I met Linda and John at a friend’s bonfire. Our host, the extraordinary Chelsea H.B. DeLorme, suggested that I interview the pair and before I left for the night. She said, “Don’t look at their art before you interview them. Shield yourself from it, then prepare to be amazed when you see it.”
I was amazed. Like all great artists, their life is infused with their creative process. Their home, their family, their outlook on the world are everyday masterpieces. Later, a little bit of research brought me to articles about Wary Meyers in the New York Times, DesignSponge, Anthology Magazine, and dozens of design blogs. Their newest endeavor is candle and soap making, which they have taken on with their own eclectic vintage aesthetic. Their home, already warmed by the presence of their ebullient son Fletcher and three cats (one, a charmer named “Waffles”) was sweetly fragrant with their latest candle, burning gently as we chatted.
TELL ME ABOUT HOW YOU EACH FOUND ART AND YOUR PROCESS OF MAKING THINGS.
Linda- Out of necessity, because it’s really what we had to do.
John- That’s a tough one, because we have been doing this all our life. I went to art school and have been working in the arts.
Linda- John, you never “found” it. It’s just always been what you’ve done. John’s never had an office job. He’s never not done art.
HOW HAS YOUR ART EVOLVED?
John- Its variants come from necessity. When you are young you can do whatever you want, and as you get older and have a family you can do art but I became more drawn to more commercial forms of art. You know, graphic design more so than fine art. In the fine art world, there are a lot of games you have to play to get in galleries. We just put our art up in our own house! In order to support a family and pay the bills, you have to make something that’s commercial and also artistic. The candles: there’s an art to that. I like that it’s an object, but it’s functional. Each one is hand-painted.
Linda- It hasn’t been easy. When we moved to Maine, we were cutting off all contact to the company ties that we had. When we were in New York, I was a freelance art director and John was a freelance artist. We were doing a bunch of stuff. And when we moved to Maine, we asked ourselves, “How do we make a living in Maine and still support ourselves? And, eventually, support our son.” Because art is all John has ever done and I was a graphic designer, we work in those fields every day now. But the evolution was because we had to, we had no other choice.
John- We started doing interior design. But that was such a pain! We were always running around and with clients. The clients were all our friends who didn’t have a lot of money. We did it very cheaply. And when they weren’t our friends, it just wasn’t as fun anymore.
Linda- It wasn’t that it wasn’t fun, it just was that is was a lot of work for not a lot of money. And we did a book and were doing DIY projects. Ultimately, we found is that we like to design and manufacture and what we don’t like to do it do interiors and working for other people under a high stress load. Really, there wasn’t much work for interiors in Maine; we were always going back to New York for it. So we had to cut that aspect of our business out. So when we were here, we thought about how we could make a living without the companies we worked with in New York. We are constantly thinking about how we can support ourselves and make money as artists and stay in Maine. What has happened is that we are still working with mostly clients who are beyond Maine. We are stationed here but we are able to work anywhere now.
John- We had been doing a lot of sewing, but with sewing work you just can’t really compete with China. We had things that we built that we thought people would love. But we’d have to ask, “How can we realistically make this?” So we had to think about what we could make without having to go anywhere. In the end, we were going to have to make things in China without people being able to afford it.
Linda- Our challenge here has been about how we can make a living in Maine with the materials we have available.
HOW DOES YOUR PARTNERSHIP FACTOR INTO YOUR CREATIVE PROCESS?
Linda- One hundred percent. We’re completely just dealing with one another every day, in all aspects. John does his stuff. I can’t paint, soJohn can do all the painting. I do graphic design and John doesn’t. But John has a knowledge of type and design and I have a knowledge of painting. I make the candles and the soap and John weighs in with the colors. It’s good because we aren’t really competitive with each other at all. There are things that we do separately, but we always come together and collaborate with the end result.
TELL ME ABOUT THE EMOTIONAL ASPECTS OF MAKING ART.
Linda- It’s all about when we feel like we have finally nailed a design. Like these soaps, we’ve been playing around with their design and packaging for maybe a year now. I think the emotional spark is when we finally get it right. When we feel like we can finally release this product into the world and see how people like it. For us, it’s important that people like what we do.
