Steampunk Hands around the World – Interview with Michelle of Steelhip Design

In this last interview for the Steampunk Hands event, I’m reaching over from the UK to shake hands with Michelle in Australia.

The founder of Steelhip Designs, this talented lady produces the most incredible, wearable, faux machine adornments and sculptures! 

The NewRomancer

1. How did your shop get its name and what was the main inspiration behind opening your shop?

I’ve had Psoriatic Arthritis since I was 12 years old.  Due to that condition I’ve had both my hips replaced, both my knees replaced and my right wrist plated and fused.  It’s made having any kind of career difficult.  In 2001 I went back to school and studied web design and named my business Steelhip Design.  I loved designing websites but started making jewellery as a way to relax after coding all day.  When making jewellery and art took over from web design, I didn’t feel the need to change my business name.

The Clockwork Alchemist – on Etsy

2. What do you create and do you have a signature product? If so how did it come to be?

I mostly create jewellery pieces – that’s what I financially survive on but I also make small sculptural/assemblage pieces.  My signature piece is the mechanical flying heart – I’ve made many, all unique, but I still love making them.  They have evolved over time from simple embellishments to now, very complex little faux machines.  The gear teeth are locked together, the gauges have tiny watch hands and in some cases, printed read outs.  I think it’s the increasing degree of complexity that is keeping me engaged artistically.

Control Panel – on Etsy

 I don’t fabricate or cast so I’m using existing items in new ways.  In a weird kind of way having a disability taught me to adapt to the world around me.  Adaptation is a huge part of my design process.

Ethereal Essence Extractor

3. Where do you find your inspiration and what makes you different from the other people that make what you make?

Having lots of metal in me.  So it’s no wonder biomechanical themes feature heavily in my work.  
It’s a cliché but I really do see inspiration everywhere.  That is why steampunk is so dynamic.  We see movement, physics and engineering everywhere.  I love driving around a heavy industrial areas – seeing the pipes, huge machinery and massive electrical terminals. 
I work in what is kindly called “creative chaos” but could also be termed a total mess.  My desk is covered in bits and pieces.  It’s amazing how many pieces have just come together in this confusion and randomness of proximity.  
I like to make pieces that look like they actually work.  Gears for gear’s sake isn’t my thing – they have to look like they are part of a mechanical process.  Recently I’ve delved into the “mad scientist” realm with brass tubing, miniature control panels and glass vials.  I want these pieces to look like they are “plugged in” to the wearer’s body.
I’m often told my pieces are very original – that is the best compliment any artist can get. 

Mini Orrery

4.What do you enjoy most about your craft?

When everything just comes together – the piece is virtually making itself – great feeling.  I can’t draw so it’s impossible for me to plan out a piece.  I have to pick up the parts to see if they will fit together.
Seeing people’s faces seeing my work – just Wow!  That is the downside to online selling – not seeing those immediate reactions but I get a lot of lovely messages from all over the world.

I  do love the hunt too.  Sourcing my supplies has become very difficult with the popularity of steampunk and the fact I live in Perth, Australia – the most isolated capital city in the world.  Down here we have neither the population nor history for vintage surplus/charity shop finds.  Virtually everything I use I have to source online.  Totally jealous of the steampunk artists in the US and Europe and the access they have to amazing raw materials!  So, when I find fantastic supplies at a reasonable price and shipping costs aren’t exorbitant it is a very good day. 

Orbit Ring

5. What is your best advice to newbie Etsians just opening their shops?

Mainly talking to jewellery artists here.  Be original and find a niche.  It took me six years to find my niche.  And be prepared for the cruel reality of capitalism.  When I look online, walk through a shopping mall and go to a craft market – jewellery is EVERYWHERE!  I’m astounded I sell anything.  It can be crushing to your ego when you’ve poured your heart and soul into a piece of art or jewellery and it doesn’t sell.  Make things you want to make but if it’s the 47,756th red beaded bracelet listed on etsy realise you have some stiff competition. I know it’s difficult but try not to take a lack of commercial success personally.  
Remember people are selling on etsy for different reasons: for some it’s their primary profession, some are hoping they can quit their day job, others just want to cover the cost of supplies and there are hobbyists who are just having a bit of fun. Each group values their time and skills differently.  This dynamic can make it a challenging platform to sell on.  Think about your own ambitions and what you want out of the experience.
Before Etsy I sold on ebay for over 10 years.  I only listed on Etsy to have some kind of presence there.  I put high prices on the pieces I listed thinking “this is just a portfolio – no one is going to buy them” but to my amazement they sold.  I’m so glad I gave myself that inadvertent pay rise and now I put a realistic price on my experience, skill and creativity.  Women do tend to under value their time and effort.
Great photos are crucial to selling online.  I spend many hours taking and editing photos.  I look back at my first attempts and cringe.   You don’t have to spend a lot of money to take great photos it’s just finding the technique that works for your products.

