Maker Stories

Spread the Word: A Conversation with Eliza Todd about Art, Language, and Life

February 20, 2017

For Eliza Todd, creating art is so much more than a career. “It’s a way of figuring out life,” the artist says. On a plot of conserved prairie, the Illinois maker creates her one-of-a-kind designs from calendars to dining ware. Most days, she wakes up at 4:30 a.m. and works up to 14 hours, taking breaks for walks with her husband or to spend time with her two sons. “I’m still in the process of turning this into a life… For years I didn’t do art.” Twenty of them to be exact. She was in the computer industry, but when her younger son was born, Eliza stayed home and decided to go back to her artistic roots. “It’s a risk. Like anything when you try something new, putting myself out there was terrifying.” For her first project, she gathered blocks of wood and covered them with a thick resin that created a cool effect. Other people thought they were pretty cool, too, and so she took her works to some local Lake County shop owners who immediately fell for the designs as well. “It was scary,” she said, “but fortunately, worth it.”

Eliza Todd

The more Eliza practiced, the more her creativity wheels spun, and they’ve taken her from local painter to national glassware designer. It’s a love story that began, as many of them do, with words. “I started collecting these antiquated words,” she recalls. “Some of them are morbid or sick. Some are from the 1800s or 1600s. It was a dark time! But there’s a lot that are really interesting or funny or beautiful. I leaned toward the positive and collected them in a journal.” Then she thought, “I need to incorporate these into art!” The first word she really took to was efflorescence, a word she describes as “blooming, coming into your own.” Then came crapulous which, Eliza admits, still makes her giggle. The adjective means “tipsy,” which made her think, “This would be perfect on a glass.”

“Crapulous” is featured in Eliza’s Life By Definition Beer Glasses

After sharing the idea with friends, and receiving many positive reactions, she decided to submit a sample. Tiffany Jyang, Senior Product Developer at UncommonGoods recalls the first time she saw Eliza’s designs. “She pitched the idea of definitional beer glasses, and both the buyer and Product Development team immediately liked the weird words that she had found and ‘collected.’ Together, the words made a fun, quirky statement that any beer drinker could relate to.” The excitement is reciprocated by Eliza. “Collaborating with UncommonGoods has been wonderful. I originally thought about putting graphics or adding other elements to the glasses, but, together, we came to the decision to let the words speak for themselves. It made the designs stronger, simpler,” Eliza said. “And they sold out! That’s when I knew I was on to something.”

Eliza’s dog, Champ, keeps her company in the studio

Eliza’s studio is decorated with postcards designed by her sons. Each postcard displays a positive word.

Eliza has always loved language and words, but to see that others are just as drawn to them has made her feel incredibly connected to the world. “At the risk of being overly dramatic, I’d say words are life,” she said. We talked a lot about words together, both their ability to capture an inexplicable emotion and to spark joy, but also their ability to damage. We agreed that words are more important now than ever. “Words help to create reality. They set the stage for our future,” she said. Whether it’s in a good book, or on a funny glass, sometimes a kind word can transform a day. Eliza hopes her designs do just that for the people who buy them. “As long as my art is touching people in a positive way, it allows me to follow through with my intentions.”


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