Born on the East Coast and now residing on the West, Vanessa Lang is the artist behind Wade Studio. Her line features thoughtful, meticulously crafted, and artfully organic ceramics and floral designs. We visited Vanessa (and her magical munchkin cat, Walter) in her home studio in the Seattle, drank sparkling water, and talked ceramics. She has since moved to Los Angeles and currently is in the process of setting up her new studio.
Photography by Rachael Lang and Vanessa Lang
How did you get started as a ceramic artist and designer? Tell us about your collaborations with jewelry designer Rachel Ravitch and other Seattle based artists and makers.
I started experimenting with clay a few years ago after meeting multimedia-artist Aleksandra Pollner. She was selling these porcelain fortune cookies and I would sand them in exchange for slip casting lessons. I carved out a little studio zone at my apartment and started playing around with different techniques and designs. I would ask a million questions at the pottery supply store and do a lot of self-educating online. I love letting my imagination run wild, my house is filled with way too many ceramic knick-knacks.
I met Rachel Ravitch when I was interviewing her for a designer feature for a boutique’s blog. She immediately struck me as a smart, generous person. We became friends and I started assisting her in the studio, making jewelry around the same time I started experimenting with ceramics. She suggested we collaborate on a few necklace designs incorporating porcelain beads. I love the result of our combined aesthetics. Working with Rachel really has inspired me to start my own line.
Describe your studio practice. What does a typical day in the studio look like for you? Do your day jobs inform your practice at all?
Studio practice = NPR, podcast, or music (I’m no fan of silence and will have music or the radio on in every room of my house), sketches and a list of what I want to achieve that day, sparkling water, and snacks, an organized studio and my phone in a different room. I like to have a specific purpose and think about new designs, problem solving, and supplies I need throughout the day. I keep a lot of lists and doodles that I may or may not look at again.
Developing a strong work ethic is key to any studio practice. I’ve had a lot of day jobs: artist assistant, florist, café manager, shoe salesman, farmer… I could keep going. Every job I‘ve had has forced me to adapt and grow in some way or another.
Who and what is inspiring you currently?
My friends who are artist and designers, their creativity is a constant inspiration. For visual references, I’m all over the map: ancient Greek vessels, the home décor aisle at thrift stores, mid-century architecture, spending time in nature and, of course, Instagram is a good time thief. The Wabi-Sabi aesthetic has also really informed my work. Each piece I make is unique, the handmade quality and quiet imperfections imbue each piece with character and warmth. In a world of mass-produced materialism and non-stop media, there is a calming and grounding force to a handmade object.
What is next for the line?
I recently moved to LA and in the process of setting up my studio and getting my bearings in my new city. I also have planter and recreational accessory designs in the works. I’m really good at procrastinating and it took me forever just to start an Instagram account, a website is my next step.
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Izzie studied Fine Art at Chelsea School of Art in London. She has worked commercially as an illustrator since 2001, for a broad range of clients from fashion, music and advertising, including Vogue, Topshop, Volvo, Dazed and Confused, Penguin Books and Italian Marie Claire. She now focuses equally on non-commercial projects, exhibiting in Los Angeles, London and Seattle. She currently lives and works in Seattle, where she finds inspiration in the damp lushness of the city and the dark mystery of the old growth forests and mountains that surround it.
We recently visited with Izzie in her shared studio space located in the International District.
Photography by Rachael Lang
Tell us about your background. How did you get started as an artist and illustrator?
After graduating from Chelsea Art College, I started a company called Lazy Eye with a friend, Spencer Bewley. We made visuals and videos for bands and clubs and did a lot of touring in the 90’s. In 2001 some girlfriends and I started a club night and fanzine called Hey Ladies, featuring female artists, illustrators, writers and musicians. We were kind of sick of the boys’ club culture and wanted to give women a voice. When we started the fanzine I thought, hang on a minute, I went to art school, I can draw, and started making illustrations for it. I probably hadn’t drawn in 6 or 7 years! Hey Ladies got a lot of attention and I got commissions from magazines like Dazed and Confused, Vogue, I.D and Elle which really kick started my illustration career.
