Have you ever been desperate for the perfect, gorgeous and unique clutch to round out your outfit? How about a bright, bold and happy print to hang in your office, adding a little bit of pep to those early morning meetings? Us too. Meet Ann Howell Bullard, artist behind our newest obsession – the hand painted evening bag – and girlboss behind Ann Howell Art. This lady is a creative genius who will have you desperately clicking through photos and parsing out your next paycheck for the perfect bag, and you will never have been happier.
How did you get started painting evening bags? We know you paint original art, how did the process evolve?
I started making evening bags when I was living in rural northeastern NC teaching, and had so many weddings to attend. Where I lived there were two significant obstacles to being fashionable: a.) it was at least 60 miles to the nearest shop, and b.) teacher salary = no budget for anything. I had canvas fabric for making paintings on hand, so I started painting those and sewing makeshift clutches that were pretty, but lasted about one use before the canvas fell apart and they got wrinkled and ugly. (Here and here are early examples.) I enjoyed carrying them, though, and they gathered a lot of attention and compliments, so I started experimenting with leathers!
One of my favorite things about these clutches is that each one is a little mini art object that you can carry around with you to parties! I love that connection to art — it’s functional, but you are literally carrying around a tiny painting. 🙂 I cut, paint, and stitch each evening bag myself, in my home in Raleigh, NC. I get leather scraps and paint everywhere, but my husband is mostly nice about it.
We saw that you rocked one of your signature bags at your wedding – what is your favorite way to style one of your evening bags?
Yes! I carried a black-and-white striped clutch at my wedding and it was my favorite. I really love carrying them to weddings, because they’re lots of fun. My favorite way to style any of the clutches from LIPSTICK STUDIES is with a little shift dress in a lovely color (lilac, baby blue, coral), bright heeled sandals and a little sparkle.
Where do you gather inspiration for your prints and designs?
Oh goodness, everywhere. I follow a lot of beautiful eyes on Instagram, and love seeing how they notice what’s around them. I love following florists for their colors — Tulipina, for example, is one of my favs. Other artists (Drawbertson is fantastic) and creatives (Victoria of sfgirlbybay) are also super interesting to follow. And, obviously, Pinterest — Jungle Queen, Black and White, and ART are my favorite collections that I look at over and over again. I love reading books that have a lot of imagery… much of the inspiration for my next line of clutches, JUNGLE QUEEN, comes from Reynolds Price’s descriptions of the woods in “A Long and Happy Life.” (Also — that’s the BEST book, if you haven’t read it already.) I think I use my own house and style a lot — I think to myself, what would work with that outfit? What would work with that wall space? I tend to be drawn to the same aesthetic over and over — I love the contrast of black and white, with natural wood textures, and pops of neon, global textiles, abstract paintings with insanely bright colors and wacky brushstrokes, objects that look rough or unfinished or like they were just pulled out of a turn-of-the-century crumbling farmhouse, and also I love glitter. I think I just try to put little bits of all the things I love into my work.
Creatively, it’s been a surprise to me how much I enjoy thinking about these clutches as collections. It feels like the act of setting parameters for myself — a certain shape, a color scheme, or theme — forces me to focus my creativity, instead of being all over the place when my instinct is to let it run wild and free. I had these lips and Xs and black and white in my head for the longest time, and bam, that was LIPSTICK STUDIES.
My second line, JUNGLE QUEEN, is lush, vibrant, and wild, and very summery, and due out mid-July.
Where do you turn for advice? What is the best piece of advice you have ever received?
Seth Godin is probably the smartest person in the world. I read his emailed blog posts every morning and they greatly improve my attitude towards just about everything. One of the main motifs in his writing that really sticks with me is:
“JUST SHIP ALREADY.” (That’s an Ann Howell paraphrase from Seth Godin, here, here, here, and here.) Basically, stop making excuses and thinking of all the ways you’re going to fail and stop waiting for everything to be absolutely perfect and JUST SHIP. And maybe it won’t be perfect, but then once you know better, do better. (That really takes a lot of the pressure off).
What advice do you have for women who want to follow a creative passion, but are afraid to take the leap?
You’re capable of a LOT more than you think, and you’ve got RESOURCES — connections, people to bounce ideas off, TIME (nights, weekends), audiences, test markets, funding, books written by smart people that have been in your exact same position before, etc. — THAT, more often than not — are readily available via friends, family, and the internet, right at your fingertips. I find that when I feel overwhelmed or incompetent or scared, I tell myself to calm down, take a breath, and think, and more often than not I come up with a resource I’ve already got that leads to a solution. Trust your gut; it’s probably your most valuable resource.
And subscribe to Seth Godin’s blog because he really might be the smartest person in the world.
Finally, I saw this quote on Instagram one time and was like THANK. THE. LORD. I don’t know if it’s true or not, but it sure makes me feel better.
Have you ever channeled your artistic talent into other mediums?
YES! All the time. In high school I painted flowers and a giant sun on my car with my friends Tres and Audrey. And I also embellished my jeans with acrylic paint and some ric-rac trim around the ankles, which was a really unfortunate choice. Plastic-y acrylic smeared on your high-water blue jeans? Nope. My family and friends helped me make all of the decor for my wedding… painted table toppers, photo backdrop garlands, giant gold glitter hearts, etc. We had a fun party and knocked most of it out with the help of cocktails and snacks! I’m doing an exciting collaboration with another local Raleigh business that involves hand-painted fabric, which should be out soon. Really, the list goes on and on and on. I just like to make stuff.
Describe your personal style. What are your go to pieces?
I tend to pick things based on the way they fit me, how comfortable they are, and how much I love the color. I have about 85 blue chambray shirts that I wear with black jeans and ankle boots and scarves in the winter, white jeans and sandals in the summer, and occasionally with blue jeans as a Canadian tuxedo when I’m feeling extra sophisticated. I live in Madewell jeans and Frame denim, and in the J Crew Painter Tees (I just buy every bright color they have every season, because they are THE BEST.) I also like little skirts and shift dresses in really beautiful colors, not a lot of patterns. I add the pattern and sparkle with accessories — LemLem scarves, Lizzie Fortunato Jewels, obviously some of my hand-painted leather clutches (the Crossbones and Classic Stripey clutches go with EVERYTHING), and glitter shoes. I have a very special place in my heart for glitter shoes.
It’s Saturday morning, what can we find you doing?
Sleeping in and brewing Larry’s Beans coffee while my husband makes me cheesy scrambled eggs and avocado toast. Saturdays are for getting organized, Sundays are for being lazy.
What is your go-to song for when you need to turn on music and dance it out?
Katy Perry is my spirit animal — I love to interpretive dance to and sing “Wide Awake” and “Teenage Dream.” Also — “Honky Tonk Women” by the Rolling Stones and “Think” by Aretha Franklin.
What word represents the twenty-something years?
Did we miss something? Let us in on it!
Well, I have a very fancy double first name: “Ann Howell” (it’s a Southern thing).
For more on Ann Howell visit her at Ann Howell Art.
All images by Anna Routh Barzin.