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Conversations with Coralette Damme

Today we’d like to introduce you to Coralette Damme.

Hi Coralette, so excited to have you with us today. What can you tell us about your story?
I could not have predicted this path to becoming an artist if you had asked me years ago. I grew up in Nebraska which instilled in me a love of nature and a desire to explore. I had a hard time finding a course of study in college, starting in journalism, then language arts, until finally finding my calling by accident during an art for educators course. I was hooked and set my sights on a Bachelor of Fine Arts. I loved all aspects of art and art history, so I studied it all without a singular focus.

After college, I moved to the Twin Cities in search of new opportunities. I did participate in a few small art shows but I didn’t know how to work professionally as an artist at that time and became convinced that it was impossible. I relegated my creativity to my free time and focused on a traditional 9-5.

Meanwhile, I became certified in SCUBA and fell in love with the underwater world. I followed my passion and relocated to Florida, planning to live there for a few years, do some work as a Dive Master, and then eventually return north. I worked for The Ocean Conservancy, an environmental non-profit, and went diving everywhere I could – fresh water springs, as a volunteer for the Florida Aquarium, in the FL Keys… and I kept making things in my spare time.

Although I didn’t consider myself an artist at that time, I still felt secretly, deep down, that I had the potential to become one. As luck would have it, my city of Saint Petersburg was simultaneously emerging as an arts hub and I was in on the ground floor, growing along with it. I switched jobs to work for an arts non-profit, The Studio@620, and devoted every spare second to painting and printmaking. I began selling functional items at local markets as The Crafty Hag and exhibiting larger work at galleries and art centers. I began curating my own art events and teaching assorted art classes. I built a reputation in the community, counted wildly talented people among my nearest and dearest, and could honestly call myself a working artist for the first time. I was living the dream, but I was homesick. My five-year plan had turned into two decades of endless summer which was nice but I felt something was missing.

I finally made the decision to return north just before the Covid-19 pandemic popped up. I thought perhaps I should stay put and ride it out in Florida but I’m stubborn and impatient so, I made the move, driving with my two cats to Saint Paul. Since settling back here I have been a part of a few large outdoor arts festivals where I connected with the owner of a funky independent shop, I Like You, who agreed to carry some of my work. I am optimistic that as the pandemic becomes more manageable, more opportunities will continue to emerge.

Learning to navigate a new arts community is both exciting and overwhelming. I’m leaning on my past experience in St. Pete to guide me and I’m grateful to still have shops and galleries in Florida that carry my work and keep me connected there. 2022 is shaping up to be busy and exciting, as I have many events already booked and I’m exploring new combinations of techniques in my studio. Now when people ask me what I do, I easily say I’m an Artist which feels so good to finally have that confidence.

I’m sure you wouldn’t say it’s been obstacle free, but so far would you say the journey has been a fairly smooth road?
Like many creatives, I think my biggest challenge is self-doubt. Art isn’t something that our culture puts a high value on traditionally, it is viewed as a luxury not a necessity, and you have to believe in yourself and trust that what you want to create has value. I also limit myself by having a small aperture. I tend to see things as “either-or” when it could easily be an “and” situation. To combat these things I have to frequently remind myself to step outside of my personal point of view and see things from another perspective.

There are so many potential approaches to an art practice. Some people will tell you to focus your work, to limit yourself to one style or medium. On one hand yes, it is good to develop your style and perfect your technique, but should you limit your creativity just to develop a branded style? What if you can apply printmaking to ceramics for example. Shouldn’t I do that as a printmaker? Why not? If I have an urge to paint, why can’t I paint? From a business stance yes perhaps it is harder to identify your customer base you’re working in multiple directions. But can you reach more people with a variety of art? Maybe anything can go to some extent? It is hard not to let the idea of making things to sell take over your passion for just making things. You have to trust your passion. If you have the desire and interest to create something, someone out there is going to connect with it. Having that faith is a challenge but so rewarding if you’re brave enough to try.

It is a challenge once again being the new kid in town but it can also be an advantage. I’m a fresh face with a new product no one has seen. Still, it can be daunting to find connections. Luckily the other artists I have met so far have been very welcoming and open to collaborating. Being new is a temporary situation. I’m excited to grow into the arts community here in the Twin Cities.

Can you tell our readers more about what you do and what you think sets you apart from others?
I’m known mostly as a printmaker but I work a bit differently than most in this field. I don’t usually make large numbered editions of the same image. I work in both relief printing and screen printing. Typically I use numerous hand carved blocks, each inked and stamped individually, to build a composition. My process is more intuitive and less planned than traditional printmaking, which makes it more interesting for me and results in most of my work being one of a kind, which is more fun for the collector. It is also riskier because unlike a traditional printmaking, I am not pulling proofs and perfecting a plate over a long period of time. My technique is more akin to painting in that I am building my design as I go and adjusting in the moment. When working in relief, carving a block to print black ink on white paper you can’t really paint out a mistake and start over. It is an all or nothing, unforgiving method. There is no “control-z”. And I love it because even I don’t know exactly how things will turn out in the end.

Everything starts with a sketch. I transfer that sketch to a block, carve it out like a giant rubber stamp, and then print it with ink on paper or onto wooden panels. Each piece uses numerous stamps, sometimes enhanced with watercolor, pencil, or other media.

My work is pretty easy to recognize. I have a fondness for bold outlines and expressive marks and colors. My subject matter is inspired by nature, folklore, and spooky stuff. I love adding bits of text to my designs too. I recently had my Bird Nerd owl design reproduced as vinyl stickers. People flocked to it (haha). I want everyone to be able to afford and acquire a design they love, so stickers make that possible.

I love it when someone sees my work and connects with it upon sight, be it with a laugh, or curiosity, or any other feeling. I like to see how the viewer interprets and relates to my work based on their personal experiences. It is the most gratifying experience to instantly have a common bond with a total stranger, formed because they saw something of themselves in some of the marks I made on paper. Art really can bring people together and show us our shared humanity.

Have you learned any interesting or important lessons due to the Covid-19 Crisis?
I’ve always been self-reliant, independent, introverted… but the Covid-19 Crisis really showed me how much I do need other people in my world. Also, it has taught me to keep working, keep observing, and let things take their course. The thing I can control is my discipline to keep showing up to my studio to make work even if there is no goal or deadline. Just do the work and trust everything else to fall into place. It might not, but at least you contributed and put your energy in the right place and that knowledge can be a source of comfort.

Pricing:

  • Stickers $5 – check my Etsy store! www.craftyhag.etsy.com
  • Original linocuts on paper start at $35-$40 for a small 6×9 piece and goes up to $150-$200 for 24×36
  • Original linocuts on wood start at $30 for a 4×6. $50 for 6×8 and range up from there.
  • Holiday gifty-merch starts at $15, super affordable!

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Image Credits

Coralette Damme

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