Artist Interview: Nicole Bloch of erra creations

Big-hearted. Open. Upbeat. Energetic. Ambitious. Hard-working. Environmentally Responsible. Problem-solving. Creative. These are words that come to mind when we think of Koolkat artist, Nicole Bloch of erra creations.   Nicole lives her values, not only in her personal life, but in her professional life as well.

Nicole Bloch of erra creations

Nicole Bloch of erra creations

Recently Nicole’s generosity of spirit inspired a blog post by Marketing Consultant, Shawn Graham:

“… All I needed to do was ask what other exhibitors [Nicole] thought I should check out. Without skipping a beat, she proceeded to give me a personal tour of some of the other booths. If that wasn’t enough, she not only provided a quick overview of what she thought made them so awesome, but she also shared some of her favorite products. … Nicole didn’t have a hidden agenda. She just wanted to help other local business owners be more successful. That’s who she is. She gets it.  Each and every time she talked about one of their products, she had the same energy and passion as if she was talking about something she created herself. …”

Nicole creates her work through the process known as upcycling.  Reiner Pilz first coined the term upcycling in 1994.  “Recycling? I call it down-cycling. They smash bricks, they smash everything. What we need is upcycling, where old products are given more value, not less.” (Reiner Pilz: thinking about a green future, Salvo Monthly, No. 23, October 1994, p. 14)

Nicole sees and/or creates value in things that would otherwise be clogging our landfills. She scavenges the waste piles of local bike shops,  and shops area flea markets, garage sales, and thrift stores. The result?  A line of truly unique ‘reclaimed material and reinvented vintage wares for men, women, and home’.

Koolkat owner, Kate McGrady adds,  “When an artist can bring together two elements as interesting as upcycling and bicycling, they get our attention.  Nicole has successfully created a line of unique products that are as positive as she is.” 

Without further adieu, please meet Nicole Bloch.

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Nicole Bloch

Nicole Bloch

Please introduce yourself and tell us about erra creations.
Howdy! Nicole here. I am the owner and only creator for erra creations.  I grew up in an artist family that also owned a local supply shop, but spent all my school years training as a classical flutist.  After being a grown up in an office job for a few years, I subconsciously knew I had to get back to my roots.  I started playing around with broken bits and bobbles of my great-grandmother’s old stash.  Over the past few years, erra has transformed into so much more fun.  I work with lots of reclaimed materials, and am now known for my work with bicycle parts.  The part I love is the never ending evolution of my art, and making and being able to share the newest and most fun things with others, while staying green and earth happy!

Bicycle Gear Necklace by erra creations

Bicycle Gear Necklace by erra creations

Describe your studio / working space for us.
My studio!  It is a bunch of everything squeezed into our basement.  Lit by clamp lights and heated by turning the clothes dryer on—it’s one awesome place to be.  It’s everything I want it to be.  Everything is out where I can see it and able to be thrown into a project.  Some may categorize it as messy, I just don’t pay attention to them!  Our new dog, Nicco, just started venturing down with me and he is an amazing foot warmer!

What is it about discarded bike parts, say over other discarded items, that interests you?
I was just asked by someone what inspires me and I responded that “… everything in the world around me inspires me.”  While this is true, I am learning that I am inspired by something being out of place or a void of space…er something.  Like right now, typing this I got distracted while eating a pickled egg… wondering how I can re-create the funny texture from the bite side into resin.

SO that being said—I love piles of things and digging through them. But, what is it about discarded bike parts? I think it’s time to put this story in print!

I wouldn’t call it a dare, but a snarky comment from my best bud who I was helping load up his moving truck (off to Vermont for law school). Nick was an avid cyclist and time trial racer. During the truck loading I came across two 5-gallon paint buckets brimming full of cassettes and chains. Naturally I asked if they were moving with him, and he said, “Nope that’s just trash.” In my head I’m thinking, “How can this 20+ lb. bucket full of stuff be trash?” I said, “You simply can’t throw that out!” Without skipping a beat he said, “What—you going to make jewelry out of it?” in the snarkiest voice possible.  I said, “YUP.”  And here we are!

Bike chain bracelet and cufflink by Nicole.

Bike chain bracelet and cufflink by Nicole.

There is something wonderful about feeling chain and gears slip through my hands while I clean them. But, I don’t discriminate what “discarded items” I get to play with.

We imagine that preparing used bike parts for jewelry making is a dirty, greasy business that must be hard on your hands. How do you deal with it?
How’d you guess? I am a gloves off, hands-on kinda of artist. When I have a major boo-boo, I love Una Biologicals’ Wound Wonder stick—it’s magic. For everyday maintenance, I started making some lotions and potions to help what the digits look (and feel) like! And from that (drum roll…) have a new line coming out the beginning of April! It starts with a line of solid lotions “geared” to cyclists, but really for everyone!

