The city of Porto has a long history, stretching back over 2,000 years. Developing as an important commercial hub under Roman occupation, Porto changed hands a number of times over the years, but the city itself remained a constant. These days, the city that gave Portugal its name is home to Cristiana Felgueiras, the highly creative mind behind Get Hands Dirty.
Felgueiras, an artist and musician, has been making things as long as she can remember. “I can’t really say when I started making because I never stopped,” she says. “I used to give my parents lots of small presents. There was a time when every time my mom would go out of the house, she would always receive a gift when she came home. Most of the times, these were envelopes (made by me) with drawings and basic words written, and other times there were three dimensional things. Boxes, hearts, stuff like that. As I grew, I never stopped making gifts for my family. It is really really rare for me to buy something — and if I do, there is always a handmade complementary gift.”
Most people will only experience Felgueiras’ work through her YouTube channel, but Get Hands Dirty is just one highly visible aspect of what has become a career. “I get commission work from people around here, assisting artists or making more technical work, like light boxes, or building objects designed by others. I develop my own artistic work in several media, work on exhibitions, do two or three scenography projects a year, occasional prop and costume work for musical shows at Casa de Música, plus the Get Hands Dirty project videos, and (lately more occasionally than I’d like) compose and perform original music.” But when asked if making things is her job, Felgueiras states “It’s my life. I don’t really call it a job. It’s weird.”
Launched in March 2015, Get Hands Dirty has rapidly grown in popularity, and the channel is currently just shy of 20,000 subscribers. “What led me into making these videos was getting inspired by other makers, artists, and woodworkers on YouTube for about 4 years,” says Felgueiras. “At some point, I started to speak to myself in English during the process of making things in my studio. I learned a whole world of English vocabulary that I didn’t know before due to all the videos I’d been watching — and even today I don’t know how to say most woodworking related vocabulary in Portuguese. In February 2015 I recorded the first video on my cell phone (I used my phone to film everything until September 2015) and worked on the editing, creation of the intro, music for the intro, name, logo, all those things. It was released in March and got surprisingly successful.”
While there is no definitive answer for why people enjoy Felgueiras’ videos, her strong visual aesthetic, diversity of projects, and creative use of music certainly don’t hurt. The first few videos used free music, but Felgueiras, a musician, soon changed that. The fourth video incorporated a new song, created from pre-recorded samples. A new song followed but kept the backing beat. “The newest composition is all mine, played digitally with no pre-recorded samples.” The backing beat remains. “I didn’t have enough time to record with actual instruments, but it is definitely something I want to try in the future.”
Music is a huge influence on Felgueiras’ life and outlook as an artist. “It is very natural to me to touch and hold objects with my hands, or beat them with my fingers to hear their sounds. I do that very often — even picking up a small scrap from the wood pile, I always beat it against something or slap it with my hand. It’s just a way to get closer to the material and hopefully get some audible pleasure out of it for an instant. When it sounds interesting, I keep doing it for a bit. For example, in the 45 degree cross-cut sled video, there is a part where I hold the wood runners and start playing with them on the table as if they were drum sticks. It is a small thing, but that reflex is what I am talking about.” The drumming starts at 2:08 in the video above, in case you’re interested.
“In the case of the saw blade comparison video, the idea of playing them as cymbals was pretty obvious to me from the moment I removed the old blade and heard it beating a finger nail or hitting some other object. I realized that the sounds of the blades were very different, and something had to be different about the physicality and building of that new blade. At that point, I just couldn’t not do it. It felt like a creative way to add information to that comparison and create an interesting and perhaps unexpected experience for the audience. Plus, it was fun for me to play with the objects and work later on the video editing.”
Speaking of editing, Felgueiras’ videos are as much works of art as the objects she creates. She has an artist’s grasp of visual interest, and her videos incorporate interesting camera angles and framing, creative uses of lighting and sound, and a cohesive visual narrative. While most of Felgueiras’ videos are in English, a few (such as the cactus planter build video) are in her native Portuguese. Even without the optional English subtitles, strong visual storytelling means it’s easy to follow the project.
More important than a lifetime of experience is a drive to create. Felgueiras has that in spades. “When I was 5, I used to sit on the living room carpet holding a scissor and cutting paper sheets to pieces just for pleasure,” she says. “One time, my mom asked me what was I doing; I just simply answered ‘cutting paper, mommy.’ And around the same age, I would sit on the sofa feeling very bored and ask her some ideas for stuff that I could do. She always said ‘do nothing. just sit here and rest’ and every time I would get very frustrated, saying ‘no one can be doing nothing!’ and sighing, waiting for something to come up in my mind.”
It is a feeling that most makers can relate to — it drives the desire to go out and “Get Hands Dirty”. “[The name] is meant to be universal, but is kind of secretly for myself,” says Felgueiras. “It’s a way to continuously remember to get stuff out of my head and build it for real. I tend to spend a lot of time thinking and overthinking projects I want to do, and I frequently get headaches” from overthinking projects. “Which seems strange for someone who can’t be ‘doing nothing,'” Felgueiras admits. “That’s why I need so badly to Get my Hands Dirty and get over it!”