Walk us through a day in the studio. How do you start your day?
I start my day with my one caffeinated drink of the day, a good, strong cup of British tea! Next, I spend a couple of hours on the Internet, getting distracted on social media and catching up on emails. Then, it’s just 8 or 9 hours of drawing, really. Quite boring! I like to listen to audiobooks while I work. Two recent highlights have been Quicksand by Nella Larsen and The House of Mirth by Edith Wharton. At the moment I’m listening to Great Expectations by Charles Dickens. I’m a big Dickens fan and his books remind me of London and how magical, strange and old it is. My drawings are usually made up of millions of tiny dots. It takes a really long time to build up the ink this way and it can be quite maddening, so it’s good to zone out and get into a story while doing it. The flower skull took about 3 weeks to draw. At the end of the day I make sure I completely cover my arm in Bengay (a trick my friend, artist Amanda Manitach, taught me!) because I suffer from pretty bad RSI (Repetitive Strain Injury). It really helps.
Your practice is quite multi-faceted from illustration to floral arrangement to textile design, what inspires the directions you take?
I see all these things as part of the same overriding creative urge that drives me. It’s really important to me to try to make something every day, whether it’s a flower arrangement, indigo textile or drawing. My illustrations often have a botanical element, so that obviously links to my floral design. The textile work that I do probably appeals to me so much because it’s quite bold and it’s liberating to work so freely. My drawing is very controlled and detailed, so it’s fun to be experimental and loose with indigo.
Who/what are your major influences? Who are you currently following?
I love finding old books on illustration, textiles or graphic design, because they point you to things you would probably never discover online. I’m currently really into a book called Wearable Art which is about these wild constructed textiles from the late 70’s and early 80’s, like a floor length, avant-garde, crocheted kimono featuring the New York skyline at night, complete with a 3D Williamsburg Bridge! Sharing a studio with jewelry designer Rachel Ravitch and graphic designer/digital artist Christian Petersen means that I’m surrounded by inspiring and energetic creativity.
In terms of art, I found the show Your Feast has Ended at the Frye very inspiring, not only for the strength and clarity of the message, but also for the way it referenced and celebrated cultural traditions and used them in new ways. Maikoiyo Alley-Barnes and Nicholas Galanin are artists that I respect and admire. I also loved the Mark Mitchell Burial show and its exploration of such serious ideas through clothing. I’m very interested in the way aesthetics and design shape our lives and how much they tell us about the way we live and think. I think that participation in creating our surroundings and visual identities is crucial to our psychic well being.
What projects are you working on now?
This summer I will be leading an indigo workshop as part of Summer at SAM at the Olympic Sculpture Park. It’s going to happen over four Saturdays in July and we’ll be communally creating an installation exploring the huge impact that indigo had on the world - building empires, driving resistance and clothing a new type of worker. I’m also making new work for a show with two other fantastic Seattle women artists this winter. It will be the first time I’ve shown a large body of work since 2013 and I’m planning some big things!
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Pamela Davis is an artist who works in a variety of media with a focus on metal, ceramics, and fiber. MuchoDesign is her jewelry and ceramics line. Each piece in this line represents a balance between technical process and experimentation. The work is handcrafted in her home studio in Olympia, WA. She is a graduate of The Evergreen State College where she studied studio arts in ceramics and metalworking.
We recently visited Pamela in her lovely home studio which overlooks the picturesque Lake Pattison. Over a homemade lunch, we spoke about her line, inspiration, and plans for the future.
How did you get started as an artist and designer? Particularly, what got you into making jewelry?
I grew up in a Mormon household, so I learned a variety of domestic crafts at a young age. It was later in my life when I realized the range and the history of what is traditionally defined as women’s work, and the persistent devaluation of it over the centuries. My fiber art reflects a commitment to elevate the domestic arts; it is also what led me to metalworking. I wished to create wearable pieces so I began attaching chain and metal findings to small embroidery pieces. The durability of metal attracted me. The subtractive and additive process of working with metal provides incredible versatility in design. My first metalworking class was at Pratt in Seattle. I continued that work in the fine metals studio and metal shop at Evergreen, there I fell in love with gas welding and metal casting. I have been building up my home studio for a while and my goal is to have the capability for larger metalwork within the next few years.