Wow! That’s exciting news! Congratulations on your new product line!

You actively work with local bike shops to get the materials to upcycle for your work. Can you tell about your relationship/friendship with these businesses?
HA.  Yes, “the Local” bike shop, they’re not all created equal…  But, there are others that are just THE BEST.  I have different arrangements with different shops, but have to say that Rob at West Liberty Cycles is the best, nicest and most thoughtful (and a darn good wrencher, too!)

You also frequent flea markets, garage sales, thrift stores, etc. for materials. What is your favorite part of the hunt?
THE HUNT!  Oh, it’s just so exciting. You never know quite what you will find! It has limitless potential—wallet-emptying, car-filling goodness!  And digging through piles of stuff is kinda like heaven.

What do you do when you need some inspiration? 
I end up going down some rabbit hole, whether it be online or at a flea market, something completely unrelated always bring me back around.

What is your favorite part of your arts process?
The initial burst of a new idea is almost too exciting, especially if it happens in-hand versus mentally. Anyone who knows me will tell you that I get over excited at that juncture. So my real favorite part is when I have some great tunes playing, and I just get to play around. Nothing in particular, nothing for an order, just pure and raw creating.

You were very close to your grandparents. Can you tell us about them, and share the ways that their interest in the arts informed you as an artist?
Oh sweet Grammie and Grampy!!! Gramp was an amateur architect and a high school art teacher, Gram was an English teacher, master découpage artist and secretary for The National Guild of Decoupeurs. They lived their dream, and opened up a local craft and art supply shop, Creative Hands, Co. in Castle Shannon (and 2 other locations back in the day). I am thankful everyday to have been able to grow up in that store! Growing up, we didn’t watch much TV. I have the best memories of painting things at the kitchen table with Gram (and joking about the blue paint splatter on the ceiling for years to come), practicing lettering with Gramp on Sunday mornings while he talked about his father blasting opera on the radio every Sunday morning.

Vintage Music Earrings by Nicole

Vintage Music Earrings by Nicole

My formal education is as a classical flutist, and they were both very supportive. Gram would drive me every week, through rush hour, for my weekly lessons in Squirrel Hill. In Gramp’s last few months in 2012, he would love to talk about and brainstorm new cuff link ideas with me.  I feel their collective love of the arts, and willingness to share and teach everyone, made for an incredibly well-rounded artistic life for me!

My dad has always also been a huge influence. He gave me my love of tools and taught me about color. He was a wicked talented frame-smith at the shop, and the colors he would choose to frame a picture were awesome.

Do you have a favorite tool / material / medium?
Yes, all of them. I’m a super huge fan of my mega Dremel tool (thanks, Dad!)

If people could only take away 3 things from your work, what would they be?
I only require and state one thing—life is too short to not have fun, and I insist that my wares go onto continue living a fun life!

First item Nicole ever sold.

First item Nicole ever sold.

What was the first thing you ever sold?
This silly pair of earrings on Etsy!

Favorite local artist. What do you love about their work?
Now THAT’S a loaded question!  I only have like 50 favorite local artists!  I would say Lew and Melissa at Whimsical Wonders.  I feel they embody the same life is short-have fun philosophy as me.  I mean, handle-bar mustaches made from forks, that you actually wear: brilliant!

What does handcrafted mean to you?
It means LOVE! Something made by hand, with care, precision and thoughtfulness. Not just something slapped together because you saw it somewhere—that’s DIY.

How did you first become involved with Koolkat Designs?
OOOOOOOOOO! I received this FANTASTIC email from Koolkat Designs! May I quote?

“And then, destiny really wanted to drive the point home, and had Mary Kennedy Withrow, from KDKA’s Pittsburgh Today Live, walk into Koolkat wearing one of your bike chain necklaces. We have to have your work!”

HA! Yes, I remember that.  Within a span of a few days, we discovered your page on Facebook, then Samantha Bower saw your work at I Made It! Market, and then Mary came into the store wearing your jewelry.  

At the "Sign of Summer' Party in July 2012, celebrating Koolkat's new trompe l'oeil store sign.   From left to right: Koolkat artists Lucy McClure of Bel Monili, Nicole Bloch of erra creations, and Samantha Bower of Designs by Samantha Pittsburgh.

At the ‘Sign of Summer’ Party in July 2012, celebrating Koolkat’s new trompe l’oeil store sign.
From left to right: Koolkat artists and friends—Lucy McClure of Bel Monili, Nicole Bloch of erra creations, and Samantha Bower of Designs by Samantha Pittsburgh.

You’ve been selling your work at Koolkat since Spring 2012.  What is your favorite thing about Koolkat so far?
The people— the art— the community, everyone is just great! The selection of local art is really outstanding!

And, just for fun… what’s your guilty pleasure?
Scotch and Bacon

And that concludes our interview with Nicole.  Follow erra creations on Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest.

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