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Crafter Q&A: Phoebe Carpenter Eells, of elSage Designs

Jan 5th, 2014 | Category: Crafts

When did you start working in the world of printmaking? What inspired you to create your own business? 

When my older son was about to turn one, I set out to make an invite that was fun, original and could be duplicated. I rediscovered block printing through this project. After his birthday I continued with linocut and woodcut art. Soon I was carving simple silhouettes for art in our home.

In 2010, the inspiration to start a small business came around pretty organically. I was looking for something to supplement our income and provide a creative outlet. Being creative has always felt like home to me. I secretly hoped from the beginning that it would turn into something more, but it was very much a hobby for quite awhile.

In 2011 we had our second son and I was home from May through the summer. In September, I went back half time and I spent a year running between home and school. In the evenings I would work on elSage, filling orders and creating new designs. I felt like I was pulled in too many directions and when it came time to make a decision about my teaching contract at the end of the school year I ended up resigning. No one saw it coming, not even me.

I did my first farmer’s market that June (2012) and continued working markets until the end of summer. elSage has been my job ever since and I’m loving every step of the way. I am able to work on a more flexible schedule and be available for the boys when they need me.


Your designs bring feelings of spirit, adventure, outside, simplicity, happiness. What things in life most influence your designs and what do you draw from them? 

My kids have a huge influence on my work. The tractor design was originally created as art for their room. Nature, travel and big mountains are integral in my life and huge influences. Many of my designs have personal roots, the VW Bus was created as homage to the vehicle my parents had while my brother and I were growing up, Believe in Mountains was created after a particularly great day skiing at Baker, New Bike is an ode to the months I’ve spent traveling by bicycle. I’ve found that my most authentic designs are usually my most successful.


Can you tell us about your design process, from conception to completion? Do you have a studio space or work from home?

Most designs start with an idea and then work their way into my sketchbook. I have a running list of ideas that range from amazing to ridiculous to hilarious. If I’m stuck for a new concept I will check there and play around with different graphics. Once I decide to move forward with something I work hard to get a sketch that I like. Sometimes I need to do some research, take photos or search my archives for references. After I sketch something that works for me I transfer the drawing to a carving block. Next, I’m ready to start carving. I do several test prints along the way to refine the design and balance the black and white space. It’s a really exciting process, each design takes on a unique flavor.

My workspace has evolved with the business; I started out working on our kitchen table. Then I moved into the small downstairs bedroom. Last spring it was clear that I needed more space and more of my own equipment. We remodeled the garage space into a large studio and through a Kickstarter project, we funded a large conveyor dryer. The new studio has been functional since June, it’s lovely to have such great space right at home.

Phoebe Carpenter Eels and one of her sons working in her studio, and a few of her t-shirt designs (below). COURTESY PHOTO

Phoebe Carpenter Eels and one of her sons working in her studio, and a few of her t-shirt designs (below). COURTESY PHOTO


What role does your family play in your business? Do they make special requests for designs?My family is integral in this business. We all wear everything I print, sometimes this is the determining factor for keeping a certain style and design or looking for something new. Everyone makes suggestions and requests, sometimes they are great ideas and turn into best sellers. Beyond our immediate family are my parents and my brother and his wife who are all a part of elSage by proxy. My parents help out with our kids and offer up feedback and encouragement. My dad wears an elSage hoodie daily. My brother’s wife often comes to hang out with me at markets or helps me with packing orders when things get crazy. My brother is my litmus test for many things, mostly because he will tell me straight up if an idea’s no good.


What are some of your favorite or special designs you can tell us about? 

Topknot Girl is one of my very favorites. She was originally created on a fluke, in a very small format. I have always enjoyed drawing and painting portraits, there is so much in a face. She is interesting and mysterious, fashionable and classic.SONY DSC

Be Brave is also a favorite. This is another design that just sort of happened. It’s carved from reclaimed wood and you can see a knot in the wood that prints through. The piece was created right before I realized I was going to quit my “real job”. I think it’s a great message for all of us, everyone can use more brave in their life.

Adventure is a Family Value is the newest of my favorites. My husband and I were on a bike ride tossing ideas back and forth about a design encompassing our love for travel and adventure. By the end of the ride we had it – Adventure is a Family Value. I worked on the design part of it for the next eight months or so, trying and failing several times. It’s really gratifying when you finally get a design to the point that you’re happy with it. I love the message and spirit that this piece encompasses.


You are a regular at the Anacortes Farmers Market. What does the weekly market mean to you? Are there other local events you participate in throughout the year?

I wholeheartedly love the Anacortes Farmers Market. The people, the culture, the food, the atmosphere – I love all of it. Keri, the market manager, does a great job and everyone who participates is upbeat and friendly. The quality at this market is  really lovely and there is a wonderful emphasis on buying local in the community, as well as an appreciation for the arts. I have met some really incredible friends through the Anacortes Farmers Market.

This winter, I will be at the Anacortes Winter Farmers Markets once a month until the regular markets start in May. I’m looking forward to participating in MoNA Style again this year in March. Starting in June you can find elSage at the Everett Farmers Market on Sundays. I’m also hoping to add some additional special events to the market schedule this year. You can find an updated events schedule on the website.


In addition to your website and Etsy site, are your products available elsewhere? 

A few stores are carrying elSage apparel, many of them are out of state. Locally you can find art and elSage goods at The Lucky Dumpster in Edison, WA, Sprouts Kids in Mount Vernon and ReFeather Your Nest in LaConner & Mount Vernon.el sage football tee


Favorite quotes or words of wisdom? Favorite places in the Northwest?

I love inspirational quotes, here’s a few current favorites:

“Eat well, travel often” —Unknown

“The things that make you weird as a kid will make you great tomorrow” —James Victore

“If it’s both terrifying and amazing then you should definitely pursue it.” — Erada

Places: Mt Baker is hands down one of my most favorite places. I love the San Juan Islands as well as the Methow Valley, any PNW beach, the trails up Chuckanut, Edison, Anacortes… I think it’s safe to say I love where I live.adventure family value shirt


How are you ringing in the new year? What’s ahead in 2014? 

We spent New Year’s Eve camping up at Mt. Baker in our travel trailer. It was a wild night (ha) of glow in the dark stomp rocket toys and night sledding. The night life is pretty non-existent up there so we were all in bed by about 9. New Year’s Day was spent skiing. It was a great way to ring in the New Year.

2014 is going to be rad and full of amazing changes. There are some new designs in the queue and a bit of custom work. I’m hoping for some additional shows and events along with our normal farmer’s markets.


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