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Where Hypnovamp Began (Original publish date: 2021)

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Where Hypnovamp Began (Original publish date: 2021)

It’s been a strange, circular path leading up to the creation of Hypnovamp. The roots stretch back deeply into my childhood, but I'll start this story at a more recent point in time and space...

Young artist, Stephanie Smiszek 1989 - HypnovampConceptual sketch, 1989

When I graduated from Massachusetts College of Art in 2010, I was 25 and still didn’t know what I wanted to be when I grew up. My degree was in sculpture and I had spent the last four years having a blast, aimlessly experimenting in every medium I could get my hands on. In addition to my sculpture curriculum, I’d taken nearly all of the jewelry classes available. I spent countless late nights in the small metals studio, creating wearable pieces with cast doll heads and cockroach legs; and yet it somehow didn’t occur to me that this could be my job someday. 

Hypnovamp Flea Circus Insect Sculpture - Cast Bronze and Mixed Media, 2010

"Camphor" Bronze and mixed media circus flea sculpture, 2010

As my final semester came to an end, I was plagued by a feeling that the fun was over.  Instead of capitalizing on the forward momentum and empowering high of completing a degree, I focused all my energy on picking up more shifts bartending and waiting tables. Self-doubt skewed my perspective, and I convinced myself that having an artistic career of my own was an impractical fantasy.   

Just to keep my toes in the water, I spent half a year working as a bench jeweler for an independent jewelry company in Boston. While I learned a lot about the industry, I wasn't artistically tied to the product and spent my days in the workshop daydreaming about what I would do differently if I were running my own show. The pay was too low to keep me afloat for long, and when I left the job, I also left behind the countless hours of dreams and ideas I’d formed while staring into the bench grinder.

Jeweler Stephanie Smiszek with Pulse Arc Welder - HypnovampMy job welding at the bench for a Boston-based jewelry company, 2010

In 2011, I found myself juggling two restaurant jobs with hardly any time to make art.  Before long, I fell into an existential rut: I didn’t understand the point of my education, and I couldn’t figure out what my purpose was in life. It was also the dead of frigid New England winter, and I seemed to only view life through a dirty, grey lens.   

Then, out of the blue, I was given an opportunity to move to Nicaragua for several months and teach music to kids. I consider this experience to be the catalyst for so much positive change in my life.

When I returned to Boston in late spring, I was determined not to fall back into the same unproductive patterns I'd been in before. I needed a change... so I sold most of my worldly possessions and moved down to New Orleans in October of 2012.

New Orleans, Hypnovamp

My neighborhood in New Orleans, 2012

Relocating across the country with no solid plan is definitely a way to jumpstart the brain. The dreamy tropical scenery, lavish architecture, and vibrant culture moved my soul in an unfamiliar way, and I began to think more openly about what I wanted to do with my life. I was bartending in the French Quarter to make ends meet, but my alone-time was dedicated to making lists of all the possible careers and directions I could take.

It took nearly six months of brainstorming for me to arrive at the most obvious conclusion: jewelry designer. I have to laugh when I consider it now; so many times in life, the most obvious answers have been with us all along.

The only problem with choosing jewelry designer as my new life direction was that my purge of material possessions prior to moving meant I no longer had metalsmithing tools, and I could not currently afford any new ones. 

However, I did have a computer, and I remembered that in my last semester of college I had taken a CAD (computer aided design) class. It had only been an introductory class, but I got my hands on a free design program and began watching Youtube tutorials to learn how to create jewelry digitally and have it 3D printed. 

Early Art Show in New Orleans for Lemantula Designs, the Original Hypnovamp Brand NameOne of my first jewelry shows in 2013 as "Lemantula Designs"

A slow learning curve ensued, but eventually I was creating pieces of jewelry and sporadically selling them on Etsy and at night in the Frenchmen Art Market.  My original name was Lemantula Designs, based on a nickname given to me by a former coworker.  "Lemantula" was confusing to pronounce and required too much explanation, so in 2016 I renamed my brand Hypnovamp — a nod to Vampira and the hypnotic, vortex-heavy designs I was producing at the time.  

During this era, my free time was spent designing tons of jewelry but only selling it once in a while. I had finally amassed a collection of tools and set up a mini silversmithing studio looking out onto my tropical, vine-covered balcony. Mostly, I was just creating commissions for friends and people I met in the French Quarter through my bartending job. My weird and wild New Orleans life was thoroughly enjoyable, but also very distracting; so I left Hypnovamp to linger as an expensive hobby rather than a career. I was content, but complacent. 

Royal Street Balcony in New Orleans, Hypnovamp

Balcony view, 2016

This changed in spring of 2017: I had an experience one night that nearly lead to me to an early grave. This incident shook me deeply and opened up my mind to a whole line of abstract questioning about the point of life, death, and what to make of the time we have on this planet. 

Stephanie Smiszek with Skull Mask, New Orleans, Hypnovamp, 2012

St. Claude Ave, New Orleans

Once you navigate through the shock and unpleasant rippling effects, near-death-experiences can be quite useful for organizing your life priorities. I felt my paradigm take a positive shift and realized that it was now or never for Hypnovamp. 

Comfort and complacency will devour years of your life if you let them; I quit my secure, well-paying job, packed a U-haul, and moved back to Massachusetts with my boyfriend to focus on making jewelry full-time.   

Sterling Silver Bat Jewelry, Quartz and Onyx, Glow in the Dark Purple, HypnovampSterling silver, quartz, onyx, and violet phosphorescence, 2018

It hasn’t been an easy ride, but today I can say with conviction that I love what I do.  As it turns out, a career in the arts is certainly NOT the path of least resistance, and the peaks and valleys of business ownership are intense, but so, so rewarding.

There is nothing more fulfilling than seeing another human wearing and treasuring my work.  More than just creating beautiful objects, I aim to share an experience and make jewelry that empowers and connects us to the shadowy segment of life; to remind us that the darkness in our beings deserves as much tending, love, and cultivation as the light.

Thanks for following my journey! 💙