Desiree Warren is a 32-year-old artist who bypassed the starving-artist stereotype and went straight to being her own boss. She has found success going the retail route, making clocks and art using scraps of vinyl on salvaged materials.
She has made an art out of capturing medium-density fiberboard, cabinets and lumber heading to the landfill for her projects and finds equal satisfaction rummaging through a gold mine of miscellanea, from rusty pulleys to biology books stored in her Grandpa Bill’s barns on the 80-acre farm where she grew up in Ottawa, Kan. After earning a degree in sculpture from the University of Kansas in 2005, she moved to Hyde Park, where she lives with her husband, Sean, and four cats.
You can see what she’s up to at madeitfoundit.blogspot.com or buy her work through Etsy under Eighty Acres Art and her vintage sales under The Retro Ranch.
How did your experience growing up on the farm shape you?
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I had a modest upbringing. We had a TV but no cable and no neighbors. I was OK entertaining myself and always going through sheds. I’ve always liked old stuff and things that are handmade, especially the weird and interesting. Because I’m the youngest in the extended family and most of my relatives are/were old and/or deceased, being around all this old stuff helps me discover bits and pieces about them, even if those things seem insignificant. I find letters, newspaper clippings of stories and recipes, fabric scraps, clothes and even junk mail. Not many people know that day-to-day stuff about their kin, and it’s a weird kind of time-traveling intimacy that I can’t quite explain.
Looking at your studio, with all its collections, would you say you channel your Grandpa Bill?
He was a Depression-era kid born in 1911 and saved everything. I definitely have that pack-rat tendency. I hate extraneous waste. I even hate throwing out cut-up vinyl! Last summer I bought a Tuff Shed to keep stuff out of our living spaces, and I squirrel a lot away in our basement. I try to respect the space around us, but I tend to spread out. That’s one reason I went from doing sculptures to things that are flat.
How did you get into art?
I was never discouraged from art and loved doing projects in school. Putting collages together has always been my stronger suit over drawing. I’m more of a puzzler, a piecer-togetherer. I like putting things on and seeing what happens, the entropy or accidental beauty that comes from it.
How did you get started with vinyl as your choice of medium?
I’ve always liked signs, in general, and I started doing fake ones to see if people would notice, like one that said “Swap” instead of “Stop.”
I called the city to find where they got their signs, and they said National Sign Co., which is in Ottawa, my hometown. They gave me their castoffs at first. Now they cut me a good deal, but industrial road signs are becoming more reflective for safety standards with more of a honeycomb effect, which I don’t like.
Unfortunately, colored vinyl is going the way of the dodo. They’re starting to print on white vinyl instead.
What is your process for creating the vinyl designs?
I hand-cut or draw to a program, which runs to a printer blade for the fine details. This takes the most brain power, because I don’t want to waste material. I was doing everything by hand, but I thought there had to be another way. I saved up to buy the printer. At first it felt like cheating, but it’s not. It’s what print makers do.
Do you sculpt anymore?
No, and it’s funny, but I don’t really miss it. Now I’m more interested in stuff that’s visually tactile. My process making the clocks is sort of sculptural. I have to think sculpturally: what goes on first then second. I’ve always thought three-dimensionally.
You’ve said being your own boss was important to you. How did you get started being self-employed?
I worked at a place called It’s About Time in Lawrence where they made steel-cut yard art and clocks. They did art shows and ran a gift shop. I saw that as a way to do art without a boss. I was painting their flowers and making my own stickers in the shape of Kansas that said, “I heart evolution,” which was a big story at the time, and I sold 300 to 400. It paid for my Christmas.
Is working for yourself all it’s cracked up to be?
Being self-employed is both good and bad. The hard part is that my bed is right there with cats on it ready to cuddle. But I’m really excited about my new line of work. People are buying a lot of my anatomical hearts.
Do you support other artists?
We do a lot of trade with friends and pick up little things when we travel. We have a lot of things from Justin Marabel, who does a lot of rural lifestyles showing the decline of small towns, and Juniper Tangpuz, who should be world famous by now and happened to be the officiant at our wedding.
What’s coming up for you?
I’m keeping a lot of things going. I’m getting ready to go to Oklahoma City’s Festival of the Arts, April 21 to 26. That’s going to be eight-hour days for six days, which is exhausting but fun. I’m also trying to get new shop representation — I’m now at Essential Goods in Lawrence — and trying gallery shows, too.