This summer interview series focuses on Connecticut women who work hard to take their talents to the next level. Wilton artisan Ana Kristina is a perfect example of this. She’s turned her love of paper crafts and an eye for detail into a full-time business, HandHewnFromMe2You. In an email interview, she and I talked about how she got started, the myriad of products she offers, and her thoughts on running a business primarily through Etsy.
What got you into paper crafts and collage artwork?
For nearly two decades, I worked in professional kitchens – for much of that time as a pastry chef. It was a creatively fulfilling position that I actually essentially quit playing/writing music for. Then, I got hurt on the job. I put my back out lifting, of all things, a 50lb bag of carrots. I was unable to return to full duty work for more than 2 months… Boredom is a strange and beautiful monster.
Hunting for something to keep me occupied, I uncovered a package of paper Halloween napkins printed with a skull and crossbones. I began tediously tracing over the lines and then coloring them in with various Sharpies — pens and felt markers. When I went to peel them apart, I noticed I could gently peel the 2-ply apart. They looked so cool! Varieties of saturation left depending on the tip of the marker and how hard I pressed down. This became my first art project probably in my adult life. I turned them into an 8 frame wall hanging and also pasted them onto a hanging paper lantern.
A year or so later, I had my Skull Art Series and several other framed and canvas mixed media pieces on my walls. I began to play heavily combining collage and acrylic. I never considered myself a “blank canvas” artist. My inspiration always struck when I saw something I could alter; something I could take apart and put back together like Frankenstein.
THEN, my wedding was on its way! My now-husband James and I had been together over 12 years by the time we decided to get married so, we knew we had to host the biggest, baddest party we could. This kicked my crafting into full gear. I began making EVERYTHING for the big day. When the day finally came, I got dizzy seeing everything I had made out for the viewing. I felt I should’ve been committed!
I made (editor’s note: take a deep breath!):
- A Paper Star and Ribbon band for each invitation
- My friend Maggie collaborated with James and I for our sidewalk chalk style Save the Dates
- My Daddo collaborated with James and I for our invitations; for most of the text, I used rubber alphabet stamps and then he scanned them to make a custom font style
- Paper flowers and hand stamped welcome notes and schedules for each overnight guest gift bag
- Some of the favor boxes for our gift bags
- I beaded 2 wires with skull beads among others to pin in my hair
- Hand Painted/Stamped Wrapping Papers for our Wedding Party Gifts – The Groomsmen & Bridesmaids, Flower Girl & Ring Presenter
- Thank You Cards for the Maid of Honor & Best Man
- Hand Stamped Signage for Various Ceremony & Reception Set Ups – a poem for our ribbon wands, a poem for our Glue Stick game, a schedule of festivities for the bar
- Hand Stamped Ceremony Programs – a cover page, a Wedding Party page, and a Thank You page
- 130 Ribbon Wands for our Ceremony Send Off (with help from a few of my lovely bridesmaids)
- A Celtic handfasting cord for the Irish wedding tradition we included in our ceremony
- Place cards
- 16 table number luminaries for our table markers
- I painted and decorated 2 wood crates to display our Wedding Favors – we did one for guys and one for gals; Signs for each one
- And last but not least, the LARGEST project of all – 129 … yup … one hundred and twenty nine paper star lanterns – in scattered sizes, no two were the same, all in our wedding colors: Blacks, Whites & Blues. We hung 12 in the tree we were wed under – one for each year we’d been together and the rest hung over our dance floor in the ballroom! I started making those in January for our October wedding. My maid of honor pitched in and made around 20 more. Prepping them for hanging was a much larger chore than I predicted – I strung them all onto 6 different 15′ pieces of monofilament line. And then I had help from my nephew/Ring Presenter Hunter and my bridesmaid/Dear Dear Friend, Emily with assembling and hanging the plethora of LED “throwies” inside the stars.
I must confess, I could not have pulled this off with such high marks without help from my rock solid group of ladies but especially not without James!! He actually did almost all of the writing – for our Save the Dates, Invites, the hand stamped Poems, the Thank You Notes for our overnight guests… And beyond that, he’s been a very willing and extremely brilliant second brain. With all of my work, he’s my all too necessary second set of eyes.
You changed the name of your shop recently, to HandHewnFromMe2You. Tell me how you decided on the new name.
My shop name was, for over two years Fractured&BOUND. The name came from my love of Mixed Media – Mixed Media pieces were what my initial inventory consisted of. So it was: FRACTURED mixed media BOUND through collage, paint and passion.
A little too high priced to really draw attention perhaps? A little to specific in style? I never got more than a nibble with those. People might “favorite” my items but never buy or even inquire for more info.
That first year, my inventory grew as Christmas approached with hand painted wrapping papers. I did a few freehand but mostly I used stencils that I drew and cut myself. Then Valentine’s Day. You guessed it! Valentines Cards. All designs were made for/inspired by the Heavy Metal community. Though the designs are sound and they continue to draw attention, I wasn’t creating to create as much as I was designing to chase the seasonal ebb and flow, if that makes any sense. Also, I knew what I was making was par for the course but I wasn’t getting the the degree of interest I was hoping for. I longed to do custom work especially.
After my wedding, I settled into the role of “pastry chef gone rogue” and my dedication for my shop grew. I began to list some of my star lantern designs, my Celtic Handfasting Cord, my Bridal Hair accessory, etc. I smartened up and paid more attention to who was favoriting my items and found many were brides to be or hostesses for special events. I began getting messages requesting custom work. My business really started taking off; I had begun to form a real niche.
