Any designers here ever thought about a Fine Art Atelier

Hey guys,

I am an Industrial Designer with a strong fine art background. I am a senior right now, and trying to figure out what career path I want to take when I graduate. My portfolio is stuffed with great things. I work my ass off so I am not worried about appearance; just worried about finding the right job and not selling out.

I was working today in a really nice metals shop welding a floor light (very sculptural). One of the sculpture grad students starting telling me that he admired my wide range of fabrication abilities and thought that since I am right in between Industrial Design and Fine Art and Engineering, a great job would be to work for an Art Atelier or some kind of Fabrication company. I strongly agree! I just don’t know where to start looking other than with him. I will be living in the Chicago area. Do any of you know of any companies like this anywhere in the city or maybe a really good one somewhere in the States?


Google are a wonderful thing… “atelier chicago” revealed:

Try any number of search keyword; custom furniture fabricators, custom steel fabrication, custom lighting, etc.

Lol. Yes it is. I have seen those guys before (nice stuff), but I know there are plenty more that aren’t on google. You can’t find EVERYTHING on the internet. I always see ads for Ateliers in fine art magazines and word of mouth. This forum I am assuming is meant for fellow designers to share knowledge.

You are assuming (sometimes a dangerous practice) correctly!

You mentioned “art magazines”. Metropolis Magazine (more “interior” oriented) used to list “fabrication” and other custom services in a section at the back; DesignMart. They now have an online (there’s that pesky internet thing again) section, but it might be a useful source for locating some leads.

Here is San Luis Obispo County (California) there are several “craftsmen” fabricating lighting, there is a company that builds custom (very custom) windows, a guy doing bronze foundry work (door knobs, drawer pulls, etc.), a family owned furniture company, and of course a collection woodworking shops (not cabinetry) building fine furniture. Other than Architectural Ironworks, and Knowlton Brothers Fine Furniture, none advertise, other than by word of mouth.

There have been, over the years, several discussions debating the fine line between being an “industrial designer” (designing for mass production) and a “craftsman” (artist or one-off builder). I happen to adhere to philosophy that once trained in “industrial design” the only difference is whether, or not, you have the hand skills to build what you design. Some can, many can not. To my way of thinking, a “design career” is the objective of our training. Like a degree in medicine, what area we each decide to concentrate on is not open to debate; be it cellphones or low-volume bronze drawer pulls, it’s all good.

But back on topic, once you are on the ground, so to speak, it will be much easier to recon the area. I 'd start to narrow it down by areas that interest you personally; lighting, furniture, ceramics, etc. Then perhaps locate some materials suppliers related to those areas (steel, welding supplies, fine woods, etc.) to see if any of their salesmen are aware of individuals engaged in atelier type work (you will probably have to explain “atelier”). A phone campaign of local “Interior Designers” and certified Kitchen & Bath Designers (in Chi there must be hundreds) would get you some leads (who does their work?), and might even get you some work! Architects offices might be a source, but in my experience a bit too lofty to engage in conversation with us unclean industrial designer types… … :wink: Another consideration might be to offer industrial design offices “model shop” and prototyping services. It seems a daunting task to filter through all of this, but it is funny how one positive lead can substantially narrow the field down.

And, as I am sure you are aware, Chicago happens to be very close to Milwaukee, which for many reasons, has a large, and diverse, “design” community; meaning, for you, more opportunity to broaden their services.

Hey LMO,

This is all some very good advice. I have spoken with the types of people you mentioned: materials suppliers, Interior Designers (that’s a really great thought!), architects, etc. but not in any real depth I guess. You are right about fabricators (maybe Ateliers or just carpenters/craftsman): they are mostly unlisted so to say so the only ones that I have heard of are from friends or personal contacts.

When I was younger (in High School) I built a guitar, and in doing so met a ton of fabricators. I really didn’t plan on networking like that; I was just making the thing as a hobby (I actually came to college in Computer Engineering). It seems very difficult to make real outside contacts while you are in college. So much is provided for a very high cost, and I guess you sort of lose grasp of how to be resourceful.

I have a question for you: I am doing my final semester now, and will have a Senior show 2/3’s of the way through in Bridgeport. Should I start the “coldcalling” now or do you think I should wait until at least closer to when I plan on leaving? Seems obvious at first that I should start asap, but I am thinking: what if I make a really good contact or find someone who could use help, but I can’t because I am in school for a few more months?

Outside leads while in school are difficult to develop, unless of course you are fortunate enough to land an internship or two. I did not internal and hit the streets cold after graduation. It took quite a while but I eventually landed a temporary gig that turned into a full-time position.

With regard to your last semester, I’d go ahead with your “prospecting”. If commencement is this spring that really isn’t very far off. And in this economy I wouldn’t waste any time getting started. And with regard to the economy, what seems to be happening is that companies are retaining their “senior” designers, and loading them up extra work, rather than hire more entry and mid-level folks. This will more than likely continue through the spring and summer (as long as the economy continues to grow (not a certainty) and when it does start to break loose I suspect that “entry level” positions will be the first to be hired. I believe the mentality is that the seniors can guide and train the entry level folks, and some savings will be realized over hiring mid-level designers. That said, beat feet!! The early bird catches the worm. etc., etc.

Just be up front about what you are doing. i.e. I will be graduating in the spring. If your stuff is good, they’ll wait.

These boards are a great resource, but I wish that I had had the benefit of “the internet” when I got out of school. Use the “search” feature within each discussion group to find previous discussions - there isn’t a whole helluva lot that hasn’t been hit on.