Finally, if you need help go to the main forum and ask experienced sellers.

The Parked Heart

6.What are your top 3 favourite shops on Etsy and what do you like about them?

I’m going to be really boring (and diplomatic) here and say I have too many favourite shops on Etsy to list just three.  Most of my them are supply shops.  When I have time I do a steampunk search.  I’m always blown away by the talent and skill of my fellow steampunk artists on Etsy.

Refining Steam

7. Where can you be found online?

http://www.steelhipdesign.com/
Please don’t judge my web design skills on my site.  I cheated with a gallery generator to just get something up quick and haven’t had the time to get a “real” site up.  Next hospital visit (right shoulder replacement) I’ll design a proper website.

8. Do you have any coupon codes / special sales / upcoming or current promotional events going on in your shop?

Nope, sorry – don’t really do the coupon thing.  Maybe in the future – probably through my facebook page.  So remember to like me.


Steamdriven

9. What is it about Steampunk that you love and how did you become involved in it?

I hear this often from steampunk artists – “I was making steampunk before I knew it had a name!”  I think that’s what excites people when they find the community – I thought I was the only one that preferred copper, brass, wood and glass over mass produced plastic!
When I was five or six I saw an antique automata singing bird.  The bird was beautiful but it was the mechanics inside that really captured me – it was magical.   I love the philosophy of making something for the sake of beauty and skill over profit and designed obsolescence. It’s reminiscent of the Arts and Crafts movement at the turn of the last century.  
I was making a miniature Orrery and needed some unique parts.  I started seeing “steampunk” in listing titles.  Needless to say, I googled it.  The rest is history.  The community, especially the Tactile forum on Brass Goggles, made me very welcome.
Steampunk has been very good to me.  I’ve won a few awards in art shows and have contributed pieces for a national touring exhibition – The Antipodean Steampunk Show.  More recently, one of my pieces is on the cover of the new book “Steampunk Jewelry”. 
I’d love to exhibit (or even just attend) some of the big steampunk events in the US and Europe.  Perth has a tiny band of steampunk devotees but I mostly get blank stares when I mention what I do.  At the end of this year I’m aiming on having a solo exhibition and try to raise the profile of steampunk art in my home town.

Steampowered

Thankyou so much, Michelle! You really are an inspiration. 
Personally, what you’ve said about your mess  design process really resonates with me. Out of the chaotic potential of a random pile of materials, the designer acts like a filter to create unique works. I must say, you seem to have distilled the very essence of Steampunk in these magnificent faux machines!

If you, too, admire Michelle’s work, do follow the links and support her fine endeavours.

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If you would like to be interviewed or, indeed, interview The Navigatrix, you can email me at thenavigatrix@yahoo.co.uk

Celebrations, Building Steam and Joining Hands across the World

image by Araceli Rodriguez

This February sees the first month long, active celebration of Steampunk community across the globe. The 14th also happens to be The Navigatrix’s 2nd anniversary! 


I must admit, writing this blog entry is a bit like trying to use a chocolate teapot…you see, Steampunk Hands is really not about selling things at all. It is about celebrating community, so my focus isn’t really about inviting you to consider buying anything. However, the whole reason I got involved in Steampunk was because of a practical need to increase my income. This is one mother who got inventive! I amalgamated my skills as a professional modelmaker with my hobby of Live Roleplaying and created an Etsy shop. You can read all about how The Navigatrix began, on Etsy.

My learning curve in the first year was near vertical. I’d never actively created a network for business before, but I soon found it fun as it wasn’t unlike meeting people at a LRP.  You come across their characters in play and before you know it, you’re sitting round the campfire at 3am getting to know the person behind the persona. This is how I have met, both virtually and face to face, many wonderful people who are on a similar wavelength. Through the common love of dressing up and pretending (an admirable trait in grown-ups) we can get to know ourselves and each other much better. Isn’t it nourishing to be understood?

I was contacted by my friend Suna Dasi of Steampunk India (a Facebook friend) in January and invited to join in with Steampunk Hands. This was just the boost I needed to take off in a new direction and so I dived right in, enthusiastically!

 Kevin Steil, also known as the Airship Ambassador, is the bright spark whose idea has grown so rapidly that some are already calling it ‘International Steampunk Month’. The Universe often conspires towards us, I feel…

 Kevin states: 

  “Our community is an energetic force of creativity, education, and aspiration, which deserves to be expressed, shared, and valued by each and every one of us, every day.
Our friends and compatriots, known and not-yet-met, create the stories we read, make the fashions and accessories we wear, perform the music we hear, and construct the art we see….This grand collaboration makes our steam-nation possible, not just to exist but to thrive. Steampunk and our community is our playground. It is our classroom. It is our workshop.”

