Meet Your Maker: The Coolest Makers on Crafting in the Bay Area
 

 

There is something powerful and almost quite electric about craft as an entity.

The way it’s shaped lives, the way it’s brought out new purpose in people—it’s pretty potent stuff. But through the thick of it all, craft creates long-lasting effects on those who get their hands dirty to bring art to life. And in that spirit, we sat down with 7 of the Bay Area’s rising forces of nature in the craft scene. All the artists featured will be showing their work at the American Craft show this August 2nd, 3rd, and 4th. ACC will be featuring these makers in the Hip Hop emerging artists program, a three-year track that provides a supportive, cost-effective pathway into the ACC shows for artists just starting their career. In San Francisco, 30 artists will be exhibiting through the program.


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Alex & Lili, Nettle Studios

How did you get started in your craft and if who, who inspired you to get started?

Alex: I was a huge American Doll fan as a child, so every summer I would make and design outfits with my grandma while my cousins were outside swimming. As I grew up I was then making outfits for myself and selling totes at a local shop. I really found my love of sewing in college though!

Lili: I started sewing when I was really young and it came about because when I was growing up we didn't have extra money to buy new clothes. As a kid I felt like I could never afford the latest "cool thing" so by the time I got to high school I decided that if I made my own clothes and bought vintage it would be my own kind of 'cool' because no one else would have it. Luckily I have a super supportive family so one aunt taught me to sew while another "lent" me her machine (I used that machine until I wore it out hah!).

What are the highs of what you do and what are the lows as well?

Alex: The highs and lows are really the same for me. Being able to create and make whatever we want is the best thing ever, but also daunting and full of second guessing and error.

Lili: The highs for me are when I meet people who appreciate the craft and the little details that I design into the pieces. Obviously, there are moments in the design process where you could go down ten different routes but you choose one because that's what you like best-- so when someone recognizes why you did what you did, it is instant gratification. The lows I would have to say are when you're not selling as many or as fast as you thought you would. It's pretty hard as a small business to encounter that because it can be pretty discouraging.

If you could tell your "just-starting-off" self one thing, what would it be?

Alex: You are going to have to un-pick ALOT of seams...
Lili: Just do it! Also lining is ridiculous and don't waste time patterning it.

What other crafting do you do outside your main profession?

Alex: My favorite thing to do is sew, so when I'm not sewing for Nettle, I'm making baby clothes for my new niece, or doing denim alterations for my friends!

Lili: When I'm not designing Nettle pieces, I am making natural perfumes and soaps! I'm pretty obsessed with natural botanicals and love experimenting with them. Scent can be such a powerful means of storytelling!

What's a mantra or ritual you practice to get yourself in the mindset to create?

Alex: I am my most creative and productive in the morning, so this year I've been starting my days way earlier than previously. I try and get to the studio by 8AM and thats where I have my morning tea and then get started as soon as I feel ready. As soon as the sun goes down my brain usually turns off.

Lili: I like to clear off the table and then lay out all my supplies so that they're within arm’s reach and then just start. It's also much easier for me to start when I can accept that maybe the first draft or version will be trash so I don't get too precious-- that's super important.

What's one misconception about your craft that you learned otherwise by doing?

Alex: I think a lot of people feel the fashion industry is glamorous, and it can be! But it's a lot of late nights in the studio finishing up samples before a photoshoot, building booths for trade shows, and cutting your fingers on sharp scissors. The end result is glamorous, but I often wear pajamas in the studio while sewing because I'm so tired.

Lili: I agree with Alex-- I think it's easy to believe that sewing, designing, and creating is an easy beautiful process paved with sunshine and magical creativity when a lot of time it is sweat, manic late nights, and deadlines.

What's coming up for the rest of 2019? What can readers expect?

We have a lot of fun things coming up! We'll be hitting LA with West Coast Craft in the winter for the first time so super excited for that and looking forward to expanding our brand. We are also working on introducing wholesale on a small scale, so be on the lookout for Nettle at a local boutique near you!


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Anna Danilova, Anna Monet Jewelry

How did you get started in your craft and if who, who inspired you to get started?

