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How I work…Doug Johnston

With a passion for community craft techniques, Brooklyn based Doug Johnston applies a natural fascination with sculptural form to his beautiful series of natural bowls and baskets.  The 100 series is constructed from 100ft of raw, unwashed cotton sash cord which is braided and stitched together on a vintage zigzag sewing machine.  The result is a flexible yet stiff basket that will soften over a lifetime, designed to be loved and used every day.  We caught up with Doug and asked him to give us a glimpse of his studio and talk us through his day...

Talk us through a typical day...

I am more of a night person, so I wake up late morning, around 9 or 10am, and after quick bite and a shower I head over to the studio, which is about a 10 minute walk from our apartment in the Kensington neighborhood of Brooklyn. Typically Sarah, one our amazing employees, is already there so I check in with her and answer any pressing emails. My wife works with me in the studio, so we typically go there together and discuss what needs to be done for the day while we walk. My day is usually split between correspondence for orders and projects, making and shipping pieces for orders or shows, and managing general studio needs such as ordering materials and fixing/maintaining our small fleet of sewing machines. Lately I've had a lot of meetings and studio visits and I spend several hours throughout the week doing those. I stop at some point for lunch and/or dinner breaks, which I usually have at my desk while checking instagram or facebook. Our other employee Meg typically works at night so she comes in and I might coordinate with her. I find myself to be most productive after 8 or 9pm, so I usually get in a few really great work hours right before we go home at 11 or 12. I mostly work on one machine, which I suppose is more like my main desk with projects and sketches piling up.

Describe your studio...

Two small rooms, each about 200 square feet and joined end to end, make up our studio. One is a general studio/work area with a desk, storage for random materials and tools, some power tools and studio equipment, but mostly open space. The other space is our sewing room and office area where we make all of the rope pieces. It has a big window that lets in lots of great natural light. We're on the top floor of the tallest building in the neighborhood so we have a wonderful view as well. The building is a huge warehouse/industrial building built in the 1920's and is now filled with a random assortment of businesses including two small groups of artists and designers. Ours is a bright, cozy space that is friendly but set up for productivity. We have four vintage industrial sewing machines that take up the majority of the space with the rest being a couple of desks and lots of storage shelving up the walls. Its a constant balance between chaos and organization and keeps us very busy.

At work, you couldn’t live without...

My wife, Tomoe Matsuoka, who does a huge amount of tasks from shipping to bookkeeping to sewing to designing to order correspondence and more. I would be lost without her and I love that we get to work together everyday. Also our two employees Meg and Sarah who help us with production for orders. They are wonderful and have become incredible skilled with the technique we use to make all our baskets, bags, etc. They are fun and very easy-going and do perfect, beautiful work here.

What is on your desk right now?

Four sketchbooks, a few project samples, some little sewing experiments, some drawings, my sewing machine and accompanying tools, some random rope scraps, my phone and headphones, and miscellaneous paperwork.

I listen to...

Audiobooks, podcasts, and a variety of music. We spend a great deal of time sewing, which requires complete attention to your fingertips. To help pass the time and keep myself entertained I have a huge podcast playlist and listen to several audiobooks a month. Some of my favourite podcasts are RadiolabThe MothStar TalkFreakonomics and How Did This Get Made. My favorite audiobooks, by far, were the Harry Potter series. In terms of music, I love most of Zach Hill's bands, Fleet Foxes, Sufjan Stevens, the Dirty Projectors, classic Yes and other 70's prog rock, and avant-free jazz. Also select 80's tunes from my childhood.

Tell us a bit about your inspiration and practice...

My inspiration mostly comes from materials and working with them. I find myself attracted to certain qualities of materials and how they can be processed or worked into functional or art objects. I have always been completely fascinated by and interested in how things are made; learning and seeing the processes and how materials are transformed brings me a great deal of inspiration. The coiled and stitched rope pieces I have been making for the past several years came about from a combined interest in rope, sewing and garment construction, basket weaving methods, as well as my previous explorations in knitting, drawing and large-scale weaving of linear materials into pavilion-like spaces. All of the various things I was interested in converged into this very simple material and process and it just clicked with me in a powerful way. There are still so many things to explore with the process and each time I try something new more ideas emerge.

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