ChiIL Mama's thrilled to be continuing our Bodacious Book Blitz today, with another special guest. We are here with Rebeca Mojica, owner of Blue Buddha Boutique (B3) and Author of the newly released chainmaille guide, Chained.
Rebeca is an author, instructor and award-winning chainmaille artist. She is a contributing editor to Step by Step Wire Jewelry magazine and now the author of an excellent instructional jewelry book,Chained, by North Light Books. She is the pre-eminent chainmaille instructor in the Midwest, and has taught students from around the world. In addition to teaching atCaravan Beads and Lillstreet Art Center in Chicago, Briolette Beads in Forest Park, and Ayla's Originals in Evanston, she has taught at the Bead&Button Show and has been a guest instructor for the Fashion Department at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago.
Welcome, Rebeca. We have a some questions we've been dying to ask you.
1. ChiIL Mama--We've been fans of Blue Buddha, since we saw your work at The DIY Trunk Show years ago. When the general public hears chainmaille, though, I think there's somewhat of a misconception. People think Renaissance Faire chainmaille bikinis or Viking armor. However, your metalwork is flowing and gorgeous. We even saw your award winning Poseidon’s Embrace on the shopping bags for the upscale One of a Kind show and sale at Merchandise Mart. Is there a particular demographic of people who gravitate toward chainmaille art?
Rebeca Mojica--You are right about the misconception; I've been fighting that image for years, and I think finally the tide is starting to turn. Perhaps it was due to the shopping bag, but this year at the One of a Kind show, it was the very first show I've done where I didn't hear a single person come up to the booth and say (very snobbily, I might add!), "Oh, it's JUST chainmaille..." Overwhelmingly, the response to my work has been positive, but there were always one or two people that rolled their eyes, so I'm thrilled that not a single person did that at this show.
Fans of my jewelry really span a diverse spectrum, from high-school age to 70 years old, mostly female but definitely some repeat male customers as well. Generally people with a slightly funky side to themselves like my work, but I have a few sleek and elegant pieces that appeal to the conservative dressers as well.
2. CM--Are there shows or venues where you enjoy the type of crowds they attract the most?
RM--The DIY Trunk Show is my favorite show of the year. I rarely sell high-end pieces at that show, so it's not my highest grossing show ... but I love the crowd! All the attendees really appreciate handcrafted items. I've had some customers come back to my booth year after year to buy new items. And, it's also my favorite show because I like the wares of the other vendors better than any other show I do. I always make time to do some shopping at the DIY Trunk Show!
Sagezilla, modeling 2 pairs of Blue Buddha Boutique chain earrings that we bought at The DIY Trunk Show
3. CM--Sometimes once you do something you love as a profession it becomes more work and less fun. Do you still love to do chainmaille?
RM--Absolutely. Sometimes before I start a new project, I'll feel less than enthusiastic, but once I begin the process, I fall in love all over again. It is so soothing to link ring after ring together. What has become more work is managing the growth of the business. I wish I had more time to maille!
4. CM--I saw a prior reviewer refer to you as a femailler which I thought was pretty funny. I know you're a major artist in the field now, but is it predominantly male dominated and did you have to prove yourself to be respected as a serious, woman, chainmaille artist?
The field of chainmaille armor is predominately male dominated. When I first started making chainmaille jewelry eight and a half years ago, there were so few people in the country doing it, but perhaps the ratio was split 50-50. Most people making chainmaille jewelry nowadays are female, but there are definitely more men doing it than in other jewelry crafts, like bead-making, which is overwhelmingly female.
I have had to prove myself more as a serious business person (regardless of my gender) when attending functions in the business world. When I first started, I got a lot of looks from people like, "Awww, isn't that cute? She's trying to be a little artsy business person."
