Category Archives: Art

Artist Spotlight: Louise Cady-Fernandes of The Hole Thing

For the past couple weeks I have been publishing environmental news and reviews on a new blog called Green Leaf Reviewer. Louise Cady-Fernandes of The Hole Thing in Lexington, Massachusetts was pleased to share some information with me and I felt that now with both blogs it would be fantastic to give her double the exposure so this interview will be posted on both blogs today.

Can you tell us a little about what it is you do?

I create a line of whimsical felted wool sweaters, housewares, and accessories, that are made from recycled sweaters. Many of my sweaters have die-cut holes in them which create windows for whatever is worn underneath. The circles that come out of all the holes are recycled again onto other products.

How long have you been creating felted items such as clothes, housewares and accessories?

I came up with the design concept in November of 2005 while I was at Susan Bristol Inc. I worked there in knitwear design for 16 years. I made a felted “hole” sweater for myself never intending for it to turn into a business, but the idea quickly caught on. THE HOLE THING hit the market in September of 2006.

What is the creative process behind your work? How does an idea take shape?

THE HOLE THING grew out of my love for both polka dots and felted wool. For years creating a sweater with holes had been on my list of things to make for myself. I didn’t want to knit it though as that seemed too monotonous. Then one day, while I was making a blanket out of old sweaters that I had felted and cut into squares, it came to me to make my hole sweater out of an old felted sweater. The creative process for my line is continually evolving and expanding which I love. Now I have 18 products that include among other things, scarves & hats, candle holders & vases, note cards, and a felted jewelry line that incorporates the leftover holes that are punched out of all the sweaters.

Where do you acquire the wool used in your designs?

I shop at thrift stores, but I also get lots of hand me downs from friends and family. My 86 year Mom also gathers old sweaters for me occasionally. I usually buy between 30-50 sweaters at once.

Why recycled/upcycled wool?

Why not? There is so much of it out there. Anytime we can use what is already available a new product doesn’t need to be produced. This is terrific because virgin resources aren’t being used for production. New products take precious energy to create, and often have hazardous environmental waste such as dyes and other pollutants. New products also consume lots of energy because they need to be packaged and shipped long distances.

How do you feel that using upcycled, and natural, wool helps the environment?

see above.

When did you first become interested in living and working in a green way by repurposing?

Both of my parents grew up in the depression and living a more minimalist life kind of seeped into me like osmosis! My dad was forever running around turning off lights, my mom cleaned out jars of mayonnaise etc with a spatula to “get every little bit”. For me being green isn’t a sacrifice or a challenge, it is something that brings me pleasure. I am forever thinking about how I can do things more thoughtfully. The beauty of THE HOLE THING initially for me was as much about the design as it was about having a business that upcycled.

Has any one green practice become second nature, something you personally do every day?

I would have to say that my greenest practice is being conscious about what I do- I am always wondering how I can do something in a more environmentally mindful way. For me it’s just about paying closer attention.

What green practice do you recommend readers try?

Gosh there are so many! How about this- try getting organized enough so that you only have to grocery shop once a week. I know this sounds horrendous but it honestly only takes a few minutes of planning each week. Shopping once a week not only saves on repeat, gas guzzling trips to the grocery shore, but it also saves on trips to get take-out food and all the wasteful packaging it creates. My website has lots of other great green tips.

As an independent artist what is your greatest challenge?

All the different hats that need to be worn. My favorite thing is to design. Luckily though, I think I am about equally right, and left, brained so at least the book keeping and other logistical tasks are a little more satisying for me than for most artists. For instance I like to balance my checkbook and I know that this is a rare thing for most everyone.

Do you remember the feeling of your first sale? Has that feeling changed now that you have sold many more items?

I do remember the excitement of my first sale. I think I like doing craft shows because although the excitement has diminished, the feeling gets created over and over again. I love to see the happiness that my whimsical designs provide people. It makes me happy.

What is your advice to a fellow artisan who is new to their industry?
Figure out how much you want to make per hour for your work. Then keep track of how much time it takes to create what you make and how much your supplies cost etc. This has been very helpful to me because I know immediately which of my products are cost effective and which aren’t. My other advice in business is to plan on making mistakes. They will teach you and will act as arrows pointing you in which direction to go in next.

Do you have online presences where readers can learn more about you?

Yes — The Hole Thing
(Editor’s Note: Louise also has an Online Shop on Etsy)

Is your work featured in a boutique or other brick & mortar location?

I am in nine stores. The newest one is a wonderful new store called Bead and Fiber in Boston’s south end on Harrison Avenue.

Smart Energy Technology:

Artist Spotlight: Sharon Kutz of Studio Musings

I was pointed in the direction of Sharon Kutz’s Santa Maria, CA based shop by a former interviewee, Judi FitzPatrick and when I viewed the items in Studio Musings, I knew Sharon had to be featured! As an Artist Sharon works with varied mediums such as glass and interesting thrift store finds to create out of this world mosaics and funky windchimes. Her items utilize principals of recycling, repurposing and upcycling to create one of a kind pieces that will stun your senses! Sharon truly embodies what it means to make a difference and was thrilled to share her thoughts with us.

