Do think you should do something with wood pallets you see along the side of the road? Samantha Hartman does! The woodworker and author of Wood Pallet Wonders has been creative her entire life. Her favorite piece of advice, “And the day came when the risk to remain tight in a bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom,” inspired her to move across the country and take risks on a new woodworking shop.
I understand you are a graphic designer by education, how did you know that you were a creative type? What inspired you to lead a creative life?
I have always been creative. I was the ‘crafty one’ in class when I was little and my parents were always working on projects with my sister and me. My mom used to do craft shows and my dad was always building something in the garage. But I didn’t realize how much of a creative influence they played on me until I was writing the introduction for my book! It was always there, but I hadn’t really thought about it in depth until then. I enjoy graphic design, but was yearning for a more hands-on outlet, so I started my Etsy shop right after graduating.
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Tell us about publishing your first book. What was the one thing that made you think “I need to put these ideas into a book and share with the world”? What was the most exciting part of the process? And, the part that made you think “What have I gotten myself into”?
It was such an exciting and stressful experience all at the same time. So many thoughts ran through my head – what if no one likes my projects? What if I get a bad review on Amazon? – all these ‘what if’s’ that I would never know if I didn’t at least try.
Coming up with the projects was the easy part. Once I got started with ideas, I had a whole list to pick from. Building the projects was a little more difficult. I had to take a photo of each step and the woodshop I use isn’t the most photogenic place, and working all day didn’t leave me with any natural light when I got home. That being said, I could only take the photos on the weekends. With a few trips already planned and a deadline of only four months, that made the remaining weekends pretty tight. However, I managed to get it all done in time and was so relieved when I sent that final email – I had written a book!
How did you start working with wood? Especially old wood pallets?
For years, I did a lot of sewing and used vintage fabrics for my pieces. I also liked to redo furniture but it was hard living in a small city apartment. When I moved to Wyoming, I had access to a woodshop and that opened a whole new realm of possibilities – I could make literally anything I wanted. I still love to reuse older materials because they just have such character that new materials do not, so using pallets was a great way to use up something that would have otherwise been discarded.
What does your workshop look like?
I have attached a few photos, but my workshop is a giant blue warehouse a few miles outside of town. It was formerly used to build log furniture and a lot of that stuff is still inside. I currently share it with Larry, a cabinet maker, and we each have our own areas to work in. There is a lot of space to store extra wood, which works out great, as well as a paint room with drying racks to keep everything safe to dry.
What is the one tool that you couldn’t live without in your workshop?
That is a tough question! I would say something general like the air compressor because most of the tools that I use run off of that. But if I had to go with something specific, I would have to say the planer. I buy wood for my serving trays in a huge haul. I have to plane it all down to the same thickness – it saves so much time.
Other than woodworking and graphic design, what other genres of creativity spark your interest?
I have taken a lot of craft classes over the years, from stained glass to ceramics. I always try to explore new areas so I don’t get burned out on the same one. Right now I have been trying out weaving, and next on my list is candle making. Weaving has been good for me because I am quite a perfectionist and have a hard time doing ‘random’ art. I have never been good at something like art journaling and find myself taking out rows of yarn a few times before I am happy with it. The color has to be in the right place and the rows have to be even – I am hoping to be a little more free-flowing once I work on a few more pieces.
Moving from Pittsburgh to Wyoming is a big move. What inspired that change of life?
Pittsburgh is home – I grew up there and all of my family is there. I was looking for a change of pace and was pretty stale at my restaurant job. I started applying for graphic design jobs and ended up taking one that led me to Evanston, Wyoming. It was a huge move and I definitely wanted to head back after a few months, but sticking with it led me to explore a new area of the country that I had never been to before. I visited Yellowstone and the Grand Canyon, swam in mountain lakes, started backpacking, took a dip in some natural hot springs – and that is just a glimpse of the places I have been.
How has your creativity changed over time?
The first few years after opening my Etsy shop, I struggled to find my niche. I went from jewelry making to sewing, but couldn’t decide on one area of items to focus on. I made iPad cases, purses, dog bow ties – nothing had anything in common.
When I switched to woodworking, it just felt more natural. Don’t get me wrong – I love to sew – but I just couldn’t get one product that worked well and was successful. I am guilty of spending too much time on Pinterest and now I have a board of projects I want to try that could fill up the next few years if I did them all. However, I am enjoying my woodworking journey and am finding it a lot easier to have a cohesive line that people love.
What is the one creative project that you are the most proud of?
Writing a book is definitely high up on my list, but I would have to say my business as a whole is probably what I am most proud of. I spent a lot of time working hard to get where I am at today and it shows in many ways.
I was chosen as one of 36 people from around the world to attend Etsy Open Call in 2016 where we got to pitch our lines to retailers, have my products in over 40 stores, and was able to leave my full time position as a graphic designer to pursue Infinite Abyss. Not many people can say they turned their ‘side hustle’ into a full time gig. But I managed to do so and it is working out better than I could have imagined.
What do you expect the next year to bring? New ideas or techniques to explore?
I am always thinking of new ideas for trays – I have scribbles all over of samples and designs. I would love to incorporate my stained glass somehow. Inlaid designs of pops of color would make a unique touch. I have a few boxes of glass for this.
My boyfriend made me a few large brands last year of a buffalo and an arrow and I have been working with those on larger pieces of barnwood. I would also like to add a few new products such as the weavings I mentioned earlier or candles poured into old logs – smaller items that could be great for gifting or as a set with a tray.
What’s the best advice you’ve ever received?
This is always the hardest question because there isn’t really one thing that sticks out in my mind. I know who I can ask for advice. Having those few people to lean on is such an important building block for success.
Surround yourself with those that will bring you up, not down. As cliché as it is, I believe that everything does happen for a reason. If I didn’t take the job in Wyoming, I wouldn’t have started my woodworking line or written a book. One of my favorite quotes is, “And the day came when the risk to remain tight in a bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom.” I took that as a piece of advice when moving across the country and taking risks on new things.
Here’s where you can find more information about Samantha and her creative work:
Interview published February 2018