An Interview With Amy Davis Roth
Amy Davis Roth (Surly Amy) is a blogger and an artist. She writes for Skepchick and MadArtLab and she creates handmade ceramic jewerly inspired by science, skepticism and nature, which you can find on Surly-Ramics.
Sot.N: She is a skepchick and co-founder of MadArtLab.com. She specializes in ceramic jewelry that is often inspired by science. She is Amy Davis Roth, you may know her as Surly Amy.
Amy, thank you for doing this interview with me, it’s a pleasure to talk to you.
Amy: Happy to be here, as long as I don’t die in the next hour. And the reason I say that is because I just got back from an event that was called Geek Girl Con and it was in Seattle, Washington and I somehow picked up what we like to refer to as “con crud” which means that me and my husband picked up some sort of a cold while we were traveling. So I’m fading fast, but I’m trying to kill it right now, during this podcast, by drinking a 2009 Zinfandel, which is wine that I’m hoping will murder the cold in my face. Because that’s scientific, right? That could happen.
Sot.N: Right, yeah, totally. I hope you get better soon
Amy: Thanks. It’s just coming on now so I should probably be getting worse, but we’ll see how it goes. But anyway! Let’s talk about other stuff, good stuff. Ask me something.
Sot.N: Can you tell us what got you to start creating your jewelry?
Amy: Well, let’s see… I started off as a painter and I had decided that the best way to become a successful artist was to open up an art gallery and I did that, but I had absolutely no idea how to run a business. So I did an awful awful job at running a gallery and sadly I went bankrupt and I literally lost everything and I ended up living in my car, until I lost my car. So it was very very tragic and I got severely severely depressed and I stopped making art altogether and I became a waitress, and I was a cocktail waitress, actually, for a couple of years. And was really really sad and remembered how I used to make these little tiny necklaces in my gallery… actually my mother would make them she was a ceramic artist. And because I was so broke and I couldn’t afford even to buy painting materials, even if I wanted to. I went to her ceramic studio and I started making these little tiny pieces of art that I could wear around my neck and I would wear them into the restaurant that I was working at and then the strangest thing started happening. People started wanting to purchase them, and people started buying it right off my neck and it was this amazing thing where I started making more money selling the little pieces of art that I was wearing than I did at my actual job. So I managed to save enough money doing that to quit my job and start a business. And it was a little bit later that I got interested in science and skepticism, and as my art progressed, now all the necklaces that I make are inspired by either science, skepticism or nature. But that’s how it got started.
Sot.N: How did your interest in science begin?
Amy: I think it’s… I had decided at some point… oh I remember. I had gotten a DVD, and it was supposed to be about physics but it was called What The Bleep Do We Know? and it turned out to be total pseudoscience, but I didn’t know it at the time, I thought it was a legitimate physics film. And I had decided that I wanted to learn about science, so I got that movie and I also purchased another DVD which was called The Elegant Universe, and it was hosted by Brian Greene who was an actual physicist. And so I watched both of these films and I was interested, but I didn’t really understand a lot of the science. So I went online to search for science and when I did that I stumbled across a couple different podcasts. One of them was Skeptics’ Guide to the Universe and the other was Skeptically Speaking, I think it was, or Skepticality. It was one of the other skeptical based podcasts and that was really… it opened all these doors for me and it showed me how to differentiate between legitimate science and pseudoscience and that’s why I found out that one of the DVDs I had was complete bunk and the other one was right on the money. And I just became more and more interested in the topics as time went on.
Sot.N: The SGU was my first podcast too.
Amy: Yeah, isn’t it great? It’s a wonderful podcast, it was amazing to me how attached to the people I got. It was like such tragedy when Perry died. I don’t know if you listened to it from the beginning, but I felt like I had lost a friend. It was interesting because I didn’t really know, I didn’t actually know any of the Skeptics’ Guide people at that time but I really bonded with them. They really were inspirational in many ways and I’m very grateful that I can actually call a lot of them my actual friends now. So I feel really lucky because of that.
Sot.N: Absolutelly, I bonded with them too, thanks to the podcast.
Sot.N: How did you get involved with the skeptical community?
Amy: Well, like I said, I was listening to the podcast and I got really excited about it because I realized that I was a complete idiot and there were all these horrible things to learn about. And I was making the jewelry and I was making science and skepticism themes with the jewelry. And so what I did literally is, I reached out to Rebecca Watson and I sent her an email. I said “Hey, can I send you some jewelry?” and she was like “Heck yes you can!” And so I ended up sending her a whole box of different things and she ended up passing them out to other skeptics in the community and that sort of opened the door for me to this whole new world and I’m grateful. She was very welcoming and that’s sort of how I got involved. We started a friendship and then eventually she asked if I would be a writer for the blog. So that’s pretty much the beginning of it. I reached out to them and I was welcomed with open arms, so it was a really cool thing.
