Publisher’s Note: Tonight, I have the pleasure of sharing with you the words and works of the creative and talented Ashley Martineau of Neauveau Fiber Arts. Not only is Ashley a spectacularly talented fiber artist, but she is also extremely generous in sharing what she knows (see the Learn tab of this website) with others by creating many instructional videos and offering help to other artists looking to improve on their marketing and selling approaches. Ashley is a young woman on the move!
Spin Artiste (SA): Hi Ashley! So nice to have a chance to get to know you better — your whole approach to your work is so energizing. Describe your creative journey as an artist to date.
Ashley Martineau (AM): I remember wanting art supplies for my birthday as long as I can remember. I took an after school art class when I was in Kindergarten, and Saturday afternoon art classes at a local community center when I was in elementary school. I’ve always loved being creative. I learned how to knit when I was 13 – but the fine yarn and tiny needles bored me. When I was a newlywed I saw my mother in law knitting, and she gave me a pair of size 17 neon green plastic needles from the 70’s that were the perfect size for me. My knitting hobby was on a limited budget – so I started unraveling sweaters from thrift stores and wrote a tutorial on how to do it (www.recycleyarn.com) which was published in Interweave Knits Magazine. Within a couple months I wanted to spin my own yarn. I found Lexi (www.pluckyfluff.com) online and knew art yarn was my holy grail. I bought a Louet S17 Kit from a friend of mine and taught myself how to spin in our tiny muggy apartment on a summer evening. I brought all my first yarns to my knitting group and they all sold – and I knew I had found my calling. I emailed Lexi and she sold my yarns for several months on her website. Then I built my own website (www.neauveau.com) and sold my yarns online. From spinning I moved onto dyeing – and now I process all my own fibers. After taking a class from Lexi I found my niche’ in the art yarn world and have been branching out into fashion, accessories, and fiber art for people who don’t know how to spin, knit, or crochet.
SA: One thing I love about how you portray your work is the way you’ve embraced the art nouveau movement. How did you come to align your brand with the art nouveau movement — what attracted you to that era?
AM: My engagement ring was inspired by the art nouveau period. I love how the era is feminine and romantic and soft and light and inspired by nature. About a year later I was trying to come up with a name for my yarn spinning business. I wanted it to incorporate my married name (Martineau) and after playing with the letters – I wrote the word Neauveau. Nouveau means “New Art” in French and I thought Neauveau was a great name for new art yarns.
Then I began my creative journey. I was all over the map trying to figure myself out – Spinning chickens, skulls, glass icicles into yarn. It was creative chaos. I slowly fell out of love with my art until 2010 when the art nouveau movement found its way back to my shop. I feel like I’ve been on a long exhausting journey of trying to discover who I was, and I have returned to my girlhood where bosom friendships and braided up-dos and childhood dreams and all things lovely and romantic are part of my daily creative life. I’ve returned to who I’ve always been. And I love my art again.
SA: That makes sense and I’m sure a lot of people can relate to that aspect of finding your way whether it is as a spinner or other type of artist. Please describe your approach to your work today.
AM: Well it has to be fun. And it has to be efficient. And I have to love it. Often I work 12 hour days because my ETSY shop is our bread & butter right now. I never measure colors, track dye lots, or duplicate. I multitask constantly. I work fast. I experiment. I play. I think, “What part of my house doesn’t have fiber on it?” and I notice the windows and I make fiber art sun catchers. I am always trying to come up with new ideas. And I am a huge believer in assembly line methods. I will wash fleeces one week. Dye the following week. And photograph/list them all on ETSY in a day. I try to add 100 items in my shop every month. I know this chapter in my life will not last forever, so I am throwing myself into it with all my heart while I have the time to do so. Every part of the process is deeply fulfilling to me.
SA: It sounds like my kind of fun and a true whirlwind of activity — How do you keep yourself creatively inspired with all that going on? What inspires you creatively, spiritually, or emotionally?
AM: God’s creation. Things that make me catch my breath. Things that make my heart skip a beat. The way the sun hits the mountains and transforms them into alpenglow. The way a field looks when lit up with fireflies on a muggy summer’s night. The morning mists rolling thru the mountains toward the ocean. Laying on the beach and watching meteor showers thru the Milky Way. Winter morning light highlighting frost laden thistles in a fallow field. Spring violets at the base of an ancient moss covered tree. A single maple leaf at the height of autumn’s transformation. I take notes of all things lovely I find in nature and when I find myself hitting a creative wall I close my eyes and picture something beautiful. I am addicted to beauty. I must find it, and I must continue making it.
SA: So, then why fiber arts? What is it about the fiber arts that fuels your passion?
AM: Some days I wake up an artist, and spend all day in a zone of zealous creativity. Other days I wake up thinking I’m Donald Trump. I spent a couple years as a Real Estate Broker and now I “flip fleeces” like my broker friends “flip houses”. On one side of a page I will scribble art yarn ideas, and on the other side I will have pages of calculations on profit margins and graphs of sales. I love passing on my savings to my customers. I love the adventure of investing in fleeces, and turning a profit. I’m an entrepreneur at heart. I love being self-sustaining and making ends meet with my creativity & hard work.