Tell us about your day in the studio. How do you start the morning? Any specific rituals?
My studio is partially in my home and partially in my garage, which means cleaning and straightening are usually the first order of business. Work flows so much better without a messy background. My garage, where I do hammering, soldering, and some drilling, is pretty creepy at night so I limit that part of the process to daylight hours. During the summer it’s not a problem but the short winter days are challenging. Living and working in the same space is another challenge, it can be really distracting. When I’m in production mode and working for hours at a time, the bed and a book are so tempting. The one advantage is when I have a new idea I can try it out immediately without having to get to the studio.
The number one ritual I have is drinking a couple cups of coffee before I start. Also breakfast...breakfast is very important to me. I have a hard time paying attention to my physical needs once I am working. I often get shaky or make mistake after mistake before I realize I need to stop and eat. Another ritual is list making. That usually happens the night before though.
You are also a working artist. How does this practice inform your jewelry designs?
My art and my jewelry are similar in that with both, I create what I want to see. That isn’t to say that things always turn out the way I envision them. My practices in both metal and ceramics are a continual learning process. I’m definitely someone who learns by doing, which means many designs don’t make it past the prototype stage. It also means I have a physical representation of a design’s evolution. I’ve learned to make maquettes and to work with lesser materials in the beginning stages. I have a hard time throwing out my attempts, whether art or jewelry. Often, when I revisit an old prototype, I see it so differently and sometimes with more appreciation. As my skills progress I have found new ways to approach a design or idea. In a sense, my prototypes are tangible notes. These notes also help me delineate the line between underworked and overworked.
The main difference between my art process and my jewelry process is concept. My jewelry design is mainly visually driven. When I am working on art, there are multiple concepts informing the work, whether it is something I’ve read, heard someone say, or an event that has provoked the piece.
What is inspiring you currently?
The ceramics community here is definitely a source of inspiration. A handful of other ceramic artists and I are currently working to streamline and better equip the ceramics studio at Arbutus Folk School in Olympia. Everyone is so helpful and willing to share techniques, equipment, and materials; the lack of competition is so refreshing!
The process of making is very important in my work. Artists and craftspeople tend to work very hard to hide the marks of their process, but for me that is the most interesting aspect. It provides narrative and demystifies art. I recently began teaching ceramics and watching the students’ process is very inspirational. When I teach I get to witness students’ process of experimentation with new materials and techniques. With my jewelry, I often hammer the metal because the mark it leaves hints at the process. Much of my work bears this mark; the mark also represents the accidents that happen during the learning process, but it’s surprisingly difficult to recreate those accidents. I love seeing the same spark in students when they come across a beautiful mistake or just choose to veer from the technique at hand and opt for experimentation.
The range of historical influences and inspiration is vast. When I started my undergraduate degree years ago, I studied classical archaeology. Ancient art and myths have always fascinated me, really all belief systems, especially woman’s place in it. Considering my strict religious upbringing this makes sense.
Currently I’m very influenced by socially engaged artists, especially those who address issues of education. As someone who took twenty years to finish my undergraduate work because of financial reasons, it hits close to home. Joseph Beuys’s Free International University, the Copenhagen Free University, the Trade School Coop, and Cassie Thornton’s work in debt visualization are very important to me.
Grace Gow is an independent fine jewelry company based in Seattle, inspired by where the city meets the sea. Since 2007, designer Cat McCadden has been transforming oceanic forms into wearable sculptural pieces in gold, silver, bronze and brass accented with topaz, tourmalines and diamonds. Her work conjures the spirit of the place that inspired it—the beach. Spending summers from a young age on the Jersey Shore and the North Fork of Long Island and now living on an island in the Puget Sound, Cat walks the beach for searching for crab claws and shell fragments that wash ashore. The original forms from the line were collected on either the wide sand beaches of the East Coast or the rocky seascapes of the Pacific Northwest coastline.
