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Taking a Wild and ‘Wander’-ful Chance

Attorney Has Sideline Creating Collage Art Greeting Cards

Wheeling attorney Cindy Fluharty began creating collage-based greeting cards in 2019.

WHEELING — Do you have to be able to draw well to be an artist? Attorney Cindy Fluharty always thought so. But, three years into a venture that started with the desire to create the kind of greeting cards she couldn’t find in a store, she’s not so sure.

She has a sun-washed studio tucked into the back of her downtown condo. She has an apron covered with smears of paint. She has bins filled with filmy bits of paper to which she applied all manner of that paint through a multi-step transfer method. She has bricks-and-mortar outlets for her INN RETROspect cards and gets the occasional commission.

The label is starting to fit, she admitted. Or, just maybe, the art had always been inside her and she didn’t know it until months of pandemic-induced slowdown gave her time to explore a new path.

LAYER BY LAYER

“My mother was a great sewer, 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 originally thought would be 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 piecing require for that kind of textile work wasn’t for her. “It’s exact, and I’m not an exact person.”

Instead, she discovered knitting as a balance to the heavy hitting of a law career focused on workers compensation and black lung benefits. (There is still a colorful stash of yarn in one corner of her studio.)

But, it wasn’t until 2019 that, frustrated with access to greeting cards that seemed to exist no where but in her mind, that she began to step down a path that might be “art.” Using the collage method, she made a few cards for herself. She made more and they sold. Then, the “treasured time” that came with the COVID lockdown gave her room to pick up her 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. Favored sites include Oglebay buildings, Centre Market, downtown St. Clairsville and Woodburn Hall at West Virginia University, for example.

Atop the digitally altered photos, she adds physical layers of tissue and other thin paper, graphic images and pithy quotes. “I’m literally a cut and paste girl. I have these teeny scissors that I use to cut the graphics out and then I figure out how to display them on the paper,” Fluharty said.

Since taking a couple of courses in abstract art and mixed media at the Stifel Fine Arts Center, she noted her work has grown increasingly complex.

Some cards now include paint that is applied in reverse layers onto a gel mat and 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 paint-dimmed text — often tiny snippets literally pulled from pages of old books.

Another repeating element to her work is women clad in retro fashions — particularly those of the Regency period or the 1950s and ’60s. She said she is also drawn to combining such images with quotes that convey the women in a strong, independent way.

In one card, for example, a mid-century-modern female pauses in front of a mountain scene. The quote that appears in a typewriter-reminiscent font is a camp one of Fluharty’s own in this case: “Sally ponders what it means to be Wild & Wonderful.”

“I’ll find a scene and I’ll think, “What quote goes with that? What’s the scene trying to say?” she said. Files near a counter she had installed so that she can work while standing conveniently offer quotes and graphics by subject. Think “bees,” “beach” and “globes.”

On the latter, Fluharty also likes to include travel references, sometimes with word play such as “Wild & Wanderful” of “Life is full of wander.”

COMBO CAREER

Fluharty noted that being trained 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 get go that she needed to make sure she has commercial legal rights to all the images she uses and that those rights extend to both physical and virtual reproduction. If she cannot get such rights — as has been the case with some photos — she recreates her own, sometimes using her niece as a model.

She also steers clear of using quotes from living subjects and anything that could be deemed risque, she said. “That’s the hard thing about being a lawyer,” she joked. “You’re constantly assessing risk.”

Her extensive work with business interests was also good preparation for actually selling her work. Not long after making her first cards for herself, she approached RSQP in the downtown to see if they could print them in quantity. They could, they did and, “I took a chance and I applied to the holiday sale at the Wheeling Artisan Center,” she said.

It was a smart move. She got into the event, her cards sold well and she got to directly interact with customers. “The best thing is seeing people come up and look and then read the quote and smile.”

In rapid fashion, she began to get commissions for business-specific cards and even an uber-personalized family Christmas greeting.

More bricks-and-mortar outlets followed. In addition to a continued presence at both the 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 through shops in Morgantown and Snow Shoe.

“It’s a side hustle that I want to grow,” said Fluharty, who said she reduced her legal work to part-time this year as she does a strategic stepdown from that part of her career.

Her goal for the remainder of 2022 is to create a digital card space on Etsy rather than expand her physical footprint. This e-venue would allow customers to purchase a 5 by 7 inch digital image and print it on their own cardstock. That means no shipping or supply chain issues, she noted.

In 2023, she’d like to expand that electronic presence through digital marketplaces such as Redbubble or Society6 so that her images can be reproduced in different sizes and on different mediums — such as phone cases — at customer’s discretion.

She would also like to expand the background locations in her work — or her art as she is now able to acknowledge — to include Pittsburgh scenes.

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