Vienna Spotlight: Valerie Tonus and Ally Michelle

My first artist interview in Vienna was with Valerie Tonus, a warm and wonderful creative spirit from California who has lived abroad for many years and truly seen the world. I knew I wanted Valerie to be a part of this project after I saw her colorful work and read her profile description on Etsy:

"I live in the land of Klimt, Schiele, and Hundertwasser - Vienna, Austria. This is a place of gilded cupolas, florid patterns, and textures so delicious that you want to eat them.

I experiment with shapes - cubist bags, round spiral baskets, diagonal strips - and color relationships - triads of reds, blues and yellows, and tetrads of yellow-orange, red, blue-purple, and green. 

I have an earthy bohemian side. I am a traveler. Each place I have lived has shaped my senses."

Isn't that wonderful?!

Valerie was very enthusiastic about my art + travel project and suggested that we meet at the Kunst Haus Wien designed by the artist Hundertwasser.

This is a front view of Kunst Haus Wien. In the back, there is a lovely garden cafe. After a challenging first morning in Vienna that you can read about here, I was very happy to meet Valerie and her artist friend, Ally Michelle, who was also in Vienna for a visit. Ally Michelle has recently opened an Etsy shop recently featuring her handmade sea glass jewelry. Click here to see more of her unique designs.

Valerie brought along many of her beautiful, hand-coiled cloth bowls and even shared her process. She told me that her sister who quilts got her started using textiles to create art.

"Making the coils for the bowls is a lot like using clay," Valerie said. "Forming the shapes is an organic process. It is somewhat similar to gardening - the result is always different from what you expect."

Valerie has lived in Vienna for the past two years, and has especially enjoyed the beautiful Jugendstil architecture, museums, rich culture, and the public transportation that makes it so easy to get around.

She finds the ornamental, coiled designs in Klimt's work a particular inspiration for the designs on her bowls. "Did you ever notice the beautiful textures in the women's dresses in Klimt's paintings?"

Valerie has been lucky enough to find an international artist's group in Vienna that meets every Friday afternoon to work together and exchange ideas. Her description of the group sounded so open and friendly, it makes me wish I could attend their meetings too.

She demonstrated for me the time intensive wrapping technique of making the coils before she stitches the bowls together. Each bowl is handmade and one-of-a-kind.

Her use of color is mostly intuitive, but sometimes she experiments with new color families using a color wheel. Valerie has experimented using various types of fabrics, ranging from extra strips from her sister's quilting projects to recycled materials.

More recently, she has been using stamps to create her own fabric designs which could then be incorporated into additional textile projects.

Valerie sells her work in shops and markets in Vienna, as well as online through her Etsy shop. She told me that she first found out about Etsy through an alternative website called Rat Race Rebellion. After working for many years in corporate management training, she is happy to be celebrating her creative voice. Valerie has her own blog and is "inspired and motivated by the many creative people expressing themselves now on the Internet." I couldn't agree more.

Ally Michelle added wisely, "Finally more and more people are out there following and marketing their passions - it is so much better than people doing jobs that they don't like."

Ally went on to say: "Every single person in this world has a story to tell, and they should tell it by all means. Blogging has returned the voice to the people - it is a big crowd, but everyone can speak."

At the close of our lively conversation together, Valerie shared a quote from Hundertwasser that she finds particularly inspiring, "Our real illiteracy is our inability to create."

See a charming collection of Valerie's lovely handmade bowls and bags in her online shop and be sure to visit her blog for wonderful recipes, tutorials, and a closer look at her creative process. You can also visit Ally Michelle at her urban gardening blog here.

Thank you Valerie and Ally Michelle for your time and encouragement! I hope we will meet again!