As I began making custom special event and home decor, began working with brides for their weddings, Fractured&BOUND didn’t feel right anymore. I would finish an order, ready it for shipping, confident with what I had produced, then go to place my business cards inside and hesitate. My cards then had a painting I had down of a skull on the front, then on the other side was my information but with a background image of a Jesus figurine standing in front of a pile of skulls! Not terrible wedding-y, you know?
I also really struggled coming up with a clean, simple, smart logo which would work for that shop name AND be suitable for my new venture into special events and home decor. I wanted my shop name to express the handmade nature of things and to further imply just how customizable everything can be.
I recalled the poem that James wrote about my star lanterns for the reception. The line “A task was taken by the bride, to recreate a starry sky” and so on. I can’t recall the entire poem unfortunately, but the phrase “Hand Hewn” was in there.
After some light “name testing” amongst family and friends, I came up with HandHewnFromMe2You along with a pretty bad ass logo!
What made you take the step to turn your artwork into a full-time business?
Honestly, that’s a very short answer. I don’t want to go back to a restaurant! Maybe one day, or maybe a bakery. But I cringe at the thought of working with line cooks and chefs again. It’s an exhausting industry , both physically and mentally. And most damning of it, it’s far too emotionally taxing for me to consider for my lifelong profession.
What are your favorite products to make?
ANYTHING CUSTOM. I relish any chance to collaborate, to harness someone’s vision and bring it to be. I’m located in Wilton, Connecticut right now but I’m more than willing to travel for face-to-face consults.
When I played and wrote music, the satisfaction came from that magical connection I made with my audience, whatever the size. When I was in culinary and pastry, it came from the OOooos and AAaaaas and the YUMs. Especially in pastry and especially with my reviews. “The pastry chef here seems to work in wish fulfillment” and so on.
In my business now, since I’m an online store, I rarely get to experience my customer’s reactions in person. But the messages of thanks, the photos they send back and the reviews they leave – particularly for my brides whose big day I helped to make just a little bigger.
But if I had to choose one of my listings? Probably the Celtic Handfasting Cord. Not only because each one is customized — it’s a blast weaving something together that will play such a star role in the wedding ceremony, that will be (hopefully) a family heirloom of sorts. I can feel the positivity of it the entire time I’m making one of these.
What advice would you give to someone who wants to open an Etsy shop?
BE PREPARED TO WORK FOR IT. Simply listing items in your shop will not a happy shop owner make.
DON’T UNDERSELL YOURSELF. Think of who you want buying your items and price it accordingly. Research other shop owner’s tactics, price points for what you are selling; pricing is one of the hardest tasks. What worked for me also was starting a tad lower with my pricing then raising it as I gained positive reviews and a substantial portfolio.
When tagging your items, and this is HUGE, don’t merely use descriptive words for your item. Think again of who you’re selling to: Bohemian, Gothic, Hippie, even words like “Cool” or “Non-Traditional.” From there, pay attention to your stats. See what search words are getting you visibility and build off that.
RENEW, RENEW, RENEW! Renewing your listings bi-monthly will swing your listing back to the top of the search page that your customers are landing on. The longer your listings sit, the further your potential customers have to scroll to find what you’re selling.
READ UP! Read about other shop owners successes and how they’ve achieved that. Don’t be afraid even to message another shop owner directly. I had a very helpful experience with a fellow Etsy retailer who critiqued my entire page while on the phone with me! Critiques are vital no matter who you are asking to give one to you. I’ve asked this of many friends and family and they have always been of help; at the very least, they boost my self-assurance.
Do you have any favorite Etsy shops you’d recommend to our readers?
YES! In addition to my own crafts, I had ordered many other wedding items for my big day. Here are some of my favorite online shops, Etsy and otherwise:
- My Dress was amazing. It featured hand spun fabric, hand done ribbon embroidery, and custom design by Katherine & Catherine of Whirling Turban. INCREDIBLE COMPANY! HIGHLY RECOMMENDED — whirlingturban.com.
- My kicks were gorgeous baby blue medium heels by “Ellie Wren” and their design team — customweddingshoe.com.
- My jewelry – my necklace and “slave” bracelet were made by Beth Witte (ShesSoWitte.etsy.com; ); my skull hoop earrings made by Moon Raven Designs (firstname.lastname@example.org)
- I had feather fascinators with netted veils made for myself and for each of my bridesmaids (they had blue netted veils, I had white). These stunning accessories were made by Michel at LaChicFemme.etsy.com.
- Our one of a kind porcelain cake topper by Erin – she replicated US. She did our hair, my dress, visible tattoos, even the polka dots on my stockings! You can find her at tohellinahandbag.etsy.com.
- One of my favorite items ordered, Custom Chocolate Dipped Pretzel Rods for our overnight guest Gift Bags. YUM! AuntKeensKandy.etsy.com.
Where can our readers find you on the web?
Etsy is the best way to reach me as well as to view my inventory. You can either send me a private message or Request A Custom Order. I return all messages and order requests within 24 hours, business day or not! My shop on Etsy is HandHewnFromMe2You.etsy.com.
Email me at email@example.com, and check out my IG, @handhewnfromme2you.
You can also find my personal profile on Facebook, funny enough, at Facebook.com/fracturedandbound. I’m having a hard time changing the name since I can’t use numerical characters which my shop name has.
And that’s a wrap…
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