One of two things happens when I embark on any sort of do-it-myself home-decor art project.
I either never finish it — thus the three almost-done picture frames stashed in my storage closet — or it takes me weeks to complete it and during the process my living room becomes a virtual obstacle course.
My inability to focus on crafts long enough for them to reach their artistic finale is why South Philadelphia artist Rachel Mae Smith’s new book, Hello Color: 25 Bright Ideas for DIY Decor tickled my you-can-do-it-girl curiosity.
Smith’s collection of technicolor home-decor projects include bejeweled planters, pom-pom baskets, and dip-dyed napkins that burst with vibrant Skittles hues and radiate the colors of the rainbow chakras vibe. But the best part of the book is that most of the featured projects are meant to be finished in one afternoon, meeting my inner artist’s insatiable need for instant gratification.
“It’s always so nice when someone comes into your house and says, ‘I love that, where did you get it?’ and you can say, ‘I made it,’” Smith said, beaming one recent afternoon.
In the seven years since Smith started The Crafted Life, a how-to make-easy-peasy arts projects blog, she’s built quite the name for herself in the world of home-decor creatives. Her blog enjoys a robust following. In 2015, a year’s worth of Smith’s projects were featured on Martha Stewart.com as a #12monthsofMartha blogger. Many of Smith’s ideas still appear on Stewart’s website and several of Stewart’s products are featured in Hello Color. Smith has worked with brands like Etsy, West Elm, Dunkin’ Donuts and Lowe’s, helping them get into their color groove.
Smith is now among the swelling ranks of entrepreneurs who have parlayed self-taught hobbies into full-time gigs, like vlogger-turned-makeup mogul Jeffree Star and food blogger Sarah Graham, who has authored four books. Smith has not only managed to build a successful brand, she’s monetized it. And then some. I’d say that’s a win.
Hello Color, released earlier this month by local publishing house Quirk, is likely to be a pretty big hit because the projects — especially the temporary tattoo wooden coat hangers that I’m seriously itching to make — are both Crate & Barrel beautiful and can be made from stuff you probably already have at home, or can easily find at Target, Michaels, or your neighborhood dollar store.
Smith’s deft understanding of the language of color certainly drives the book — there are sections of it that teach readers how to pick the right color schemes for their lives. But above all, she is a crafter first.
Smith’s crafting journey started back in 2011, the year she began making Sunday afternoon appointments with herself to create pretty things for her home. Smith was really yearning for dedicated me time and exercise just wasn’t her thing. So she launched a blog to hold herself accountable.
“If I made a public record of it, I had to follow through with myself,” Smith told me. “So I published my blog every Sunday night at 6 p.m. … I called it The 52 Week Project because I only planned to do this for a year.”
Smith’s very first blog project was turning juice jars into vases. The next week she accidentally set a batch of pretzels on fire. She posted them, too (remember zen was the goal, not perfection). After that, she decided she’d stick strictly to art. She was on an artsy roll when a post on how to make alcohol ink coasters went viral.
About two and a half years in, it was clear that Smith’s hobby had potential to be a real money maker. So she revamped her blog, deeming it The Crafted Life. The slicker presentation is what led Martha Stewart and a host of other brands to her work. Pre-Instagram, where many of her fans see her a lot work today, The Crafted Life received about 350,000 page views a month, according to Smith
Smith’s obsession with color developed alongside her blog.
As we chatted one Wednesday afternoon, Smith talked about growing up in Ohio and moving to Vancouver, Wash., and Portland, Ore., cities with gloomy landscapes where she held a stressful job running a nonprofit. Eventually she moved to San Francisco to work for a start-up. And it was there where she fell in love with the popping pigments. Where else, she said, could you see pink houses? But eventually she found herself back in dark Portland. This was when she started looking for color every day because, well, color made her happy. Period.
“Once I really started looking for color, I found it everywhere,” said Smith, her hot-pink hair all ablaze. “It’s so amazing. I would walk past a garage every day and once I started noticing cars, it was bright yellow! Bright yellow!”
In 2015, Smith moved to Philly and was immediately taken by the murals — we met at the MOMO mural at Frankford and Berks, a geometric colorfest of blues, pinks and greens. Last spring, she finalized a deal with Quirk books and has spent the last year working 18-hour days, making the crafts at home and shooting her own work at her Fishtown gallery, her own colorful abode, and hotels around town.
What’s next on the color spectrum for Smith? She’s not sure. Perhaps an HGTV show? Maybe she’d like to work with a big force in color like Pantone? But what she’d really like to do, she said, is to bring color to people who don’t get to see it that much especially in institutional spaces that traditionally drown in gray.
“My dream project is to go into places like a nursing home or [an old] school, she said. “There is not much color there, but people live there and they need color. We all need color.”