Friday Feature: Bright Lights, Little City September 03, 2010 12:14

Today's Friday Feature is an interview I did with Heather Wells, the designer and craftsperson behind Bright Lights, Little City. Heather is also part of the extended Craftland Team who helps make Craftland the super holiday extravaganza that you all know and love. She's handy with a jigsaw when it comes to helping make some of the Craftland display pieces, and her work with lighting and jewelry is always surprising me. I always look forward to see what's new that Heather is working on. I hope you enjoy the interview. Have a great weekend, everyone!

When did you start your handmade business?
I graduated from Rhode Island School of Design (RISD) in 2002 and I started making and selling lights pretty much right away. I graduated thinking I would land an awesome textile design job but there were none to be found. I worked at Hasbro in the comp/packaging department for the next 3 years and on the side I made lights.  As I was layed off and rehired repeatedly, it became clear to me that I should quit my day job and make my lights full time in order to really make a business happen.  I wanted to start a small company in the 'burbs' so this is how Bright Lights Little City happened! 

Describe your studio for us.
My studio (as you can see) is really hectic and messy. I usually have about 10 projects I'm working on at any given time. I have recently been making headbands with vintage flowers that have been gold plated, so this probably makes 15+ projects! Even though my husband and I bought a house with a big basement for my "work space" a few years ago, I still work on the couch in front of the TV. I do a lot of tedious detail work, and I feel like I need the distraction to block out. I am usually flanked by my dog Chippy and my cat Giraffe, I have good supervision!

With a background in textiles, what inspired you to start working with lighting?
The first light I ever made was in my junior year at RISD. We had the challenge of designing a room. I knew I wanted to make a light and I wanted to use a material that was unconventional and fun! I had been collecting cocktail parasols for years and when I was in a sketchy costume store in Pawtucket I found boxes and boxes more! My professors did not want me to take time to make a light,but once it was finished I was really happy and inspired and it was well received. Textiles have a presence that's very different from printed paper. I really like this! I love that people come up and touch my lights, and recently my sequin necklaces! I think lighting is a great vessel for me to continue experimenting with repetition as well as elevating materials.

Do you think your textile background influences the lighting that you make?
I am really into the tactile aspect of what I make. Textiles is so much about collecting and repetition, this is me to my core! I love elevating materials, and it makes me happy when people aren't sure of what materials I'm using. I think that it needs to be said that I am more discerning than I was even a year ago. My taste has gotten better and I think this totally stems from the crazy detail aspect of textiles!

What advice would you offer someone trying to take their art from hobby to business?
Well, a lot has changed since I started out! I would say to go into an awesome handmade shop (like Craftland!) and study the craftsmanship, pricing, tags, everything. Keep up with what's happening in the art/craft world. If you have a product that is inspiring to you, do your research and make sure that a like minded creator didn't already create it! Once you have a unique product, make it and get it out there! Participate in local craft shows, you will get a critique whether you want one or not! Craft shows are a great way to test out a new product, meet cool people and hear about other shows that would be a good fit with what you're making. Trust that getting your art out into the public and making the effort to leave your studio always pays off. Also set up an Etsy site, it's cheap and fast! I would also strongly suggest that you surround yourself with people who impress you, people you might be intimidated by. This keeps me motivated and in touch with my crafty community. Have a support system. There is so much that goes into running a small business, from doing craft shows, pricing, packaging, marketing, wholesale, photographing your work, taxes, managing your time, etc! I rely on my husband and my Mom to be my support system and at times the voices of reality!

What's your favorite thing to do when you need some inspiration?
I love going to Borders and reading the European magazines like Marie Claire UK, Living UK, Selvedge. The work from the UK rocks my world and inspires my socks off! I am also really into auctions. I go as often as possible. I am about 40 years younger than most people there so I am treated like a kid and I can find some amazing new materials, cheap!

How did you first become involved in Craftland and how has it changed since you first got involved?
As I remember Margaret approached me at a RISD alumni show and I thought selling my work in Craftland sounded fun! I was also friendly with Johanna Fisher, of Gimmick jewelry, from doing RISD alumni shows. I was happy to be in Craftland and see my work selling, I also appreciated that I had tapped into an awesome group of ladies who were an intregal part of the indie craft scene. They worked really hard making their small businesses, as well as Craftland, thrive. I think I volunteered for 15 extra hours to help out! The next year I was asked if I wanted to be one of the organizers, I felt honored and happily accepted! Craftland improves every year and my involvement seems to grow the more I understand how I can best help with my skillset. The immense hard work, care and passion that goes into Craftland is like a ride that I love to be on every year!

Guilty Pleasure?
Oh geesh! Way too many to mention here! I will have to go with 3am thrillers, especially if it's a thriller I haven't seen before! I am pretty much nocturnal and it dosen't take much for me to stay up until 5 am!!

PS: Keep your eyes open for Heather's limited edition collection of anchor earrings, made exclusively for Craftland and soon to be on our shelves!