Sometimes folks wouldn't take me seriously, because artists definitely have a reputation for being artsy and not business-y. In my own field, gender is sometimes an issue for about 10 seconds if I'm talking to a new wire supplier, or someone else in the metals manufacturing industry, which is predominately male. However, once I toss around some industry jargon, they instantly get that I know what I'm talking about, and I am treated with respect.
Rebeca's drawing of her parents at age 5. By this point, the artist had discovered the use of color, and the fact that the sun had a face.
5. CM--We've read that you are donating $5 from the sale of every signed copy of Chained to Friends of Franklin Fine Arts Center, a non-profit organization whose mission is to raise funds and provide community resources and support for Franklin Fine Arts Center, a Chicago Public Magnet elementary school in Chicago's Old Town neighborhood focused on the visual and performing arts. We have 2 children in Chicago Public Schools and are huge supporters of public education and of the arts in schools. Do you ever teach workshops at Franklin or other classes for kids (younger than college age)?
RM--First off - yay to you for sending your kids to public schools! :-)
I have led a few high school workshops, and other Blue Buddha instructors have as well. I love to teach them maille, but more than that, I hope to plant a seed that it is possible to make a living doing something you love, and also that it is possible for a woman to have a successful, independent career. I have not yet taught at Franklin, but I've been speaking with the principal and would love to set something up for later in the school year.
One of my favorite and most talented students, Sky Cubacub, started taking classes from me when she was in 8th grade. She is now in college, and is poised to have an amazing career in fashion. It's been amazing watching her creativity flourish during the past few years.
6. CM--I loved the wisdom of what you wrote about your k-6 education on your book site and will repeat it here:
I am extremely proud to be a product of Chicago Public Schools. From grades K-6, I attended Franklin Fine Arts Center, a magnet school that provides students with arts programming in each grade. It wasn't until I was in high school that I realized just how unusual my grade school experience was. I had no idea that not every child got to experience dance, drama, theatre, art and music as a regular part of their school curriculum. Not only that, but the student body was ethnically diverse, allowing me to form strong friendships with students of many backgrounds.
I wish more organizations—both for children and adults!—would use the arts to bring together people of different ethnicities, and use this as a starting point for creating a fully open and accepting society. I wish more communities would see the advantages of arts programming, and find cost-effective ways to integrate those programs with core academic curriculum.
Now that I'm grown up, I want to give back to the school that fostered my creativity and taught me to express human emotion through the arts. I want other people to know about the success of Franklin, and I want parents and teachers everywhere to brainstorm ways to bring the arts to more students. This is why Blue Buddha Boutique is donating $5.00 from the sale of every signed copy to Friends of Franklin Fine Arts Center. With small steps, the entire world can be changed.
Rebeca "Becky" made this shoe in 2nd grade--Sagezilla's age
CM--What else can you tell us about the pros and cons of your public school education, in a huge, urban environment, and what it was like growing up as a city kid?
RM--I absolutely loved going to public schools. I had best friends who were Mexican, black, Chinese, Puerto Rican, white, Filipino and of course, some that were mixed, like me. I went to magnet schools, so I got to meet friends from all over the city and travel out beyond my neighborhood, which is something that many kids don't do. I was like a public transportation queen in high school!
My high school was a total nerd school, which was the perfect environment for me. There was no being made fun of for being studious. (In fact, as an example of how nerdy the school was, my GPA was higher than a 4.0 on a 4.0 scale, and I still wasn't in the top 10%!) The school had an excellent theatre program, allowing me to participate in the arts right up through 12th grade.
Growing up in the city was also tough at times. I grew up in Humboldt Park, and anyone who is from Chicago knows that wasn't the best neighborhood to be in during the 1980s and 90s. I heard gunshots all summer long, saw gang fights and even saw someone get shot a couple hundred feet away. It didn't make me scared, though. It made me tough. I also accepted the fact that some things are out of my control, and if I'm going to randomly get shot, well, OK, it'll happen, but there's no need for me to stress out about it every day for my entire life. I've done a lot of traveling on my own, and I don't know that I would have had the confidence to do that if I had been brought up in a really protective environment.