I’ve been creating jewelry for as long as I can remember. My grandfather was a jeweler and a lapidary artist and I grew up surrounded by collectible lapidary sculptures made out of gems and minerals from all over the world. My mother is an avid jewelry collector and I was always enchanted by the glittering array of color in her jewelry box. 

What are the highs of what you do and what are the lows as well?

I like the idea of collaborating with nature. My high is being able to find unexpected combinations of existing natural materials, to design with purpose and provoke thoughtful conversations about sustainability and transparency with my work. My lows generally come from not having enough time in a day or enough hands to do all I want to do but I am working on that.

If you could tell your "just-starting-off" self one thing, what would it be?

Be patient and calm, work hard and be clear on what it is that you want to say with your work. Does that count as one thing?

What other crafting do you do outside your main profession?

Lately I fell totally in love with an art of floral arrangement. Occasionally I enjoy painting, and I recently started a stained glass class. 

What's a mantra or ritual you practice to get yourself in the mindset to create?

I like to engage my senses by making a delicious cup of tea and lighting up an incense or an essential oil diffuser. I like to meditate and drop into my body and engage my intuition.

What's one misconception about your craft that you learned otherwise by doing?

That jewelry is a one-dimensional industry that is not concerned with transparency and mindful sourcing. I've learned that modern jewelry can be done with higher purpose in mind while shaking up old industry standards. 

What's coming up for the rest of 2019? What can readers expect?

I am working on an exciting new collection that will be released in the Fall. Also I’ll also be showing my work in LA for the first time with West Coast Craft this upcoming December.

How has participating in ACC's emerging artists program impacted your career?

My participation in ACC's Emerging Artists Program has opened a door to a vibrant craftsman community of many generations. I am proud to display my work at the show with such a vibrant history and feel it is my obligation to contribute to contemporary craft scene in a meaningful way just like the generations of artists and craftswomen did before me. I feel inspired to write this history together with American Craft Council.


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How did you get started in your craft and if who, who inspired you to get started?

When I first graduated from my apparel design program, I started teaching fiber arts full time. My specialties in teaching included crochet, knitting, design skills, incorporating sustainable practice into craft, and wearable art. I taught all ages—literally—from 18-month old to 95 years. I loved teaching. I taught for places like Textile Center, Articulture, and the College of Design at the University of Minnesota. I was exposed to a vast array of techniques and skills and always wanted to learn more and experiment more myself. Because of this, I didn’t know how I would ever end up with one specific “product,” but I did want to start making and selling work. I started making very creative garments through a huge variety of techniques in 2009. I combined dye art, embroidery, knitting, crochet, hand sewing, machine sewing and more. Then I started to focus a bit more on dyeing upcycled garments because it fit well with my focus on sustainable design in my teaching. In 2013, I was invited to do some educational programming for the Goldstein Museum of Design for a show all about sustainable design. I LOVED this project. The gallery curators—Marilyn DeLong, Barbara Heinemann, Kathryn Reiley called their exhibit, Redefining Redesigning Fashion: Designs for Sustainability. During the exhibition we planned an event to educate adults on Sustainable Design in Apparel and brought in guests to teach different techniques and concepts. One of the instructors we brought in was Chiaki O’Brien, a SAORI weaving instructor. I was completely enamored by the concepts she taught and how free SAORI was as well as how easy it was to incorporate sustainable practice into the art. I asked her to give me private lessons as soon as the teaching project ended and I just couldn’t stop weaving once that started! 

What are the highs of what you do and what are the lows as well?

I am very passionate about using my business to create and promote sustainable apparel.  I use a combination of locally sourced yarns such as regional wools alongside remnants from other makers.  And when I weave, I use every part of the special handwoven cloth for something.  I work with diverse customers who are passionate about using sustainably handmade items.  It's so cool to see how a common mission unites so many people.  Because I do not throw remnants away, it’s a bit hard to organize but that’s okay. Having a messy studio is part of my vibe. People smile when they walk into my creative space.  There are often piles of yarn "palettes" all over the place!  In general, it feels good to know that my production practice is helping the environment even if I am only creating a small ripple. I hope that it has a larger effect! 

If you could tell your "just-starting-off" self one thing, what would it be?

