This interview was conducted by Michelle Genders and originally posted on the Rainbow Artists team blog.
Let’s get to know Carola from Carola Bartz etsy shop. She sells a wide variety of handmade charming and whimsical items. Carola opened up about her creative process and the places that she has called home:
Where do you live and how long have you lived there? Can you describe the landscape of the place where you live?
I live in Northern California about one hour’s drive north of San Francisco. This is wine country at its finest, but we also have a lot of other agriculture – and many cows. Often our county is referred to as Sonoma Cownty. However, the vineyards are slowly taking over. You can see them filling the valleys and stretching up the hills, ever so often dotted with windmills and water towers. Water is a valued resource since it is rare – we have been living in a drought for four years now and sustainable farming in both the wine industry and agriculture is becoming more and more important.
We have a spectacular coast that you can drive along on famous California State Highway 1. It winds around the hills that fall steep down to the Pacific – the cliffs can be quite hazardous. So are the waves that crash on the beaches and that unfortunately often are underestimated. We have lots of tourists here who tend to not read the warning signs! Bodega Bay which became famous in Hitchcock’s movie “The Birds” is located on our coast and a favorite place for my family to go to. We love to go up to Bodega Head, a cliff at the ocean, and watch for whales. It’s a favorite pastime for many people here. Afterwards we usually have a nice dinner in one of the many seafood places.
I have been living here for more than 15 years and I love it. Before moving to California I lived in Germany – I’m actually a German native and became a US citizen last year.
What do you like most about where you live?
It sounds odd, but it is the weather. Of course this is sunny California, but this is also Northern California which means it can get pretty cold. However, summers are beautiful and warm, but not too hot except for those short heat waves of which we have only two or three a year. Nights are cool – ideal for sleeping!!! I love it this way. It doesn’t rain significantly from May to October, but winters can be very wet. My favorite season here is autumn – the colors are spectacular and such an inspiration!
But I think what I like best is how close we are to the “wild” side here. Almost every night the deer come to visit my garden, and so do raccoons and skunks. The turkeys are hanging out in the neighborhood, and sometimes we hear coyotes in the night. A mountain lion lives in our woods but keeps away from people. The wilderness is right at our doorstep. This probably would be what I’d miss most if I should ever go back to Germany.
You say that you enjoy going to look for whales at Bodega Head. Can you tell me about the last time that you spotted whales? I was bush walking along the cliffs on the coast a couple of years ago and we saw a family of whales swimming in the ocean. It was actually amazing! I don’t know what it is, but you definitely feel a deep emotional connection with them when you see and hear them.
I can’t remember when the last time was since we see them fairly often; however, I remember a quite unique experience. We were driving along Highway 101 in Northern California where it crosses the Klamath River. We were quite surprised to see that so many people were hanging out on the bridge, looking down. We decided to stop and check out what was going on. Well, there was a female humpback whale swimming in the water! She was completely lost. Unfortunately, this was not the first time that a whale swam up a river, and then it’s really difficult to get them back into the ocean. The Native American tribe to whom the land here belongs unsuccessfully tried to direct the whale back to the open sea. It was heart breaking to witness how the whale was in distress. The sad outcome is that a few days later, she died.
You say that you’d miss the wildlife if you moved back to Germany from the US. Is there anything about Germany that you miss since you’ve been living in the US?
You bet! Most of all I miss the bread, healthy dark whole grain bread. I’m baking my own bread now since I seldom find the bread I love, and sometimes I sell loaves to other Germans who miss good bread as well. The same goes for beer – American beer is far too bitter because they use too much hops. German beer is smooth with a low volume of alcohol, refreshing and tasty. Good movies – in Germany we were used to see movies from lots of different countries. Here it is mainly American movies. We’re lucky to have an independent alternative movie theater here, but it’s still not enough. I’m getting tired of Hollywood. Oh, and the news! In Germany the nightly news take up 15-20 minutes (sometimes more if there is a special) and I always felt very well informed about what was going on in the world. Here the news last one hour and it’s filled with the same thing over and over again. I don’t feel I’m well informed here, at least not from mainstream media.
Where do you make the items that you sell?
One of the bedrooms in our home is my studio with a big window that looks out into the garden. Here I create my cards and journals, and I also paint here. My knitting items are done whenever I have a minute – while watching movies, sitting outside in the garden, when I meet up with friends (I’m in a knitting group), on the couch while listening to music, in the car (when I’m not driving). I also carry my camera with me almost all the time to capture those images for my photo cards and prints.
What do you like most about maintaining an etsy shop?
Well, sales make me happy!!! I’ll never forget my first sale about three weeks after I had opened the shop. I still get excited about every single sale. I don’t think it will ever get old.
Being in charge is something that drives me. I love to decide how my shop looks, which items I put on the first page, changing up my featured items. It’s a lot of fun. I am a member of several teams of which two or three are quite active. I like the interaction, the advice and the support we give each other. The Rainbow Artists Team is a wonderful team and I like the community here. Having an online shop can be a rather lonely job, so I think it’s very important to connect with people who are selling in the same venue
This is how we “met” one another and have come to do this interview I’ve too have found the Rainbow Artists to be a great team too, very genuine and supportive bunch of people. I marvel at the ability that we have during this time to connect with people from all around the world.
You sell a variety of items on etsy, including paintings, cards, journals and prints. Could you tell me how the process of creating each of these items relates to one another?
