Although she’s an art school dropout, Phoebe Carpenter Eels hasn’t let that fact stop her from transitioning into a full-time artist.
If anything, the path to becoming someone who makes a living through visual creativity was long overdue. In the years since she was an art major in college, Eels studied cultural anthropology, taught math in middle school, got married and had a couple kids.
Eels says the spark to start dipping her toes back into the artistic aquifer came when she attempted to carve an invitation to her older son’s first birthday party. Printmaking was soon a passion, and the next few years saw her perfecting her craft and selling her wares online and at farmers markets and art gatherings in Mount Vernon—where she lives with her husband and two sons—and beyond.
For the past three years, Eels juggled teaching, mothering and elSage, her printmaking business, but eventually realized if she wanted to make a living making art, something would have to give. So, last June, she resigned from her teaching position (which, incidentally, she loved).
“This was my first September not setting up a classroom in six years,” Eels says. “I’m getting back in touch with the artistic side of me. If you would’ve asked me when I was in junior high or high school what I wanted to be, I would’ve said an artist, without hesitation. I also would’ve said to follow your dreams. I’m taking my own advice for once.”
Eels also points to the fact that working on her art in her home studio also allows her to be there for her kids, who are now four and one-and-a-half. She also says they’re the inspiration for much of what she creates and prints on paper, wood and apparel.
“Everything typically has a story behind it,” Eels says. “My oldest son was pretty obsessed with tractors, and now he’s enamored of firefighters. So you might see tractors and bicycles and sailboats in my work. I’m inspired by life, and I find that the designs that are the most authentic and connected to my work are the ones that work out aesthetically.”
When she shows the fruits of her labor in Bellingham at an art opening and trunk show Sept. 21 at Karibou Salon, attendees can see for themselves what happens when creativity, parenting and passion coincide.
Viewers at the show should also remember that Eels is dedicated to making her art as sustainable as possible. She purchases her apparel from organic or environmentally friendly businesses, uses reclaimed wood and veneer for some of her printing, and sources inks that provide a permanent finish, but are still water-soluble.
Although the eco-savvy framed art will be up for several months, many items Eels will be showing Sept. 21—such as hand-printed apparel, postcards, prints and more—will only be available on the night of the event. That might also be a good time to ask Eels if she feels like she made the right choice when she gave up her classroom in order to school herself in the world of art.
“Absolutely I made the right decision,” she says. “I feel really lucky to have had two careers that I love. Teaching will always be there—nobody can take my degrees away. But for now my kids are a priority, and calling myself an artist is new and cool. It’s tough to juggle being a mom and working. You’ve got to figure out what works for you.”
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