I Am Acrylic
Back in my uni days my best buddy Roz used to refer to me as “the lazy jeweller” I took pride in the fact that I’d find easier or as I’d like to put it “innovative” ways to do things, much to her annoyance. I’d be smugly justifying to the tutors the natural and honest finishes to my pieces, whilst she’d be literally sobbing her way to a perfectly polished piece of jewellery – I’m not one for unnecessary pain!
So in this modern day where time really is money and if you want a home bigger than a postage stamp innovation is everything. I am in love with technology, like soooooo grateful, I love the speed at which companies such as Yeah Laser can deliver perfectly cut elements to my designs – completely pain free. But there is a duo of designers that are sticking to old school methods of making, they are true crafters that turn my lazy theory on it’s head…
I met I Am Acrylic in 2014 when I visited Renegade Craft Fair for the first time. Their display and work stood out with bold and bright simplicity and a touch of the whimsical. Their stall was all about saws and hand tools, not a laser cut element in sight. Some companies and designers have the edge by swimming against the rest of the shoal and that is exactly what I Am Acrylic do.
Now I’m proud of my laser cut work and love the speed and low cost of working in acrylic, it means that I can offer my customers something playful and affordable, however these guys perform alchemy on acrylic and make it really precious.
Over the years I’ve gotten to know Ruth and Brendon and they are as perfect and sweet as their designs. I recommend that you read the interview below and then treat yourself to a piece of their work…
Oh and if you’re in Bristol they have just opened their first shop – it would be beyond rude not to visit!
How did I Am Acrylic begin?
I Am Acrylic began in 2004 quite by accident really! I had borrowed a fretsaw from my Dad (who was a CDT teacher) and I can’t remember what I had borrowed it for, but when our neighbour was throwing out some bits of acrylic, I rescued them and had a play with the saw just like I used to at school!
I made some handbag handles for some bags I’d been making for fun, and then Brendan made me a bird shaped keyring for my birthday that year, based on a large bird logo on a wall in Soho that I loved to walk past!
I was working at Magma at the time (a lovely London and Manchester based design store) and the owner said that she thought they could try and sell some of the keyrings – so we made up a batch of different bird shapes and a few other bits, and that’s how I Am Acrylic started!
(We were called Never Ware Ruth for a short while, which I had been using for the bags, until we decided to get a name that made more sense!)
Brendan then continued to make things on a very part-time basis by himself (with the designs usually starting as presents for me or our friends) and he developed the range to include more necklaces and brooches, and gained several other stockists too!
In 2011 we decided that if we gave it a proper go and put both of our energies into the business, maybe we could develop it further, and so we both went full time on I Am Acrylic!
We did lots of markets where we met lots of new customers and lots of brilliant makers. We also approached some new lovely shops and had lots of fun expanding the range from about 10 designs to now having around 120!
From designing to making to selling, what is your favourite aspect of your work?
I think for both of us it has to be designing new things and mucking around with new ideas. We’re always getting distracted from the work we already have on by tinkering and experimenting! Sometimes the experiments end up as part of our range, or inspiring new pieces, like Brendan’s trees that he’s been making recently, they inspired a new range of tree jewellery.
But sometimes they end up being one-off’s that we don’t ever get round to developing further, like my Toilet Roll Dolly, which I’m afraid I might not be able to replicate ever as I didn’t make a note of how I made the crocheted dress!.
What are your biggest challenges?
Aside from remembering how to crochet a toilet roll dolly’s dress ; ) – I guess it has to be creating designs that are pared down enough so we can replicate them easily with the fretsaw. We try not to make anything too labour intensive and time consuming as that would obviously push the price of the item up, and we tend to like to keep our prices as affordable as possible.
What are your opinions on laser cut jewellery?
It’s amazing to us to see the level of detail that can be achieved, and the precision with a laser, obviously that’s not something we can easily achieve with the saw! And I especially love the effect of the etched surfaces that can be created, I’ve tried to engrave the acrylic with a hand engraver, but it tends to leave a ridge, so I’m still working on that one and practising!
I don’t think we’ll ever use a laser cutter as we’re so used to the way we work now, and we enjoy the hands on nature of the way we make things too!
What has been your most exciting project?
We’ve been really lucky to be involved in lots of really exciting projects with some lovely, lovely shops, galleries and customer commissions. But if we had to pick one, then I guess it would have to be the Southbank Centre fundraiser which started a couple of years ago for the new Hayward Gallery roof refurbishment, called “Let the light In“.
We created a range of light bulb necklaces and brooches, and the fundraiser culminated in celebrities and public figures being photographed by Rankin wearing the jewellery by all the makers involved. We were so excited to see Grayson and Philippa Perry wearing ours! Still pinching ourselves!
We also have an ongoing, very exciting project which is our (quite) new bricks and mortar shop in Bristol! Since opening last November, we’re still getting used to being shopkeepers and it’s an ever evolving project which challenges and excites us in lots of different ways!
What inspires and makes your hearts beat faster?
Finding a bargain, dream, vintage knick-knack or trinket makes my heart beat faster!
What are you most grateful for within your work?
It sounds a bit corny, but putting a smile on people’s faces when they see our designs makes it all worthwhile! And the fact that (touch wood!) people seem to like the things we make enough to buy them, means we can keep doing what we’re doing! So we’re always grateful and so happy about every sale!
Name three fellow makers that you admire the most….
Well, aside from Rock Cakes – who we admire for her (that’s you! ; ) ) huge range of precious pieces, acrylic and wooden jewellery, all with such a beautiful finish and all imbued equally with such style and humour! – it’s very hard to choose just a few makers, as we’ve been so lucky to meet so many amazing makers over the years.
Perhaps, as a fellow fretsaw user : ) we’d have to say Lucie Ellen who makes the most lovely wooden jewellery using a fretsaw and who has also just opened the most amazing shop, Venner, in Leyton – it’s a beautiful space – a real inspiration!
Our good friends Lail Design in Woodstock NY are also really inspiring us at the moment. So lovely to see their products develop over the last few years. A potter and a textile designer, they collaborate to make the most beautiful hand thrown pottery which they bake in their very own woodland kiln, with a dreamy colour palette!
Cheese or Cake?
Cheesecake? Or cheese, followed by cake….
Felt tips or paint brushes?
Both please! And can I have a biro as well?
Audio or Video?
Can we have Radio (BBC 6 Music or Absolute radio 90’s) and some Vinyl too please. Oh, and a bit of Cagney & Lacey on video as well.
Digital or Print?
80’s or 90’s?
90’s (+ a few 80’s shoulder pads and my McVitie’s Pop Hits tape – see below answer!)
Bristol or London?
Bristol and London! Bristol is our new home town and we love it, and it’s kind of a homecoming for Brendan who grew up in the West Country. But we lived in London for 17 years and we love it, we forged a lot of amazing friendships there too, so we’d like both please!
You can get the world to listen to one tune each (ie two tunes!) – what would they be…?
I had a McVitie’s Pop Hits compilation tape in the 80’s that I listened to a lot, I think my favourite track on that was “Just an Illusion” by Imagination – and Brendan likes to sing along to “Believe” by Cher, especially the vocoder bits.
Posted in: Maker interviews