Photography by Rachael Lang
Where does the name Grace Gow come from? Tell us about your origins. What led you to become a jewelry designer?
Grace Gow was born on Sept 17, 1915 in Scotland. At the age of ten, her family immigrated to New York City where her father, a ship captain, was assigned his new port of call. She married my grandfather, Stephen Hills and had my mom, Victoria, in Brooklyn where she worked and lived her entire life. Granny was an elegant woman that added art to the everyday. She completed the New York Times Sunday crossword, painted in oils, sewed, cooked, gardened and entertained. Practicality had its place, but Grace Gow created enjoyment, shared it, and savored every drop.
My grandparents owned a summer cottage in Long Island, a place to escape the city heat. As a kid, I spent time hanging out there with wide open days and very little sunscreen. Sand-free and sunburnt, we’d dress up for dinner on the sun porch. Happy hour was a mix of martinis, Shirley Temples and Granny’s personal style—caftans and colorful scarves, puka shell necklaces, filigree broaches, and always her delicate gold watch.
After graduating from Binghamton University with a degree in Art History, I followed my heart to Seattle, where city life and coastal life mixed together. My grandmother’s influence took over and led me to create. I felt a need to make something with my hands, so I began to fabricate earrings and necklaces with wood, bone, and stone elements from mineral shows. After a few successful trunk shows, I got serious in 2007.
I began to explore the realm of sculptural metal work by applying fabrication, casting and finishing techniques to the line. While training with metal smiths at Pratt Fine Art, I learned the hand skills that have allowed me to propel my ideas forward from vision to prototype to wearable art.
In 2010, I launched my website and in 2012 opened Style Syndicate, a community-centric arts space that served as GRACE GOW’s jewelry showroom in the heart of Capitol Hill in Seattle. In the last several years I’ve focused on designing and launching a number of collections of fine jewelry, getting to know my customers, and building worldwide wholesale relationships.
Your work has strong natural and coastal themes. What aspects of the Pacific Northwest are reflected in your designs?
I’m inspired by different aspects of both the East and West coasts. I’m from New Jersey where the beach has this very distinct East coast energy; you feel the urban influence of Philly and NYC, the restaurants and vendors are steps from the sand, and there are a LOT of people on the beach. Textured dunes, green grass reeds, and sandy beaches full of organic shapes that look like finished jewelry just waiting to be worn.
The Pacific Northwest has less seasonal change and it’s more wild. Huge driftwood trees lay around like matchsticks; the sense of scale is more extreme here. The beach is not just for summer—it’s an all year round affair in the Puget Sound and inclement weather is not an excuse.
When I’m collecting pieces, I look for the asymmetry found in broken shells and rock, textural patterns found on barnacles of all shapes, and the smoothness on wood and rock from forces such as water, sand or wind.
I appreciate that a barnacle is tough, battered by the ocean but not about to let go. A crab claw is elegant, yet has these gnarly little pinchers, ready to cause pain if your paths cross. There is a fragility/strength relationship in all my work that I like.
You recently moved to a new home on Vashon Island. How has the transition from the city to island life affected your work and process?
Change-affirming. Energizing. Calming.
I was mostly thrilled to move to the country (Vashon is rural) and just a little bit afraid to be further than an Uber ride from anything in the city…but, change is good. Being closer to the beach has been the best part.
Also, becoming a part of such thriving arts community is phenomenal—Vashon Island’s talented artists and makers ranging from hand tooled leather goods to local cheese makers to wood carved sculptors is great.
What is influencing and /or inspiring your work at the moment?
Old school forms re-interpreted, Australia and New Zealand, diamond earring jackets from the 1940s. A recent product design collaboration with Quiet Town http://quiettownhome.com who have released a shower curtain hook that has the look and feel of a modern hoop earring. Summertime with my daughter - seeing her fascination with the beach and her continual treasure hunts and fort building. This freedom that she discovers on a regular basis inspires me to keep working and growing every day as well.
