A Conversation with d. Sharp

Today we have the pleasure of talking with Portland-based artist, Denise Sharp. The multi-talented Denise is the creator of exquisite paper tiaras, candy containers, letterpress cards and cake toppers that have been featured in over 200 boutiques and galleries across the country, as well as national publications such as InStyle, Country Home and Martha Stewart Weddings. In addition to Denise’s fabulous line, she has an enchanting blog, d.sharp journal.

Please read on as Denise shares her experiences of starting as a collector/antiques dealer and eventually launching her successful business.

Denise, when did you start buying antiques/vintage?

I went to college in the Bay Area and really loved the flea markets there. My husband {then boyfriend} and I would buy stuff, but looking back on it now- it was all pretty bad. We had a big garage sale before moving back to Portland and were so thrilled that all of this stuff kept selling that throughout the day we kept running back upstairs to grab more things. We had rented a big moving truck but ended up with very little to actually put in it.

Photo: NessPace Photography

It wasn’t until my husband and I were back in Portland fixing up our first house and looking to furnish it that we started hitting the estate sales pretty hard. I became good friends with a woman with great taste and knew the ropes, so we would just hit it every weekend.

Our 1906 house was such a fixer, no bank would mortgage it, and for four years my husband and I did nearly all of the work on it ourselves. Sometime in the last two years of working on the house I had somehow crossed the threshold from collector to antique dealer - suddenly I had “inventory”. Here in Portland there are some pretty nice antique malls, so I started with a small spot and eventually had three larger spaces going before I had my first son.

Any stories?

At that time, it was mostly estate sales and {to be in the first 20 or so in a sale} you had to wait in line the night before to get the newspaper early, then race around town to, 1. sign up on a list to get in the next morning, 2. see that there was no list and decide to go back and wait the next morning. It was a lot of craziness, like watching another dealer take a ladder off his truck and take a peak into the second story window. With a flashlight. At eleven at night.

Denise's first globe of her collection

I know how that goes. It's so much work. What were some of your favorite finds?

Sometimes my other dealer friends would just laugh. Here they had purchased a beautiful Aesthetic Movement sideboard and, although I had also bought some nicer things in addition to my funkier finds, I am waxing poetic about the little vintage horseshoe magnet that I found for a quarter.

Number one, I am cheap. So once something becomes too expensive to collect, I move on. I am also an ‘adopter’. If an object seems like it might be overlooked because it is too humble, a little too strange or not perfect, it seems to call out to me.

On my blog d. sharp journal, I have a feature called Behold where I share photos of some of my favorite finds.

How did you get started with creating your beautiful paper creations?

With all of the estate sales and auctions I found myself with a small studio of papers and ephemera that I felt compelled buy and stash to one day make things with. As I found time and occasion, I would create some paper work for birthday gifts or Christmas ornaments - most of my product line started out as gifts that I made for friends and family.

My business kind of started on a lark - after I made elaborate paper top hats and tiaras for all of the guests at a party of ours, encouragement and orders from friends and acquaintances soon followed. I approached my first store later that year.

Photo: NessPace Photography

Photo: NessPace Photography

Photo: NessPace Photography

After having my first child, I was also interested in finding something that would allow me to work at home. At our second house, we built a small garage with a studio up top for me and a workshop below for my husband. I juggle my work week to be home as much as possible with our two sons.

Denise's studio

Denise's studio

Denise's letterpress creations

What influence does vintage have in your creating?

My collections are inspiration. We started collecting trophies for centerpieces for our wedding, and one day it just occurred to me to try to make a paper one. I also collect vintage metal landmark souvenirs, which sparked the idea for the Eiffel Tower box and my other architectural pieces. I gave my mother and stepmother one of the first few that I made for birthday gifts.

Other items are collected as source material, I love old books and ephemera, or for reference, like vintage fabrics, antique candy containers, or even old spools of silk thread - I love the richness of the colors.

Photo: NessPace Photography

Any advice/tips for collectors?

Have fun. Collect what you love to look at or that invokes good memories, not necessarily what has provenance. Don’t overlook the humblest of objects for visual potential.

Thanks Denise for the inspiring and informative chat!

You can purchase d. Sharp's paper creations at Studio Sharp, letterpress creations at Etsy and visit her blog, d. Sharp Journal.

Photos courtesy of Denise Sharp and NessPace Photography


la la Lovely said…
Lovely! I love those little eiffel towers that say marry me! How fabulous would it be to get one of those with a ring inside- wow!
Barb said…
Wow! What a great interview. Loved the pictures as well.
Alkemie said…
Oh my goodness what a fabulous post and interview! The paper creations are absolutely exquisite and I rarely see this art form. They're so pretty! Thanks so much for bringing us this interview.


Di Overton said…
Great interview. I have seen Denise's work at Etsy - I love it
Jojo said…
I shared this blog post with an artist friend. She is in her early 20s and I called her to ask her if she had seen the paper creations. She answered the phone and said "Yes, I will marry anyone who asks me to marry them in such an amazing way." What a wonderful interview and her creative work is amazing.

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