After over a decade spent in architecture and with no formal art training, artist Natalie Abrams began experimenting and creating her own unique sculptures. Now a full–time, nationally exhibiting sculptor and jewelry designer, she confronts the future sustainability of our global environment through her work.
Thanks to a residency with the Sam and Adele Golden Foundation for the Arts, Abrams was able to work with Golden Paint’s Research and Development Department to create the custom paint formulas which form the basis for her jewelry line Abrams Wearable, which she started in 2017 with her partner, Bryan Hammock. The pair was awarded a studio in the historic
Torpedo Factory where Abrams Wearable now makes custom pieces for actresses, models, CEOs and dignitaries for red carpets and galas. In 2019, their Spring collection earned “Featured Designer” in the District of Fashion Runway Show at the Smithsonian. We checked in with Natalie Abrams as her team prepares to launch a new collection. We wanted to find out more about her unconventional path to jewelry design, and her scientific, experimental approach to design. Read on, as Abrams offers tips for young artists looking to succeed in the business and shares her hopes for the future.
IFD: You weren’t originally a formally trained or working artist when you got your start. How did you make the switch into art and design?
Art overtook my world later in life. I worked in architecture for 13 years prior, and I have always been an art lover. In 1999, I began what became years of experimentation and development with various media.
I began constructing sculptures featuring sweeping, delicate structures which sought to mimic vibrant organisms or fantastical plant life. This work reflected the intensification of my lifelong devotion to environmental causes. I began researching and exploring the systemic nature of interaction between societies and their environment.
IFD: Now that you’ve begun making wearable art, it hasn’t taken long to see some incredible, high profile successes. What are some highlights?
We are a young company and started getting widely recognized after the fashion show last fall. With the onset of the pandemic, our plans have had to be readjusted. DC is littered with celebrities, politicians and other leaders, and as a result, it’s amazing who will just wander into the studio. Sivan Alyra Rose, who starred in Netflix’s series Chambers alongside Uma Thurman has been a wonderful fan of our work. She wore several custom pieces for the red carpet and press junket for Chambers. Uma Thurman also wore a piece.
We just sent some special custom pieces from our new and not yet released line to Kelley Mack of The Walking Dead. Ashley Hatch from the Washington Spirits and Alexis Peterson of the Dallas Cowboy Cheerleaders have also been great supporters. We’re hoping to do some special pieces for the entire Washington Spirit team, as well as the Mystics and the Dallas Cowboy Cheerleaders. We have pieces which will also be included in Jude Nelson’s new film, Electric Jesus, out early next year. One of our iconic pieces appears prominently in the movie’s climactic concert scene.
IFD: Can you share a little about your design process?
Bryan and I have a really interesting connection when it comes to visual cues. We both tend to respond to the same cues, seeing patterns within and repetition within daily life. Or we’ll see something and immediately focus in, thinking about why it catches our eye, dissecting the properties. Then we’ll start riffing on the image, with Bryan and I generating literally dozens of possible designs stretching and manipulating the cue we’ve focused on. We compare the designs and execution against our concept and design presets so the new pieces fit naturally within the brand even though the theme is different. Eventually, we’ll settle on a set number of designs which fit into our main collection, as well as some which we call Iconic—experimental, one of a kind pieces.
At that point, I take the designs into the studio and start experimenting on the processes and construction which will best form the pieces using the skills already within our toolkit as well as learning new ones.
Working in the studio during this phase is a definite mix of artist, engineer, mad scientist, precision, sloppy drips and controlled explosions. Molds are cast, then used to cast elements. I whip resin into a well-mixed froth of bubbles, then watching the bubbles expand and explode in a vacuum chamber. Pigment is then injected into this clear fluid, giving the impression of paint slowly flowing through space. If filaments are part of the design, spindles are lowered into tanks of proprietary custom paint. The paint will stream down a spindle of line, with droplets flowing into one another, then slowing and holding. The studio is a mix of colour, texture, paint and magic.
IFD: What are some of your current inspirations?
We’re both really interested in new technology and materials, as well as the shift to sustainable manufacturing. Neither Bryan or I come from a fashion background, so we approach a piece in terms of form, texture, structure and colour. Much of the work is inspired by artwork. I come from a family of engineers, so computer generated design, 3D printing and laser cutters amplifies the more artistic work I perform in the studio. I’m also heavily inspired by nature and scientific developments rooted in biomimicry. I love to see inventions like bio-iridescent sequins made from cellulose or fabric that photosynthesizes. I dream of a body of work as amazing and ground breaking as Iris Van Herpen. I mean, what can you not say about her work?
IFD: What advice do you have for an an artist who is just starting out?
Never stop learning: new skills, new materials, new processes, new patterns and forms. Explore whims, even if it’s not immediately relevant. We speak a great deal about the “toolbox,” at Abrams Wearable. We try to keep filling the toolbox with skills, processes, designs and design elements, for future use. natalie Abrams Tweet
What are your Top 5 tips for creatives?: 1. Never stop learning: new skills, new materials, new processes, new patterns and forms. Explore whims, even if it’s not immediately relevant. We speak a great deal about the “toolbox,” at Abrams Wearable. We try to keep filling the toolbox with skills, processes, designs and design elements, for future use.
2. What is the “magic” in your work? All great art makes an initial visual impact that draws in the viewer. Without that, a viewer won’t be curious enough to explore your skill, mission or underlying message.
3. Artists are a brand. To be a successful brand, your message and professionalism needs to be reflected in your advertising, packaging, even customer service.
4. Artists are small business owners. As a business owner and professional, you need to set schedules; meet deadlines; file taxes; write timely follow-up emails and all the other work that will ensure you have repeat clients and a successful business.
5. Be fearless, live where it’s uncomfortable.
IFD: What’s your hope for the future of Abrams Wearable?
This year has been trying time for all in the fashion industry, and we hope to continue to share our vision with our clients and fans. We believe we have not only a unique design aesthetic that we hope to continue to explore, but also an empowering message.
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