Queen Anne’s Suzanne de la Torre (inset) makes and sells all-natural women’s sweaters based on her own designs. Photos courtesy of Suzanne de la Torre

Queen Anne’s Suzanne de la Torre (inset) makes and sells all-natural women’s sweaters based on her own designs. Photos courtesy of Suzanne de la Torre

Brynn Hurlstone and Suzanne de la Torre are women at different stages of life, with different passions, who hail from different parts of the country. One thing unites them, however: They are willing to put their livelihoods on the line for their art.

The two will be among the more than 140 Northwest artists, designers and craftspeople showing their unique objects at the spring 2013 Best of the Northwest fine art and craft show, to take place Saturday, March 23, and Sunday, March 24, at Seattle’s Smith Cove Cruise Terminal on Pier 91. 


Wearing multiple hats

Hurlstone is a 27-year-old Ohio native who moved to Seattle five years ago, after she graduated from a glass-blowing program once led by her father at Bowling Green State University. Told that Seattle was the place to find work in her industry, she managed to land jobs with some of the biggest names, including Chihuly Studio and glassybaby. 

Still, Hurlstone longed to explore her own creative vision. In 2010, when she found a pile of vintage watch gears at a craft show, inspiration struck. Where most people would see a pile of useless metal, Hurlstone saw beauty worth saving.

“It’s all about preservation with me, either with nature or the vintage objects I find,” Hurlstone said. “They are going to be destroyed or lost or shoved into a drawer and never seen again, and so I like to bring new life and attention to these objects, by dipping them in resin and making them into wearable art.”

Hurlstone’s bracelets, necklaces, earrings and “un-watches” are one-of-a-kind objects that incorporate a wide range of found materials, from flowers and bark to old book pages and postage stamps to vintage chains and gears. She preserves these items in a clear resin, which has some of the same properties as glass but doesn’t require the high temperatures that would damage the delicate materials.

It sounds like a fun and creative hobby, but Hurlstone’s jewelry is also her (literal) bread and butter. About six months ago, she quit her glass-blowing job to pursue her art full-time as a business (www.brynnalexis.com). That means not only designing and producing unique pieces but marketing and selling the work in a variety of ways: at shows like her neighborhood’s Fremont Market, wholesale to various retail outlets and on-line.

“I have to wear both hats, and it’s not easy — there are a lot of 80-hour weeks. But it’s fun,” she said. “I’ve always been business-savvy and motivated to do things for myself. A lot of times, you find artists don’t like the business side, and it gets in the way of their success, but I like it.” 


Being your own boss

While Hurlstone is new to the experience of making a living through art, Suzanne de la Torre has been at it for nearly two decades. The 56-year-old de la Torre has been a seamstress most of her life, but it wasn’t until the owner of a local clothing store admired her handmade sweaters in the mid-1990s that she found the courage and inspiration to start her own business (www.suzannedelatorre.com). 

At first, she sold her clothing wholesale but found that the amount of travel required and the creative limitations weren’t to her liking. 

“You had to pay so much attention to what the trends are, what the colors are, keep all the buyers happy, and you’re just gone so much,” de la Torre explained. “I had two young kids, and I finally just decided it wasn’t worth it.”

But she had a roomful of samples left over, and a friend suggested they try to sell them at a local craft fair. They got in at the last minute when another artist cancelled and “we had SO much fun,” she remembers. She had found her calling. 

Today, de la Torre (with the help of her husband, Stan) produces and sells mainly women’s sweaters based on her own designs. But these aren’t the kinds of sweaters you’ll find at the department store: They feature fine yarns such as hand-painted baby alpaca or silk blended with alpaca and all-natural fibers. Buttons are made from natural materials such as wood or abalone.

Like Hurlstone, de la Torre works out of her house and notes that it can be difficult to get away. “If you’re home, you’re working,” she said. 

She also admits to a bit more of a learning curve when it comes to the business side of things. 

“I’m basically an artist: I just love to sit and make something wonderful,” she said. “But to do it as living, you also have to be a good businessperson, so that was probably the biggest challenge. For the fairs that we do, you have keep a huge calendar and you have to budget to pay your booth fees six months in advance.” 

But the Queen Anne resident loves being her own boss. She and her husband do an art show or fair just about every weekend; she’s been doing the Best of the Northwest shows regularly since 1998. 

For tickets or more information about this spring’s show, go to www.nwartalliance.com.

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