Watercolorist finds second palette in herbal soap making
Wall and her husband, Mike, were newcomers to Jonesborough when she got involved with the farmers market.
They came to the area from Florida, by way of Oklahoma and Minnesota.
Mike found work – and continues to work – as an registered nurse at Johnson City Medical Center and Ginny focused on her art career.
“The year the market opened, there was a promotion called ‘Art in August,’ ” Wall says. “I heard about it and brought my watercolors and notecards to sell and I set up my easel and painted at the market. It was a great place to paint and a wonderful environment.”
After that first year, Wall offered her painting, “Market Morning,” for use in market publicity for the next season. Every year since, one of her pieces has been a part of promoting the market.
Wall has created several original paintings from market scenes.
“I have painted pictures of children drawing with chalk at the market and of vendors like Skip Jones, who sold for Scratch Bakery, as well as Curtis and Marilyn Buchanan when they sold lettuce,” Wall says. “There have been lots of great subjects.”
The economic downturn, however, redirected Wall’s artistic path.
“My career as an artist is wonderful,” she says. “I love painting and teaching watercolor and I did it full-time for 15 years, and I still paint commissions.
“I decided to stop traveling [because of the economy] and now only do local art shows, plus sell my artwork through my online Etsy shop (www.allnaturesings.etsy.com. I gave away my art tents and directed focus to home – my garden, local ministries, community work and making useful items from herbs.”
So painting is now sharing time with soap-making and herb-crafting in Wall’s Jonesborough studio.
Projects are in process everywhere — bouquets of herbs hanging from the living room mantel, soaps curing in on open shelves, products being carefully labeled.
Yet in the center of the workroom, Wall’s large drafting table and paints are still at the ready for painting projects.
Wall started herb crafting with a friend some 20 years ago.
“Working with herbs and essential oils is something I’ve done since 1992,” she says. “Making natural products for use in my home is important to me, so I returned to that.”
Wall calls her nature-based business “All Nature Sings,” using a line from a hymn she has loved since childhood, “This is My Father’s World.”
Her traditional lye soap recipe incorporates natural moisturizing oils, essential oils and herbal infusions, from herbs she grows in her backyard.
The process takes patience and careful timing.
First, Wall creates a liquid soap that she pours into a rectangular silicone mold where it sets. Then, she cuts the large block of soap into bars and allows it to cure for at least four weeks.
“I make a small batch recipe and it can be tricky to plan ahead for demand,” she says, “considering that each batch will have to cure for several weeks before I can label it and bring it to market.”
Wall loves the history and tradition of soap-making. “It amazes me to think that someone figured out that combining ash and oil would make something you could wash with,” she says. “Soap-making and many of the old heritage crafts are so valuable. To work with what you can grow or harvest from the woods and fields to make a useful product is of great value and also very satisfying.”
It can also be expensive.
“I used to wonder at the prices for handmade soap, until I started making it again,” Wall says. “The cost of producing something natural can be high. Some of the essential oils I use in my soaps can cost over $70 per ounce. I know exactly how many drops are in that bottle and how many drops are in my recipe. You don’t want to waste a single drop.”
Other ingredients come from her backyard organic garden: herbs such as comfrey, fennel, lavender, chamomile, mints, lemongrass, lemon verbena and rosemary. “Each year,” she says, “I plan to add more beneficial herbs to my garden.”
Experimenting with different scents and infusions is a large part of Wall’s natural artistry. She likes to see what people choose, which soaps they are drawn to, which ones they buy again and again.
“I was a bit surprised to see that my patchouli and lemongrass soaps were some of the most popular,” she says. “Of course, lavender still seems to be the overall favorite.”
In addition to Wall’s all-natural scents, she is also experimenting with original designer scents.
Those are made by custom-mixing commercial fragrance oils with essential oils to get the just the scent she’s looking for, such as one she calls, “Fireside.”
In addition to painting, gardening and soap-making, Wall enjoys making music and volunteering in the community.
She has volunteered at the market’s information booth; is active as a singer/musician at Tri-Cities House of Prayer; and volunteers at the Jonesborough Senior Center.
Whether it’s connecting with a customer at the market, singing, teaching watercolor, leading a Bible study or sharing a painting, Wall feels fortunate that she has found a niche in Jonesborough.
“I have been very lucky,” she says, “to use my God-given gifts in a way that connects me with people.”