John- Well, no it’s not. If that was the case, we’d be doing very, very mainstream design. But we do want it to be accepted and sold. Happiness comes from feeling deep inside that this is how we imagine the design to be. You can get as esoteric and crazy for yourself as you want, but if it’s something you want to sell, it needs to be market-ready. We’ve been super excited about all these products we made like “the Gonks” or “the Spillows” and we’d make a whole series and give them names and photograph them, but in the end there were crickets. No one “got” them. They were just too esoteric.
Linda- After all of that, we didn’t even want to do an order because it took too long to make. And we had to charge too much. I think what makes me really happy is when I love the way something looks graphically and when I feel like it will make other people happy, but make our audience happy. That’s the whole package: retailers are happy, buyers are happy, we are happy. In the end what matters is that we make a little money, we get to stay in Maine, and we are making things that are beautiful and pay our bills.
WHAT ARE YOUR KEY INSPIRATIONS?
John- I was thinking about this because we are embarking on the soap and the packaging. If you look at the soaps you see, there’s a New Wave-y one at the end, there’s the black-and-white one, there’s one that is clear. For every one of those soaps, there’s an inspiration. We are now doing the design of the word “SOAP” for the packaging and it’s very inspired by the graphic design of the 70’s. There’s a very Herb Lubalin-like aspect of what we are going with it.
Linda- The key inspirations are pretty much everything. We are inspired by vintage Italian design, by furniture design, by great typography, by color, by books, by fabric… I think there is too much we are inspired by, to be honest. That’s probably why we get sidetracked sometimes. There’s so much we like and that we try to put into our designs. There’s a saying in design, “Limitations are what make great design.” And I truly believe that. When the sky is the limit, it’s just too much.
John- I mean, look at our home. Everywhere you look there is something!
WHAT IS MOST IMPORTANT TO YOU?
John- Our son. Family, Fletcher, ourselves.
Linda- Fletcher comes first. You hear that and think it’s the stock answer, but it’s so true.
John- Oh, everything changes when you have a child.
Linda- All of a sudden, it’s about getting your life together. He needs to have the life we hope for him to have. He is the thing driving everything in our lives now.
John- Maine is also important to us. We love Maine.
WHAT IS THE BEST MOMENT OF AN AVERAGE DAY?
John- I think it comes back to Fletcher. It might sound corny, but I love when he wakes up every morning or from a nap.
Linda- I could answer each question with “Fletcher”. But in our work, there’s the moment when we can a feeling of accomplishment. Like getting a large order or great press. The accomplishment of when we feel like all this hard work is for something.
John- I love the soap that I’m working on right now. That’s what I like, as a project. And I love to when I get to paint a little pot leaf on a candle.
Linda- Working as an artist can be hard and I don’t recommend it to everyone. But, I’ve worked for design firms and companies and that life isn’t easy either. Yes, we can complain that it isn’t easy, but we do have so much fun. Our life doesn’t suck. We are doing what we like to do and we are able to support ourselves doing art.
TELL ME ABOUT A LESSON YOU HAVE LEARNED RECENTLY OR ARE LEARNING NOW?
Linda- I’d say how to run a business. John and I never cared about money or how to charge people or what our time was worth. My dad makes Donald Trump seem like a hippy, and he taught us some valuable things. What we learned from him were basic business principles that allow us to make our business run. It’s kind of boring, but I now know how to do spreadsheets now. I know how to talk about money, and it makes things run smoother. It’s all about knowing what to charge and what your time is worth. I would tell any artist to take a business course. You need it, and we needed it. In the part year, it’s been my big lesson. In the end, it supports my creativity because all the non-creative work is right there in a spreadsheet. Your mind can go towards creativity. To me, it’s so boring but it’s so wonderful, too.
John- I have learned not to be so esoteric. If we are going to support ourselves, we can’t be making things that have such a limited appeal. Our work can’t be too artsy for it’s own good. Unfortunately, what we like is very artsy, but we have to bring that into what people are willing to understand. We were even too esoteric for our fan base. We needed to rein it in. These are kind of boring answers, but this where we are right now.