Lenae May has been creating art since childhood but has only been selling her work professionally for the past three years. In that short period of time she has been featured in a few magazines and expanded her Elfin Stockings line to include Great American Suffragettes, Bureau Trinket Trunks, and Captured Fairies.
But despite her seemingly quick success, it really didn’t happen overnight. She spent years, while raising her children, nurturing her skills by creating handcrafted vintage-inspired stockings for her family and friends.
And it’s all that experience that has helped make her business a success.
Alyice: You’ve been known to take something realistic and add a bit of whimsy to it. Can you elaborate on how you come up with the right balance and why this is important in your art?
Lenae: Whimsy is the magic, is it not? Life is serious and so often very structured. I like to bend the rules a bit and throw in a crazy color or texture or attempt the unexpected. I like to blend the serious with a twisty sort of fun—making difficult the simple.
Carl Faberge did a great job with the famous Faberge Eggs; a simple object made very beautiful with attention to detail. I generally explore this concept when creating my Elfin Stockings and Bureau Trinket Trunks.
The stocking and the keepsake boxes are simple designs. I complicate both designs with lots of attention to detail. For example, I just created my first Elfin Stocking with fresh water pearls and yards of Pistachio silk.
Alyice: You seem to prefer working in a three dimensional aspect. What is it about this type of art that gets your creative juices flowing?
Lenae: I forever gravitate towards three dimensional. When I’m working on a piece, the texture choices are one of my greatest considerations. Sometimes I want to see the thread count or feel the grain of the wood; other times I want a certain part to shimmer from glitter or gold. I use texture such as: space, age, metal, soft, hard, smooth, mesh, coarsely woven, tightly woven, grained, pitted, and chipped like others use colors.
I prefer working in 3-D because I like to build things. I’ve built things as large as a house down to things as small a bird nest charm. I like the challenge of figuring out how things should fit together; how can I make “it” work.
I’m inspired at unexpected moments, too. Once I was inspired by a birthday card mother-in-law gave me. The flower layout was so fun that I kept it around to inspire my next Elfin Stocking design. I didn’t create the same design but it inspired me to lay out my Poppies in an organized fashion. The tall trees in my woods have even inspired a tree trunk stocking.
My Captured Fairies in cages are created from a childhood fantasy. I have always loved fairy stories and my most earnest goal was to capture the Tooth Fairy! Believing she existed, as a child, was a magical time for me and now when I create my little caged fairies, I am transported back to a time when capturing them was a real goal. I even love to create their stories: what they are and what their magical qualities are. It’s funny what you can come up with when you get saturated in an idea.
Alyice: A lot of your work involves the use of copyright free images. Can you tell us a little bit about how you find these images and why they work with your artwork?
Lenae: My favorite place to find old images is on Etsy and at Flea Markets. Once I get them home, I manipulate them in my Photoshop program. Some photos have scratches that need to be fixed or colors that need adjusting. Other photos need to be resized to accommodate the projects they’ll be used for. Once cleaned up and edited, I save them in folders and use them for various projects.
When I was searching for my “Witches of West Windlewood” images, I hunted for the drab dressed photos with the solemn and cross look. I look for clear pictures that can hold up to the process of being printed on a textured cloth and crafted into a doll or what ever the project is. There are several mixed media suppliers on the Internet and several of them assemble nice products for individual use.
Alyice: Your art also includes vintage materials that have been upcycled to create something new and magical. What is it like working with vintage materials?
Lenae: I LOVE working with vintage found items! I like working with vintage materials because they bring that “found treasure” feeling. They’re always rich in texture, detail and the element of age. They add the blend of fresh and new and old and worn. I’m attracted to the broken and discarded and find the treasure under it all!
Because I’m very picky about the materials I use, I most generally have to create my own supplies or embellishments. I would say I’ve been spoiled on vintage quality and always strive to bring that into my modern heirlooms either by using the vintage items or creating them myself.
For each stocking design a pattern is created after the color of blanket is selected. Selecting the blanket helps me see the design; what it should look like. Many times I don’t see every part of the design and alterations are needed but that’s when new discoveries are made and it works out well.
Take a treasure chest, for example.
When you first look at it, you see the patina of age, a dull worn wooden texture, mixed pitted metals with debris in the crevices, and large stitched leather handles with a humped back and wooden bands for ornamentation. Upon opening it, you find an old scripted paper ledger or notes and a metallic navigational tool wrapped in soft worn leather with a heavy crafted smooth brass buckle. Under this treasure, see glints of golden coins with heavy stampings and fine details but not perfectly round. Woven throughout you find a string of round, iridescent south sea pearls popping out here and there. As you continue your observation you find ornate silver candle snuffers with gentle curved rims and a delicate lace handkerchief. Every inch of that treasure chest has something to explore, something exciting to discover.
Like the treasure chest, I find discovering and/or making vintage elements exciting and I hope to duplicate this sort of discovery in every piece I create. I want each piece to be layered and detailed.
I also like to assign new jobs to vintage items. For example, a door knob can become an embellishment for the top of a trunk, crystal candlesticks can become trunk pedestals, fresh water pearls can become dew drops on the top of a rose, a golden cuff link can become the center of a flower, and the tops of old wooden spools become washers.
Alyice: Before you go, can you tell us what you believe is a key element in creating one-of-a-kind works of art?
Lenae: I think the key element in creating original work is to create something unique, to create something that would appear in your own world.
In my world, for instance, I’m at the helm of that ship and I can make it however I wish it to be. I create things based upon my personal likes. I create things that are rich in color, texture, and design. I create with an “old world” quality. And I create things to last like they used to last back in the day.
In the creative world, we always borrow thoughts from those who have gone before us and are inspired by those who exist today; we just do it differently. I, for example, often look at someone else’s work and find inspiration to create something different in my own work. Every project I work on uses inspiration from others, but I make sure it’s my creation in the end.
Being creative is one of my favorite parts about life. Perhaps it’s because we are very creative beings; because our creator is VERY creative and we are said to be created in His image. All I know is that one design leads to another. I see a lifetime of enchantments in everything I create. I’m inspired by so many things; especially the challenges of making things come to life.