My interview with San Francisco-based artist/designer/furniture maker Yvonne Mouser is the latest in an ongoing series of interviews and studio visits with other makers/artisans/crafters. You may read more of these by clicking here. If you would like to introduce yourself and your work to a growing Deep Craft network, please drop me a line at firstname.lastname@example.org. Meanwhile, allow me to introduce you to my good friend Yvonne:
DC: Describe briefly what you do as a maker/artisan.
Yvonne: I focus on creating simple everyday objects that tell a story through their function, and sculptural works that capture moments of change. I work independently, as a freelancer, and as a collaborator on projects that range from one–off commissions, small-scale production, finish carpentry and food + design events.
Brush and Stools
DC: Was there a childhood experience that you believe influenced you later or led you in a particular direction regarding craft or making?
Yvonne: I grew up in a rural area where I spent a lot of time exploring and playing outdoors. I liked climbing trees and making things out of dirt, sticks and moss. These days what I like to do most isn’t so different.
I was also always interested in drawing, and my grandfather, a painter, sculptor and graphic designer, was a big influence on me. He bought me my first set of oil paints and taught me to use them at an early age.
DC: What was the biggest obstacle you had to overcome to gain proficiency with a material or set of skills? Did you have a ‘breakthrough’ moment?
Yvonne: The biggest hurdle to proficiency is often simply allowing for enough time to gain it.
When I began studying design and furniture making I was having doubts about the path I’d chosen. I was used to working with my intuition alone, and I found the foresight of the design process very challenging. In addition, my skills at woodworking were almost non-existent. The ‘breakthrough’ moment was during my second year, when after completing a couple significant pieces I realized that I finally had the control I needed to create exactly what I envisioned. The excitement and satisfaction in that ability to execute gave me the drive to continue on this path.
DC: Do you have any superstitions connected with making?
Yvonne: Never work on an empty stomach.
I really like to eat, so it’s a good excuse to have a snack, but really, when I forget to eat I tend to make mistakes and stress myself out. Sometimes a mistake means starting over, so instead I try to keep my energy up with a snack or break when needed.
DC: What comes first when you are making – formal constraints, functional parameters, a gesture, etc.?
Yvonne: I often start with the idea or concept, and then formalize the design, materials and construction. I also like to experiment with materials and methods of making, so sometimes my pieces will evolve from a process of tests and explorations.
DC: Describe an ideal day in the studio.
Yvonne: On an ideal day I’d start by taking my morning tea into the studio. Next I’d make a list because I find that the more I have to do the more I get done. There might be some sketching or drafting to start and then I get my apron on and start making or prototyping till midday. I’d enjoy a social lunch either with a collaborator or friend in the garden by the studio. After that I feel I can really dig in to the task at hand, especially if I’m in production mode on a project. I like to open up the back door and work outside if it’s nice. If I’m really in motion I’ll have a quick dinner and get back into the shop until it’s time for bed.
DC: What attracts you to a certain handmade thing(s)?
Yvonne: I am sometimes attracted to objects because of the materials or the character they represent. I appreciate when things are made in a way that the intended use is straightforward and immediately understandable. However, I also like the challenge of having to discover the intention behind things.
one of Yvonne’s favorite things
DC: Do you have a favorite tool? Why?
Yvonne: I love my 4 “ combo square. It is so often just the right size for the job, and because it’s so small I can keep it in my pocket.
I also really enjoy using my Japanese saw. I think it has something to do with the sound and the speed.
DC: What is the favorite thing you’ve ever made? Why?
Yvonne: One of my favorites would be the table and chair of Untitled. I did a lot of experimentation to figure out how I would get the wood to do what I wanted. In the end, it felt very special and the process of building and then burning the work was cathartic and exciting.
DC: When making something where is your concentration- on the present activity or on its desired result, or something else altogether?
Yvonne: It depends on the task at hand. Sometimes I have to really pay attention to the process to make sure my calculations are right or to be sure I’m cutting on the correct side of the line. Other times when the task is more direct like sanding or gluing, I enjoy letting my mind go elsewhere, but probably with the desired result is in the back of my mind.
DC: Is there any material, tool or technique that really intrigues you that you’ve never gotten around to learning? What’s interesting to you about this?
Yvonne: Sometime I’d like to go through the whole process of felling a tree, milling it, and setting it up to dry. I’d like to feel more connected to the materials I work with.
DC: Where do you find inspiration?
Yvonne: Inspiration comes from everywhere; my travels, nature, reading and from memories.
DC: Where do you see yourself in relation to the current trends towards sustainability, DIY, craft, etc.? How has your relationship to these things changed over time?
Yvonne: I feel that these trends all relate to us as artists and consumers paying more attention to what we are spending our time and money on. I’m drawn to things that are made by hand with care and attention to detail. These kinds of objects are often long lasting and inherently sustainable benefiting the community and ecosystem they come from and connect to.
DC: Where do you place yourself in relation to a craft tradition or heritage? Could you talk a bit about your primary influences related to craft?
Yvonne: I came into craft through a desire to create more functional work. As an artist I stumbled into woodworking and with time have come to consider myself a craftsperson. I’ve since found the long history of the medium and traditions relating to how things are made, and I continue to learn about and be inspired by these details. Recently I’ve been looking more into early American settlers. I used to feel like I didn’t really have a personal heritage to draw from, but the mentality and resourcefulness of people in this country over the last few hundred years continues to amaze and inspire me.
DC: What advice would you give to someone just starting out in craft/making?
Yvonne: Remember to be patient. In general it’s important to know when to step away from a project and to come back with refreshed eyes. The biggest thing would be to stick with what you love doing and it will turn into something meaningful.