Can you tell us a little about what it is you do?

I take a found item that is unwanted and distressed, clean it up, and make it into something that’s wonderful, appealing to the senses, and is just plain fun!

How long have you been creating mosaic art?

I have been doing mosaics for about 5 years.

What is the creative process behind your work? How does an idea take shape?

Unless it is a commissioned piece, it sort of evolves. Sometimes I will find a tray that looks interesting and I can see it finished with the mosaic already on it. Other times, I just play with the stained glass colors and all of a sudden it hits me. Then I get to work. Even as I work, other ideas come, and I may go down that trail of thought, finishing with something completely different than what I started with- and loving it!

Where do you acquire the glass and gems that go into your mosaics?
There is a stained glass studio in town that sells its left over scrap glass. I get most of my stuff there. The glass gems are bought at garage sales or friends give them to me. Once in awhile, if I need a certain color, I will buy at a craft store.
What made you decide to use recycled type pieces to create your art?
I have been a thrift store shopper for a long time, and I would find these awesome pieces that were damaged or neglected, and I started thinking- I could do something with that! – help it, make it useful again. Better than new.
How long have you been creating windchimes from teapots and other surprising household objects?
I began with wind chimes about 8 years ago. I made a gift for someone out of an old copper teapot, put a plant in it, and attached some old silver plated utensils and I was hooked. It sounded so nice and the person loved it. I got my husband to buy me a power drill and I took off. I can’t help looking at things as “potential” and have even been scolded at some craft shows for using a particular pattern of silverware in my piece. “Don’t you know how much this spoon is worth?” When I tell them it was destined for the dump and I cleaned it up and repurposed it to be used as a chime, they usually change their tune.

What was your inspiration in creating those pieces?
My inspiration comes from a lot of places. First, I love old, antique things. I see something as beautiful, when others say its ugly, or too damaged, and want to throw it away. Secondly, I want to make something of quality- that will last. It has to elicit some emotion, or its just not right. Many of my repeat customers say, “it just makes me smile” when looking at my wind chimes. That’s what I want.
When did you first become interested in living and working in a green way by repurposing?
I think it started when I had to close out my mom’s house, and sell it, I realized that she was always “green”. She never threw anything away and had items from my grandmother. She lived simply and was happy with what she had. I learned a lot from that and have been trying to repurpose ever since.
Aside from repurposing materials, are there other ways do you work in an eco friendly manner (sealants, energy conservation, working from home, etc)?
I have a room in my home that we made into a studio. I sit by a big window and most of the day, I can use the sunlight for my projects. The glue I use on my mosaic pieces is a non-toxic product. The grout sealer is water soluble but I haven’t found a true ‘green’ sealer yet.

Has any one green practice become second nature, something you personally do every day?
We have an acre and a half of land, and we are in the process of planting drought friendly plants (deer friendly too) and using gorilla fur to cover large unplanted areas. We have a vegetable garden and an apple orchard and all of our produce is completely organic. On the trees, we hung old milk cartons with molasses and vinegar to dissuade the apple moth. It works pretty well and is all natural.
What green practice do you recommend readers try?
Most of your readers probably can tell me more than I can tell them. I’m still learning new things. I am so encouraged though, by the younger generation, and their willingness to get on board with all the recycling-going green. My youth was spent in the 50′s and 60′s and we weren’t so concerned with preservation. There is hope!
As an independent artist what is your greatest challenge?
My greatest challenge as an independent artist is probably- selling my art. Having people “get it” when they look at my pieces. Realizing how much time is in each piece.
What has been your greatest success to date?
My greatest success to date was my first sale on Etsy! It was so encouraging.
What is your advice to a fellow artisan who is new to their industry?
My advice to a fellow artisan would be to never give up. Believe in yourself and keep on going, keep on creating.

Do you have an online presence where your work can be viewed?
My online presence is at Studio Musings. Eventually, I will have a website at but it is not quite ready. I bought the domain name, and my husband’s still working on it.
Is your work featured in a gallery or other brick & mortar location?

I will be doing some craft festivals this year. Autumn Arts is held in Santa Maria on Oct.4th. I will be showing with the Los Padres Artist Guild. Also, there is a big Country Christmas Crafts Fair and Boutique on Nov.28&29th at the Veteran’s Memorial Bldg. in San Luis Obispo, where I will have my own booth.

Smart Energy Technology:

Artist Spotlight: Beth Hinson of Junkyard Gypsy

What is assemblage art? That is a question I was most intrigued for Beth Hinson of Junkyard Gypsy in Albemarle, NC to clarify through her interview. She is an avid collector of all things, breaks them down and reassembles them into interesting pieces of artwork. Some are funky, some are creepy, some are cute but all of her work operates from one simple principal: items that others deem trash are really a gold mine of treasure to her! Read on to see how she is committed to a better planet and how her art contributes to that mission everyday.

Can you tell us a little about what it is you do?

Well, I recycle old, assorted bits and pieces to create assemblages that resemble people or animals.

What was the motivation behind the creation of your assemblage art?