Sometimes I worried that what I really wanted to do was too specific. But it’s just the opposite really. The more specific your work or identity is, the louder you will be able to shout in today’s world. Do it.

What other crafting do you do outside your main profession?

I love to knit, crochet, and create cloth dolls. I have a smaller side business, "little ren creations," where you can see some of this work.

What's a mantra or ritual you practice to get yourself in the mindset to create?

"There is so much beauty in what we have learned and what we are learning!" I celebrate these things in my work! I weave what I know and who I am.

What's one misconception about your craft that you learned otherwise by doing?

Weaving can seem and often is very focused on clean pre-designated patterns. When I first tried weaving out, it felt stifling. When I learned about SAORI Weaving, a practice without rules, I was so inspired and never wanted to stop.

What's coming up for the rest of 2019? What can readers expect?

I will be creating some new wearable designs for Fall 2019. I am making my online presence stronger than ever and will offer more of my one-of-a-kind readymade items to followers with an online release schedule to be posted in September 2019.  Also, I recently released a  Mezamé Mending Kit complete with four patches from my handwoven remnants, threads, a needle, and an "Open Ended Ideas Card." This kit inspires the use of my signature handwoven cloth in visible mending endeavors and helps me keep the studio completely zero waste.  I have just started an all new group on Facebook where we can discuss inspiration and share free online resources for visible mending with  Mezamé  patches called "Mezamé Mending". This group is a creative community available to you any time of day. I would love for you to join in the fun!

How has participating in ACC's emerging artists program impacted your career?

It is an honor to participate in the ACC Emerging Artist program. I have participated at the St. Paul show and am really excited to travel to San Francisco for the upcoming show! There was so much energy and excitement among the emerging artists in St. Paul, Minnesota. We were there to network, help each other, and learn together! The exposure I received during the St. Paul ACC show in April helped me to connect with many new art enthusiasts and I appreciate every one of them.

Also, I really love how the program includes a pop-up booth. This helps me display my work as I learn more about presenting wearable art at big shows. A huge goal of mine is to present in new shows and meet new artists and customers outside of the Midwest (I live in the Minneapolis/St. Paul area). But it is not very easy to learn how to transport a large amount of apparel for a show- not to mention a booth set-up! Participating in the San Francisco show will give me the opportunity to show my work in a new region while alleviating some of the stress of transporting display materials and a full booth volume or merchandise. I can learn the ropes before I try out a full booth in a few years.


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How did you get started in your craft and if who, who inspired you to get started?

When I was a little girl, my Aunt Kitty taught me how to sew.  She sewed professionally, and I was completely drawn to watching her and hanging around with her when she worked.  She could see this interest, and she took me under her wing and started to teach me.  I started to experience the complete satisfaction of creating a physical object out of an idea, using my hands.  As my skills built, so did the level of that satisfaction.  From then on, I was hooked! 

Now, the high desert and mountains that I am surrounded by at my home and studio in New Mexico make for quite a powerful landscape.  These surroundings have a big impact on the aesthetic of my work, and inspire the palettes of my pieces. The muted hues of the soil, grasses, stone and rocks can really only be matched with all-natural dyes. I’m deeply drawn to the color palette that can be achieved with natural dyes.  They’re subtle, ethereal, almost transcendent, like they could have been plucked out of paintings from ancient times.  Yet, at the same time, they are very earthy and grounded in the natural world around us right now.   The textures of linen have the same qualities, so, to me, natural dye on linen is the perfect combination.  A lot of people assume that I choose to work with natural dyes because of the toxicity of commercial dyes.  Non-toxicity is definitely a good thing as far as I’m concerned, but to be honest, it was a choice based primarily on aesthetics.

Living and working far from town means that there is no room for waste, and planning is essential.  It requires simplicity, directness, and attention to function and efficiency.  All of these qualities have translated over to my work and my designs.  I aim for an aesthetic of refined simplicity - quiet and calm in contrast to an otherwise busy world.  It is my goal to create objects that are beautiful, functional, and finely-crafted.   It is my hope that they bring a little bit of joy to others.  This goal and this hope are also part of what keeps me inspired.

