We love peeking behind the scenes of the designers we stock in the Shoppe, so we caught up with Ruth and Brendan at I Am Acrylic to find out a bit more about their business, inspiration and their distinctive, handmade approach to their range of acrylic designs.
Brendan and Ruth from I Am Acrylic.
Can you tell us a bit about your background? Have you always been creative?
Hello! We are Ruth and Brendan, we make individually hand cut stuff under the name I Am Acrylic!We both grew up in the countryside- I was born in Horsham, West Sussex and Brendan was born in Paulton, near Bath.
My Dad is a retired Design & Technology teacher, so I was running around with chisels and saws from an early age! Brendan was a bit of a spod (his words!) and got an A in Maths at A-level.
We met at Winchester School of Art in the late ‘90’s where we both studied Fine Art. The stuff we made back then was very different to what we make today. Brendan spent a lot of time sending out funny proposals to galleries and I cross-stitched onto toilet roll among other things…
Life was a bit simpler back then too. Uni was free, our entire portfolios would fit onto a 50MB Zip disc, Google was only two years old and very basic and there was no such thing as Facebook, Twitter or Instagram! If I needed to contact Brendan I’d leave a message on his pager!
We moved to London in 2000 when we graduated, and then in about 2004 we started making things out of acrylic.
A short fact about acrylic!
It all started when Brendan made me a bird shaped keyring from some acrylic someone had left outside our flat. He used the fretsaw that we had borrowed from my dad (for some other project) and we’ve still not given it back!
I was working in the design shop Magma at the time and the buyer there said we should try selling the keyrings…so we did! Brendan then continued to work solo on the I Am Acrylic stuff developing the range to include necklaces and brooches. He also started to be stocked in some other shops too, including Hannah Zakari!
I finally quit my job in 2011 and joined Brendan full-time on I Am Acrylic!
Wooden Birds in a Bush Brooch. £12.
What inspires you creatively?
It’s a bit corny to say that everything can inspire us, but that is kind of true! We both like looking at the graphics on the sides and backs of lorries when on a long drive, the ones transporting bread are quite nice, and some furniture removal companies have lovely simple graphics!
More normally, the countryside where we grew up plays a large part, as do trips to other cities, trips around London, trips to galleries and museums and also flicking through the vast collection of craft and art books, magazines, flyers, postcards etc that we’ve both amassed over the last 20 years of hoarding!!
The Anglesey Necklace, A new design inspired by trips to the seaside. £25.
How does your location relate to your work and lifestyle?
We are based in Spitalfields in East London so we are completely surrounded by creativity….markets, galleries, independent shops, amazing architecture (old and new)…it’s impossible not to be inspired by the creativity around us – I think it really spurs us on to try to come up with newer better stuff!
We’ve made some brooches of buildings in the area – Christ Church and The Bishopsgate Institute.
Living this close to Spitalfields market and the markets on Brick Lane it felt like the natural thing to do to get a market stall! This has been a great way to get out there and meet customers and meet other designer/makers too – some of whom are stocked by Hannah Zakari!
Ruth in her studio.
Brendan working on his fretsaw in his studio.
Can you talk us through the making process? How long does it tend to take to make each piece?
Once we’ve settled on a design that we’re both happy with (this can take a while sometimes!) – we make a prototype and then a paper template.
Templates for the I Am Acrylic range.
We then draw all the component parts out onto a sheet of acrylic or wood and then cut each piece out using our mechanical fretsaw.
We then use needle files and wet and dry paper to clean up all the edges before piecing the whole thing together! The more we make, the quicker and better we become at making them!
The range of tools I Am Acrylic use in their designs.
Cutting out cheese.
Cleaning up cheese!
This is the way that we used to make things when we were at school, in the time before lasers were being widely used, which is partly why we still use this technique. We also love the way that each one is unique!
We often marvel at the laser cut jewellery out there as it’s so detailed and complicated! Our hand-made technique can be a restriction sometimes, but also a great discipline to force us to really pare down the design so that we can cut it by hand.
Many a design has fallen by the wayside at the prototype stage, as it’s just proves far too difficult to make more than one an hour or something!
The time it takes to make each design varies greatly. We worked out that it takes a total of 25 minutes to make a pair of our Mouse & Cheese earrings (the metalwork for the mouse takes ages!) – but for a more simple design like a little Factory brooch, we’ve got the time down to about 6 minutes in total.
Cutting out mice.
The finished Mouse and Cheese Earrings take on average 25 minutes to make.
The cute Factory Brooch takes a little less time to make and is £12.
What is an average working day like for you?
Most days start between 7.00 am and 10.30am!
A day will include some or all of the following:
- Cutting, sanding, drilling and gluing stock for customer orders, shop orders and our market stall.
- Mucking around on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.
- Designing/researching/brainstorming new ideas.
- A trip to the post office. (to send orders)
- Setting up the market stall for the day.
- Lunch break with Bargain Hunt.
- Online scrabble. (Brendan)
- Some sneaky working in front of the telly. (Ruth) (Diagnosis Murder)
- Listening to 6music. (Ruth)
- Listening to Talk Sport. (Brendan)
- Invoicing, accounts stuff.
- Updating the online shop.
- Writing ‘to do’ lists. (Ruth)
A rainy day task? Brendan cutting out clouds…
We love their new Mountain Sunset Brooches.
How do you like to spend your time when not working?
We both love exploring London town. Especially walking or cycling around the smaller streets, discovering new shops, cafes, buildings, green spaces, short cuts and most recently taking photos of our favourite door knockers for our blog.
There are so many museums and galleries here too – and so little time to see them all! – but we manage to get around to seeing about one a week. (Recent favourite discoveries have included the Fashion & Textile Museum in Berdmonsey and the tiny little gallery behind a shop called The Town House, right here in Spitalfields )
I love to sew and am currently trying to make a dress.
We’ve recently installed a bird feeder outside our window. A lot of time is spent watching a family of Bluetits feeding on the suet balls.
Blue Bird In The Hand Ring. £10.
Is there a design or item you’ve made that you are most proud of?
Probably it would have to be an enamelled watermelon brooch I made at school! From the I Am Acrylic range, I think my current favourite design is the Vapour Trail Heart brooch.
Vapour Trail Heart Brooch. £15.
What advice would you give yourself if you were just starting out?
Something that we actually need to advise ourselves to do now is to take ‘lifestyle’ shots of our work! It’s so important, online, for customers to be able to see the size and feel of a piece by modelling it! So, we need to listen to the voice in our head and get to it!
In terms of starting out, it would probably have been useful to do a market stall a lot sooner. We waited until we were working full-time on the business before we started doing a stall. Maybe if we had got out there sooner, and seen customer reaction and feedback, and met other designers in a similar position, we could have grown and improved our stock more quickly and maybe would have had the confidence to quit our jobs sooner!
A teeny tiny Brendan and Ruth with an autumnal market stall!
And finally (the big business question!) – Where do you see yourself in 5 years time?
Crikey! That feels like a long way-a-way! We don’t really have a formal business plan or life plan like that!
But, to be honest, we’d be very happy if we were still doing pretty much the same as we are doing now! We don’t have any world domination plans or anything, so more of the same would be lovely, thanks!nks
We have day-dreamed of having a workspace/shop (especially after seeing all the amazing shop/workshops in Copenhagen a few years ago). But whether we can ever make that a reality, we’ll have to wait and see!
Mini Rocket Necklace £12.
Thanks so much to Brendan and Ruth for the interview! A selection of their designs can be found online at Hannah Zakari and in the Shoppe.