WHEELING — Do you have to know how to draw well to be an artist? Lawyer Cindy Fluharty always thought so. But, three years into a business that began with a desire to create the kind of greeting cards she couldn’t find in a store, she’s not so sure.
She has a sun-drenched studio tucked away in the back of her downtown condo. She has an apron covered in paint stains. She has trays full of wispy pieces of paper on which she has applied all kinds of this paint through a multi-step transfer method. She has physical outlets for her INN RETROspect cards and receives an occasional commission.
The label is starting to adapt, she admitted. Or, maybe just, the art had always been in her and she didn’t know it until months of pandemic-induced downturn gave her time to explore a new path.
LAYER BY LAYER
“My mom was a great seamstress, and she was also a quilter,” said Fluharty, who left her home in rural Tyler County and headed to Marshall University to pursue what she thought of as a quilter. originated as a career as a legal assistant. “I have very fond memories of weekends spent sewing with her.”
Even then, however, Fluharty realized that the precise assembly required for this type of textile work was not for her. “That’s right, and I’m not an exact person.”
Instead, she discovered knitting as a balancing act with the hard knocks of a law career focused on workers’ compensation and black lung benefits. (There’s still a colorful stash of threads in a corner of his studio.)
But it wasn’t until 2019 that, frustrated with access to greeting cards that seemed to exist nowhere but in her mind, she began to embark on a path that could be “art “. Using the collage method, she made some cards for herself. She made more and they sold. Then the “precious moment” that accompanied the COVID lockdown gave him room to pick up his pace.
“I take pictures with my iPhone. Then I have filters that I use,” she said of the iconic community locations that form the backbone of much of her work. Prime locations include the Oglebay Buildings, Center Market, downtown St. Clairsville, and Woodburn Hall at West Virginia University, for example.
On top of the digitally altered photos, she adds physical layers of fabric and other fine papers, graphic images, and concise quotes. “I am literally a cut-and-paste girl. I have these tiny scissors that I use to cut out the graphics and then figure out how to display them on the paper,” Fluharty said.
Since taking a few courses in abstract art and mixed media at the Stifel Fine Arts Center, she has noticed that her work has become increasingly complex.
Some cards now include paint which is applied in inverted layers on a gel pad, then picked up with various papers to add a delicate watercolor effect. Fluharty said she often chooses “deep greens and blues” as a nod to a favorite James Taylor song.
Other themes include grayed out text – often tiny snippets literally ripped from the pages of old books.
Another recurring element of her work is women dressed in retro clothing, particularly those from the Regency period or the 1950s and 1960s. She said she was also drawn to combining such images with quotes that convey the women in a strong and independent way.
In one card, for example, a mid-century modern woman pauses in front of a mountain scene. The quote that appears in a font reminiscent of the typewriter is a Fluharty camp in this case: “Sally ponders what it means to be Wild & Wonderful.”
“I’ll find a scene and think, ‘What quote goes with that? What is the scene trying to say? she says. Filing cabinets near a counter she had set up so she could work standing up offer quotes and charts by topic. Think “bees”, “beach” and “globes”.
On the latter, Fluharty also likes to include travel references, sometimes with puns like “Wild & Wanderful” from “Life is full of wander.”
Fluharty noted that training as a lawyer has come in handy more than once as she develops INN RETROspect into a secondary career path.
For one thing, she knew from the start that she needed to make sure she had legal commercial rights to any images she uses and that those rights extend to both physical and virtual reproduction. If she cannot obtain such rights – as has been the case with some photos – she recreates her own, sometimes taking her niece as a model.
She also avoids using quotes from live subjects and anything that could be considered risky, she said. “It’s the hardest thing about being a lawyer,” she joked. “You constantly assess the risks.”
His extensive work with business interests was also good preparation for selling his work. Shortly after making her first cards for herself, she approached RSQP downtown to see if they could print them in quantity. They could, they did and, “I took a chance and applied for the holiday sale at the Wheeling Artisan Center,” she said.
It was a smart move. She participated in the event, her cards sold well and she was able to interact directly with customers. “The best thing is to see people come and watch, then read the quote and smile.”
Soon, she began receiving commissions for specific business cards and even ultra-personalized family Christmas greetings.
Other physical outlets followed. In addition to an ongoing presence at downtown and Oglebay branches of the Wheeling Artisan Center, Fluharty’s work is also sold locally at VC Wares in Center Market, Hughes Design & Gift Gallery in Fulton, and Three Labs Mercantile on Main in St. Clairsville. She also sells at stores in Morgantown and Snow Shoe.
“It’s a side hustle that I want to build on,” said Fluharty, who said she cut back on her part-time legal work this year as she made a strategic withdrawal from that part of her career.
Its goal for the rest of 2022 is to create a digital card space on Etsy rather than expand its physical footprint. This online site would allow customers to purchase a 5 by 7 inch digital image and print it on their own card stock. That means there are no shipping or supply chain issues, she noted.
In 2023, she would like to expand this electronic presence through digital marketplaces such as Redbubble or Society6 so that her images can be reproduced in different sizes and on different media – such as phone cases – at the customer’s discretion.
She would also like to expand the background locations of her work – or her art as she is now able to recognize it – to include scenes from Pittsburgh.