What are the highs of what you do and what are the lows as well?

Well, I’ll start with the highs!  Finishing a quilt, standing back and seeing the result of many, many hours of work is deeply satisfying.  That time in the studio is also one of the highs.  Let’s be honest, life can get way too busy.  There is something so grounding about settling in to a long project.  When I begin working on a new quilt, I know that there is a lot of time laid out in front of me to be spent creating it.  Cutting, piecing, hand-quilting, binding…. It’s a big commitment, but there’s comfort in knowing what I have ahead of me and just digging in. 

Another high is meeting people at shows and seeing their enthusiasm for not just my own work, but for fine craft in general.  My work is basically solitary, so my time out of the studio, engaging with others around the nuts and bolts of craft, aesthetics, and design is very valuable to me.  It helps keep me motivated and inspired to get back into the studio.

In a snapshot, I work in cycles.  First, a period of a few weeks spent making dyebaths and dyeing fabrics, to build a stash of dyed yardage.  Then, a period of designing quilts (and some pillows and bags) using the new stash.  Finally, a period of making the pieces.  Once my stash is pretty well depleted, the cycles start again.   One of the lows is when I’m mid-course in one of these cycles and find myself getting impatient, antsy for the next steps.   When I feel the work becoming monotonous, I take a break if I can.  If I’m working on a deadline, I have to push through.  It’s not always joyful and fun to do the work… but I don’t think it necessarily always should be fun.  That process of pushing through the hard parts lends to the satisfaction with the finished pieces.  It is, after all, called work.

If you could tell your "just-starting-off" self one thing, what would it be?

I would like to tell my “just-starting-off” self to be brave, have confidence in your work, and don’t get distracted by fear of failure and thoughts of what you “should” be doing.  As far back as high school, I was working in fiber.  I played around with dyes, learned batik, stitched wall pieces. Even sold at local craft fairs.  Through my college years, I worked for a small company making handmade futons.  Then, after college, I worked as a seamstress for an upholstery shop.  Later, I took a full-time position as a seamstress in a custom interiors’ workroom in Santa Fe, and stayed there for several years. 

Eventually, I started to view my work in fiber in a more serious light.  Now, I feel so much more engaged with my work, and its evolution.  It feels like once I realized my ownership of these skills, it propelled me to take my work seriously, and to grow even more.

This evolution was unplanned, organic, so perhaps this is the course I needed to take to evolve.  But I do think I spent a little too much time doubting myself and holding back.   So again, I’d say to my my younger self, go for it 100%, and don’t be afraid to make that commitment.  It’s hard to take that leap when you have bills to pay and a future to build and you realize that it’s completely up to you to make it happen.  But if you really have the desire – or even the need – to do your creative work, and you are willing to work hard and keep at it through initial hurdles and failures, then you really owe it to yourself to go for it.

What other crafting do you do outside your main profession?

Does baking count?!  Honestly, I don’t have a ton of spare time to explore other crafts.  My partner and I also have a horseback trail riding business that we operate in the warm months.  So, between the horses and Cloud 9 Stitching, I’m pretty well stocked up on things to do.   I guess you could say my just-for-fun creative outlets would be baking and playing my guitar and fiddle with my music friends.

What's a mantra or ritual you practice to get yourself in the mindset to create?

This question was kind of hard for me.  Like I said, sometimes I struggle with bouts of monotony, but I push through it when necessary.  But otherwise, I can’t think of something specific I do to get in the mindset to create.  It’s kind of the only option for me.  I’ve tried the 9 to 5 thing many times, and always wind up feeling diminished.  I have to be creating, building something, with the freedom and time to do it on my own terms.  For better or worse, it’s simply the way that I’m built.  Sure, I’ve sacrificed the financial security that comes from being on a payroll, but like many artists and artisans, I’ve chosen to make some material sacrifices in order to keep my expenses low and have the freedom to do my work.  A friend once said to me that I need my time in the mountains and my time in my art studio like food and water.  I think he was right.  

What's one misconception about your craft that you learned otherwise by doing?

