KONTEK Systems Holiday Commission
In the middle September I was approached by someone asking for a very special company holiday gift for their employees. Every year KONTEK Systems (a local audio-visual installation company) finds an artist to commission a totally unique handmade gift for their close knit employees. When I met with Frank, KONTEK's founder, he said that ideally the gift would be reminiscient of the company colors and logos, but first should just be beautifully designed and functional. To help inspire me, Frank shared photos and design sketches from previous year's gifts. They have a collection "vault" of every previous year's gift so they can be viewed together - which I think is a beautiful way to remember each year and the growth of the company. I was floored by the beautiful work on display from previous years and artists, and I confess, absolutely intimidated to be joining them.
The gift is a surprise every year, so I was pledged to complete secrecy before beginning work on the design.
In our first emails, Frank expressed wanting a custom table runner designed for this gift. I've done kitchen towels as company gifts before, but this was the first time I considered designing a runner for that purpose. My first two designs drew on the structures of the last two runners I'd done recently. The left one is based on my recent series of Grounded HOME runners.
Neither of my sketches really spoke to Frank though, and he confessed that his favorite work on my site was actually my squiggle scarves. Now, there is nothing I like more as an artist than for someone to say "Well those are okay, but I like this other thing you did a little bit more." Knowing that someone actually took the time to look through my work and develop preferences is a beautiful compliment and shows that they're taking the collaboration seriously. Plus, well, I'd always wanted to take the squiggle series further and I just hadn't gotten around to it yet, so this felt like the perfect opportunity.
I worked up a new series of sketches for Frank, plus some mini woven samples so he could see how the textured and shapes worked together. I figured I would echo the five lines from the logo in the red sqiggle shapes, and might tie in the gray from the logo into the background cloth. Frank asked great questions about how washable the runners would be, if the squiggles would survive regular use. It was really nice to see how he put thought into making sure that the recipients of the gift would actually be able to use it.
In the end, Frank (and the few people he trusted to express an opinion and keep the secret) decided which squiggle shape and background yarn they liked best. They liked the "traditional" squiggles that zig-zag back and forth, they were okay with the loops diving off the edge of the runner but not the raw ends of the yarn. They also liked the transition of colors in the natural+gray mixed background, but didn't want the runner to be a straight gradient from natural on one side to gray on the other.
"Each runner should be unique, but should feel like one piece in an edition."
My favorite part of this whole experience was the moment when Frank told me that what they really wanted for this collection of table runners was for each runner to be unique, but to feel like one in an "edition." I had complete freedom over the shape of the squiggles, and what areas of the background yarn would be natural or gray. That desire perfectly echoes my own philosophy of making. While I'm absolutely capable of doing long runs of identical towels or yardage fabric, it's always something that feels more like "work" to me, and less like art. I already struggle with feeling like I want to change what I make too often to make it easy to share and market as an artist. Frank telling me that they wanted each runner to be unique was incredibly freeing. I could let myself relax, and let the yarn speak to me and tell me what it wanted to be.
The final detail to work out was that Frank expressed that they really wanted each runner to be numbered like it was part of an edition. I looked into getting custom tags printed, but the timeline was short and printed tags just didn't quite feel like they matched the unique handmade story we were trying to tell. Luckily, I have a friend with some experience in leather work, so I leaned on her to help me develop a plan for numbered tags. I continued with the theme of a printed edition, and went with simplicity with these stamped leather tags.
Once we settled on a design, and the first proof of concept runner was approved, the hard work could begin. I now had just over a month to weave 42 unique table runners.... oof. It was a tight turnaround, but I was excited to jump in. One of my good friends came up with this motivational tool to help me keep momentum. She drew a grid on my studio whiteboard and told me to color in a square every time I finished one runner. On the hard days, the cold days when I wore three sweaters in the studio, on the dark rainy days, or the bright sunny days when I wanted to be out in the world, coloring in a couple of squares was what kept me going.
The full series of table runners consumed over 60 miles of yarn. Handing off the finished table runners was definitely my victory moment to cap the year. It felt SO GOOD, but felt even better when I received Frank's photos of my new runner amongst all the previous years' gifts. Not to mention the scenes from their holiday celebration, and the happy faces of everyone who got their table runner. Moments like this are what make me really love being an artist: seeing an object that has a piece of my soul in it going out in the world to enrich someone else's life. Just that.