Maker Stories

Inside the Artist’s Studio with George Roumanas

July 7, 2017

George Roumanas working in his Athens, Greece studio, photos by Emily Hodges

Given that I “prepped” for this particular Studio Tour by watching My Big Fat Greek Wedding and listening to Mama Mias soundtrack on repeat, I knew that my visit to George Roumanas’ creative space was definitely going to be a fun one. George is a self-taught sculptor from a small village in Southern Greece and he’s the maker behind a collection of brass and wooden art pieces, including our much-adored Pop The Question Wall Sculpture. Being the avid wanderluster I am, I was beyond thrilled to have the opportunity to learn about the process behind George’s romantic designs in the ancient city of Athens, Greece. (Insert overly excited squeal and triple axel jump.)

My visit began with George’s upbeat business partner and wife — Stella Spanopoulou — personally picking me up at my AirBnb rental. I suggested I could easily catch a cab to the studio, but she insisted on giving me a ride. That should have been my first clue that Greek hospitality is genuine and is never to be mistaken for coyness. According to Stella, “When something is offered, just accept it. It’s the Greek way!” During our short drive to the studio, she apologized for three things: how “non-American” and messy their studio was, the fact that George only spoke Greek, and the economic state of Greece. I assured her that the messier the studio the better, that I’ve dealt with language barriers before, and despite Greece’s economic hiccups — everything I’d seen so far was absolutely beautiful.

Walking into George’s space, I would be lying if I said I didn’t feel a sense of mayhem. There were buckets, crates, and piles of sculptures on every shelf in the room. Giant equipment stood tall in one corner and small tools were scattered across all of the work tables. On the opposite side of the entrance door there was a crooked — yet proud — gallery wall hanging to showcase George’s designs. After a minute of looking around, I realized it was an amazing space that I like to describe as “organized chaos.” When I asked about George’s specific UncommonGoods designs, he knew exactly where each sculpture was stored. When I inquired about his process, he showed me each marked off station. There were so many trinkets and pieces I wanted to photograph and, simultaneously, I had so many questions I wanted to ask about them. Countless inevitable laughs, head nods, and hand gestures later, I was stunned by how intricate George’s process was to create even just one brass figurine, let alone an entire wall sculpture. At the end of the tour, he offered me one of his gorgeous designs to take with me back home. I wanted to pay, especially after seeing his talented craftsmanship in person and how much time he takes to shape and weld his work. Yet, without hesitation he said the word “gift” in English and handed me a box with my name already on it.

Like George himself, his designs are heartwarming and sweet. He brings concepts, emotions, and common experiences, like a short Sunday stroll or two lovers biking together in their neighborhood, to life. He combines natural materials like stone and wood with man-made ones such as bronze and glass. The inconspicuous, whimsical details allow the overall design to be anyone’s story to tell. In the end, his work flirts with nostalgia and creates wall art that simply makes you smile. Peek inside the Studio Tour that marks one of my all time favorite travel moments and discover how George still gets inspired by everyday happenings after being in the art design world for over 20 years.

The following interview has been translated from Greek to English by George Roumanas’ business partner and wife, Stella Spanopoulou.

What are your most essential tools?

The most essential tools I use are my pliers, drill, and welder.

Where do you find inspiration?

Having new designs for my bronze figures is important, so I visit exhibitions often and try to be informed with new decor styles. Inspiration can also happen throughout my day-to-day from sport activities, hanging out with my teenage daughter, spotting a couple in love, or even just walking home. Whether it’s a big moment like proposing to someone or or a leisure activity like riding bikes, it’s all about showcasing actions that can illustrate a positive emotion.

George (center) with his team, Kostas Ntoskas (left) and Samir Uddin (right)

Where does downtime fit into a day in the studio?

Downtime is not exactly at the same time every day, it really depends on my meetings and other obligations I’ve scheduled. However, we always make time for a thirty minute break visiting Nea Smyrni Square for coffee every single day!

What was the toughest lesson you’ve learned as a designer starting a business?

As an artist, you realize that your designs can easily be copied and it can happen pretty often–and a solution is certainly not easy to come by. It can definitely be frustrating. Yet, over the years I’ve learned how to pick my battles, communicate respectively with fellow artists, and just continue making.

How did you come up with the concept of your product?

It’s a pretty simple story. I have always loved bronze above any other material. In the beginning I didn’t have a plan. I built wooden frames and designed bronze figures just to see how it would look together. I also enjoyed combining the bronze figures with other materials like glass, stone, and wood. A few people saw my designs and asked if I could sell it to them so they could offer it as gifts to their family and friends.

How do you set goals for yourself?

I make small and steady steps in life and try not to put too much on my plate. When I complete a goal, I simply proceed to the next goal. I work best focusing on one idea at a time.

What is the process of making your product?

There are quite a lot of meticulous stages when it comes to my production and I admit that it can definitely be time consuming. But it is necessary that I make sure that each and every step is completed precisely. Some of the figures are made with a method called “casting” and, depending on the design, are joint together through welding. After, they are dipped in special liquids and brushed to get the color that’s revealed in the final touches. The figures are then varnished to guarantee that the color remains over the years, and then placed on the wooden frames that have already been coated three times based on the customer’s color choice. My designs are all handmade and and are not produced in a factory, so it can certainly take a lot of time and effort. It’s so rewarding when my art is sold or when I receive new orders to start the entire process all over again.

How do you recharge your creativity?

I listen to music, travel, and make sure I’m close to nature.

What quote keeps you motivated? What does that quote mean to you?

“Choose a job you love, and you will never have to work a day in your life.” I absolutely love my job and I’m never tired of dealing with even the smallest of details.

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