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Maker Stories

Inside the Designer’s Studio with Laura Lobdell

April 16, 2012

We want to give you an exclusive look inside the minds of our uncommon artists. Our second artist visit features Laura Lobdell, who makes our Sterling Silver Guitar Pick Necklace and Kiss Ring. Trained as a fine artist–she holds an MFA from the School of Visual Arts in NYC and studied Chinese calligraphy in Hong Kong–Laura has a beautiful, tiny shop in Greenwich Village, where she sells her exquisite and utterly original jewelry. For Laura, there is no real division between her shop and her art; it all comes from the same place in her imaginative mind. Collections of objects which seem to have drifted together out of their desire to express Laura’s poetic sensibility share shop space with pieces of her art–and of course, her jewelry.

What are your most essential tools?
My most essential tool is actually a state of mind. Being present, open to ideas and creative moments. That’s a way of being able to have more creative ideas, for me. Of course, that’s the struggle–ideally, we’re all always present and open, right? In New York, it’s a great city because if you’re open and present when you’re on the subway you can see something or experience something in these banal moments that become really good inspiration for something creative.

For example, once some friends of mine were playing in their band. And they’d lose their pick and call out, “Does anyone have a quarter or nickel?” And just kind of being present and open, I thought, “Oh, I could make them something” and that’s what led me to make the guitar pick, which is something that could be worn or played with.

As for physical tools–I have a pair of pliers that I particularly like. They’re not really very special, except for me they just work really well. The tip is really pointy so they’re great for wire wrapping and just holding things, forming things. And the grip is really nice; there’s a little bit of texture on the rubber handle. It’s funny that something so simple it makes such a big difference but it does.

And my calligraphy brushes. Having studied Chinese Calligraphy in Hong Kong, I love calligraphy brushes in general; he natural fur bristle, I just love the way they hold the pigment. And also that they come to a really fine tip, so I can shift the line weight really beautifully. I use that for my illustration.

Where do you find inspiration within this space?
The color of the walls. I use in my studio as well. It’s “Skylight” by Farrow & Ball. I love it. It’s a really old formula of paint. It doesn’t have synthetic pigments in it, it’s mineral based. It’s very calming, and it changes with the light of the day, the way the sun is hitting it. The light plays across it because of the minerals in it, and it has an ambient effect. It’s a really beautiful paint and I think it fits me. It’s also a good, neutral color to see my work against.

What advice would you offer the you of 5 years ago?
1) Trust your…call it guts or your intuition or whatever. The voice of your instinct can get crowded out by all these other things. But it’s usually right. And trust in that can keep you out of a lot of the other troubles.
2) Get a credit card machine! Although now, I’d say, get a Square Up.

What are some new skills you are trying to acquire to perfect your craft?
I’m learning how to work with precious stones, because they’re beautiful, and knowing more about them opens up a lot of possibilities. Stones are a way to bring something unexpected, some color, and of course sparkle and luminosity to the work. Like for example, with a cigarette butt, setting it with orange sapphires creates an embers glow, bringing that piece to life. It’s pretty cool without it, people like it; but it’s a whole different piece when you essentially ignite it with the orange soft fires and leave it smoldering, it’s a really nice piece of jewelry.

Where does down time fit into a day in the studio? And how do you recharge your creativity?
I definitely always feel better when I have made the time to do yoga or exercise. And cooking and talking to friends. Seeing art is really important to me.  But it’s definitely challenging. My shop is open 6 days a week, officially 1 to 7, but I try to get here a little bit earlier. And I’ve usually been working in a studio in the morning. Then running around the city, I go get supplies and silver and, you know, go to the engraver and go over projects and go to pick them up. So, I’m constantly recharging. The year before last, I wrote a little survival guide to myself to get through the holidays, and it really applies all the time.

Holiday Survival Guide for LL to stay clear and energized (circa 2010)
Keep Store Hours 12-7, Sun 1-6
Be discerning about events to attend
Stay in at least one night per week
Be in bed by midnight Sunday to Wednesday
Two Cocktails on weekend nights
One glass of wine other nights – unless it’s just the best party on the planet.
Drink Water

How do you set goals for yourself?
I write a lot of stuff in my little Moleskin book. It usually start with a little bit of a notebook-ey, thinking, drinking some tea kind of process. I use occasions to look at where things are in progress: at New Year, my birthday in June, and back to school…seasons and occasions are good times for me to get the notebook out and start to think about things.

When I’m planning events I do a timeline. For other things I don’t necessarily put dates because, I think you can spend too much time planning, and I think that that in that becomes, I think, a barrier to accomplishing the goal.