I had boxes and boxes of “stuff” that I couldn’t bear to throw away, as each piece seemed to have a history or story behind it. Most of what I use has dings, rust, holes, whatever, and to most people that would make it useless, something to throw in the trash. But every time I would start to load a box in the truck to take to the dumpster, I would spy something that seemed to be a treasure. As time went by, and more and more stuff accumulated, pieces started to acquire a life of their own – especially when a clock would chime unexpectedly, or the sun would hit a piece of silverware.

Where do you acquire the pieces that go into each design?

Oh, almost anywhere, but the dumpster is my favorite place – I get a thrill out of rescuing something that’s about to go to the landfill. I’ve made friends with the workers at the local dumpsters, and they often save things for me they think I might like. Now that I’ve started making the assemblages and selling them, friends will sometimes drop by with their “trash” to see if I want any of it. I’m also usually part of the “clean-up crew” at estate auctions, buying things at the end of the day that no one else wanted.

Why is it important to you to use salvaged pieces in your designs?

It’s really the whole premise of my art – rescuing lost treasures. Sure something might have a ding or a bad patch – but don’t we all? It’s just my little way of trying to fight back against our disposable society.

What is the creative process behind your art? How does an idea take shape?

My creative process involves a lot of staring – I’ll line up pieces I’ve accumulated and just sit and stare at them a while. Eventually this cracked croquet ball seems to like that vase, or this lonely doll head tells me she likes that candlestick. And sometimes pieces just fall together into a fun shape in the box.

What inspires you as an artist?

Almost everything, but especially nature. I always feel close to my maker when I see a beautiful sunset, or a field of wildflowers. That inspires to keep everything I can out of the local landfill.

How long have you been selling your art?

I’ve been selling about a year – making and giving gifts long before that.

Do you remember the feeling of your first sale? How has that feeling changed after selling for so long?

Gosh, yes, I was soooo excited – I could hardly believe that anyone would actually buy one of my little creatures. It’s still a thrill, each and every time, and I love to hear back from folks who have given one of my creatures a home.

What does the Green Movement mean to you?

Just simply for each person or each family to do whatever they can do to minimize the danger to their surroundings. We don’t go all the way with solar panels and electric cars – there is a lot of expense associated with some aspects of going green. But there’s also any number of things anyone can do that are cost-free and that hold significant benefit over time.

When did you first become interested in living and working green?

I grew up as a child of the 70′s energy crisis, so I’ve always had some awareness of the issue – my dad would cover the windows with plastic during the winter, and during the worst of the energy crisis we had no lights on our Christmas tree LOL. But it’s only been for about the last five years that my family has really made a concerted effort to be more careful about our impact on the planet.

What inspires you to take care of our planet?

Really, it’s when I think about the generations of my family that will hopefully come after me – my children and their children. I want a healthy place for them to live. I was also fortunate enough to visit Alaska recently – being on a glacier is about the closest you can come to heaven. The fear of losing such a breathtaking, inspirational part of our planet is certainly motivation.

Has any one green practice become second nature, something you personally do every day?

There are lots of little things we do every day. Just cutting off lights, cutting the oven off before baking time is over, turning down the thermostat, line-drying clothes, driving 55 or below, using curly-q light bulbs, cleaning the air filter, using re-usable shopping bags, re-using aluminum foil and zipper bags, growing and canning our own garden vegetables, raising our own eggs – all simple things, but every little bit helps.

What green practice do you recommend readers try?

Having a compost pile! It’s a great way to dispose of food scraps and garden/lawn/leaf trimmings, and you’ll have the prettiest flowers on the block :-)

Is there an eco-friendly product you use in your home that you would recommend?

We really like the curly energy-saving light bulbs, and we love the water filter on our tap water – we never use plastic water bottles anymore.

As an independent artist what is your greatest challenge?

Just getting my product seen – I know next to nothing about marketing. And it’s still surprising to me that there’s a market for what I do – I just thought it was a fun way to recycle “junk”.

What has been your greatest success to date?

The reception I’ve gotten on the Etsy website has really made me feel like an actual artist – it’s been great learning from the other artists there, and applying what I’ve learned to my craft.

What is your advice to a fellow artisan who is new to their industry?

Just go for it – don’t let anyone poo-poo your ideas. If you like it and get satisfaction from it, that’s the most important thing.

Do you have an online presence where your work can be viewed?

Junkyard Gypsy
Smart Energy Technology:

Artist Spotlight: The Grownup Noise Part II – Touring, With a Side of Fries

It has been about two months since Boston based musicians The Grownup Noise completed a veggie oil fuel conversion on their superfly 1980’s van. The band became committed to make a positive impact on the planet during their cross country tour this past summer and their veggie fuel conversion was a giant, carbon reducing step in the right direction. As a frequent visitor to the band’s Myspace page, I had been keeping up with the progress of the van and the band through terrific blogs and photos they were able to post along the way. It was enjoyable to read how people reacted to the van.

My main contact in the band, bass player Adam Sankowski, also kept me up to date through emails detailing some of the challenges they faced on the road as well as funny success stories related to their ability to acquire veggie oil. One of my favorite quotes came from a blog written by Katie Franich (Cellist) when she referred to their fuel collection efforts as “death-defying grease missions”. Luckily, all four band members (also including Paul Hansen, vocal and Attis Clopton, drums) were able to thwart an early demise in order to share their travel journal with us, greasy thumb prints and all.