SA: We appreciate the savings, too! But, what is in your stash right now that you are hoarding and we are not getting a crack at buying?
SA: Ha! Maybe one day you will get tired of hiding it away…What materials are you favoring right now?
AM: Silk and Angelina are my favorites right now. I also recycle cashmere, camel, and alpaca sweaters (which I buy at thrift stores for under $5 each) and card the fibers into my art batts to give my buyers a little bit of luxury at no additional cost. Very few spinners will ever be able to afford to spin cashmere. I like taking “top shelf” fibers and making them accessible to spinners on a budget. I know how special it is to afford something you thought you never could. And not feel guilty for buying it.
SA: That is such a great approach…it is amazing what you can find if you are willing to do a little digging around…How about equipment? What equipment do your prefer to work with and why?
AM: I just got a spin dryer and it spins out almost all the water so my dyed wools will dry faster and I just think it’s amazing. The only wheel I own is an Ashford Country Spinner. I love the huge orifice. I never run out of room on the bobbin. I love my Louet Classic Carder. I love the fact the drive band is enclosed so I can card with reckless abandon without worrying about fibers getting caught or trapped.
SA: You’ve done a lot of educational videos (thanks for letting me link to them)– what inspires you to educate as well as create?
AM: The day I started teaching myself how to spin yarn I Googled “how to spin yarn” and found nothing. Can you believe it!? Nothing on YouTube, no websites – my wheel didn’t even come with instructions. I determined that once I got good at spinning – I’d show people how to spin for free. I love making things accessible to as many people as possible. My personal rule is that I will only make videos of techniques already published online. I don’t want to share secret or book techniques and skills that other artists have worked so hard on (their bread & butter). A lot of fiber artists are depending on their ideas & talents to make ends meet. And I’m one of them.
SA: I agree and what is so great is that you are able to feel comfortable enough to show others how to take their businesses to the next level. I see you offer a class on how to turn arts and crafts into a successful online business – will you be offering that as a webinar or somehow make it available to someone who can’t take it in person?
AM: I will be working on that this summer. I just need to learn the technology. For now I am willing to do one-on-one classes thru Google Chat (firstname.lastname@example.org) for anyone wanting to pick my brain on starting a home business. I think that would be the best way to custom tailor the class to meet each student’s needs. Different students are at different levels. And different students may want to cover different aspects (building a website, search engine optimization, how to take good photographs, product marketing, social networking, domain name management) – each of which could be a DVD in themselves. So for now I’m going to keep it personal (one-on-one) and perhaps move onto an online class forum. I will be adding a couple mini-classes to my YouTube channel soon.
SA: That is so exciting! A lot of folks will be looking for more news on that front. What’s on the horizon for your artistry? What direction are you heading in?
AM: We are relocating to Boston in June for my husband’s summer internship at the New England Aquarium. We will be celebrating our 10 year wedding anniversary this summer. Once he gets a job we are hoping to start a family. I am brainstorming a children’s fiber art book with projects and ideas for introducing children into the world of fiber arts. People seem to forget that 100 years ago 6 year olds were knitting socks and spinning yarn. I’ve taught 6 year olds how to needle felt. If they poke themselves, they learn and keep going. I think sometimes we don’t trust children’s creative abilities & talents. We hold them back artistically without realizing it. We give them cheap, junk craft supplies because we assume all kids make cheap, junk crafts. I think we should expect more from children than we do. I’d love to teach fiber art classes where mothers and children can create together. I’d love to see more handspun art yarn from 8 year olds.
SA: We can’t wait to see what you do with those ideas!
Now, let’s hear something personal — What’s your favorite guilty pleasure?
SA: I totally get those! Tell something about yourself that people might be surprised to know.
AM: I’m just as socially anxious as anyone else. Whenever I go to a class or a meet up I am plagued with fears about people not liking me. I can put on a confident face, but deep inside I’m just waiting for the moment when I say or do something that ends in my own embarrassment. This is why I’ve never taught big classes. I fear being compared to other people and not living up to expectations. I also fear hurtful criticism. I care too much about what other people think. I have to work to be brave.
SA: A lot of folks will connect with that too…thanks for being so candid and for taking the time to spend with Spin Artiste. I’ve learned a lot from the interview, as I do with everything that you do, and I’m sure others feel the same.
So, readers…Ashley has a surprise for us which will be shared this coming Sunday…I know you are going to like it…it’s something brand new so stop back on Sunday to see what’s in store. If you aren’t already a subscriber, you might want to go ahead and sign up so that the posts come to your email box automatically and you won’t miss out on anything. And, if you haven’t checked it out, I encourage you to spend some time on Ashley’s website and especially to purchase some of her wonderful items. You will not be disappointed!
And…if you haven’t entered the 27th Street Fibers Knitting Needle Giveaway yet, click here to enter…the winner will be announced this coming weekend!