How and when do you decide to celebrate a victory?
One of the nice things about my mom is that she really celebrated pretty much everything and so I take a page from that notebook. When something good happens, I try to appreciate it, because it’s a way to stay motivated and—why not? Why not celebrate something that’s positive, like you get an order from a store that’s really exciting, or I ship my bracelets to St. Barth. So, you know, call a friend and have a glass of Prosecco, or maybe make something especially nice for dinner. It doesn’t have to be anything crazy, but I think it is really nice to acknowledge these moments.
That’s kind of the whole point of the champagne and the champagne rings, the idea of champagne every day, celebrating. I mean that not necessarily literally in terms of champagne every day, but that feeling of trying to celebrate something in every day. And then that ties into my work, too, about the everyday objects that aren’t essentially celebrated, by transforming them into precious metal. The jewelry is jewelry, but it’s also the idea of celebrating and making people happy–that’s what I do. I guess that’s kind of what gives my work meaning, is that I do something that makes people happy even in a small way.

Maker Stories

Inside the Artist’s Studio with Anna Rabinowicz

February 29, 2012

We want to give you an exclusive look inside the workspaces and minds of our uncommon artists. The very first designer’s studio tour features Anna Rabinowicz of RabLabs, the artist behind our Agate Coasters Set. Anna has been in her Flatiron studio for more than two years, a space that she shares with her team and another artist. Always fascinated with stones, Anna was able to start her own business when an opportunity came up with a distributor in Brazil. In addition to running her own business, Anna teaches product design, sharing her deep knowledge of geology and agate formation, with students at the Parsons School of Design.

What is a typical day in the studio like?
In the morning I could be working on designs and Skyping with manufacturers across the world, and then heading to Parsons in the evening to conduct a lecture. In between, I may get a visit from my two young children (Izzy, 4 and Talia, 2), one of the benefits of keeping a studio close to home.

What are your most essential tools?
The Pilot Razor Point II pens are the world’s most amazing pens. I’m very particular about the pens that I use for drawings and their very precise line makes a big difference. I only draw in black pen because it forces me to make design decisions. I prefer to draw on typing paper; if I want to make revisions, I just put another piece of typing paper on top to create a trace over.
My other essential tool is my digital caliper. It helps me to measure things in a really accurate way. For example, I can check the parts that we receive from manufacturers, to make sure that the dimensions are correct. It was a gift from my father when I was in grad school and is one of my most prized possessions!

Where do you find inspiration within the studio?
I am very inspired by the artifacts that we keep sitting around, like the pieces of sea fan and rocks, and the prototypes that I have created. I learn so much about what the final product will look like from the models that I create….like a model made of clay molded around a tiny metal bowl, with natural crystals attached at interesting angles….this piece ultimately became a bowl based on the morphology of natural crystals, which will be produced in lead crystal.

Around the Office: prototypes, Anna’s desk, agate bottle toppers and napkin rings

What is your secret to time management?
I like to close my laptop so I can focus without the distraction of email. But sometimes there are a lot of immediate concerns that punctuate the rest of my work. That is the nature of design and being in New York, and that is OK too. The design process is really circular — an expectation that things will work in an orderly fashion is unrealistic. We turn back to original decisions over and over again.

Where does collaboration come into play in your work?
RabLabs is a small business and time is precious so I really enjoy collaboration. My distributor and I were sharing ideas earlier this week about the work flow when a shipment came in from Brazil. Clients have great suggestions about what they want to see. I collaborate with my photographer on photo shoots. All the relationships I have are intended to be in that fashion. There is a lot we can all learn from each other because everyone has different competencies and perspectives.

How do you recharge your creativity?
I love to watch Bollywood movies. I find them to be very over-the-top, visually spectacular and super absorbing. They’re also extremely romantic.

Design Inspiration: a collection of toothbrushes from around the world, Espera sea fan colander, rock samples

What was the toughest lesson you learned as a young designer?
I’ve learned over the years that it is not always possible to produce everything that I dream about. I can draw something beautiful of something that you think should come to life, but it may be impossible to fabricate, or would take an unrealistic amount of time. Before I understood the intricacies of fabrication, I thought that all I had to do was be stubborn and tenacious in order to get things made.

How do you decide when it is time to celebrate a small victory?
What I get most excited about is when parts get back from the manufacturer. That is when I feel like I have accomplished something and I am creating. I get excited too when we are in magazines, that’s always fun.

Is there a quote that keeps you moving forward?
Being a designer means looking closely at the world around us for inspiration and realizing that the things around us are really magical. Using the inspiration that surrounds us, we have the ability to make magic with our designs.

What new skills are you learning at the moment?
I am learning a lot about crystal manufacturing for my newest designs. I’m learning a lot about the production parameters and how these pieces are made. Back to my biological inspiration for these pieces — if you understand how something forms in nature then you can understand how to fabricate something in a similar fashion, because it references the origin of the piece.

What advice would you have given yourself 5 years ago?
I would have gotten more help and hired people sooner. For many years it was just me and an excellent operations manager, Janelle, and a Brazilian manufacturing specialist, Renata, both of whom worked remotely, until I started hiring interns and a designer, Kevin. Support is very important, even back when I started the business in my 91-year-old grandma’s basement. In those years, she was in charge of all the UPS shipping and she and my mom even helped to assemble the products!
The advice I give my students is to take wild chances and not to play it safe with their ideas. School is a time for exploration and openness.

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