Feel free to read back over the first two installments of this tantalizing saga; Part I is here and the mid point story here.

After touring on both gas and veggie oil, tell us a little about how they compare.

Well, first off there are the obvious differences like paying for gas versus not paying for gas. There is a lot more work that goes into running on grease including the collection of it and the learning curve that goes with the whole system. For example, there is a system of three filters that need to be changed, but there is no exact rule to follow for when to do such. If you find “dirty” grease then its about 2,000 miles, but cleaner grease can go to 4,000 miles. And we learned that you want to change all the filters at the same time cause nothing stinks more then no knowing what filter is dirty and changing a filter and still not having it work.

The funniest thing/ scariest thing is that there is no sensor or alarm that goes off when you need to change a filter. The engine just cuts off and stops working… so suddenly you have to pilot the van to the side of the road while going 80mph and, of course, you then have no power steering when the engine cuts out. After a while we got really good at preemptively changing filters, but there was a BIG learning curve for us.

The other main thing is that a part of your day is taken up with finding grease. Eventually we got our system down, but it does take up some time. But… it’s nothing that is so time consuming or tough that I would discourage people. In larger cities it can be hard to find grease, but in the suburbs and rural areas it is still very easy to “score” grease.

Do you feel that the band saved money overall on travel expense as compared to prior tours?

Oh my god, it’s not even comparable. We ended up spending about $400- 500 on fuel for the ENTIRE tour. That includes starting in Boston, then going to NYC then back to Boston and then traveling on the most random zigzag trip across the country. From Ohio to Minneapolis to Denver to Seattle to LA then back up to San Fran… and we ended up actually buying pre filtered veggie oil twice. So about $300 was on veggie oil and $200 on diesel fuel. We ended up buying veggie oil because in LA and Austin Texas we found it very difficult to find veggie fuel.

Do you feel you reduced your carbon footprint?

Without a doubt. At first I thought that it was zero, but we started to hear conflicting reports. Here is the direct quote from [Grease Not Gas] (the BEST website on running on veggie oil ever, Mike who runs it is our hero, and the main person responsible for us doing this)

This testimony is the best scientific proof I have that running on veggie oil is environmentally sound, although I was shocked to hear that its not a zero emission’s vehicle:

Mike is quoted as saying:

“When I purchased the Winnebago Lesharo (nicknamed Soy George) for the Grease Brother’s project, I got a trip permit for the shoot and then actually got it registered with the state, after the conversion. When I pulled into the DEQ (Department of Emissions Quality) I told them, “This vehicle can run on either diesel fuel or vegetable oil” They were intrigued and asked me, “Well what do you primarily drive on?” I told them I planned on running it on vegetable oil as much as possible, to save money. They said, “Alright, go through on vegetable oil and we’ll how it goes”. The results were amazing. They said that it was by far the cleanest diesel they’d EVER seen. In the curiosity they asked if I’d drive it through again, this time on diesel. I picked up my “pass” certificate, purged out the veggie on a short drive and went through again, this time on diesel. They said these results were more what they would expect from a junky old motor home. I would have barely passed on diesel, whereas with veggie I made it with flying colors. It was a very interesting experiment; I wish I still had the results. Maybe one of these days I’ll replicate the experiment.” – Mike Parziale,

Being that our van is already cleaner burning than a motor home when running just on diesel, I think that we saved a ton of emissions!

Was it easy to acquire fuel on the road? Is this something all four-band members took part in doing?

The ease of acquiring grease was completely dependant on the area of the country. The west coast was difficult and the rest of the country was easy. We found that every third restaurant or so (non-west coast) was receptive and totally cool with us taking their grease, or that had clean enough grease for us to take. We definitely got our grease routine down after a while… and it did take all four of us. First we would scope out their grease trap, and then if it looked clean, Katie and I would go in and ask if we could grab some. That’s when the language barrier adventure began, trying to explain that we had a car that ran on their used waste. We heard “like the back to the future car?” more than once!

I’m going to be honest and admit that we did have to grab it sometimes without asking, and after a while we developed our “grease ethics”. We always asked first but exceptions were if the restaurant was closed or if it was Taco Bell. Sometimes though, there would be a grease trap in the middle of a parking lot that no restaurant would claim, so we would just take it from there. We starting calling these “blockbuster’s” grease trap, as there were several Blockbuster video stores that had grease traps near them for no apparent reason. Very weird. We started hypothesizing that they have an underground Chinese buffet that they are running.

The actual “grease getting” included one person with a “dirty bucket” in the trap and then transferring it to a “clean bucket” that put it into the filtration system. That way were weren’t dripping grease everywhere. We tried to be “grease boy scouts”, not leaving a trace… especially at the restaurants that were really nice to us. Nothing would be worse to piss them off and make them think that people who burn grease are slobs. We learned all of our “greasing” techniques from Aaron Stuart from Angel City Motor works… he’s the one who used to be in Piebald and who installed our system and who took us out “greasing” all around Boston and taught us the ropes.

