Creating Your Own Path is a new series featuring entrepreneurs who have chosen to steer clear of the 9 to 5 trend in favor of making a living doing what they love. You can learn more about the series here.
His work has been featured in multiple publications (Dwell, Sunset and California Home + Design, to name a few) and shows such as the DIY Network's House Crashers. His Aspect Pendants (shown in the photos above and below) recently won the Dwell on Design Award for best lighting.
Yes, I realize I'm completely name-dropping here, but the guy is that good. Just take a look at his work and you'll see what the fuss is about.
Brian has been perfecting his craft for years, yet he'll be the first to tell you that he learns something new everyday.I had a chance to chat with him recently about his work and he happily showed me a form that he and his assistant Austin (pictured with Brian above) are using to teach themselves how to slip cast. He'll be using the technique mostly for prototyping and some limited production items, but he is constantly working on something new and finding ways to innovate.
That hard work is paying off, with companies (have you heard of Facebook?), organizations, educational institutions and individuals commissioning fairly large installations. The recent installation at Foothill College in Los Altos Hills, California shown below is just one of many. You can see more photos of this installation and several others on the Schmitt Design Facebook page.
As busy as he is, Brian was kind enough to answer a few questions regarding his career path and how he finds inspiration as a creative entrepreneur.
Q.) When people ask you what you do for a living, how do you generally respond?
A.) I'm still working on that! :) I run a Sacramento-based design studio. We produce our own collection of lighting and home decor and create site-specific installations.
Q.) When did you begin your creative venture(s)?
A.) As far back as I can remember. Making things is the central theme in my strongest childhood memories, from Legos to skateboard ramps. In college, I started with engineering and then switched to industrial design. My first real job out of school was as a designer for Pottery Barn. I gained some great experience there, though was not fulfilled creatively. I started Adrift Mobiles, my collection of mobiles, in 2005. It started as a part-time endeavor, as I was doing freelance design work for a few clients. Gradually, I tapered down the freelance work and started to focus more time and energy on my own work.
Q.) Did you work any strange/odd/boring jobs before you started your creative work? If so, what were they?
A.) I mowed a ton of lawns as a kid. Then got a job as a dishwasher at a Sizzler. As soon as I picked up CAD skills in high school, I was able to get part-time CAD work. Not necessarily creative, but I learned building skills that I still use today.
Q.) Did anyone ever tell you to "have a back-up plan" or advise you against working in a creative field?
A.) When I switched from engineering to industrial design, a friend's father (who was an engineer) helped me take a careful look at the options and decision. No one tried to discourage me though. When I left the comforts of a corporate design job to pursue other creative work, those closest to me knew that it was the right move. Though, I sure miss a steady paycheck and benefits!
Q.) What inspires your creativity (people, places, things, experiences, etc.)?
A.) I find inspiration from the characteristics and limitations of materials and the methods that shape them. I'm constantly striving to learn about new materials and processes. I also find inspiration from the myriad of details in the built environment and patterns and structure from nature and geometry.
Q.) Are there parts of your career that provide less income than others? If so, what drives you to continue doing those things?
A.) Ha! All of it. It's a serious challenge to make a living doing this work. The lower-priced items don't yield much of a profit for us, but one of my goals is to offer goods that are well-crafted and relatively affordable.
Q.) Many of those who work for themselves struggle to find a balance between work and family/home life. Have you found a balance that works for you?
A.) It's a delicate balance, especially with a toddler and another kid on the way. I'm fortunate that my wife, Anne, is supportive and patient as I grow this business. We were also lucky to find an excellent day care center. It's comforting to know that my son enjoys his days there. I typically work a 4-day week with one weekday at home with my son. I have a part-time assistant, who has been a great help. I have also put more of a focus on using outside vendors as much as possible. This comes into consideration with every new design and enables Schmitt Design to keep developing new work without getting too overwhelmed with in-house fabrication. My mental gears are always turning, though. Anne will catch me staring into space and know that I'm working on something. Ha!
Q.) If you weren't doing what you're currently doing, what would you be doing instead (In other words, have you ever envisioned yourself doing something else for a living)?
A.) Perhaps a position with more of a focus on manufacturing or sourcing. Or… I'd go back to school to get a green MBA and pursue work at the intersection of design, business, and sustainability.
Q.) Are you involved in any events/happenings around town or on the web that we should know about (events, collaborations, etc.)?
A.) I moved to Sacramento a few years ago with the fear that I wouldn't find much of a creative community. I'm thrilled that I found just the opposite. Early on, I started attending Designer Pint Night organized by the Capital Creative Collective where I met a diverse group of creative folks. Since then, I've shown work at a few 2nd Saturday events. I've presented at Pecha Kucha and had a booth at the GOOD Design Market. A selection of our products is available at Scout Living in Midtown Sacramento. We don't have any specific events planned, though we'll be posting any news on our Facebook page.
Q.) Last question: What advice would you give to someone who is thinking about (or in the midst of) going into business as a creative entrepreneur?
Patience and persistence. Be prepared for a slow steady climb with new challenges every day. If possible, have an alternate source of income or part-time job at the beginning so you're not entirely dependent on your fledgling creative business. If you're passionate about your work, it will show and people will take notice. It's a prime time to start your own endeavor.
Pretty inspiring stuff, right? If you'd like to learn more about Brian and his design studio, I recommend visiting his website here. You can also find Schmitt Design on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Etsy.