Natural dyeing does not have to be complicated, nor do you have to follow strict rules and recipes.  Once you understand the basics necessary  to prepare your fabric, the actual application of color, as well as making the dyebaths themselves, is extremely forgiving.  After all, you can be sure that throughout history, people have been coloring fiber and have been way less finicky than we are today about perfect results.  For that matter, sewing is pretty forgiving too!  You can rip out seams and restitch pretty much anything till you get it right.  Just remember:  measure twice, cut once!

What's coming up for the rest of 2019? What can readers expect?

I have developed a new design for a leather-bottomed patchwork linen tote, which will debut at the American Craft Council show in San Francisco in August.  I’m really excited by these new pieces, which I’ve done in 3 different color ways, each with naturally-dyed fabrics.  Each bag takes a lot longer to create than my original totes, and so each one feels like a very special piece to me once it’s finished.  I’m looking forward to seeing how they are received!

This year I have slimmed down my color palette to be derived from mostly repurposed dye materials.  I have partnered with businesses that supply me with waste from their farms and restaurant kitchens, which I then use to make my dyes.  Avocado pits from a restaurant in Santa Fe are turned into pink dye, pomegranate peels from an orchard in Artesia are turned into yellow dye, etc.  By sourcing as much dye materials in this way as possible, I am getting more use out of materials that would otherwise be headed to a landfill.  Also, it feels natural and fulfilling to be part of the broader community of businesses in this way.

How has participating in ACC's emerging artists program impacted your career?

After participating in the ACC HipPop program for the first time last year, I left with a clearer focus on where I wanted to go with my work. I had been doing a lot of markets and shows, which actually diverted a lot of my time and resources away from the studio. I was getting worn out by the show and market grind, but didn't really know how else to gain exposure.


When I participated in the ACC show, I realized I had finally found the right place, the right audience for my work. The patrons at the show were genuinely interested in fine craft. They wanted to hear about the nuts and bolts of what we were all doing, and had a keen sense of design and appreciation for craftsmanship. I left feeling reenergized and encouraged to keep developing and deepening my work.
In the past year since, I've been focusing on creating finer pieces, and devoting more time to designing new quilts. This is the direction I knew I wanted to move in from the start, and the encouragement that I felt at the ACC show nudged me a little further.


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Liz Woll, Woll Jewelry

How did you get started in your craft and if who, who inspired you to get started?

Both my mom and dad are craftspeople, which was inspiring to me. When I was younger they were building houses and working for a small furniture manufacturer. Seeing my dad transition into working for himself building wooden boats gave me an idea of the kind of that I wanted.

What are the highs of what you do and what are the lows as well?

There are so many highs and lows. I love working for myself and I often think about how lucky I am to be doing so. Simple things like being able to go for a walk and buy myself a coffee whenever I feel like it and make my own schedule are the moments where I feel the most accomplished. Seeing my work in print has also been a high for me and in the past year my work has been featured in Elle Vietnam and Vogue China to name a few. The lowest moments are usually related to uncertainty and stress. It is hard to know whether business will continue to be good or not and if that is something I can build a future on. So much of what I do it dependent on me being a hard worker and hustling. I got very sick last year because I was pushing myself too hard preparing an order for a holiday pop-up at Nordstrom and I was confined to my bed with a virus for almost a full month. It was a real reality check that made it clear that I had to take care of my body in order to make money, maintain the business and be able to pay my rent and bills. It can feel very free sometimes to work for yourself and other times like a constant hustle.

If you could tell your "just-starting-off" self one thing, what would it be?

The riskiest thing that you can do is what everyone else is doing. I heard Diane von Furstenberg say something like that on Project Runway and it rang true to me. It is tempting to want to mold yourself or your work to fit a certain craft fair or retailer or customer that you want but, in the end, your unique voice is what people actually want to see and will remember long term.

What other crafting do you do outside your main profession?

I teach a Hand-cut Acrylic Jewelry class that I developed and created based on my original process. It is fun to get out of my studio and teach and see what the students come up with. I have taught the class in a few different places but mostly at Jenny Lemons in The Mission. I occasionally dabble in other art mediums but I don't have a lot of time for crafting outside of my main profession! If I have free time I prefer to spend time outdoors!

What's a mantra or ritual you practice to get yourself in the mindset to create?