What was the most common type of place you acquired your veggie oil?

There really wasn’t a formula. We usually would start by checking out all of the Asian restaurants in our area, because that was the advice given to us. But we soon found that Mexican restaurants were good, and even some chain ones. Asian restaurants are good (especially Japanese and Thai) because tempura has to be a golden hue; therefore they can’t get away with dirty oil and must change it more often. The more they change it, the better it is, and often times the better the restaurant is. You can tell a lot about a restaurant from their grease trap! Props go out to the Olive Garden, Taco Bell, and Denny’s. Shame goes to IHOP, and Ruby Tuesdays…

We also started calling ahead to the venues that also served food and they would save their oil for us. That worked Portland, Oregon and in Washington D.C.

Did anyone flat out tell you no?

Yes, and some meant it and some didn’t. There were a few Chinese buffets that had no idea what we were asking for, and they thought that we were trying to sell them something.

In some major cities and the west coast there are “bio diesel” companies springing up that are starting to pay restaurants to take it (although they are totally being ripped off) so they said no to us. The reason that they said “no” was that they were already “under contract” from these companies, even though they were paying them next to nothing for their oil. The silly thing is how some wouldn’t negotiate with us, even when we offered to eat at their restaurant in exchange, i.e. paying them much more than the grease companies were. We felt that the “contract” was a sticking point… especially if maybe the restaurant had some workers who weren’t legal… they might have felt like they couldn’t break a contract. One restaurant in Minneapolis totally was cool with us eating there in exchange for like 80 gallons of grease. I love that this allowed us to “barter” our way around the country. There is a whole industry that is springing up around used veggie oil, and its part beautiful American enterprising and part sleazy bottom feeding… taking advantage of people who don’t know the worth of what they have. Often times bio diesel companies are paying the restaurants 5-20 cents a gallon for their grease and then reselling it for 3 dollars. I’m sure that an owner of such a company would debate me on this, but it feels sleazy to me… or at least they should lower the price for broke bands! This kind of business is fine if the restaurant just doesn’t care and doesn’t want the oil, but many of them didn’t even know that it was returning such a profit. We found that part of our job was then educating the restaurant owners to the fact that they have a gas station in behind their place. A restaurant in Asheville, NC is actually now going to convert their delivery vehicle as well as a Mexican restaurant in Bakersfield, CA.

Somewhere between the restaurants and the bio diesel companies are where we exist; Bands that are simply trying to be able to afford to create art and play music. It makes me want to start a used veggie oil collection company that makes a profit but that also gives it away to any bands on tour… I have actually already been talking to some other grease car users around Boston to create a veggie oil collective so that we can survive when things get weird around here like they already have on the west coast.

I actually talked a lot about bio diesel companies and us competing with them in a blog that I wrote on the tour. Here is an excerpt of it here:

“As far as the veggie oil goes it is amazing what we are witnessing out here. I feel like I am first hand seeing an industry taking shape. Seeing the “American dream” in action. It is impossible to score grease in L.A. because all of the restaurants have already contracted out to bio-diesel companies, where as just a hour and a half east in Bakersfield no one has heard of running your car on veggie oil and the manager of the Mexican restaurant we stopped at was amazed and excited to watch us take 50 gallons of his grease and load it into our van. It’s becoming harder and harder for bands to score grease in larger areas, like in Austin it were impossible, and every grease trap was locked. Its really cool that this is becoming an industry but I just hope that the restaurant owners realize what a profit is coming from their waste. One of the companies that we met pays their restaurant owners 20 cents a gallon and then re-sells it for 3 dollars a gallon. I mean, don’t get me wrong, one of the main reasons we converted was for the environmental reason, but it’s also the only way that a band like us can afford to tour. I just wish that these companies would make acceptations for broke touring bands, because we are both competing for the same grease. And in the end, we’ve become very sneaky and good at “grabbing” it from grease traps. I just wish that restaurant owners would realize that they are basically sitting on a gas station and that they should at least convert their delivery vehicle before they sign their rights to their veggie oil away to some “bottom feeding” grease collection company. But I guess that this is all capitalism and the way that things work… also; I understand that not paying for gas was too much of a good thing to be true. At least we have made it this far, from Boston to Cali and back to Nashville at this point on only about $200 of diesel fuel. And I can sleep well on the fact that I haven’t ruined the planet too, too much in the process.”

How long of a process is it to gather the oil (from locating to filtering to installation)?

It’s actually pretty fast once you have found some decent oil. That’s what really takes the time. But that’s why our conversion cost us so much too… you can get “do it yourself” kits for next to nothing to convert your diesel car, but then you have to be able to filter veggie oil at your house. Aaron, who installed our system, put in a custom build 90-gallon tank with a built in filtration system, so we literally just pour the grease in and its filtered. But you have to be very vigilant on changing filters… that’s where the learning curve comes in. It really doesn’t take too long to get the oil though, and when we were just taking the oil or being “grease ninjas” we could grab it really quick!

As touring musicians how easy did you find it was to run this kind of fuel source?

I mean, it has its issues, and you have to work more time into your tour (kinda), but I can’t imagine any other way to tour now. Paying for gas? Destroy the planet to play music? Nope! At least right now, it’s not that hard to do.

