Susan Connor greets me at the street door of Brooklyn Brush Studios with a smile and a hug, looking perfectly as I expect her: creative, intelligent, welcoming. It's a warm pre-fall day, and when we reach her third-floor studio, we're greeted with a bright window full of sunshine, open to the muffled noise of Flushing Ave across the rooftops.
I feel like I'm in a treehouse. We talk about our work and our backgrounds, about how to grow a business while still keeping it thoughtful, about allowing time for process and thinking big. About someday opening stores but for now, building the dream. At some point, we mention getting coffee, but quickly talk over that, wrapped up beyond the getting-to-know-you and really talking. She is easy to talk to, a kindred spirit of sorts.
The studio wall in front of us is nicely full of inspiration and work in process, with plenty of white remaining. Not to much inspiration, not too little- a deliberate edit by someone with a clear point of view. We talk about the overwhelmingness of collecting imagery on Pinterest; sitting here, I want to go straight home and take everything off the walls of my office and start fresh. One of my favorite pieces is a card with a simple circular print, which upon close examination is filled with tiny detail. I recognize this as concept which relays in her work and persona- there is depth. It was given to Susan by the designer after she admired it at a recent trade show; I realize I have a print by the same gentleman on my own desk, also given to me at that show.
Susan started her business just this year (more here), and has a first career as a creative director and pattern designer, having grown her paper goods business into successful licensing partnerships. So why block printing? For Susan, it has a history and a deep tradition, balanced with the potential of becoming something completely new for our time. She recounts her early love of textiles, telling a story about visiting department stores with her mother and sister, and touching all the clothes to find the perfect fabric, enamored of the experience. It's a story that almost exactly mirrors my own experiences with my own mother.
I take a walk around the studio and probably make myself overly welcome. My favorite piece is a denim pillow prototype with an uneven white print. Susan pulls a stack of remnants from a drawer, and talks me through her process. You can tell a lot about a person by how they hold a piece of fabric. I got my first job because of it, in fact. She holds a piece of red chambray linen, showing me the intricate print detail and answering my questions about how she gets from idea to product (it all starts with her sketchbooks, filled with captured moments). Her hands are careful, respectful, deliberate. She's put care into designing her blocks, selecting her linens, working out the exact right ink color. And her attention to detail shows- her work feels approachable, sophisticated, qualitative. It adds substance to the small white room we're sitting in, perched on Ikea chairs and listening to the fan in the corner cool down these last moments of summer.
We remember coffee, but by this time, I'm running late, needing to get to Philadelphia later that afternoon. We part on the street where we met, with a friendlier hug and mutual promises to stay in touch. I leave inspired, calmed, and feeling focused.
Many thanks to Susan for having me as a guest in her studio- read on to learn more about her!
Where is an unexpected spot (real or virtual) that you go to seek out inspiration?
Actually, inspiration often comes when I totally tune out…then ideas come to mind, unexpectedly. A day trip to the North Fork, or an afternoon roaming around downtown put my mind in a place where new ideas start to percolate. Usually, time in nature, in the forest or by water, are sure ways to get me inspired.
Since beginning your business, what’s been the biggest surprise?
Actually, it's the focus I've found. When I started my line, I wondered if trend would take things over - especially because the visual environment moves so fast these days - I am very sensitive to that- and, because there is so much other stuff that you need to do to run a business, outside of creating the art. I was anxious about losing focus on the simple ideas behind what I make…and that a growing collection would mean that my creative mind would become scattered. But, actually, with each new design and concept, I feel more in tune, and more dedicated to the ideas I am working with. It's been a great surprise.
What's the biggest risk you've taken as a maker and a business-owner?
This may sound weird, I don't usually think of business-related decisions as risks, I think of them as adventures and experiments. My business operates the way it does - with a limited edition, slow-design focus, because from the start, I felt I needed that stable state of mind to allow my aesthetic to bloom, and also for me to be able to learn about my business by doing it. However, as business grows, some of the things I'm looking toward- like eventual hires, expanding product types, and focusing on growth opportunities will definitely be…if not total risks…really big adventures for me.
What is most core to your design process, and (how) does it translate to your finished work?
A balance of minimalism and refinement is something I try and achieve with each design, and it's important that the finished product looks like someone put a lot of thought and care into creating it. I also love to celebrate the materials I use, so often there's a raw element that contrasts with a great deal of detail, in my work.
Name one (or several!) crazy and amazing things that you hope to do someday.
I've always wanted to take Flamenco lessons!