I like to take a morning walk for coffee to get me into the creative mindset. My studio is on 24th street in The Mission which is a colorful, lively and inspiring place so walking around the neighborhood and getting hyped up on caffeine really puts me in the mood to work!

What's one misconception about your craft that you learned otherwise by doing?

That laser cutting is the main part of what I do. Designing actually takes the most time because I put a lot of thought into it and I do many iterations before settling on an earring design. Also, after lasercutting there is a lot that goes into the final polishing and finish of a piece.

What's coming up for the rest of 2019? What can readers expect?

We'll be showing a new collection of pieces in the fall (and probably some new fruits + veggies) which will be exciting and you can expect to see us at ACC San Francisco, the first West Coast Craft in LA this December.


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Terry Holzgreen, Holzgreen Studio

How did you get started in your craft and if who, who inspired you to get started?

For me it is a bit hard to say when exactly I got started, as going all the way back to my mid-twenties I bought two power tools and a hammer and put an ad in the classified section of the local paper (way pre-internet) as a carpenter for hire and when the phone started ringing I quick had to start learning. I had a therapist at the time who said, “get in the house and do the demolition and then they can’t get rid of you.” I was flying from the seat of my pants, buying a new tool with each new job and learning as I went. Before all of that I lived in a self-made tipi on a small island in the middle of the McKenzie River in central Oregon where we were constantly scavenging firewood from the surrounding forest trying to stay warm and dry all winter. We had no electricity. I built things like a rope bed and chicken coup with hand tools using driftwood and branches and the like. Along the way I saw some Sam Maloof, some George Nakashima, some Wendell Castle and they all inspired me. I am turning 64 this summer. I have been leaning in the direction of what I am now doing since I was a boy without getting to it till just recently. I have a pretty strong tail wind keeping me motivated, on track and inspired. This is my moment; a moment I have been trying to realize for a very long time.

What are the highs of what you do and what are the lows as well?

I use a lot of wood from trees here in Los Angeles. Trees that are being cut down or have come down in the storms and the like. There is nothing that makes me as happy as finding some new chunks of carob or camphor or ficus or magnolia or tipuana tipu. There are so many varieties of trees growing here from all over the world. Then running them through the band saw and getting my first glimpse at the look of the wood inside is always a big high for me. Then all the different ways I have discovered to cut the pieces to accentuate the natural curves of the tree, what is called the live edge which was what Nakashima so beautifully taught us to appreciate. It is at that point where everything is still in the imagination. Everything and anything are possible. It will be amazing, no doubt. That is the best. Seems like the rough early stages of a piece, especially the experimental ones, which I do a lot of, are where the easy fun is, because it is still in its infancy and I don’t have to worry over all the details that go into getting something to its final destination.

The lows are always about the inner critic. I am still pretty new into doing what I am doing full time. I left the cabinetry and carpentry work behind after over 35 years working for architects and designers, building their ideas. Now it is all me all the time and sometimes the self doubt can really kick in. That is never fun. I listened to a book on CD called the “War of Art,” by Steven Pressfield which is all about artists and the inner critic, so I know I am not the first to contend with it. I guess another challenge is that I work alone all day. The days fly by. I love being in the shop. It is my most familiar space. I can’t afford to hire anyone and at this point not really ready for that anyway, so sometimes I can get a bit lonely. Many years back I made a short documentary and loved the fact that you work with so many people and it is such a team effort. That was so different than what I have going now.

If you could tell your "just-starting-off" self one thing, what would it be?

I think I had this going in the beginning but it is always good to reflect on it. I started out with a lot of freedom to experiment, improvise, and invent. It was very playful. I didn’t put a lot of pressure on myself to get any particular results or pre- conceived idea of how things should turn out. As a result, I really found my authentic voice. The work I developed is very one of a kind and very much uniquely me. I found my thing by just setting things in motion and trusting the flow and instincts, letting the process lead me. Maybe this describes courting the muse, because I sure feel like I awakened something that has a lot of power and magic to it. That is the thing to remember, is to leave room for the magic, for the muse to be in the mix. I am just starting out on showing and selling the work after about 3 or 4 years of pretty steady effort to explore ideas and build a body of work I am satisfied with and ready to show. I am bringing the same approach now to the more public and commercial side of things. This will be my first participation in a show like this. I am expecting to learn a lot and for it to lead me to the next steps to take.