Although it did take a bit of time to do, I feel like it really helped the band to connect on a different level. Nothing bonds a band together like all donning aprons and headlamps and getting totally dirty. I would recommend it to any band! It really made us feel like a family. Also, it actually helped cut down on stress levels in relation to finances. Its not like we made money (we took on a lot of debt to convert the van and other tour things) but it definitely was calming to go and get grease rather then stress out every time you had to put gas on a credit card.

Did you have any issues with breaking down or running out of fuel? How did you learn from those experiences and change to accommodate for them?

Like I said, it took us some time to realize how to budget time to change filters. The other problem was that none of us were mechanically inclined at all so we had to go to a Jiffy Lube every time we wanted to change the stock fuel filter/ water separator. Now I know how to change that, so it shouldn’t be so much of an issue. You become mechanical really quick when you run on grease!

As far as running out of fuel, it doesn’t happen because you can always switch back to diesel fuel. We had to do that a few times in order to make it to a show on time, but then after the show we would find veggie oil and would be good to go!

What is your most hilarious experience with gathering oil?

Outside NYC we found a diner that ha d a beautifully full grease trap. We pulled up and the owner was outside in the back. There was a language/ mental health barrier though and he thought that we were trying to sell them cabbage. He just kept screaming at us that he didn’t want any more cabbage and that we should go away. Finally his son came outside and explained what we wanted. He then started laughing and told us to take whatever we wanted… we ended up fueling our drive from NYC to D.C. on their grease.

Do you think this type of conversion would be practical for people who drive far less miles?

Maybe… if you are driving from say Framingham to Boston everyday, yes. If you are just driving around Boston, maybe not. For us, parking is an issue being that we have the largest van ever made, so sometimes I’ll take me car (don’t tell anyone) because I know that I can’t park downtown. Although I just parked last night during a Red Sox game in the Back Bay! Basically if you are going to drive anywhere on a regular basis for a half hour or more at a time then it’s worth it.

Did it surprise you to learn what areas of the country had and had not heard of such a thing?

Not really! With the political climate right now, I’m not surprised in the least bit that people are either not informed or unaware of anything. Sorry, I’ve been freaking out about political things recently and their inevitable environmental impact.

Did your fans take interest in learning more about your conversion?

The fans did to some degree, but the other bands that we played with were the most interested. Many of them were amazed that they would be able to tour again without going into extreme debt. Many were so excited!

What is the most important thing you learned about using alternative fuel sources?

That it is still an inexact science at best, but that you’ll learn a lot about yourself while doing it.

Now that you are back home, do you plan to continue to drive the van or will it be reserved for long distance touring only?

Well, we are definitely going to use it for all of our regional touring. I am writing this at my girlfriend’s house right now, and I got here in the van. I have no money for gas, so I’m going to be using the van a bunch as long as the weather is warm because you can run it much more on veggie oil in warmer weather (you have to run it for longer in cold weather to heat up the engine and before you can switch to veggie fuel). I am looking forward to eventually selling my car and buying an old diesel car and converting it. I can’t say enough about running on veggie oil. The weirdest thing is when you switch it from diesel to veggie when the van is going 80mph and you notice no difference at all. Diesel engines really like running on the oil and if anything we noticed an increase in performance. Also, when we were desperate, we put some gross and dirty grease in there, food particles and all, and although we would go through filters faster, the van ate it up and we didn’t notice any chance in the way it drove. Diesel engines can put up with a lot! And nothing beats driving for 10 hours and having the fuel needle stay in the same spot the whole time.

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Artist Spotlight: Jess Pillmore of A Second Chance

Jess Pillmore can not simply be defined as a Fiber Artist as she is skilled in various, eclectic endeavors including Teaching Performance Art and playing music of her own. Although A Second Chance is based out of Austinville, Virginia, Jess herself claims “we’re on the road so much, a lot of the time I’m creating in hotels and in the car”. When a business in Fiber Arts is based 100% on reclaimed yarn it is easy to imagine acquiring material to create those pieces in a car! Jess has a real focus on the planet not only through her Fiber Arts but in many aspects of her life and she was excited to share her experiences with us.

Describe a day in your personal or professional life.

When I’m home (which is rare but glorious), I enjoy the benefits of freelancing and being my own boss… aka I stay in my pj’s while I correspond, send out contracts, research new pieces, write new songs, create new designs and enjoy the quiet of rural Virginia. I’m obsessed with a whistlepig (groundhog) that eats from our apple tree. He’s a riot and huge! Then, when I’m on the road, I have to focus more on meeting new people (audiences, students, staff, artists), the ever-changing views from our car, NPR, creating a “home” where we are right at that moment so my husband and I never lose our footing, lose our roots. Kind of general, but we have to do all that in a day when we’re touring/teaching/performing.

How do you balance your life in music with your other endeavors?

Well, I have to keep reminding myself (’cause sometimes it doesn’t feel this way) that the common thread to all these “different” occupations – theatre, music, dance, fiber arts, producing and running a business – is me. So, the balance has to come from me. I have to focus on the moment and what inspires me in that moment. I move back and forth from all these occupations constantly, sometimes within the same day, depending on the situation. But I love it and that’s what helps. If it was stress or a chore, then I wouldn’t do it. Life’s too short to be bummed out. I try and exercise a lot, eat well and appreciate all that’s around me… the rest is play.

