In The Studio With: Early Bird Designs

Today, I am so excited to introduce you to the second business owner in my small business profile series. Her name is Jill J. Burns, and she is the founder of Early Bird Designs, a stunning line of fine handmade porcelain wares. Jill is based in Worcester, MA, and happens to be the mother of one Elaine Burns — who taught us how to prepare our own floral arrangements a few weeks back!

Jill works out of a community ceramics studio that she founded called The Fire Works. Fittingly, it is located in a repurposed factory building known as the Sprinkler Factory. When this factory was up and running long ago, it manufactured sprinkler heads and other fire suppression equipment. Thanks to Jill’s creative vision and entrepreneurial spirit, today The Fire Works houses an eclectic mix of artists and small businesses. How thrilling!

Below is an interview I conducted with Jill via email. She has also shared photographs of her work. You can find Jill’s porcelain wares for sale on Etsy and ScoutMob. (For a full list on where to find her work, visit her website.) As you’ll see, her aesthetic is incredibly beautiful!

Tell me about your journey with ceramic arts.  How did you originally become interested in it? Is this what you went to school for?

I did go to art school, but I studied painting. I never even took a ceramics class in college. As newlyweds, my husband and I moved to Worcester, and I took a class in ceramics at the Worcester Center for Crafts. But, I have to say that from the beginning I was hooked on the potential of clay – expressive and functional. I worked in wheel-thrown stoneware using atmospheric firings for a long time, and it was not until recently that I changed the direction of my work.

Tell me how your work changed. Do you have a favorite material to work with?

Now I work exclusively in porcelain and most of the pieces are slab-built. I have a love/hate relationship with porcelain. It can be persnickety but, like all relationships, you get used to the quirks. The bonus of porcelain is the smooth white surface it provides. I use a slip inlay technique that allows me to draw directly on the clay. The lines are actually carved and inlaid with dark clay, so the illustration is integral to the piece. Many commercial ceramics use decals to add design elements that lie on the surface. This technique adds a depth that is a hallmark of handmade.

Your designs are incredibly beautiful.  What, or who, inspires your work the most?

The imagery evokes many kinds of flora and fauna. I look to 18th and 19th century botanical and animal engravings for sources. I want the drawings themselves to have a naïve quality – sort of a casual vintage aesthetic. It is impetrative that the pieces are functional, too. I want my customers to feel they can use my pieces every day; that the mug feels good in their hand so they select it first out of the cupboard. For that, I look to many ceramic artists and designers.

Could you tell me a little bit about the group studio you opened, The Fire Works?

About ten years ago, I was finishing an artist-in-residency at the Worcester Center for Crafts. To continue with ceramics at that point I was going to need a studio. There wasn’t anything in my community, so I built one. I figured there were others like myself–artists who have really reached the end of guided classroom instruction but needed space and equipment. An added benefit was the community it created. Artists often work in isolation, but a group studio allows for needed exchange and camaraderie. I recently passed the torch to two members. I am still a member of the Fire Works, but they now do the day-to-day management. It has allowed me to focus on my business.

What are some things that you love about having a creative business?

The best thing by far is that you are the captain of your own ship. You make all creative decisions, good or bad. I can go from a sketch to a fully realized product, as well as maintain control of my brand.

What are some things that you don’t enjoy about having a creative business?

When you run a small business, you have to wear many hats. Creative Director, Craftsman, Accountant, Web Designer, Marketing Director… You get the picture. For some aspects of this, there is a steep learning curve, which can sometimes take more time than you’d like. This is precious time that you might otherwise spend in the studio.

What advice would you give to someone looking to become a creative entrepreneur?

Be sure you are treating it as a business, not a hobby that recoups some material costs. Consider not only material costs, but also your time invested, overhead, and yes, even profit! It took me a while before I reached the conclusion that artists should be paid for their time and talent. You are worth it.

All photos taken by Jill J. Burns

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An Afternoon at Petit Jardin en Ville

Today I would like to share with you all Scissors & Sage’s very first small business profile.  I chose a small business that I am continuously drawn to: Petit Jardin en Ville.  This “little garden in the city” can be found tucked away in Philadelphia’s Old City neighborhood, and it instantly transports you to Paris.  Claudia Roux, Parisian florist and garden designer, is the owner of this magical storefront.  She offers her floral design services for weddings, special events, parties, restaurants, and hotels, as well as her garden services for your every garden need year-round.

When I contacted Claudia to see if she would be interested in having her small business profiled on Scissors & Sage, she was delighted.  I couldn’t wait to head over to Petit Jardin for an afternoon.  From the minute you walk in, your senses are fed.  Beautiful flowers, found objects, gardening tools, and whimsical French music fill the space.  Claudia, with the help of her French-born husband, Vincent, assist customers both in and out of the shop.  (I have personally received two flower deliveries at my front door from Vincent — what a happy sight!)

Claudia sat down with me and spoke of her journey to Petit Jardin en Ville, and below are some segments from our conversation.  At the end of my visit, Claudia, Vincent, and I clinked apple tart slices to celebrate Petit Jardin.  This shop, first opened in May 2014, has quickly won the way to my heart.  I am excited to share Claudia’s story with you all today.  Be sure to check out Petit Jardin en Ville online (Official Website | Twitter | Instagram | Facebook) or stop by in person!

From Claudia: After I met my husband, and right before we got married, I moved to France.  We were living in Paris.  I had always been artistic and had worked with florals, but I really didn’t find my path until I moved there.  Flowers are part of the culture in France, so I started to take horticultural classes.  I worked very closely with my teacher, Catherine Muller, who was the protégé of Christian Tutora.  I studied with Catherine for the five years that I lived in Paris.  I still continue to take classes with her now.  Her aesthetic is very similar to mine.  It’s a very garden-y kind of style that I like a lot.  France is a mixture of old and new, which really brings an interesting aesthetic.  It’s where I gained my understanding of combining both of those.

 

My husband and I spent a lot of time in different regions in France [collecting found items].  For example, in Bordeaux, you can find old metal grape pickers with leather straps that you would throw the grapes in as you picked.  A lot of the areas we go to are in the countryside.  We find a lot of farm pieces, which really appeal to my aesthetic, too.  We like to go and find things that others haven’t found yet.  We do bring some city-type things such as a parking sign and original advertisements from the 1940s.  Of course, I choose many things that I can put flowers in, like bottles and glasses, to evoke a feeling of a relaxed, carefree atmosphere that you find in the countryside where people spend so much time outside.

 

Philadelphia as a whole has changed over the years.  When we were looking at spaces, we kept coming back to Old City.  We wanted to be part of a neighborhood, and to emulate the spaces you would find in Paris.  Those spaces tend to be small and have a very special kind of dark feeling.  The flowers bring the light to the inside.  You know, I came from the suburbs where everything is big.  When we moved to Paris, there were so many things that I left behind that I realized I didn’t need.  You can live so beautifully and simply by just editing what you already have.  It enabled me to see a different way of life, and I love small spaces now.

 

Blogs are really important for people like me to get feelings from.  I look for interesting blogs that have a little bit of my aesthetic but also bring something different.  If you’re doing different kinds of projects, it’s always super interesting to me.  I love everything that you can do with your hands.  The more you do, and the more you create, the more people will see.

 

If you have a really great idea, go with it.  Don’t second-guess yourself; don’t hesitate.  If you really like it, and if you can spend the time with it, it shows to other people and they will like it.  In retrospect, I would have tried to start earlier and not be so afraid to start something new.