To find out the range of people’s efforts in celebration of our shared love of the genre, visit:
The Navigatrix has been spending time among the Aether Nomads

Serendipity is a fine thing. It just so happens that I had already planned to make something of my Aether Nomad idea, to have The Navigatrix spend time among a different culture, learning from them and emulating their style. OOC (that’s Out of Character for non-LRPers) my intention was to pursue a more tribal style in my Steampunk jewellery, allowing me more freedom for creativity and to perhaps find a unique little niche. 


The little snippets of story that often pop into my head whilst making things had begun to grow into the idea of a fantastic, fictional culture. That was informed by my most recent Live Roleplay character (the orange tagelmust is actually part of my LRP costume too). So finding out about Steampunk Hands fit right in and has allowed me to get to know this sub-culture better. I’ve even tried dredging up the French I learned at school to at least have a token go at speaking to Heyk Al Khemeti, with whom I’m co-writing some of the ‘Tales of the Navigatrix’. It is very rusty. A-levels were a long time ago (well, I will be turning 40 this year!).


I had been researching images for the character, using Pinterest, and had fallen in love with Moroccan design. Occasionally I’ll find elements from other cultures too – it is so fascinating to learn about the world through a visual design journey.

Georgina modelling the Vintage Lace Heart Choker from my Steampunk Catwalk collection

When I first joined Etsy, I discovered that you could be part of a team in order to get motivated, learn new skills and meet likeminded makers. I loved the idea of being part of such a community, so that even though I work for myself, I wasn’t by myself. The first team I joined was then run by Georgina, a highly creative woman who, at the time, had two shops. She now runs Atomic Girl, Curious Doors and Nevermore Art Dolls By sheer coincidence she lived close enough for us to meet up once in a while.  

Steampunk Fairy made for Sarah Trickler Photography by Nevermore Art Dolls

So Georgina inspired me, guided me and has become the main model for my shop. She has since retired as Team Captain and that position has been filled by our lovely pyrographer friend in the U.S. Emily Joy of EmiNation Artistry .

Together with my brother Matt of ArcaneArmoury and a few other friends, we are the Crew of ‘The Unpronounceable’. Georgina is The Captain, Emily Joy is Nova Pyrelis the Combustion overseer and Matt is Weldon Rivett esq., our Mechaneer. These characters came about through Georgina’s initiative of starting the Steampunk Share Page and I shall be exploring them a little as I write more story entries.

By EmiNation Artistry

When likeminded people connect, no matter the distance, a process of co-creation begins. You inspire one-another and gain courage to try a different route, to explore new ideas and broaden your horizons.

Matt and Abigail of The Wiserabbit (aka Weldon Rivett esq and Steamcaptain America) dropping character for a moment at Weekend at the Asylum 2013
Matt and I are very happy that a few good larper friends have also joined us in our creative, tea-powered quest! Abigail of The Wiserabbit is one such dear friend, met in a tent in a field somewhere in England, years ago. I’ll be interviewing this fine seamstress soon!

What a fine adventure!

I would like to express my gratitude to the many splendid folk that have contributed in some way to my journey. I’ve come such a long way in two years and it has been purely because of the positive and encouraging support from friends in the Etsy and Steampunk communities; many of those folk can be found in both places!


Here’s a list of Steampunk Etsy Teams for those interested in finding friendship, inspiration and support from various creative types across the world:

In Here Life Is Beautiful – Steampunk, Goth, Rockabilly, Bellydance, Cyberpunk, Burlesque…a spicy alternative mix!
Steam Trunk – a fairly new team seeking die-hard Steampunkers
Home for Displaced Victorians – for those who feel themselves somewhat anachronistic
SteamTeam – a large team full of enthusiasts

There are plenty more out there and you can join without having to have a shop. It’s another great place to meet likeminded people.
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Thanks to El Investigador magazine and Beyond Victoriana for the  features! 
  

So..anyone for chocolate tea? In all seriousness though, I am grateful to be part of a community who appreciate the value of handmade items, usually because they’ve had a go at doing it themselves and know the time and effort it takes. They also know the glow of showing off their latest thingumajig, complete with brass gubbins, to a global audience that they can engage with either online or through travelling to conventions.

‘The Navigatrix’ looks forward to making many more wonderful acquaintances. Teach me a bit about your language! I’ll have a go. My French may be rusty and my Japanese coming along ‘totemo yukkuri’ but I would like to at least make the effort. If you’ve read this and English is not your first language, thankyou! If you’ve used an online translation service, I hope it managed my rather verbose, enthusiastic celebration of Steampunk Hands around the World.

Happy Birthday, Navigatrix 🙂