It's been such a pleasure getting to know some of my fellow bloggers better lately, and really I get the secret advantage of thinking up the questions I've always wanted to know about our creative friends. Hopefully, you wanted to know, too. As I've said in my last post, I'm am a big admirer of my next guest ceramics and mixed media art.
Without further ado, I am very pleased to post this interview of Elizabeth Gonzalez for my "Women Who Create Beautiful Things"....
Tell me a little about yourself.
I have loved the process of creating since I was a child. I grew up in a very big family, eight girls and 5 boys with artistic talents, mostly in music. Since I am the tenth of thirteen, I grew up watching my grandma, my mom, my aunt, my older sisters and brothers in many different forms of art like sewing, drawing, painting, singing, playing instruments, writing lyrics or poems. My mom and my aunt taught me crochet when I was nine. Later I learned sewing, needlepoint, embroidery, paper work, glass work, ceramics and recently painting and collage. For different reasons I ended up in a professional career as Industrial Engineer and college professor. It is interesting that when I tell people about my teaching experience they ask if I teach art. It is so funny watching their faces when I tell the list of courses I teach like probability and statistics, operation management, math, organizational theory and so on.
By the time I decided to enroll in a ceramic course I was working as a part time industrial engineer consultant, part time Executive Director for an engineering association with 26 countries as members and a part time college professor teaching mathematics and I was raising my kids. From all those things I was doing the only one I was enjoying was raising my kids. Going to basketball and soccer games and all the activities related to them as babies, toddlers, teens and now as young men is what makes me feel grateful, blessed and alive. In fact, I love family life. The most valuable treasures I have from my childhood are the family reunions on Sundays at my grandma’s whose house was far away from the city with lots of chickens, hens, dogs, cats, pigs, pigeons, vegetables, and lots of cousins.
It is no surprise that my designs are inspired by a truly passion for nature and family life. I am in loved with my three sons of 29,27and 25 and my two adorable grandchildren Javier André (2) and Aliany Gabriela (7 months).
What’s it like living in Puerto Rico. Have you always lived there? Has it been beneficial to your art career?
Puerto Rico, called the “enchanted island”, it is the place I was born and I have lived all my life. The beneficial part is the tropical climate and the richness of color we have for the 365 days of the year. We can be inspired in a beach or in a forest or in a dessert in this 35 x100 island. The green mountains and trees with flowers are always present in our live. I love the tropical flowers and fruits. In the art area we have many talented artists and art teachers in almost any area who inspire me. The not so beneficial is that we are indeed small. We don’t have a Michael’s or Ac Moore or anything similar to that. We have a lot of stores, BIG stores but not for art supplies. Art supplies are found in a few small stores and Walmart but it is not the same. Added to that, sometimes we feel “small” as it is our island. It is common to think we can not reach where others living in big countries can. We have to overcome this feeling of being small if we want to succeed. I keep looking at people born in Puerto Rico like Ricky Martin, Raul Julia, Rita Moreno, Tito Trinidad, Jennifer Lopez, and many other talented artists who dreamed big and succeeded.
Tell me about how you started in ceramics. How did that come about?
I got madly in love with ceramics a little late in my life when I was raising my kids and after a trip to the Old San Juan. Actually, it was the store that sells my art since 2001 the one I visited more just to admire other artist’s work. I used to walk the store and dream that someday I could have something there made by me. Finally, in 1996, when my kids were 14, 12 and 10, and I was struggling to find something I could do with passion, I enrolled in a ceramic class. The class was for a specific project but that was all I needed. This was the beginning of my creative journey and the first steps for my now creative business.
The most important thing I learned in that workshop was that I could transform that clay in almost anything I wanted. After that class I began a creating process and I started practicing braveness. In less than a year after that ceramic class, I took some of my first projects to a lovely store in my home town I the owner was impressed and bought everything and asked for more. I was so emotional that I almost cried!
How did you get your work in a couple of stores in Puerto Rico?
As I said I practiced braveness a few times. In 2001 I got divorced and I wanted to make some extra money aside from my salary as a college professor and I called the Old San Juan Store. We made an appointment and I took some of my work, even some broken pieces. The owner said: “I like everything, can you sell it to me today? WOW, I was blown away. After that awesome experience I did the same with another store, now in the BIG Mall Plaza Las Américas, and the experience was the same. Both stores were selling everything and they kept ordering again and again. The Plaza store closed but I have a lot of good memories. It was a very important store and still today people see my work at shows and ask me if my work was in that store, Nostalgia, because they have one or a few pieces. The Old San Juan store, PR Arts & Crafts still sells my ceramic work. Other stores contact me after a fair or a show. I can tell you that this is the best way to sell to a store, they see your art in a show and they get interested.
That was what happened to me in November 2010 with my collage painting. I don’t want to sell any more ceramic work on stores, just in a few because I get bored of making the same piece again and again. I need to create new things every day and I have so many different designs that is impossible to make them all by myself or to supply for all the stores that want to have them. The Poets Passage and Patchouli at the Old San Juan are now selling my collage painting prints and original and two more stores contacted me recently to begin to sell them, too. These two saw my collage painting in the San Juan store.
I understand your artwork is being looked at by a distributor. How did you make that happen?
Back in 2002-2004, AVON Puerto Rico contacted me because they saw my work at the Old San Juan Store PR Arts & Crafts . They wanted to reproduce two of my Christmas Collection pieces. I made the pieces and they sent it to China to be reproduced and the result was astonishing. They made the piece in resin but it was almost identical. They sold 4,000 pieces in only one week before Christmas season and they ordered more. They sold a lot. After that experience they bought 9 more designs. I didn’t have the experience and knowledge on this kind of business and the decision didn’t bring me good money but the experience was excellent. My photo was included in all catalogs selling my designs and that was awesome. Still these days I find people that can recognize my work because they bought one of those reproductions.
The company they contacted to make this project encouraged me to do other pieces with them. The same company, now sold to one of the partners is the one I contacted to distribute my collage painting prints and my casted set of butterflies which will be on the stores in 4-5 months under the trademark Borboletas. The distributor is very positive and grateful that I gave him this opportunity. Another seller from Puerto Rico who lives in Philadelphia wants to represent my work out of Puerto Rico. Now that it is easier with collage painting we will be meeting soon to make this happen. Today I have an important meeting with the owners of two stores located at important mall in the metro area who once wanted to sell my ceramic but now I will show them my collage painting prints and the possibility of other products made from them.
What are your dreams and goals for your future?
In my creative life, licensing is what I have been dreaming for a few years since I worked with AVON. After KRR E-Course and the support of the community I am part of now, I know I can make it happen. I would like to see my ceramic designs casted and reproduced in high quality materials selling in big stores like Bed Bath and Beyond or Macy’s or any other store. As Tara Reed says…Painting in my pajamas is what I dream. I would love to see my art in many products. I dream of designing lots of decorative and functional products that can bring smiles to people enjoying them in their homes.
When people tell me that my art make them smile….I know the hard work and the patience has paid off. Now I have more faith in my work and a strong desire to have more time with my family and I believe that my creative business is taking me where I want to be.