I still love the city to this day. I will eventually move because I am drawn to nature and dark skies. (Seriously, 10 stars in the sky at night is pretty pathetic!) Also, shaving a month or so off of winter would be great. However, I know I will miss the culture that abounds in the city. Music, restaurants, museums -- all so amazing and eye-opening.
7. CM--CPS is cash strapped and struggling. Often music and art are the first on the chopping block when it's time to make cuts. What would you tell the city in defense of keeping arts alive in the schools?
Rebeca "Becky" at age 6 or 7 (Sagezilla's age)-totally in love with dancing
It should not be set aside, but should instead be encouraged. The arts are very intimate, very personal. There are different ways of expressing emotion, but the arts are a wonderfully diverse platform, one that resonates in some way, on some level with just about every single one of the 6+ billion humans on this planet. Artist expression is one of the few things that truly connect us to everyone else, so it is important to pay attention to that and preserve it.RM--The desire to create beauty seems to be nearly as old as civilization itself. Nearly every culture in the world creates art, and there are thousands and thousands of ancient artifacts that contain decorative elements. Art is older than the English language. Dance and music (in some cultures, the word is the same for both!) has been around longer than the fields of science and math. Creative expression is part of who we are. It is cathartic and necessary to human development to express oneself.
Give children the freedom to express themselves creatively, and they often become better communicators, problem-solvers and thinkers in general. This is not just me saying this; countless studies have shown that early exposure to the arts is beneficial.
Nourish the artistic desire within children, and you feed their souls.
What a better world this would be, if more people felt as though their souls were being fed.
Becky's 3yo. drawing-Papi-Her Dad's a snowman, apparently.
RM--If you have kids, make it a priority to do something arts-related at least every week. Maybe go see a play, or a music concert. Go to an art museum, and grab postcards of your favorite works of art (or these days - go online and find images that inspire you) and then pull out the paints and create your own interpretations. Enroll your child in classes that are arts-based. The Park District has a ton of free programming - you can't beat free!
If you don't have kids, find arts organizations with youth programming that resonates with you and find a way to further their mission. Whether you volunteer, or donate money, or serve on their Board (or all three!), just do something that will help them continue to deliver and improve their programming.
9. CM--I'm always intrigued by and impressed with people who leave the safety of a steady pay check to bum around the world and truly explore their dreams. The bio on your site says you're a graduate from the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University and that you worked in media relations and nonprofit development for seven years. Then you quit your job, spent a summer working at Interlochen Arts Camp, and then backpacked through a dozen European countries. After six months of travel and working odd jobs for room and board, you settled down and lived for a year as an au pair in Germany. In fact, it was at a German Renaissance Faire, that you first got inspired to try chainmailling.
(Rebeca saw several people wearing chainmaille belts. She couldn't find any place to buy them, so she decided to make one herself, thus awakening her passion. Today she knows more than 100 weaves, including a dozen of her own creation, and has a diverse portfolio of both upscale and accessible jewelry.)I also have a PR/Marketing degree from Miami University, but I traded in my dean's list honors education to work with children and follow my creative dreams, outside of the soul killing cubical world of corporate PR. Do you ever have any regrets about quitting your day job?
RM--Never. :-) Even a few years ago, when I was about to start hiring employees and I was scared out of my mind to take my business to the next level, I still never regretted leaving my career in PR/development behind. When I first started my business, I had three part-time jobs, and I slowly dropped them, one by one, over the course of about four years as my business grew. It was less of a leap of faith and more of a slow descent with lots of safety cables, but I'm glad I did it that way. And I would do it all again in a heartbeat.