What’s next for Grace Gow? Are you working on a new collection or on any special projects?
Yes! This summer we’ll be refining the SIREN collection. You’ll see more semi-precious and precious gemstones—more bling. This will drop in the Fall, along side GRACE GOW’s new line of tabletop accessories. We’ll be releasing East coast + West coast beach inspired functional designs like our bronze driftwood ring holders, CLAW wall hooks, BARNACLE bottle openers and brass paperweights. Also, we’ll be expanding GUS GOW, our men’s line, to include a tie clip, money clip, and generous proportion cuff bracelets.
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Stephanie Simek designs a line of accessories that reflects her interest in organic components. She also makes experimental works using sound, electronics, and natural materials and lives in Portland, OR. We recently spoke with Stephanie.
Photography by George Barberis
Please describe your studio/line.
I like to think of my studio as a place for experimenting and researching materials, where some of the successful discoveries are translated into jewelry, fragrances, and other objects.
Your wearables are so varied in type and form, what inspires you?
In general, I get excited by materials, how they can be shaped and worked in ways you might not expect. Initially, I started making unusual combinations with natural materials like hair, sea-life, and botanicals. More recently, I’ve focused on minerals and made an entire jewelry collection featuring gemstones that have remarkable naturally occurring properties. Some stones completely change color under different light. Others have exceptional shapes, colors, or beautiful inclusions where a mineral has formed inside of a different, larger one.
What’s your next project/idea/installation?
Lately I’ve been spending my time mostly continuing to research minerals and experimenting with some of their different properties (electrical, magnetic, and optical). I’ve started growing crystals and recently made an invisibility cloak with calcite that I hope to incorporate into something larger. I’ve slowly been acquiring different specimens, and just began playing around with light sensitive minerals and photographic processes. I've also set up a greenhouse in my studio where I have been growing different kinds of plants, learning about propagation, grafting, and extracting fragrances.
View items by Stephanie Simek
Natasha grew up in Northern Saskatchewan as a member of the Denesuline Tribe. She graduated from the Alberta College of Art & Design, with a focus in drawing. Currently residing in Seattle, she now runs a small ceramic studio where she works on home-wares and installation pieces that are inspired by natural beauty and landscapes. We visited Natasha in her cozy SoDo studio and got to meet a sweet pup named Olives, the unofficial studio mascot!
Photography by Rachael Lang
Tell us about how you got started working in ceramics.
While I was in school I stumbled upon ceramics in my last semester of my degree, and became really fascinated with the whole process. After I graduated I moved to Seattle and continued my own exploration in learning as much as I can from doing residencies and taking classes from Pottery Northwest and Seward Park Clay Studios. I loved the aspect of creating something from earth, watching it transform at each stage and the end result is functional and held each day.
What standard day in the studio like? How do you start the day?
I start the day at 7 am, first exhaust the dog of her morning energy for about an hour then eat a hearty breakfast and drink some coffee. I look up new podcasts to download for the day, and head over to my studio. Once I get to my studio I make a pot of tea and then start weighing out clay and wedging up the days list of things I want to make. Things get into a good rhythm with throwing pots and having to trim them each day, it helps to break up the repetitive nature of making if I have pots from the day before to go back to trim. Then once I have enough work to fill a kiln I fire it off which takes a couple days to cool and unload, then focus on glazing for a few days. The cycle of the studio usually flows pretty organically depending on what orders I have and experiments I am working on.
What aspects of the Pacific Northwest have informed the aesthetic of your work?
I think the mysteries of the ocean plays the biggest part. I live in West Seattle now and get to walk along the ocean each day, to wonder and be curious about all the unknown possibilities the ocean houses is really helpful in staying inspired with the role of being a maker. The richness of mossy color and plant life throughout the year is also amazing.
Are you experimenting with any specific techniques?
I am working with more sandy stoneware clay bodies right now, layering with white slips and formulas of subtle white glazes. I would also like to learn how to work with more local additives to my pieces, such as sands and small rocks.
