Up In The Air Somewhere
Founder: Susan Dwyer
Location: Chicago, Illinois
“Ceramic and papier-mâché vessels inspired by the clean, minimal lines found in industrial architecture”
Where do you find the inspiration for your work?
I tend to get really interested in a particular material and am inspired by its possibilities. My rubber dipped cups, for example, came about simply because I had some liquid rubber in my studio that I wanted to play with. I also find a lot of inspiration walking around my neighborhood in Chicago. My studio is near an industrial corridor and I just love the structure of the warehouses, water towers, and silos. My earlier pieces more directly reference these forms, but I still look to their utilitarian / means-to-an-end design as a starting point for most of my work.
Tell us about your design process.
The idea that work creates work is definitely true for me. It’s often through working on one piece that I get curious about trying something else. I don’t really use sketchbooks as a way of working out a design. If I come up with an idea for a piece, I’ll usually just try to make it immediately. This leads to a lot of really ugly duds sitting around my studio, but eventually I’ll hit on something that works.
How has your design process changed since your started?
I started Up in the Air Somewhere with a very specific set of pieces in mind. I wanted to make ceramic water towers and silos as tabletop pieces, so I signed up for a ceramics class. I had a very restricted idea of what housewares could be, and I thought of it as a completely separate thing from my personal sculptural work. Today I see the pieces I create for Up in the Air Somewhere as intertwined with my sculpture. I also have a lot more confidence in my design sense than I did five years ago. I feel much more free to try things and fail because I know that the good stuff comes next.
What is your favorite material to work with?
I love being able to work with both clay and paper maché as my primary materials. Clay has endless possibilities and can be much more functional than paper, but I love the start-to-finish control I have when working with paper. You never know if a ceramic piece is going to work until it’s been fired, and even then something wacky could happen in the firing process. So there is a wonderful balance for me that comes with working in both mediums.
How does your personal style influence your brand & products?
I haven’t really considered it before, but I think a lot of the hallmarks of my sculptural work are present in my personal style. I tend to gravitate towards simple pieces without a lot of pattern (with the exception of stripes; I have a million striped shirts). I also go for gold rather than silver jewelry. Honestly, since I spend most of my days in the studio I’m usually covered in layer of clay dust, wheat paste and gold leaf, so you could say I wear my work.
Where do you imagine you’ll take the company next?
Oh boy! I have some big ideas, but most will probably be weeded out. I hope to add some furniture pieces to the line and I have a textile collaboration with a fashion designer friend of mine in the works. I’d also like to try my hand at jewelry. In the short term I want to fully incorporate decorative sculpture and one-of-a-kind pieces into my website.
Who would be a dream collaborator?
It would be my dream to collaborate more broadly with an interior design firm to create larger scale custom decorative pieces. I’d love to create work for a stylish hotel lobby.
What colors/patterns are you drawn to right now?
I’m always choosing peaches, warm grays, yellows, and aquas. It’s all over my work and I can’t seem to stop. Also, there can never be enough gold. That said, I will admit that deep down I’m starting to be more interested in dark colors like charcoal and navy. I also love tone on tone patterns.
How did you get started in this field/ industry?
I studied sculpture at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, where I received my BFA in 2003. I didn’t study ceramics in school—instead I worked with inflated and stuffed vinyl to create large-scale installations and sculpture. After graduating, I moved to New York and worked as a studio assistant for a painter. Around 2006 I started noticing friends opening up online shops to sell their jewelry, stationery, etc., and I began thinking about how I could translate my sculptural work into sellable pieces. I eventually moved back to Chicago because I fell in love with my now husband who was living here. The move turned out to be the best thing for my career.
In Chicago I was able to find a ceramic class and had the time and space to take a chance on starting my own studio. I opened an Etsy shop in 2007 and was lucky enough to gain some blog press that got the ball rolling. Later that year I launched my own website where I am able to have more control over how I present my work.
What’s one tip you would give to people getting into this business?
My main piece of advice would be to make what you love. If you try to make what you think people want there’s a good chance you’ll make boring work. If you make things that truly speak to you, then you’re bound to stand out from the crowd. Also: good photography!
Who do you see as an innovator in this industry?
Man, there are so many exciting designers out there right now. I tend to be into people who are trying new things with their materials. I really love Doug Johnston‘s basket work. For a while I toyed with the idea of making baskets, but as soon as I saw his pieces I thought he’d nailed the idea. As far as ceramics, I think Ben Fiess is making gorgeous stuff.
Check this pretty space for a GIVEAWAY coming up later today!