Monday, October 15, 2012

Interview: Laura Bruland of Yes & Yes Designs

Laura Bruland, the lady behind the book cover jewelry, wearing one of her designs

For our ongoing interview series of Awesome Ladies Doing Awesome Things (ALDAT for short), I’d like you to e-meet Laura Bruland of Yes & Yes Designs. Originally from Los Angeles and now a proud resident of Oakland, Laura has shooed aside her degree in linguistics to pursue a path more creative… making jewelry from book covers. Like Yvonne Leung and her wooden cards, Laura is dismissing the conventional ideas of jewelry design by turning discarded Reader’s Digest textbooks into nifty earrings, pins, and necklaces. Read on to learn about how each piece is made, Laura’s favorite gardens in Oakland, and more.

Brittany: Can you tell us a bit about yourself?

Laura: I have lived in Oakland for about three years now and I've been making jewelry for about five years, though my pieces have changed a lot since I first started. I originally started making fabric jewelry (mostly flower-inspired) with wool I had inherited from my grandmother last January, I started experimenting with laser cutting at TechShop in San Francisco, and got really inspired by working with books. Other tidbits about me: I love ballet (I studied seriously for 12 years or so) and I also play roller derby with the Bay Area Derby Girls.

Brittany: Awesome! Have you always been interested in pursuing a creative field?

Laura: Mostly… my parents are both artists and so we always grew up with our hands dirty, so to speak. I actually went to school for linguistics, and briefly thought I would head into academia, but I missed making!

Brittany: Is that what inspired you to start Yes & Yes Designs?

Laura: Yes! I was literally a semester away from graduating, when I realized, "Oh god, maybe I don't want to do this for the rest of my life." Of course, I finished school, and don't regret all that hard work for a second. Linguistics taught me to critically think in totally new ways, but it also pushed me to look for a way to support myself with my creative juices. I originally started making jewelry for family and friends as Christmas presents, and just didn’t want to stop after the holidays.

I know it’s hard to believe, but these pins and earrings were actually made from old books.

So were these babies…

Brittany: Can you describe the process of creating a new piece?

Laura: Sure. Most of the time, I'll have this fuzzy idea in my head, mostly the general geometric shapes I want to use, in say a pair of dangly earrings. From there, I'll use my sketchbook to flesh out the exact silhouettes I want, then either scan my drawing, or rebuild it on the computer. Usually it takes a few tries on the laser-cutter until I have the right proportions, and then it's ready to go! Of course, since I make everything out of book covers, each book reacts a little differently, and the pieces are almost always one of a kind. I'll usually cut as many pieces out of a book as possible, to avoid any excess waste. Each time I cut a new book, I have to test how it will react, especially if there is etching involved in the design. And, last but not least, after cutting a book, I remove the pieces and coat them with a clear acrylic spray to help protect them.

Brittany: What are some of the criteria you use when picking the appropriate book covers for your jewelry?

Laura: I generally try to use books that are unwanted, or out of date. (Although I have amassed a collection of beautiful, rare books as well; I just don't cut them up.) The books I like most have patterns or text on most of the cover, and embossed art or text is a plus! Old Reader's Digest condensed books and old textbooks are my bread and butter.

Brittany: How so?

Laura: Well, no one wants old textbooks and they often have a ton of text on the cover. Text on the cover is wonderful for me because it provides a little bit more of a window into the piece's former life. And Reader's Digests were mass-produced in the 60’s and 70’s. No one really wants to read them anymore, but they have these awesome patterns on the covers, and they translate into earrings really well. I like cover designs with tight patterns, because they tend to translate better onto my small items of jewelry.

Laura’s earlier pieces, like this butterfly brooch, were made of fabric.

A few more of her earlier pieces

Brittany: As you mentioned before, you used to work with fabric. Why have you transitioned to using book covers instead?

Laura: Well, I started seeing more and more fabric flower jewelry out there, especially in the DIY-blogosphere. My pieces still had their own character, but it's hard to try and sell something to people when they are thinking "hey, I bet I can make that" in the back of their minds. The transition first took the shape of selling two-part brooches: a wool flower would be connected to a laser-cut butterfly by a few strands of chain. The effect was that a butterfly was flying away from a flower. I was buying the laser-cut butterflies from someone online, and I hated that those little pieces weren't my own design so, I joined TechShop, hoping to do one thing: make my own butterfly parts. And that’s what I did… at first. However, I also experimented with more unusual materials and side projects. Laser-cutting books proved to be much more inspiring than just using wood or MDF. It was (and still is) like collaborating with someone else. I have the overall design idea, but each particular book provides its own personality and point of view.

Laura petting the wildlife in her traditionally colorful garb

Brittany: How is your own identity represented in your work?

Laura: I think of myself as a "colorful" person. I like to have fun, and experiment, especially with my wardrobe. I love bold colors and patterns, but at the same time, my aesthetic is very feminine and vintage-inspired. I think all of that comes across in my jewelry.

Brittany: When you’re not working, how do you spend your time?

Laura: Mostly playing roller derby. I'm on the Richmond Wrecking Belles under the name "Chiquita Bonanza."

Laura touting her goods at the A Fair to Remember craft fair in San Francisco

Brittany: How has living in Oakland influenced your work?

Laura: Oakland is such a vibrant environment -- it inspires me all the time! My boyfriend and I like to go explore little scenic areas around town, and we'll usually bring our sketchbooks. There are so many times when I've started out drawing whatever scene is in front of me -- Lake Merritt, the view from the Kaiser Roof Garden, the Morcom Rose Garden -- and then some little architectural detail will trigger a flash of inspiration, and I'll have to jot down an idea for a necklace. Plus, I practically live at the East Bay Depot for Creative Reuse. It's where I get most of my books (and donate all my leftover projects). Mostly, I think Oakland is an amazing artistic playground. Most of my friends or people I know around town are doing something creative or unusual, and it's stimulating to be around!

Brittany: What can we expect to see from you in the future?

Laura: Well, something that I've wanted to do for a long time is experiment with making more products for the home out of books, especially wall art. The leftover parts of the books are really cool to look at in their own right, and I think there is something there. Lamp shades, picture frames, and wall art could all play with the positive/negative space in a way that I'm really anxious to try! I'm also working on expanding my jewelry offerings. Cufflinks and possibly rings are on the (very near) horizon. I feel like I'm on the brink of being able to do Yes & Yes Designs without a back-up job -- I can't wait for that day to come!

Watch Laura’s video for her Kickstarter campaign, which ended in May:

Keep up with Yes & Yes Designs:

The first and sixth photos were taken by myself at Monkey Forest Road in Oakland, while the others were used with Laura’s permission.

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