Welcome to HANDMADE HOLIDAY, the first installment of a three-part series on my blog that gives a glimpse into the studios and working practices of three of my favorite artists. This series is a response to our frenzied consumer culture that places value on quantity rather than quality, on scoring deals from big retailers rather than investing in local community and its artisans. When searching for holiday gifts for your lovelies this year, please consider supporting makers who are creating one-of-a-kind, beautiful and functional artwork.
First up is Ashley Bram-Johnson of ABJ Glassworks, who creates stunning stained glass sculptures, terrariums, pyramids, planters and more out of her home in Philadelphia. I first found Ashley on Instagram through Amy of Stitch & Hammer, and fell in love with her work immediately. Living so nearby (Ashley in Philly and I in Washington), we decided to meet. Ashley and her husband came for a visit during the summer, and I made my own quick trip to Philly just over a month ago where I stepped foot inside her dreamy studio and this blog feature idea took shape.
How were you first introduced to your craft, and how did you know this was something you wanted to pursue?
During a high school I took an art class on mixed media, and stained glass was part of the course. I only made a very simple panel, but I immediately connected with the craft. My regular art teacher encouraged me to focus on stained glass during class, and with that freedom I started to create more three-dimensional pieces. That was twelve years ago now.
Describe your creative process from inception to completion.
I find most of my inspiration in the natural world – I grew up in the country and love being outside, going on walks and gardening. Often I have a backlog of ideas, the hardest part is deciding what designs to make first. I keep track of my ideas by sketching them in one of those old black and white school notebooks with notes on suggested dimensions. Once I decide to add a piece to my line I take some time to make up samples and finalize the size and shape. If it’s a design I’ll be replicating I make sure to note the final dimensions and make patterns to use while cutting. The most fun and most time consuming part of my job is photographing new product for website and promotional materials. I love the process but I am in no way trained in photography so I’m sure it takes me much longer than it needs to.
What are the strengths and challenges of your personal studio space?
Working out of my home is one of the best and worst things about my studio. It’s great to have no commute and all the pleasures of home at my fingertips, but I more often than not get to Friday and realize that I have not left my house/yard all week! In my last job I would bike to work and I really miss that. Lately I’ve been making myself get out of the house a bit more. Sometimes you don’t realize how taking a tiny break and getting out of your studio can get the cobwebs out of your head. Even cobwebs you didn’t realize were there. Humans are not meant to live indoors 24/7!
Has living and working in Philadelphia had an impact on your work?
I LOVE Philadelphia. Really the longer I live here the more I grow to love and appreciate this city. I have met so many wonderful creative people and there really is a camaraderie among the creative community. I feel inspired by my friends’ successes and vice versa.
Which artists have inspired your work in some way?
That’s really hard to pinpoint, but I can say who inspires me visually. I love Marc Chagall, Georges Seurat and Amedeo Modigliani. There is a huge ballet backdrop by Chagall in the PMA that is my favorite piece in their collection, and the Barnes has a wonderful collection of Seurat and Modigliani. I also love the Arts & Crafts movement and William Morris. When I was living in England I became an avid tile collector. You can find truckloads of beautiful salvaged tiles there, traditionally they were used for fireplace surrounds and wall decoration. When I moved back to the US in 2011 I shipped over 100 tiles.
What are you working on now, and what’s next?
At the moment I am working on orders with new wholesale clients, and holiday orders, as well as a few special collaboration projects for 2014.