What’s next for the line? Are you looking at anything in particular for inspiration?
The next line will be incorporating more of the grey and dark chocolate brown clays, highlighting the beauty of the earthy clay itself. I am looking more at the warmness of stones in the landscape, I want you to feel like you are holding earth in your hands as you drink or eat. Balance is always going to be a big interest for me, I try to figure out what bare-essential components each piece requires for that sweet spot where nothing needs to be added and nothing can be taken away.
Designed by Portland-based Teresa Robinson, Tiro Tiro is a small line of art objects and jewelry. Informed by traditional craft practices, each piece is designed for everyday use. We spoke with Teresa recently about the life, the collection, and inspiration.
Photography by George Barberis
Where did the name Tiro Tiro come from? Tell us about your origins.
Tiro Tiro can actually be translated a few different ways in different languages, but I took my name from the latin definition, meaning a beginner or novice. I like to be able to explore different materials and techniques, both in my work in the studio, and in various little projects outside of work. So I like the idea that you can always be a beginner at something.
What does a typical day in the studio like? Walk us through a day in the life.
My work days have shifted a bit since I had my daughter last year. Having my studio at home has allowed me to have a fairly flexible work schedule for the past few years, but as any self employed parent can tell you, you really have to maximize your child free hours! I’m still learning to be a morning person, but my baby gets me up at 7-ish most days, and then it’s usually a bit of a rush to get her fed, dressed, and dropped off at daycare by around 8. After that I come home, get some coffee going, and do a little morning internet-ing and answering emails at the kitchen table. These days I’m trying to spend a little time in the morning pulling inspiration for my next look book. I head out to the studio around 10:30, and spend mid-morning taking care of odds and ends, doing a little bit of production work, pulling orders, dealing with repairs, etc. My studio assistant, Zoe, comes in once a week to do all of our shipping and check inventory, and get the production line up sorted. I tend to have a late lunch, and then after that, settle in to work on wax carvings for the new collection for at least a couple of hours before it’s time to head to pick up my daughter. On rare occasions, I’ll actually make it back out to the studio after her bedtime to sneak a little more work in, but most evenings I end up knitting on the couch.
How has the landscape and culture of the Pacific Northwest informed your work?
That’s really hard to say! I’ve lived in the PNW almost all my life, so it’s difficult to pick out one particular way that I’ve been influenced by living here. I moved to Portland right after college, and I think the culture in Portland in the early 2000s really allowed me the time and space to start making jewelry and entertain the idea that I might be able to make a living off of creative work. I’m not sure if I would have been able to do that if I were living anywhere else. This city is changing really rapidly, but I still really value the creative community that I’ve found here. Having the support and camaraderie of other artists and makers has been really integral to the survival of a creative business over the years.
What are you looking at currently for inspiration?
I’ve been looking at a lot of modernist jewelry and sculpture these days. Art Smith, Betty Cook, Calder, Bertoia, some vintage Gucci, Georg Jensen. I’m continually attracted to simple geometric forms, and find my work is getting a little cleaner and more structured as a result.
What’s next for the line?
For the new collection, I was able to collaborate with a friend who runs a local ceramics company, Pigeon Toe, to make some custom tinted porcelain pieces that will be used in the new line. I wanted to move away from using fiber, and fell in love with ceramics when I took a wheel throwing class a couple of years back, and since then, have been wanting to incorporate ceramic work into my designs. So that will be new element that I’m excited about exploring. I’m also looking forward to finally making some small sculptural pieces and homewares objects to complement the jewelry line.
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Emily Counts is a visual artist and jewelry designer, born and raised in Seattle. She currently lives in Portland where she creates work in her home studio. She studied at the Hochschule der Kunste in Berlin and the California College of the Arts, where she received her BFA.
Currently, her large-scale ceramic piece, Sisu Sequence, is on display in the Store. The work featuring cast bronze, silver, and porcelain pieces, is part of a series in which she experiments with stacked and connected objects, which are made by placing individual, largely ceramic, pieces on a rope like over-sized beads. We spoke with Emily recently.