What type of actions do you take while touring to reduce your carbon footprint?

I tour in a Prius (love it!). I’m an electronic girl, so that means electronic press kits, contracts, etc. It helps lessen all the paper and plastic in my business on and off the road. I’m uber conscious of my tour routing – making the most of every stop and trying not to back track or travel out of the way. I combine a lot of my other occupations with my touring in order to do that better – teaching workshops in neighboring cities when playing a gig, etc. I try and travel light and buy local wherever we are.

What suggestions do you have for touring musicians to lessen their own environmental impact while on the road?

I’ve found that choices that help the environment help you too (and vice versa)… being smart and economical about your tour routing is better for everyone, including your wallet (which is really important as in indie on the road). Pack your own food (in bulk), be self contained to lessen your trash across the country. And with everything, the more research and pre-production work you do, the more you save in the long run – save for yourself and save the environment.

What drew you to fiber arts?

My great-grandmother, grandmother and mom were/are big time crafters – cross stitch, embroidery, knitting, crocheting, quilting, sewing, you name it. I picked it up from them when I was little and loved the quiet feeling of community sitting and creating with them. And there’s a great feeling of accomplishment, for me, seeing a piece I made from scratch. Plus, the colors and textures are a ton of fun to play with.

Who or what inspired you to pursue creation of fashion?

See above, it’s a family thing!

Where do you acquire material to create your wearable art?

Thrift stores all across the country. I hunt out the “I can’t believe someone tossed this!” pieces of clothing to deconstruct and then re-craft into something new. It was hard, at first, to take a part some of these pieces, but I started researching thrift stores more and found that they are up to their eyeballs in clothing. Most destroy them completely if they don’t sell within a certain time period. And the act of deconstructing helps me to understand each piece/material better, understand where it’s coming from. Just like listening to a person and finding out what makes them tick. Plus, shopping at thrift stores lessens post-consumer trash and donates funds to local charities.

When did you begin teaching and what do you teach?

Even as a director/choreographer, I was teaching and didn’t call it that. But I would cast artists that were amazingly capable but needed to be challenged…that’s where the teaching came in. I started officially teaching at 20 and haven’t stopped since (I’m 32 now). I teach theatre (mask, commedia, ensemble work, team building, contact improvisation, musical theatre, stage combat), dance (all types and choreography skills) and music (songwriting and music appreciation). My theatre company, Creatively Independent, also teaches artists how to become independent in their work and their business, as well as teach people how to boost their creativity within their work (even if they’re not professional or amateur artists). My husband, Chris Beaulieu, and I teach all ages and skill levels (pre-K to professional adults). That might sound wild, but we teach to the student, so it’s no sweat for us to alter our approach depending on the age, intent or skill level. That’s part of what allows us to do so many things and be Creatively Independent.

When teaching, do you place any emphasis on green concepts?

Yes, but not in a preachy way. I feel that, with anything, if a person can’t find the benefit of it within themselves then the change isn’t going to happen. We’re all selfish people (because our self is all we have), so I don’t think it’s a bad thing for me to say this. So, when I teach or perform, I try and show how it works for me. I try and question, promote and educate so it might spark something inside them.

Were you influenced by the Green Movement?

Yes, the momentum and availability of information definitely fueled me. And I personally made a connection to my grandparents and great-grandparents’ way of life (which was very green)… use it until it breaks down, then fix it, then use the parts that work for something else, keep going until it’s practically scraps. Compost, grow/buy locally, run a lot of errands at once or the “while you’re in town” list, lessen chemicals in the body and the home, natural cleaners, work with nature not against it…

What have you incorporated into your lifestyle to facilitate going green and conserving energy?

Natural cleaners, energy efficient appliances, less paper products (doing most things electronically), washing with cold water, hanging the wash on the line, opening windows (hardly used the a/c this year), putting a sweater on in the house (helps with the heat bill), conserving water, using my dish cloths to wash the dishes instead of disposable ones.

Tell me about your home renovation. What are some of the green products you used while remodeling?

We’re working on our 100 year old farmhouse using repurposed materials as much as possible, as well as insulating more to help with heat and air issues. It’s a blast to work with recycled glass (I’m getting into cutting old wine and beer bottles to use for stain glass installations). I think the main thing for us, is to use what we can (not just gut it and start over) as well as make sure what we have is energy efficient. We also repurpose what we’ve had to take out of the house for either craft projects (I build frames for my hand embroidered pieces with the old stairs) or for our new theater. We’re in the process of designing a black box theatre/studio, focusing on using what’s already there – shade, wind, the rise and set of the sun to heat and cool the studio. It’s exciting and challenging… but that’s where all that pre-production work comes in handy.

What is important to you about conservation and preserving our environment?