10. CM--Do those months of travel still influence and shape your creative work?
RM--At this point, it is less about the specific traveling I did back then, and more the idea of traveling that sparks my creativity. I took a three-week vacation to Germany this past summer, partially to celebrate that I'd finished writing my book. It was funny, because I was slightly scared to go. It had been nearly a decade and the idea of traveling by myself and of being "that old lady" in the hostels was intimidating. I hadn't felt that way at all when I backpacked the first time, and it bothered me that I'd stayed put so long that I was more comfortable staying put than exploring again. However, as soon as I landed in Germany, it felt so right, and I re-found my inner Wanderlust.
11. CM--Did the children you were a nanny for, inspire and spark your creativity?
RM--Mainly, they inspired me to learn German. :-) I'll never forget the younger kid, Robert, looking up at me during my first week when I was reading Das Dschungelbuch (The Jungle Book). He cocked his head and said, "Ist das Deutsch?" Ouch.
While living with them, though, I was inspired to create several board games for us to play. Robert was obsessed with pirates, so of course there was a pirate game. Even his older sister, Marlene, enjoyed playing it. When I was in grammar school, I'd often created mazes and games for my best friend, and it felt good to be doing it again.
12. CM--Do you travel much now, with Blue Buddha and chainmaille shows, or just to escape and relax?
RM--Most of my travels are work-related. But I am looking forward to more long vacations, like my recent trip to Germany. Being away from the business for three weeks allowed my fingers to re-coop, my brain to re-organize, and my soul to refresh. I felt ready to pursue my craft with a new passion when I returned. So I've promised myself to go on a semi-long vacation at least every other year, if not every year. It is good for me, and definitely good for my art and the business, too.
13. CM--What other artists influence your work?
RM--I have artists that I really like (Remedios Varo and Salvador Dali, to name my favorites), but they don't really influence my work. I am much more influenced by science and math. Stuff like fractals, geometry, cosmology, chemistry...I stay awake until the wee hours of the morning trying to figure it all out and often create pieces that look like diagrams I've seen in science textbooks. (Yes, I read them for fun. I told you I was a nerd.)
14. CM--We also have Ayun Halliday with us as ChiIL Mama's other Virtual Book Tour guest today. She's another traveler, artist and author with similar world views, who has just compiled Zinester's Guide To New York City. You mentioned you're a fan of her work. Are you familiar with her books, magazine articles, theatre....
RM--I became a fan of Ayun back when she was a Neo-Futurist. I always loved her skits, and thought Dirty Sugar Cookies: Culinary Observations, Questionable Taste was a hoot. Plus, her belly bagel is the best. I swear, I tried for hours to do that with my belly, and my fingers wouldn't go in a perfectly round shape. I kept getting a square bagel. To this day, I am still in awe of that. (I can picture Ayun shaking her head and exclaiming, "I've written thousands of pages of material, acted in so many different shows...and all this lady cares about is my friggin' bagel?!?" What can I say? I am impressed by the unusual.)
**Too funny. I too have never forgotten "Ayun's bagel" and have amused my kids with my own bagel belly. I may not be skinny, but I can make a wicked realistic bagel--something I likely never would have discovered without Ayun's guidance. My son also had your square bagel issue when he tried it.
15. CM--I've read reviews and a number of comments about Chained, and everyone has been universally raving about how easy the directions are to follow, and how the book grows with the reader's skill level. You've covered the basics for beginners, but even the pros will find gorgeous designs and helpful tips. Why did you decide to write a how to book?
RM--My students had been bugging me for years to write a book. The time was finally right. I felt like I had enough teaching experience to fully grasp all the stumbling blocks newbies might have, and to be able to explain techniques in such a way that everyone could understand.
Also, I won't lie - I want to spread chainmaille far and wide, helping people all over the world fall in love with this versatile medium. Writing a book seemed like one of the best ways to make that happen.
