Darla Baker has a hard time seeing herself as an artist.
"I was in the corporate world and worked so hard for so long," she says. "I was a petroleum landman. We're talking about a completely different thing from what I'd call an artist. I was out there negotiating leases and contracts to get oil wells drilled. I am so Type A."
As she speaks, she continually eyes her surroundings. She may be Type A, but the analyst in her leads to artistic endeavors. "I'm sitting here now, looking at buildings, trees, lampposts, and just about anything round and anything that can be embedded in acrylic. I see shapes and inspiration everywhere."
Darla's journey started when she and her husband John took at a woodworking class in St. Louis. "He loved the lathe," she says, "so we bought a cheap one after the class. And it just sat in the garage. I couldn't stand that. I took a pen making class in Nashville later on, and I've been seriously focused on this since 2011."
Darla crafted a variety of items from bottle stoppers to table handbag hangers to sunglass holders to lidded boxes to bowls. She also developed a wide variety of ink pens. "I use various materials like wood, acrylics, and composite stone," she says. "I'll turn anything. I've even made a pinecone pen."
As she approaches the lathe, she thinks about the inspirations she's seen. Those ideas, however, are just the beginning; and, in the moment, Darla shifts direction and finds the artistry of turning. "I'm always processing it in my mind as I work," she says. "Usually I don't like it at first, so I change. Often, the end result is absolutely nothing like what I thought I wanted when I started.
"And there is peace in doing this, even when I am messing up. I am in my own little world. I have friends and love that, but I am fine balancing it with getting in the garage and focusing on this craft."
From her little world over a lathe to the broader world beyond, people took note of Darla's work. "I've sold all over the world through Etsy—to people in places like Hong Kong and Ireland. When it comes to the pens, this kind of craft is coming back. People want special pens for themselves or others—something of high quality that is a keepsake." Some of the pens are fountain, others are roller ball, and some can be both with a change of the nib.
Once Darla completes a work, it is listed on Etsy, and she's off to find her next stroke of inspiration. "I love my time turning," she says. "One day when my husband retires, we're getting a smaller house with a large shop."
Darla's work can be viewed at etsy.com/shop/DarlasTurningTrades.