I think the earth is trying to balance itself (as all things do) and as humans we’ve tipped it onto one side pretty hard. I’m just trying to do what I can to balance – give back what I’ve taken. Also, I feel that the instantaneous, “gotta have it now” feeling that’s in most of our culture presently is without depth. A lot is lost by jumping right to the prize without experiencing the process of attaining the prize. For example, we don’t have a microwave anymore because we realized it was important for us to make ourselves stop working for 30-60 minutes and cook. Enjoy the smells, the act of creating the meal, cleaning up, sitting down to eat and talk about the day. We were missing all that because a microwave allowed us to zap our meal in 3 minutes and eat it practically standing up. We’ve noticed a huge improvement in our physical and mental health because of this choice and others like it. So, I guess that all goes back to what I was saying earlier, I had to find a reason why it benefited me to be able to benefit the environment.

What challenges have you had to bring eco-consciousness into your work?

Me. The challenge was my “easy outs”. I had to change, slowly but surely, my schedule, my time line, my wants/needs. Let’s put it this way… it’s easier and faster for me to buy yarn all ready to be knitted. It takes more time to find the sweater, clean it, take a part the pieces, unravel the yarn, wind it up and then knit it…. but it’s much more fun. The impact for others is greater and the impact is greater for myself. The challenge is to embrace being unique. When we do things ourselves for ourselves, each moment is unique, no one else can do exactly what you do. But we lose ourselves and our creativity when we grab the easy, the quick and the brainless… aka the pre-packaged, millions like it, the same in any city product. The challenge is to be me.

Do you feel that the Internet has a positive or negative influence on art? How does the Internet affect your work?

I’m a positive gal, so I’m gonna say positive influences! More access, more information, larger audience for someone’s work…love it. I’m able to have fans all over the world for my music, theatre and fiber arts. That’s amazing to me. I just have to balance within my self, how much time I spend on the Internet. I get overwhelmed with all the possibilities and then discover I haven’t created anything…ha ha ha, so I have to balance the research/inspiration with the actual creation. The Internet also allowed me to work with incredible musicians on my last album, Reveal: Viktor Krauss (Lyle Lovett, Bill Frisell), Matt Chamberlain (Tori Amos, Fiona Apple, David Bowie), Craig Barnette (Mofro, Donavon Frankenreiter) and Dan Phelps (Tori Amos). I was able to have Viktor create stunning bass and keyboard parts in his home studio in Nashville, while we were recording in Seattle with Matt in his home studio for percussion. My producer, Dan, was able to work with me via the internet, sending ideas and prodding me artistically. I could send lyric changes, and new tune ideas via my home studio. It was thrilling and an honor that they wanted to create in such an intimate way using a normally disconnected format (the internet). But it also made it possible for me to afford them as well, since I banked my own project with my alt. americana label, RoadWorm Music. I co-created it with my father, Bill Pillmore, and we have fab artists on there… please check them out.

What are you currently working on? Can you tell us about it?

With fiber arts, I’m combining knitting and crocheting right now – just finished a Rainbow baby blanket that I love and a funky tea cozy made from the edges of sweater sleeves. I’m also working on holiday fun with my sweater pieces… maybe stockings that I embroider on, ornaments… that’s later on today. In theatre, Chris and I are researching/writing a clown ensemble piece to start producing/directing this year for the festival circuit… it’s about family dynamics shown through the raw honesty and absurdity of the clown’s point of view. I’m also writing a folk rock musical with fellow label mate, Ron Morris. It’s about living in the moment and how we all struggle to own and then let go of our stories. The music is new – audio pointillism – with each song broken up into different character’s point of view to show that each moment has many variations of grey in the meaning. With teaching, Chris and I are starting to teach internationally this year, so that’s a thrill! And at home, Chris just started up a vegan/gluten free baking adventure on Etsy. So, I’ve been helping him with that, working on the repurposed cookie tins that I cover in reclaimed fabric. The house smells great!

What advice would you give a young artist just getting started?

Do your research. Be prepared. Create because you love to not because you want someone’s approval or sales. Know your needs (rent, food, bills, etc.) and reduce them if you can to allow you to work as an artist full time. Don’t be afraid to promote yourself. Put a price on your time and creativity – artists can be good at math! Don’t buy the hype that you have to suffer to be an artist. You have to be open to all emotions and opportunities without judgment to be an artist – that includes happiness, joy and success. You, not others, must define your success… and I promise that definition will constantly change. Be patient, breathe and smile.

What Green Product would you recommend to our readers?

Prius, big time.

What is your best going green tip?

Baking soda can be your best friend from absorbing odors in your fridge, trash can, rugs – cleaning a clogged drain – to healing an icky boil (yucky, but true). Seriously, natural products are rad, look around/ask around and find out about baking soda, vinegar and lemon juice. :)

How would your friends describe you?

Busy. hahaha, okay, I had to ask my friends on this one ’cause I describe myself as shy and quiet… they said collectively “silly, caring, compassionate, dedicated, busy, cute, funny, giving…” there was more but I find it hard to type without laughing uncomfortably!

Do you have a website or online presence that showcases your work?

Yes, ma’am! Here’s the list… hee hee hee
A Second Chance – Fiber Arts – Recycled Knitwear
Etsy store

Yes You Can! – Vegan/Gluten Free Insanely Good Treats
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