The California-cool renaissance craftsman shares his insights on building an ethos to combine creativity, art, business, and fun.
Sean Woolsey is one of those guys whose very personality, demeanor and nature make you want to smile. With an infectious laughter and disarming sense of humor, he can easily make you feel like a long time friend after only knowing him for only a couple of minutes. Sean’s good nature and immense humility may only be surmounted by his creative and artistic talents. Since founding Sean Woolsey Studios seven years ago in Costa Mesa, Sean has been harnessing his talents as a furniture designer, fine artist and craftsman while getting the attention of the likes of GQ, Uncrate, Highsnobiety, Maxim, and now Nobleman Magazine.
When did you realize your art could be an actual business? I’ve always been super entrepreneurial. My first business was when I was 15-years old and started a Duffy boat detailing business with my buddy, Danny. I’ve really only had two jobs where I worked for someone else. I worked at Round Table Pizza and I was at Hurley for a bit. So doing my own thing and owning my own business has always been an ambition and had a sense of normalcy since I was young.
How do you balance art and commerce? At the end of the day, I make what I want or things that solve problems, and sometimes I get lucky and it’s both. Fundamentally, design is problem solving. I create things that I enjoy making, something that I would like to own, will last a long time, and something with a story. Those are some common themes that I have in mind when I create. When I follow those notions, my products have inherent value that makes them profitable.
What role does humor and fun play in the way you pursue your work? If it’s not fun, we’re not going to do it. The most fun that I have is in the first or second move in the design phase where concepts take form in manifesting a solution. I try to have fun in every avenue of how the design comes about, even with the photo-shoots where we use kids or barnyard animals. I enjoy using humor as a means of finding a new approach to stir things up a little. I don’t want my designs to come off as a snobby thing.
How do you marry the notions of century old notions of craftsmanship and construction with very modern and functional detailing? We dovetail technology with craft in trying to harness the best of both worlds. It’s like shooting with old film, but with the technology of digital. This is done by putting modern twists on functional and time-honored items. We also like to create hidden features within our designs, like add-ons in the form of a secret compartment or hidden USB port.
What would you say has characterized your creative evolution in the last couple of years? I always wonder what I’ll think about the stuff I’m making now in looking back 5 years from now. I’m definitely moving towards a more timeless sense in the appearance and lifespan of what I create. I’m inspired by guys like legendary furniture designer, Charles Eames, who created things that are still desirable and have their place in a modern context. It comes to moving in an opposite direction of our throwaway society. I want to create a culture where one can buy fewer things at a higher quality that last a long time.
What are some of the biggest lessons you’ve learned in the last couple of years in owning your own studio? Start where you are, with what you have, and base it off what you know. People are often hesitant to start because they might not have the tools, or the knowledge, or the backing they need – but to a certain extent, you never will. I still don’t. I’m still buying equipment, taking classes, watching you-tube tutorials, reading books. It’s so hard to start if you get caught up in the mentality that everything has to be perfect to start your journey. Those that move the fastest and learn from their mistakes will be the ones that make it. Make more music, make more art, make more whatever it is you’re good at and keep moving forward.
Words by Patrick Jackson
Photography by Andy Marsh / www.alienfrogg.com