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Making the Leap to Design

Making the Leap to Design

Making the Leap to Design

December/January 2013 issue of American Craft magazine
Author Monica Moses

Not every craftsperson wants to be a designer. Some are perfectly content to make their own one-of-a-kind objects, start to finish, focusing on technique and materials rather than trends and manufacturing.

But what if you’re ready to make the leap?

For those artists – and the people who love them – we’ve devoted this issue to models who can serve as inspiration: other artists grounded in craft who’ve embraced the design world and found new success. In "The Craft of Design" you will find stories about designer-craftspeople who have forged partnerships with retailers and manufacturers: Alison Berger, Annie Costello Brown, Frances Palmer, and Molly Hatch. And you will find stories about designer-craftspeople who’ve launched their own bustling production operations: Denyse Schmidt and Tyler Hays.

Then there are the visionary forebears of this trend – brand names such as Thos. Moser and Simon Pearce – whose stories we think you’ll also find enlightening.

So what does it take for a craftsperson to be successful as a designer? First off, a commitment to marketable design. What do we mean by design? Stefan Friedemann of Ornamentum Gallery recognizes it as “an underlying idea that has been developed and is coming across in a unique manner in the work.” It means making what you want to make, sure, but above all, making something well-conceived, distinctive, and stylistically current.

Another key is courage, the kind Frances Palmer showed when she approached Niagara China and said, “I’m a potter. I make dishes. Will you talk to me?” Or the ignorance-plus-chutzpah combo that drove glass artist Alison Berger to Hermès with a proposal for a line of bowls, cruets, and other vessels.

To cross over, craftspeople also need a willingness to learn the ins and outs of business. As Simon Pearce puts it, they need to be as immersed in marketing as in making, to believe that “one is as much fun as the other.”

Finally, there is a certain necessary letting go, a relinquishing of what, to many, is a central tenet of craft: making everything yourself. This requirement can be the toughest of all, as Annie Costello Brown has found.

“I wouldn’t enjoy what I do without the making part of the process,” she says, “the discovery that happens when working with materials in your hands.” But to make a living, Brown has to share and delegate the making – which leaves her a little wistful.

“There’s a point where you decide to become a brand,” Brown says, “or you kind of just stay small.”

Finding the right economic model isn’t easy for any craftsperson. We hope this issue illustrates one option in living color. Let us know what you think.