don't know how I'm going to use it."
Ultimately, she says her work is about second chances, just like the artistic one that found objects gave her.
"I just want people to see that even the most twisted piece of metal or road-worn bottle cap or piece of wire all has value," she says, "and it all can have a second life that can be completely different than its original purpose."
- Ruta Smith
Hillary King's pH reclaimed stemmed from working in historic preservation, where she often saw wood being thrown away because it was no longer suitable for its original purpose. Instead of continuing to discard that material, however, King was inspired to transform it into something new.
"I really wanted to find a way to reuse this material, so I picked up some tools and started making things," she says. "Sentimentally, I love the idea of having these small pieces of historic buildings going out into the world to serve a second, useful purpose."
King mostly makes pieces for the home, ranging from custom tables and carved wooden spoons to cocktail muddlers and ornaments. She had no prior experience woodworking, but learned the craft through resources available online and in the library.
"I also took a woodturning class with local woodturner Ashley Harwood," King says. "The class was a fantastic introduction to turning and had me immediately hooked."
In addition to sourcing reclaimed wood from preservation sites, King uses offcuts from other woodworkers' projects that are no longer useful to them, the occasional log from a tree removal, and pieces from discarded hardwood furniture.
"Basically any wood that I'm able to repurpose and prevent from ending in a landfill is fair game," she says.
Through pH reclaimed, King aims to prevent useful materials from being sent to landfills while also highlighting Charleston's history.
"I have really enjoyed working on a series of serving boards inspired by historic Charleston architecture," she says. "It has been such a fun way to combine preservation and woodworking."
As for the chosen name of pH reclaimed, King says the "p" is a nod to her husband, Philip.
"[He] was a great help talking through designs and helping me lug materials back home. When it came time to start a business, I thought he more than deserved a little shout-out in the business name," she says. "So I combined our initials for pH and added the reclaimed to emphasize my reuse of materials. A customer once told me that the pH must mean that my husband and I have great chemistry — lucky coincidence, but I like it!"
- Melissa Toms
- Madison Kingery (above) fell in love with silversmithing when she was in grad school
Mad Made Metals
Madison Kingery is the "Mad" in Mad Made Metals. What that means is that she takes metal and gemstones and makes understated-but-eye-catching necklaces, bracelets, earrings, and other accessories. It's a painstakingly slow creation process, and it's one that Kingery kept as a part-time hobby for years before starting her own business.
"I did it on the side," she says. "I'd make things for my friends who might need an accessory for an outfit or I'd make some for myself, and then I moved to Charleston and was in grad school for something completely unrelated, and I took a silversmithing class."
That was all it took for Kingery to discover her true calling.
"I fell in love with the technique and the whole process," she says. "From there I took more intensive courses, and it became all-encompassing. I couldn't stop doing it. I kept acquiring tools and making more stuff and then I started this business. I was still working full-time doing something else at first, but people kept asking me about my stuff and it just grew organically until I was able to support myself from it."
Kingery's pieces, made from both her own inspiration and custom requests, are so unique to her that she often asks people who are interested in having her make something to take a look at her older work first.
"I definitely think that my jewelry is a very specific style," she says. "So if someone wants a custom order, I'll ask them if there are any pieces that I've previously made that they like. If they like something, then I can play off of that and recreate it with different stones. But if someone comes to me with a design that isn't my style, I'll point them in the direction of another artist."
Kingery's designs can be intricate and time-consuming, and she says that running her own business has been a challenge in terms of finding enough hours in the day.
"I'm doing everything, so you have to find the time to do everything," she says. "In the beginning, I thought I would be spending a lot of time making, and everything else would fall into place. It's more 70 percent administrative tasks and 30 percent creating. It took me up until this year to get that balance down and create a schedule that works for me. But seeing a piece go from wire and sheet metal to its finished form that someone's wearing every day is very rewarding."
- Ruta Smith
- Candace Patterson and William Kiser are the creative team behind Dos Bandidos
Candace Patterson & William Kiser
There's not a lot that's hidden in the work of Dos Bandidos, the team of Candace Patterson and William Kiser. Their brash, dazzling, vibrant screen prints have a little of everything. There are touchstone pop culture references like Samuel L. Jackson in Pulp Fiction, a Waffle House illuminated in the moonlight, X-23 from the film Logan popping her claws. There are old-school muscle cars and motorcycles. And there are the occasional calm, soothing, and quiet moments like a woman lounging outside her motor home underneath gently glowing Christmas lights.
There's a lot of startling detail in these creations, and they're typically a combination of multiple approaches. "The designs are hand drawn, and then scanned into the computer to do color assist," Patterson says. "The shading is done with spray paint and the lines are hand drawn. It's a true blitz of analog and digital."
- Ruta Smith
These creations are rooted in Dos Bandidos' shared love of screen printing, their love of each other, (Patterson and Kiser are married) and a love of 1990s pop culture.
"We both have a history of screen printing," Patterson says. "We both fell in love with it, and when we came together eight years ago it was another layer of connection. And we're both in our mid-to-late 30s, so a lot of this comes from coming of age in the '90s; stuff like Rage Against the Machine, girl power, and punk influences. We're obsessed with pop culture. We've honed it to a very specific style, and because of the process, we can create affordable art for the people; we have the ability to make multiples."
And for a while, that style was overtly political. The aforementioned Samuel L. Jackson screen print features the words "RESIST, MOTHERFUCKER" behind Jackson's sinister glower. Another piece has a bloodied Uma Thurman from the Kill Bill films with the phrase, "Nevertheless, She Persisted" framing her face.
