The team behind Fort Makers don’t refer to themselves as a design studio but rather an “artist collective,” and there’s a marked difference: They make functional objects, but instead of producing a stream of products with a unified aesthetic, they each work individually under the studio umbrella, experimenting with whatever interests them at any given time. In a way, it’s that same sense of structureless structure that first attracted Noah Spencer to the idea of making mobiles: You can hang pretty much anything from them, as long as you get the balance right. “Any kind of visual language can be carried into the mobile world,” says Spencer, a Paul Loebach and Uhuru Design alum who co-founded Fort Makers in 2008. While he primarily makes models hung with simple wooden shapes, he’s also been toying around lately with more expressive elements made from polymer clay (aka Sculpey), a method he graciously offered to teach Sight Unseen readers in this tutorial.
When he first began designing mobiles three years ago, Spencer had to teach himself. Born and raised in a small neighborhood outside Boulder, Colorado, called Sunshine, he grew up visiting the home and workshop of local artist and antique dealer Chris Voorhees, where a few years back he discovered a wooden fish mobile that Voorhees’s father had made in the ’70s. “That was the initial exploration point for me,” Spencer says. “I basically just copied that one and made it out of applewood.” His first few attempts “collapsed onto the floor,” and a Calder how-to book he purchased turned out to offer little help. But he kept on practicing and improvising until eventually his mobiles — sans fish at that point — were solid enough to become an official staple of the Fort Makers lineup.
The idea to bring Sculpey into the series arose from some of the studio’s collaborative art-making sessions, where they’d been using the colorful clay for jewelry experiments. Spencer would occasionally borrow pieces created during those workshops and turn them into mobiles, though Fort Makers hasn’t made any of those available for sale as of yet. When we asked the group to adapt one of their projects into a how-to story for us — others in their current repertoire including block-printed tea towels for West Elm and products for Martha Stewart and eBay’s forthcoming online shop American Made — Sculpey mobiles seemed like the perfect choice. They’re inexpensive to make, require zero design experience, and (surprisingly) don’t involve any math whatsoever. And since you can hang pretty much anything from them, there’s a wide margin of error. Check out the step-by-step directions in the slideshow at right, and if you do attempt to make your own, be sure to post the results on Instagram and tag us!
On occasion, the editors of Sight Unseen spot a story about creativity told from a viewpoint that’s not unlike our own. In the past year, we’ve noticed that documenting the studio interiors of people who spend their workdays making things has become a bit of a cottage industry on the web; our most recent obsession, Brooklyn-based photographer Jennifer Causey, chronicles the interior spaces of local fashion designers, florists, perfumers, jewelers, and food producers. We’re excerpting here Causey’s feature on Kings County Distillery, a homegrown moonshine producer that’s been run out of an East Williamsburg studio since early last year.
From an outside perspective, the Brooklyn furniture-design studio Fort Standard exudes the aura of a successful business with a clear DNA. Yet that wasn't always the case: When co-founders Ian Collings and Greg Buntain first joined forces in 2011, after graduating together from Pratt, they had no idea what direction to take — they simply dove headlong into the making process. “We had one goal: to do our own thing,” Buntain said in a recent interview. Their stock may have risen since then, but behind the scenes, the pair still make an effort to keep things loose; to maintain a sense of discovery in their shared practice, they both do separate solo work on the side, little personal experiments and objects they create for their own homes. Occasionally these prototypes are developed into Fort Standard products, but most of the time they go unseen, as was the case for Buntain's marble Tombstone chairs before we spotted them on Instagram. When we approached the designer to ask him if we could share them with you in the interview after the jump, it turned out he had a home full of personal pieces he'd made but also never shared with the public, which he was kind enough to walk us through in the second half of this story.
Anyone who was in New York for our annual Noho Design District event this spring should be familiar with the Irish online homegoods brand Makers & Brothers; they would have been the ones making a beautiful mess on the floor of the Standard East Village hotel, as their woodworker James Wicklow carved stools made from Catskills-grade green ash by hand over the course of four days. But most of what namesake brothers Jonathan and Mark Legge do to showcase their particular brand of native handcrafted goods takes place a bit closer to home — which in their case is a shed located on the same property as their parents' home and architectural practice in Dublin. Since founding their online retail venture less than a year ago, the two have made a point of visiting and documenting the workspaces of the people who create products for them — the basketweaver who grows her own willow on the banks of the River Boyne, the Irish RCA grad who knits stool covers from a warehouse in East London, and, most recently, a family of glassblowers in Kilkenny whose Jerpoint brand drinking vessels the brothers grew up with. When we wrote Jonathan to ask if we could reprint some of their text and photos on Sight Unseen, he confessed he hopes to collaborate soon with Jerpoint — so perhaps a follow-up story will be in the offing for fall. Until then, if you're in Dublin, you can pop by the brothers' shed this weekend for a summer opening. If not, live the Makers & Brothers life vicariously through our excerpt after the jump.