When I create a card, for example, I usually use stamps for that. That stamp can give me an idea for a painting or an Artist Trading Card. Or it can inspire to create a journal with a certain “title”. Often it’s my photography that inspires a card or a journal. Unfortunately I haven’t painted very much recently, but the ideas I have in my head for all those would-be paintings often are fed through my photo images as well. Sometimes I work on different things at the same time, using the same tool like a certain kind of paper and stamp. It seems that I work in “waves” – there are times when I have a lot of ideas and then I create cards and journals, and then this source seems to dry up for a while. I have learned to live with it and not be frustrated when a dry period is about to begin. I just knit more during those times!
I’m curious to know more about your inspiration to make things… Do you make a different kind of thing every day? Or do you go through phases where you make one particular type of item for a while?
When I’m in a “juicy” or creative phase I tend to make different things. Recently I made a card for a friend using a stamp with dotted flowers. The idea came to me that this would look nice as a place card, so I tried that. It worked – and I just enjoy taking the photo of that place card as well. I set up a dining space, and then I usually end up taking several still life photos on top of my listing image. If I’m lucky one of those photos will end up in my shop as a photo card.
Unfortunately I don’t create every day. I mentioned those dry periods before, and they mainly affect creating cards, journals and paintings. Sometimes I don’t even feel like taking photos. Then I see a beautiful flower or a hawk sitting on my fence and my enthusiasm is back. So far I haven’t felt these “dry” and “juicy” periods in my knitting. Knitting is different. It’s very calming and relaxes me. Often while knitting I get ideas for new projects, and I just jot down a few notes so that I don’t forget. Sometimes I feel the need to start working on that new idea right away. I usually don’t stick to one type of item for a while and then go on to the next – there are always several projects in progress, even several knitting projects
I live in a cold climate in the Blue mountains of Australia at 1100 feet high. We are in the final months of fall/autumn and the temperature is dropping. I think this might be why these hand knitted socks are my favourite item in your shop! Can you tell me the story of how you made these?
Those socks will certainly keep your feet warm!!!
I learned knitting in fourth grade. I had a horrible teacher who tore my entire knitted item apart because it was too loose! I had been so proud of it and suddenly there were only bits and pieces left. I didn’t look at knitting needles again! Fast forward to three or four years ago when my friend JoAnn dragged me into a yarn store and I was fascinated by all the amazing colors. Paradise!!! She convinced me that I was able to knit socks and that she would help me. Well, it took a while until those socks were done, but I was hooked! Then another friend of mine got cancer and had to go through chemo. I thought it would be nice for her to have warm feet during her treatment and knitted two pairs of socks for her. She loved them (and is cancer free now!). This inspired me to knit socks for the shop. I use superwash wool because you need to wash your socks, right? This yarn makes sure that they hold up well during and after laundry and you can enjoy them for a long time.
That’s really interesting that you find knitting to be a different kind of feeling to making other things. I’m sorry to hear that you had a bad experience when you first began knitting when you were a child. I think a lot of people have those kinds of memories, sadly. Could you share a story of someone who has encouraged/supported your creativity in the past? Because try I replace those bad memories that pop into my mind with good memories of those people that champion I’ve made
That would be my friend JoAnn whom I already mentioned. If she hadn’t believed that I could actually knit socks, I wouldn’t have started doing it. She has repeatedly encouraged me. She also helps if I’m stuck or shows me little tricks. She would make a fabulous knitting teacher (among many other things). We sometimes get together just to knit and chat, those are really good times! I wish everybody had a friend like her. The world would be such a better place (I know this is such a cliché, but this is exactly how I feel).
I totally agree with you there. As Julia Cameron (who wrote The artist’s way) says you have to find your ‘believing mirrors‘. I wish for everyone to have their creativity encouraged.
In contrast to knitting, it says on your etsy profile that you love getting your hands dirty. Could you tell me a bit about the type of art/craft that you do that gets the most messy?
Painting. Paint brushes are nice, but hands are so much better! Nothing compares to the feeling of painting with your fingers, spreading thick acrylic paints over a canvas, then press paper into it and get more paint on top of it. I have more control over the process, but that also means that I often run around with hands in interesting colors. People sometimes look at me in kind of a strange way.
It’s like gardening – another “craft” I love to do. Feeling the soil in your hands, the dirt under the finger nails. It’s not for sissies!
I love your description of painting with your hands and can relate to walking around with coloured hands… And sometimes arms, legs or face hehehe . I actually also prefer to work directly with my hands as opposed to making with tools because it feels like one too many levels removed…
What are you working on making at the moment? Could you give us a sneak peek of some of your current work in progress?
I just made some cards for the German school I’m teaching at, and those inspired me to use more watercolor in my cards. It’s a beautiful process with watercolor pens that I bought at the National Gallery in London two years ago. These pens are awesome – even though they involve the use of a brush! There are a few journals in the making and I’m also knitting more doll’s clothes – mainly sweaters and cardigans at the moment, but I’m also thinking of twin sets which should be fun.
I’m really interested to give watercolour pens a try too and I look forward to seeing what your end up making with them… Is this different medium inspiring you to work with any particular kind of subject matter?
Not at the moment, but it might happen in the future. You know, this is the interesting and exciting thing – we never know what might inspire us to do something new or unusual. Just like I never thought I would start knitting again and sell my hand knit items, something completely new might come up. It’s important to remain open since inspiration can strike in the most unexpected moment and places.
I totally agree with you about remaining open. Following a spark of inspiration is lots of fun. Thanks for sharing your story with me Carola, I really enjoyed learning more about you.