Sot.N: Can you explain to our listeners what is Mad Art Lab and what led to its creation?
Amy: Yeah, Mad Art Lab is one of the sister sites to Skepchick.org. So what Rebecca Watson and the rest of the writers have done is we sort of created a network of blogs now and Mad Art Lab is an offshoot of Skepchick that I’m the managing editor of. And it deals with the intersection between art, science, and skepticism. So we gathered up a lot of science based artists and contributors that will write about things that have to do with science and art or skepticism and art or geek culture and art. Anything that has to do with, you know, sort of intellectual pursuits along with artistic creation. And it’s a really fun site. We are doing a lot of really interesting projects. One of our writers, Maggie, we just all pooled our money together and purchased a MakerBot, which is a 3D printer. And so she’s gonna start doing a live blog of how to build a 3D printer and then all the processes that go into that, and the software that you need to learn and she’s gonna basically do a whole live blog of having a robot 3D printer which will be really cool. So those are the kinds of things that we do. And then we have a lot of, you know, comics and anything we can find on the Internet that associates science and art. We’re also trying to break the stereotype that artists are supposed to be space cadets, you know. There’s sort of this stereotype of being like a pot smoker or not following the rules but really there’s a lot of very very intelligent artists out there, and we wanna sort of encourage that. We also want to encourage other ways of communicating skepticism and art is an excellent way to communicate ideas, cross culturally too. You don’t even have to be able to speak our language to understand what a specific image is saying. So, that’s sort of what we are trying to do with that. And there’s more blogs in the Skepchick network too, so we are trying to… we have Esceptica, which is in spanish and we have a Swedish site and we have Teen Skepchick. So we’re really trying to widen our reach as far as teaching critical thinking and rationality.
Sot.N: Skepchick and Mad Art Lab are both great sites that are targeted to specific audiences. Do you think that there are similar groups in the skeptical community that aren’t being represented properly yet?
Amy: Yes, I do. I think that… well, we try to do our best with feminism issues, but I know that there’s a lot of other things. We were recently discussing that there needs to be more resources for teachers. I think that there’s a lot of ideas that are associated with skepticism that we can probably do a better job of encompassing and hopefully we’ll be able to come up with ways to do that in the future.
Sot.N: As skeptics, we often apply the scientific method to the things that we encounter in our lives. And not always, but generally we share similar views of the world. I was surprised to see that women were having some issues integrating into the community. Were you surprised by that?
Amy: Well, I’m not surprised by that because I’m a woman and I see how… I don’t wanna use the word so much ‘discriminated against’ but there’s a lot of sexism in all kinds of aspects of the world. So, to me, it wasn’t a surprise, it was more of a surprise that everybody else was surprised that these sort of things happen.
Sot.N: I know that Skepchick has contributed to the “Hug me! I’m Vaccinated” campaign by providing free vaccines at Dragon*Con and you have raised money to help women go to skeptical conferences. Are there any similar projects in the horizon?
Amy: Well, yeah, we are actually definitely going to be considering, you know, continuing those projects specifically. And Hug me! I’m Vaccinated was actually started by a Skepchick, Elyse Anders formed an organization called The Women Thinking Free Foundation and Hug me! I’m Vaccinated is an offshoot from that, and then the Skepchicks all do contribute to keeping that project going. So we work in connection with different health organizations in different states to try to provide low cost or free vaccines and we try to reach out to communities that maybe aren’t aware that they need to get things like the Tdap booster every five to seven years. So we try to do it in conventions and sci-fi conventions and different places like that. So we’re definitely going to continue with that project and I definitely want to continue to send women to science events, so I’m currently trying to figure out how I can organize that into maybe more of a foundation, something I can do in a regular basis, to send women to events like TAM and other science events. So we’re gonna keep doing that. I’m not really sure if we have any other plans in the future. I know we’ll be doing a lot of things, I’m just not sure what. We also organize a skeptical event called SkepchickCon every year, and we are also trying to get more involved in a lot of other science events. So yeah…
Sot.N: I’ve seen some of your creations and I think that my favourites are the fossils. Do you have any that you specially like?
Amy: That I like? Oh, I do love the trilobites. I have a definite affection for the trilobites, those are great. As far as that, I’m working on some new designs. I’m really interested in chemistry, so you’ll be seeing a lot more designs coming out in that vein soon.
Sot.N: And.. Can you tell our listeners how to find your work?
Amy: Yes! You can find my writing on skepchick.org or madartlab.com and you can find my art on surlyramics.com, that’s s-u-r-l-y-r-a-m-i-c-s.com or on surly.etsy.com. I have an online store on etsy so I’m easy to find there too. And you can always follow me on twitter, I’m SurlyAmy on twitter.
Sot.N: Amy, thank you so much for doing this.
Amy: Oh, it was fun, thank you, I’m gonna go drink more now.