16. CM--How long did it take you to complete it?
RM--From the time I started putting together my book proposal, to the time I first held my advance copy in my paws, was nearly two years. The actual process of writing the manuscript, taking the photos and making all the jewelry took about a year. Several months before that year was spent putting together the proposal (which, at 30 pages, was very detailed and focused). After the year of hard work, there was lots of waiting for the editing/design/layout/proofing, with the manuscript making its way back to me every couple of months for another author review.
**Two years is what Ayun said it took her to complete her latest book as well.
17. CM--What would you like to add about Chained?
RM--I am proud to say that I think Chained is the best chainmaille book in the market. Technique is so important in this field, but no other book goes into much detail about technique. Already, I've gotten feedback from veteran maillers who have learned a couple of tips and tricks.
I wanted to create the "go-to" book for maillers, whether they are looking for information on working with different metals or ring sizes. Thusfar, I've only encountered one person who was disappointed with the book (she felt that not enough advanced techniques were covered), but she did tell me that she is keeping it for the valuable reference material inside. So I feel I've succeeded with creating a book that maillers of all levels will look to for inspiration and information. I hope that my techniques section will help set industry standards in this burgeoning field, and that poor jump ring closures will become a thing of the past.
18. CM--So what's next? Are you working on any more labor intensive pieces like Poseidon's Embrace?
RM--Yes! If all goes well, I'll be entering the Bead Dreams competition again in 2011 (Poseidon's Embrace was a ribbon winner in 2009, the first and only time I've entered). I'm hush-hush about the project for now, though. :-)
19. CM--Do you tend to have a number of simultaneous projects in the works?
RM--I tend to have way too many projects in the works. Having an artistic brain PLUS the brain of an entrepreneur is a bit much at times. I have far, far too many ideas. Usually I'm working on a few production pieces, maybe a custom piece or two, and one or two new designs (most of which don't make the final cut). Again, though, I wish I had more time to create....I do enjoy crunching numbers, but not as much as I enjoy weaving maille!
20. CM--What advice do you have for beginners who are eager to jump in and get going on chainmaille pieces?
20. CM--What advice do you have for beginners who are eager to jump in and get going on chainmaille pieces?
RM--Start simple. Sure, some of the advanced projects look so amazing, but you'll get there in time. If you start with little tiny rings, or a piece that requires 600 jump rings, you might get frustrated and turned off by this artform. Instead, start with a beginning-level earrings or a pendant, or a simple bracelet. If you enjoy it, then you can splurge on pliers and more advanced level projects. I find that even just 8 or 10 hours of weaving experience makes a huge difference in a person's ability to tackle a challenging weave. Take a look at Blue Buddha's FAQ for lots of information on the different materials used and for some more pointers on getting started.
Rebeca, thank you so much for joining us today! You can friend, follow and like Rebeca, Blue Buddha Boutique, and Chained on Face Book and Twitter.
For holiday gift giving, there are two ways to work Chained into your plans. If you're artistically inclined, Chained is an invaluable guide to making gorgeous, affordable chainmaille for everyone on your gift list. If you're not, give Chained as a gift and you're practically guaranteeing that some handmade, awesome jewelry will be coming back to you for future gifty occasions. It's a win win situation!
Also, Rebeca has a special give away going on, which I'll detail again below. She's offering $10 B3 certificates to winners chosen from those who comment and a super sweet, valuable grand prize to those who comment on every stop on the Chained Virtual Book Tour! So comment away and get your copy today.
Catch CHAINED on the road + Catch up with Rebeca online!
We are totally excited for the upcoming live events celebrating the release of CHAINED but we’re less excited that we can’t party with all of our readers across the country (and the world!) To remedy this problem, we created a Virtual Book Tour! Starting December 11th, Rebeca will be making “stops” at several blogs over the course of the week. These unique interviews with some of our favorite jewelry bloggers will cover topics including how CHAINED got published, Rebeca’s success as an entrepreneur and philanthropist, what she has learned from teaching others the art of chainmaille and how CHAINED can help even a novice become a proficient chainmailler.