Photography by George Barberis
What was your main area of focus during your years in College? How has your practice changed and evolved over the years?
I received my BFA in painting at the California College of the Arts. During that time I worked initially in oils then transitioned to watercolor and gouache works on paper. After graduating I immediately started to experiment with installation and sculpture. For many years I created large installations but my practice and interest in materials has become more focused. I am now creating sculpture mainly in ceramics with the addition of other materials such as wood and bronze.
Tell us about your studio practice. What does a typical day look like for you?
I have a home studio that includes areas for my ceramic and sculpture work, as well as a metals work bench and production table for my jewelry company St. Eloy. Throughout the day I am in and out of the studio and I also usually work late at night when there are very few distractions. I separate blocks of time into one project such as ceramic glazing or metal finishing. I tend to work on art on different days than I make jewelry; although these two practices share a physical space I prefer to have mental separation between the two.
What is inspiring you right now? Art, music, fashion…
Lately I have been drawn to sculpture with simple forms that are stacked or have the appearance of balancing—certain pieces from William Turnbull, Constantin Brancusi, and Isamu Noguchi. I am interested in pieces that have the ability to play with gravity and perception. Along with these more abstract forms, I am also inspired by work that deals with the body by sculptors such as Alina Szapocznikow, Louise Bourgeois and David Altmejd.
How does the landscape and culture of the Pacific Northwest inform your work?
As a child I spent a lot of time on beaches around Puget Sound and I think that all the objects I found there—rocks, barnacles, agates, beach glass—have influenced my work. These things that tumble around in the salt water connect to my affinity for clay and other enduring, elemental materials.
What’s next? Are you working on any special projects or commissions?
I am currently working on sculptures for an upcoming solo exhibition at Carl & Sloan Contemporary in Portland, opening in March 2016. Several of these pieces will be large-scale, challenging structures that extend through space. I am excited to experiment with new materials and techniques such as cast concrete, larger cast bronze components, and ceramic marbling.
View work by Emily Counts
Natalie Joy jewelry uses both unique and traditional metalworking techniques. Her work mixes clean shapes with melted silver studs and hand drawn style lines, creating statement pieces that have a casual feel. Her latest collection, STREAM/LINE, was inspired by Bauhaus textiles and prints with an emphasis on clean, structural lines. We chatted with Natalie about her work and got a glimpse of her home studio in Portland, OR.
Photography by Kelly Wilde & Evie McShane
Why did you become a jewelry designer?
For as long as I can remember I have been a tangible person with a strong desire to create objects with my hands. That urge has never left me; it just evolved through different mediums and outlets. In college I studied metalwork and ceramics with a particular interest in small-scale, semi-wearable sculpture. After graduating I worked at a jewelry design company for several years both making the jewelry and taking on a managerial role in the office. My interest in sculpture and adornment didn’t fade, and eventually I found a way to satisfy my desire to make sculpture in a purely wearable format. With the knowledge gained from my job and the inspiration to create my own collection, I started Natalie Joy.
Who do you see, as you design and create, wearing your pieces?
Initially I envisioned my work on a pedestal instead of a body. At the same time, I would make very wearable pieces for my friends that I didn’t consider to be art. With Natalie Joy, those two ends of the spectrum meet in the middle. I imagine my pieces to be worn as a statement more than an addition to an outfit. I see them on someone with easy, clean, simple style who can appreciate the bold sculptural elements of my jewelry.
How does the Pacific Northwest inspire you?
I am a Cancer, so my surroundings or “my shell” affect me immensely. The pace, energy and overwhelming beauty of the Pacific Northwest keep me calm and fuel my creativity. I tend to be a little neurotic and anxious, so living and working here is like environmental medicine.
Any future plans for the jewelry line? Concrete realities or dreams?
I plan to continue learning new techniques and becoming a better craftsperson. What matters most to me is creating pieces that I find meaningful and resonate powerfully for people who wear them.