What other crafting do you do outside your main profession?

I am not doing any other crafting or art at this time. I have done a lot of different things in the past from ceramics to photography to printmaking and documentary filmmaking. I can see the possibility for ceramics and photography to make their way back into the picture sometime in the future.

What's a mantra or ritual you practice to get yourself in the mindset to create?

For me, the most important thing is to show up consistently. Sometimes even a day off can make it hard to re-enter or find the groove I had going. So, if I really have the momentum going, I may show up even on a day off, just to work for an hour or two, just to keep things alive and easy to connect with. At this point I have so many different things started and so many different things that I want to do, that I don’t find myself stumped in the creativity end of things very often. The one sure fire way to get the juices going for me is to start gluing. Much of my work is made almost mosaic or collage style, assembling various types and shapes of wood into the same piece. They are not usually mapped out, but begin by finding two pieces that look good to my eye and then I am off and running.

What's one misconception about your craft that you learned otherwise by doing?

There is so much in the air that seems to suggest that things can just take off in an instant. Put something on Instagram, start a marketing campaign and watch things take off. I felt like I was doing it all wrong, not working the social media angles, not branding myself, but instead trusting my own inner voice, my own impulses even when they seemed to go against all the current trends. I had to put in a lot of time to find my thing and perfect it to my satisfaction. I needed to protect it. I was not ready to show or exhibit or promote or market for much longer than I thought, and others thought, reasonable. But now that I am feeling ready, I am kind of appreciating myself for staying true to what felt right. We’ll see how it goes, but I have so much passion and aliveness that it seems that that in and of itself is a pretty huge success. Now it seems like if I just apply the same persistence I had to making the work and the same trust in my own impulses, I will find my way and my place in the world.

What's coming up for the rest of 2019? What can readers expect?

Though not clearly defined, there will most certainly be more. I am trying to have a strong body of work ready to go as I sense opportunities just around the corner. I have many new design ideas I am itching to produce. I will be showing a new line of boxes at the S.F. show, and a couple of them look perfect for enlarging into something like night stands or buffet cabinets. After this show, I am looking ahead to the winter holidays which are always a ripe time to sell work. I will for sure have some kind of studio sale, but am putting out feelers for opportunities close to home to get some work in front of the public. I even think I am finally ready to start putting things up on Instagram which is the advice I get most often in terms of how best to promote myself. I am also aiming to get myself to Chicago to tour the SOFA (The Sculpture Objects Functional Art and Design Show) show that takes place in the fall to get a better look at what is purported to be one of the premier shows for those of us making this kind of work.


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Cassie Brown, C'EST BON . CLAY & CLOTH

How did you get started in your craft and if who, who inspired you to get started?

Most of my experience in fine art and craft is 2D. I studied painting, printmaking, and worked as a graphic designer for years before going back to school for textiles. I was reintroduced to ceramics around 2012 while working as a textile designer for Jonathan Adler in New York. He started out as a potter and his business grew over the years to include interior design, furniture, and textile design. He is also just a design and materials enthusiast which was fun to be around. The environment was bursting with creative talent and I worked on so many things beyond textiles. Clay came back into my life as a medium via my friends Eddie Vera and Melissa Cromwell, who worked as in-house ceramicists and sculptors under Jonathan. They are both incredible artists with their own distinct bodies of work. They would host and lead casual hand building nights after work in the on-site ceramics studio. When I moved to the Bay Area I found a studio to work out of and clay quickly became my focus. I think in part because it is the first sculptural or 3D medium I’ve worked in extensively, it was super exciting and surprising to me, and still is. Every day I play!

What are the highs of what you do and what are the lows as well?

The highs for me are the extremes of working alone and conversely showing to the public. Sometimes, when I’m in my studio, I get so excited with how a piece is coming together that my heart starts racing. That’s an amazing feeling. I don’t really sketch much beforehand and the fun of making is spontaneous and in the moment. It’s a conversation and things change as you walk through it. With sculptural work, sometimes what I imagine won’t work because of the limits of the material or even basic physics! Another high is showing new bodies of work and having exchanges with fellow artists and art appreciators. I work alone most of the time, which I love, but engaging with others is also so fun and important.

