Monday, October 17, 2011

Creatrix Of The Moment: Petunkalunka - Joyful Jewellery Designer

I recently had the exquisite pleasure of interviewing the merry, multifaceted, magnificent Petunkalunka! A bit of a Renaissance Woman, Petunkalunka is a clever jewellery designer who currently is residing in Japan working as an English teacher. Her wit and charm are practically intoxicating! Check out what she has to say about work, creativity, music, jewellery design, and more--

I love that you often seem to have a "story" behind the creations of your jewelry pieces. For example, with the Picasso Autumn Cube items, you had blogged about memories linked with music played in your childhood home inspiring your design. Do you find that certain themes (musical, cultural, artistic, etc) or memories impact your creations? How would you describe the way your creative process is inspired?

"My family watched a lot of old musicals and movies when I was growing up—The King and I, The Glenn Miller Story, White Christmas, Singin' In the Rain—and I think those bright Technicolor and Vistavision tones stuck with me, not to mention the high fashion of the time. The women always seemed so effortlessly elegant. That's exactly what I want from my jewelry. Effortless elegance. In my imagination I am a brown Rosemary Clooney, singing "Love, You Didn't Do Right By Me" while surrounded by svelte men in turtlenecks.

My inspiration comes from many places. I create something because I want it to match one of my outfits, or because a friend says "I want to buy something like blah blah blah," and I think, I could make that. Having even a pretend customer in mind gives me a little more focus. A more recent piece is the direct result of looking through a spread in Vogue and seeing bright color-blocking on page after glossy page. Four years ago while watching Apocalypto (twice) I made a bracelet, necklace, and earrings set that was clearly influenced by the intricate Mayan jewelry and all the rich turquoise. It took a long time to finish, though. I kept pausing, gripping the pliers in one hand and the unfinished necklace in the other, my heart pounding, yelling at the screen "Run, Jaguar Paw! Run!" That second half is intense."

How do you decide what to "name" your pieces?

"It's usually the first thing that comes to mind, which means it's based on whatever I was thinking about when I started making the item. If not the first, the one I think would appeal most to the consumer. Despite the fun of hollering "Yeti balls! I'm a'wearin' yeti balls!" to myself in the comfort of my apartment, I think "Yeti Eyes Yarn and Gemstone Necklace" comes closer to the playful sophistication for which I aim."

If you could only have one album/CD playing in the background while you were designing your next jewelry piece, what would it be and why?

Yipes. One? If I'm designing something I would wear all day every day then it'd have to be Donald Ryan's The Sweetest Sounds. Smooth, relatable jazz standards with an occasional calypso feel; my kind of stuff. It's music I can sing with, but it isn't a distraction because I know it so well. Yes, the pianist also my father, so it brings back good memories of listening to him play while I ran around at home. If you think I'm biased unfairly, I challenge you to check him out at (the other Ryan is my younger brother). He has played at Carnegie Hall and he's in the Oklahoma Jazz Hall of Fame, you doubting Thomases.

If I'm going to make something based a piece of of current trends, then I'll listen to Janelle Monae's Archandroid with "Tightrope" dance breaks. That lady is just friggin' cool, and both of her albums are so carefully thought out it's as though I'm listening to an opera in R&B clothes."

Tell us how you became involved with the Japanese Exchange and Teaching program.

"It was my third year in college when I realized that I didn't want to be a teacher, after all. I was double majoring in elementary education and French, the former for practicality and my love for children, the latter because my college didn't have a music major and I loved the professor. While I found many of my education classes challenging and inspiring, I realized that the life of a teacher was not for me. Yet there I was in the middle of my college career with half of two unrelated degrees and little time for do-overs. In the midst of my hohmuguh-I've-wasted-half-my-higher-education crisis I applied for a study abroad scholarship in Angers, Vallée de la Loire, France and got it.

I spent the first half of my senior year in Angers, going through culture shock without realizing it and learning to think in another language. Despite many of my frustrations as a foreigner, I loved it. It was such a different feel from living in one of the youngest states in America. I learned to be a wine, bread, and cheese snob. I learned to like fish. Gradually I stopped getting a headache from listening to French all day in class. I got my landlady's adorable granddaughter to like me. Right as I was really warming up to the place it was time for me to leave.