The Formality is a line of sterling silver jewelry designed and fabricated by Amber Rossino in Seattle, WA. Referencing the Modernist studio jewelry movement, Rossino creates minimal geometric and architectonic pieces that incorporate sculptural and kinetic elements while emphasizing structure, tension, and negative space. Conceptual explorations of basic geometry, visual mathematics and symmetry/asymmetry result in both limited production collections and one of a kind pieces. We recently visited Amber's home studio and spoke with her about her practice.
Photography by Rachael Lang
How did The Formality come to life? Tell us about your background as an artist and how you became involved in jewelry design.
It’s been a very non-linear, organic process. I’m essentially an autodidact, with no formal degree in art or metal-smithing. I first became involved in designing and making jewelry during high school, where I had a very progressive 3D art teacher who was also a practicing artist and adjunct college professor. He taught me the basics of jewelry fabrication — soldering, stone setting, finishing. I was part of a small group that showed interest and aptitude for jewelry making, and because I attended an arts and music high school I was encouraged to specialize and develop independently. We worked only in sterling silver, which is still my preferred medium. This early experience was unique and formative in that it laid the groundwork for my future as an artist. I’ve always felt more comfortable and creative in unstructured environments, and have continued to learn through research and experimentation. The Formality is a more recent development; one that coalesced after my husband and I bought a house and built out my studio space. Having a permanent place to set up allowed for a deeper examination of materials and techniques, and the ability to even slightly vanquish the separation between daily life and making art has brought me closer to articulating a clear aesthetic vision. My work is starting to feel more cohesive, like a developing collection, and less fragmented.
Walk us through your creative process. How do you approach an idea for a new design?
It varies! I’ll often use a concept or single shape as a starting point for developing ideas, a kind of design clustering exercise. The Bisect Series, where I used a simple circle to create several earring styles, is a good example of this process. I prefer this kind of immediacy because of its potential to produce a thematic collection, and because I can revisit the same shape or concept at any time. I design sliding and pivoting pieces in this way as well, starting with a type of hinge or direction of movement and working through variations on the idea. I do quite a bit of fabrication using silver sheet, and sometimes use thick paper to experiment with shapes and folds. Occasionally, I’ll do rough sketches to further define components or outline the steps involved in fabrication, or to reverse engineer a piece I deem successful so I can reproduce it.
What aspects of the Pacific Northwest have informed the aesthetic of your work?
I’m certainly aware of the visual heaviness of urban landscapes, so everything from architecture to machinery, and the scale structural changes taking place here, are informative. My daily commute from West Seattle runs a gauntlet of industrial factories and massive construction projects. I’m fascinated by the Nucor Steel plant, but I also live close to Lincoln Park and spend a lot of time at the beach looking at barnacle patterns and driftwood. Making jewelry that is more fluid and organic looking is relatively new for me. I attribute some of the new textures and surface treatments I’ve been using to the natural environment here, although I’m still partial to hard edges. I guess my aesthetic falls somewhere between larval galleries and I beams.
What inspires the elegant simplicity of your pieces and the choosing of materials?
My goal is to design pieces that are timeless and, for me, simplicity is inherent to that. I’m a pragmatic minimalist in regard to wardrobe, inclined to make pieces that are both understated and appropriate for daily wear. Simple shapes and uncluttered design are more attractive to me personally, so I make jewelry that I want to wear, while acknowledging others might enjoy it as well. Silver has always been my material of choice. I feel an affinity for its appearance and behavior, and I consider it a neutral material that can be worn with everything.
As an emerging jewelry line, what is your vision for the future of The Formality?
In the near future I plan to maintain a tight focus on finding my feet and voice as a jewelry designer. Sustainable growth is very important to me, as is spending time developing ideas. I think my best work is done while making one of a kind and limited production pieces, so ideally I’d like to strike a balance between the two. I’m very responsive to the geometry of garments, so I’d love to eventually collaborate with a clothing designer. I could envision making larger sculptural pieces in that context, which is something I’ve been wanting to do.
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