I’d say the lows are trying to sort through pressure to streamline my work: do one thing, in one voice, one material. I don’t really subscribe to that idea and want to have fun with this for the rest of my life. I don’t want to limit or curb my creative impulses, although I know that might make it easier to understand or remember my work.

If you could tell your "just-starting-off" self one thing, what would it be?

Well this works out great because I would first say “hey, now that I’ve got your ear, listen to yourself!” But really, find peers and mentors in your field but also trust yourself over all in the end. It is hard to be an artist and everyone needs support but the artistic choices should ultimately be your own. I think of artistic choice as the reward for artistic work and you should protect that.

What other crafting do you do outside your main profession?

I still have a passion for textiles, my first love. I sew and weave a little and continue to do surface design, print, and pattern work for select clients. I feel really lucky because I have great, flexible clients and it is highly creative but in a totally different way. Frankly, it also provides some stability and the confidence to approach my personal work without compromise. I also just really love materials and learning their “languages”. Next up might be wood!

What's a mantra or ritual you practice to get yourself in the mindset to create?

I think half of creativity is showing up. I try to make space, mentally and physically for myself to work everyday, and I am super protective of that space. Looking away from work can encourage creativity too. I let my mind wander when on dog walks to the beach or through the woods, focusing on taking in beauty instead of making it. The Bay Area itself is just so inspiring and I feel very lucky to live here. Also, these words from poet Mary Oliver, are not exactly a mantra but really resonate with me: "Let me keep my mind on what matters, which is my work, which is mostly standing still and learning to be astonished."

What's one misconception about your craft that you learned otherwise by doing?

That hand building is easy! When I first started working with ceramics, I was laser focused on mastering the wheel. I will probably never be a master (at any of it) but once I gained proficiency there, I started incorporating other methods into by work, and it really opened doors. My newest work is a combination of wheel throw surfaces with slab-built pieces.

What's coming up for the rest of 2019? What can readers expect.

Eventwise, this year I’m travelling to LA to exhibit in some fairs and to shop my work around. This will be my first time travelling with my ceramics and I’m very excited to see how it is received. I am also so honored to be the featured artist for November in the Contemporary Jewish Museum Shop in conjunction with the Annabeth Rosen exhibit. Her work is just awe inspiring. In terms of projects, I’m working on lighting and a series of interlocking wall pieces that I hope to release soon. Since I’ve gained a private workspace, I’ve loved having more studio visits. This year I hope to do more collaborations, and maybe even curate a show, with artists working in different media. In particular, I’m loving the work of mixed media and fiber artists Michelle Yi Martin, and Amy Kim Keeler: two people who are using craft language in their incredible art. I’m also excited to find avenues and exhibition opportunities for my less functional work. Sculptural vessels are more and more where my heart is!

How has participating in ACC's emerging artists program impacted your career?

I’ve been a part of the program for a year now and the thing I love most about ACC’s emerging artist program is how my craft community has grown! Last year I met around 30 other emerging artists working with different materials and from all over the country. And even more special are the friendships with the 5 other artists in your booth grouping. The weekend is kind of like summer camp, getting to know people quickly and well. Those contacts have already opened so many doors, from the inside word about selling my work to stores, to chats about materials and technique! It is also amazing to be part of a sort of craft continuum. Showing amongst veteran and established artists, I feel like a part of something much bigger. It's amazing exposure and an honor to be a part of this influential organization that has been championing craft since the 1940s!

// Feeling inspired by the amazing craftsmen and women in this story? You can get to meet all the makers and more at the American Craft Fair August 2nd, 3rd, and 4th at the Fort Mason, Festival Pavilion; purchase your tickets here: fortmason.org/event/american-craft-sf-show-2019/?fbclid=IwAR0j6PsxLWB3jPMqAWiIcEQXHOYOBnZGJI6j8-xeXDdPDtNtL3VNgHdb5r8. Photography courtesy of American Craft Council.

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