Not only did I learn that fluency in another language is impossible without spending time among native speakers, but I also gained a strong wanderlust. I spent the rest of my senior year stressing about how to work with children without being a teacher, and how to travel the world without going broke or only being a tourist. On my older sister's suggestion I made an appointment with the career counselor, who asked me some questions and gave me a couple of aptitude tests. She suggested the Japan Exchange and Teaching (JET) Program as a way to both satisfy my ken for travel and teach without staying in the Midwest. A year later I was leaving for Japan. Long story, but as Bugs Bunny would say, "You aaaaasked for it!" Then he would throw a pie in your face."

What do you like most about living in Japan right now? Least?

"I clearly have a hard time choosing anything. More than the food, the proximity to other countries, the history, the socialized health care, the trains, the scenery, the friends I've made and people I've met, my current favorite thing is how accomplished living abroad makes me feel. I've learned traditional Japanese calligraphy, play taiko, earned a black belt in aikido, and can have half a conversation in Japanese. Moreover, I've learned self-sufficiency and the value of taking my self lightly. Operating in a different culture and language is humbling on a daily basis. The language barrier is always frustrating (I'm a college graduate but a functioning illiterate!). Even after four years I constantly make mistakes. It's my own fault, though. I don't study much on my own. On the upside, the Japanese people who've known me since I arrived have commented on how much I've improved. Plus, I no longer feel like I'm misrepresenting all of America if I have to ask the waiter to read a menu to me.

I hate winter. That is why I will not stay another year in this job, is because of winter. Winter is the worst, all day, all the time. There is no insulation in the buildings and no central heating in schools. They have smelly kerosene heaters that they don't drag out until about December 1st, so I teach with stiff fingers and three layers of tights. I do not exaggerate. Winter. Sucks. Yeti balls."

Would you define yourself as a goal-setter? What do you believe about setting goals in general?

"Oh boy, am I a goal-setter, and how! I'm just not a goal finisher. I'm very easily distracted and often set goals that aren't feasible in the time I've set. My father once advised me to set a timer for 20 minutes, and to stick to one task until the timer goes off. Then I can decided whether or not to move on to something else. That works. Otherwise my general philosophy is to set small goals that lead to one larger, but to let go of some goals when circumstances change. Example A: I'm preparing to move halfway across the world again in ten months. I had thought that I'd stay in my hometown for a few months while looking for a job in France, but after my parents ran into some health problems I decided to put living in France on the back burner. I know I'll get there someday, but I'll wait until I've spent some quality time in the Midwest.

Example B: I was determined to make five billion necklaces from a complicated original design and be famous for my incredible taste and style. I would be jeweler to the stars!!! Before I had finished even one of the original design I saw that my multi-strand necklaces were gaining more attention than anything else in my shop. I like making them and they're less labor intensive than the original design concept. So that's my new focus. I'll do those original designs when I have time, or in short sections like on the Elegant Breast Cancer Awareness necklace."

What do you wish more people knew or understood about what's involved in creating handmade goods?

"The time it takes! I've blogged about why I set my prices "so high." For every hour I spend making a necklace you can bet I've spent another hour trying something that didn't work. I've been messing with a skein of yarn for the last two weeks, trying to figure out how to string some heavy agate on it without bending the necklace out of shape. Then there's the time it takes to get a good photo or ten, editing the image file, tallying up the cost of materials and labor, etcetera. Just posting an item on Etsy takes me at least 15 minutes; usually closer to 30. How do I get visitors to want my stuff without sounding like an ignorant tween or a douchebag? It takes thought and revision."

What is one jewelry creation you are currently the most proud of?

Always the last piece I sold. I feel like Sally Field. "You like me! You really like me!"

And it's no surprise why so many people like Petunkalunka...who wouldn't? She has style, she embraces life and laughter, and she encompasses what it means to be a Joyful Creatrix.

Please stop by Pentunkalunka's shop on Etsy and keep up with her latest adventures in Japan on her blog, Handmade Something Or The Other. Trust me, you'll be glad you did.


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