It's an overtness that Dos Bandidos has moved away from recently, a decision that Patterson attributes to a creative ebb and flow.
- Ruta Smith
"The political element has always been there," she says, "but when Trump got elected it really came out. But we've gotten away from it again. On some level we'll always be political, but for us, two years ago it was a huge outlet, and then we thought about how much we might be alienating people. Now we're working on figuring out what the American Dream is and how we can come together. There's so much hate right now and everyone's butting heads; we're thinking about what we have in common. What do we share?"
- Kaitlin Unsworth creates woven items like hand crafted pillows
Woven Script LLC
"I've always been a maker," says Kaitlin Unsworth, the self-taught weaver and artist of Woven Script. "I was one of those kids who was always creating little birthday cards or weird pottery to give to people," she laughs. Unsworth has been crafting and creating as a hobby for years, but she didn't start weaving until earlier this year. "I'm completely self-taught," she says. "Thank God for all the tutorials available. I really threw myself into weaving and decided to make a business of it."
Unsworth creates woven items like handcrafted pillows and home decor, but her primary niche is hanging wall art and boho macrame pieces. "My design aesthetic really just flows with wherever I am at that moment in my life," she says. When she first began weaving, most of her pieces were intended as decor for her children's nursery. She still creates many nursery-inspired pieces like mobiles for cribs and soft woven wall art depicting a dancing ballerina or a floating hot air balloon. "It's kind of flowed from some of those more intricate, earlier pieces to work that's softer with more movement," she says. "There's a lot of boho influence. I've been transitioning from weaving to macrame and using a lot of earthy elements as well. I think the one thing that stays true with each piece is a focus on texture and color whether I'm using Sari Silk to create the ballerina tutus or using roving to create something a little softer right next to some metal for contrast."
Before creating Woven Script, Unsworth worked in marketing and advertising, a career that left her unfulfilled and exhausted. Crafting became more than a hobby. It became an emotional outlet. "My job took a lot of my time and energy and didn't really give much back to me, but I thought it was what I was supposed to do. Creating things on the side was a soul accommodating aspect of my life," says Unsworth. After she had kids, the burden of her career was even heavier. "It was sucking me dry," she says. So she quit her job and stayed home with her family, a decision which gave her more room to create. She's been happier since.
For Unsworth, creating is about more than money or extra time with family (even though those things matter). Creativity is about caring for your mental health and overall well-being. "I recently read an article on the connection between busy hands and brain chemistry," she explained. "It talks about how doctors once prescribed knitting for women with anxiety problems, and it got me thinking about how important it is to have a craft whether you're baking bread or molding pottery or knitting or weaving. Creativity can be really healthy for the psyche and create a lot of joy. That was my experience in moving away from the corporate world to this. As I develop my brand, I want to help other people and show that anyone can do this. Anyone can create and find joy in it."
- Ruta Smith
Emily Caldwell Art
It's a common belief that, in order to maintain creativity as an artist, you have to learn to value the process over the product. If you overthink how something is supposed to look or possible reactions to the outcome, the joy of creating will be lost. Abstract artist Emily Caldwell is one of the lucky creators who truly embraces this concept. Talk to her about her work, and she'll happily describe the sheer joy she feels when putting brush to canvas. "I just love the action of painting," she says. "The results are awesome, but the act of doing it is the greatest. My work is very organic because I get so excited to paint. It just evolves into what it becomes. I usually don't have a set goal in mind. It's afterward that I'm like, 'Oh that's what happened.' It's all very spontaneous."
- Ruta Smith
The love of a spontaneous process is what draws her to abstract painting. She loves the freedom of getting lost in the act of painting without the limitations of form. "I want my work to be expressive and big. I'm so enamored with how the paint moves and drips. I also think it's how I see things. I'm always noticing patterns, or how flowers, for example, move in the wind. I want to show that in my painting. I'm drawn to the expression. If I had to do it any other way, I don't think I'd be painting."
Caldwell moved to Charleston in October of last year to escape the cold, landlocked state of Ohio. She was the first of anyone in her family to move away. "I needed to be warm. I needed the sunshine," she says. It was a huge transition to pick up and move so far from all she knew, but Charleston has served as one of her greatest inspirations to date. "This is the most gorgeous city I've ever seen," she says. "Moving here has impacted my art for the better. I'm so inspired by this place. I paint what I find beautiful around me. The work I've created since moving here is far more colorful and expressive and happier than ever before."
- Ruta Smith
Her hunt for inspiration usually begins on the peninsula where she'll walk with a camera in hand around the Battery, through hidden alleys, past Rainbow Row, to City Market, and back again. She uses her camera to capture inspiration, but her paintings rarely look like the photos. "The photos are just snapshots that I use to evoke the memory of how I felt when I took the picture," she says. "They remind me of when I felt so blessed to be here and so in awe of the colors and the beauty around me."
She's thrilled to share her passion for beauty, especially the beauty she finds in Charleston, with others at Crafty Bastards. She'll sell paintings, prints, greeting cards, and ornaments, but she's mostly excited to talk to visitors of her booth. "I get so excited when people come by," she says. "Whether we talk about my work or not, I love hearing their questions and what they have to say. I love this place. I love this city, and I'm so happy to be here. I hope that comes through in my work and makes people smile."
Crafty Bastards Charleston — Sat. Dec. 1, 10 a.m.-6 p.m. Free to attend. Joseph P. Riley Jr. Park, 360 Fishburne St. Downtown.
This arts and craft exhibition features over 80 vendors selling handmade clothing, original art, furniture, home goods, and more. Food and drinks (including booze) will be available for purchase. Please leave your furry friends at home. This event is kid-friendly and will take place, rain or shine.