Interview with WHAM participant, Michael Leanes
Tell me about yourself and your work.
I started making furniture almost two years ago now. I was finishing undergrad in psychology. I never thought I would get into this. I started doing it for fun. I few people liked what they saw and started buying my stuff. A hobby turned more into something that I thought, “Hey, I can do this.” Now I’m at Houston Baptist University getting my Masters of Fine Arts. I’m a full-time student and also doing commission work on the side. They’ve been super helpful and have had open arms about having somebody that does something different. Most of the people here paint, do sculptures, ceramics, stuff like that.
Who or what inspires your work the most?
It started simply, like, hey, I want to make some cool stuff. I wanted to make my own furniture for my house. As I got more into it, it became more about the design aspect of it and making some really pretty furniture that looks nice, but also functions really well. My dad owns a machine shop, so I grew up in a really industrial setting. I saw a lot of how things are made – things with really high precision. I wanted to bring that to furniture.
What advice would you give to someone beginning a career as an artist?
At the beginning, you have to take some risks. Even now, I wish I had more or bigger work, or more expensive work that I was being commissioned. But more than anything, just be thankful for what you have. And with what you have, try to do work that pushes your limits. People like to see the thing. I’ve had work that I’ve been trying to make for a while, and when I explain it to people, they don't get it. Once I make it, someone automatically wants it. Take those risks. Make something even if you think people may not be open-minded to it. They definitely will be.
How/where do you typically sell/showcase your work?
All of my sales are through word of mouth. We just recently did our website. People will send me emails through that. That’d be another piece of advice I’d give somebody – before you launch a website, make sure you have something that looks professional, even if you are really small.
As a past WHAM artist, what do you like most about the event?
Meeting all of the different people that come through. The Heights area, the area that the studios are in. There’s a lot of people that are just now moving into the neighborhood. They’re quirky. They like different things. They like nice things. They’re living in these older houses that they’re re-doing. It’s just nice to meet that array of people. It’s a really cool event. You don't really know what you’re going to see until you get there. I think that’s people. People get to go to a different kind of market. It’s not the same style that you see everywhere else.
Do you use your talent to make handmade gifts for friends and family during the holidays?
Yes. Usually, a lot of my friends will get married and we will make them a set of different cutting boards or big salad bowls. We’ve made them all kinds of little knick-knacks, like candles and mason jars. I gave a couple of my friends coffee tables. It’s more enjoyable. You’re not doing it for a paid gig, but out of your kindness. It’s nice being able to make stuff with your own hands that people can enjoy.
What makes the perfect handmade gift?
I think it’s something simple. Not over the top. Something that they can use. When you make something like a coffee table that is open-ended, it can be used for lots of stuff.
What is the worst gift you have ever received?
A fridge magnet from someone’s vacation. Or a postcard. Like, “Hey, look what you missed out on!”